My post on when the right turns on America provoked some reactions, most of them favorable but a few of them critical. I want to deal with two of the disapproving ones–the first a brief criticism on Twitter by National Review’s Kevin D. Williamson and the second a longer, private criticism written to me by a friend.
Let me deal with them in order, beginning with this tweet by Mr. Williamson:
We aren’t turning on America, @Peter_Wehner. We’re turning on the federal government, as we should be.
Mr. Williamson is confusing a few things. My argument isn’t that there aren’t reasons to be critical of the federal government or the Obama administration. I’ve made those criticisms repeatedly, as well as offering up my thoughts for how we can re-limit and reform the federal government. So if Williamson is simply saying there are reasons to denigrate the federal government, count me in.
But of course my post didn’t have to do with criticisms of the federal government per se; it had to do with the rhetoric some on the right now employ. I quoted, for example, Dr. Ben Carson, who said, America is “very much like Nazi Germany.”
That is not simply “turning on the federal government”; that is a statement that is unmoored from reality and a slander against America. If Mr. Williamson agrees that the United States today is, with a quibble here and there, Nazi Germany all over again, he should make that argument in a comprehensive manner. It would be revealing to hear him make the case for why the United States is similar to one of the most malevolent regimes in history. Hopefully Williamson doesn’t agree with Dr. Carson, in which case I believe he agrees with me.
Now let me turn to a more substantial note I received from a friend, who wrote this:
Are you sure about this? I remember the attacks of the Left; they were that the very idea of America, its own ideals, were corrupt and irredeemable. This critique, perhaps lacking in sophistication, seems to derive from their perception that we are, transiently, failing our ideals. One attack was on fundamental principle, the other seems more situational, calling us back. Perhaps ham-handedly. But do you see no difference?
This statement is a fair one, at least up to a point. Over the years some on the left have vilified the founders, while those on the right (myself included) have tended to lionize them. So to be precise: some on the right are saying we used be good but now we’re evil. That is different than saying we have been evil from the start. But it is not much less divorced from reality or hardly less pernicious. It looks for the impossible ideal in the past rather than in the future, but it still disparages the actual living, breathing America.
I’d add that my friend–intelligent, well-educated, and a person of good will–could only say that the rhetoric I cited in my post was “perhaps” lacking in sophistication and “perhaps” ham-handed.
It is more than unsophisticated and ham-handed; it is a grotesque libel. Yet it happens frequently enough that it hardly elicits a critical reaction. Are we now to the point where conservatives who depict America as a replica of Hitler’s Germany, a police state, a borderline tyranny, and a dystopian society are viewed as having made slight if understandable overstatements? I for one hope not.
In this context it’s worth people reading, or re-reading, Norman Podhoretz’s My Love Affair With America, a book that expresses his deep affection for his native land. In it he urges his fellow conservatives to rediscover their faith in America. It is, among other things, an act of gratitude, one of the most important if overlooked human qualities.
Near the end of his elegant and touching book Podhoretz writes that the United States is entitled to
a place among the very greatest of human societies. And even more surely, it entitles this country to the love and gratitude of all whom a benevolent providence has deposited on the shores of – yes, a thousand times yes – “the land of the free and the home of the brave” to live their lives and make their livings under the sublime beauty of its “spacious skies” and “from sea to shining sea.”
This spirit of love and gratitude for America, even (and sometimes especially) in difficult times, is worth reclaiming. Because America, whatever its shortcomings, surely deserves it.