Friday, June 13, 2008

SHOT BY BOTH SIDES. I am a citizen of two Americas. No, not John Edwards' -- Peggy Noonan's. And to hear Noonan tell it in the Wall Street Journal, these Americas are not separated by anything so tiresome as income or class, but by the lingua franca of the commentariat, attitude and political affiliation ("Mr. McCain is the Old America, of course; Mr. Obama the New").

Noonan implies we must cleave to one America or the other, but I am torn:
In the Old America, love of country was natural. You breathed it in. You either loved it or knew you should.

In the New America, love of country is a decision. It's one you make after weighing the pros and cons. What you breathe in is skepticism and a heightened appreciation of the global view.
Like all citizens who have sung the National Anthem, attended a 4th of July picnic, taken an American History class in America, or just noticed what an amazing place this is -- that is to say, nearly everyone who lives here -- I grew up an America-lover. But eventually I also learned skepticism, which is apparently the opposite of patriotism, and awareness that there are other countries on the planet with their own interests, which forbidden knowledge, Noonan seems to think, makes it impossible for me to place my own country's interests first.
Old America: Tradition is a guide in human affairs. New America: Tradition is a challenge, a barrier, or a lovely antique.
The guidance of tradition, even as interpreted by such presumably patriotic persons as Supreme Court Justices, may take us in directions unexpected by Wall Street Journal writers. But by Noonan's lights, New Americans consider such generous readings of civil rights to be a refutation of the Old America. Where might they have gotten that idea?
The Old America had big families. You married and had children. Life happened to you. You didn't decide, it decided. Now it's all on you. Old America, when life didn't work out: "Luck of the draw!" New America when life doesn't work: "I made bad choices!" Old America: "I had faith, and trust." New America: "You had limited autonomy!"
After decades of sunny Reaganism -- promulgated in large part by Noonan herself -- that told us bad choices led to poverty and that each atomized citizen was the master of his entrepreneurial fate, this is rich to the point of vomitousness.

She goes on, and on, and on ("The Old: Smoke 'em if you got 'em. The New: I'll sue"), even dropping in the ridiculous but not unprecedented notion that Obama followed community organizing as a path to riches. What it all comes down to is something I've noticed before: that the old leftist slogan "the personal is the political" has been appropriated wholesale by conservatives. And in the last ditch, where they have reason to believe they currently reside, they will lean on the personal as never before. Because, really, it's all they have left.

UPDATE. There is some discussion in comments as to whether patriotism, even the wiseguy-leaks-furtive-tear kind cynically practiced here, is invariably toxic. Well, any kind of loyalty can be dangerous, but it's pretty hard to imagine life without it. Even personal loyalties can lead to ruin, and we can see that loyalty to something as large as a nation leaves that much more room for untoward consequences. But it also grants (in the ideal case, to which America-love is closer than most) room for dissent. That I can sometimes assert, as I have, that I hate this fucking country and wish to see it defeated by militant Islam (which totally rocks) without being torn to pieces by an angry mob shows that membership in America isn't quite the same thing as allegiance to a death cult.

Of course, membership has its privileges, and we can argue that it is what the United States does to other people, in all our names, that is the real moral problem. I hope we can address that in the election, but I don't deceive myself that the Democrats will wipe all traces of blood from our honor.

So what's my alternative? Japan stubbornly refuses to appoint me as a Living Treasure, though they may just be having trouble reading my application. I guess I'm stuck with the land in which I was born and the culture in which I am steeped, and will have to make the most of it.

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