History

That special something or other

Larison does a good job of demolishing Nile Gardner’s delusional systems in Gardiner’s homage to the tea Party as being the saviour of the Special Relationship between American and Britain yesterday. But in full “we’ve written about this before, so we can write about it again” mode, I just wanted to add a further comment on something that Gardiner actually gets right, which is this (my italics):

There is no doubting the fact that the Tea Party movement is primarily focused at present upon domestic policy issues. It is largely driven by intense opposition to Obama’s Big Government agenda, and by a belief in low taxation and reduced government spending, greater individual freedom and limited intrusion by the state. But it is also at its heart a movement that cherishes a belief in American exceptionalism and US leadership, worships the concept of national sovereignty, and is suspicious of supranational institutions such as the United Nations or the European Union that seek to impinge upon America’s ability to act independently. In other words, it stands for almost everything the current US administration does not.

Aside from the fact that Gardiner’s last sentence simply isn’t true, as Larison and others have pointed on numerous occasions, the rest of it is pretty spot on. And here’s the rub. Tea partiers (and a whole raft of other Americans) still do believe in American exceptionalism, and will make little compromise with this notion. Gardiner seems to think this is a good thing. The notion that America has a moral imperative to do what it wants, when it wants to, and whenever it feels like it, is not new—in fact, it’s been a driving factor in American foreign policy for decades, if not more. The alarming thing is that this shows that there still exists a large number of Americans (and British media pundits, apparently) who seem to have learned nothing from the events of the past decade. And it shows a blistering state of denial about the world, and about how America, in bankrupting itself (both financially and morally) by its foreign policy misadventures of the past decade, has deluded itself into increasing irrelevance for much of the world, except as a potential antagonist. And it trivializes the real accomplishments of the American and British governments during this period—when everything receives equal status to the Cold War, then the Cold War, which was a genuine victory achieved after decades of diplomacy and realpolitik, but which is now seen as something equivalent to a fantasy “war on terror,” becomes devalued as a significant accomplishment.

It’s certainly clear that the current British leadership—both Prime Minster David Cameron and Foreign Minister William Hague—are going to some length to avoid some of the more obvious obsequiousness of the Blair government. I have to say I have been pleasantly surprised by Hague in this regard. When Cameron talks about a Special relationship these days, it’s usually about India. And, of course, the Lib Dems, the Conservatives’ governing coalition partners, have long been dubious about the wisdom of too close an alignment with America, which extended to outright opposition to the Iraq invasion. And it’s not clear that the Special Relationship has much place in British hearts these days. For every fawning piece of nonsense like Gardiner’s, there’s usually a counterblast or more from someone like Peter Hitchins (a raging Conservative, as a matter of fact).

There’s no doubt that there are strong relations of all sorts—historical, political, cultural, economic—between the US and Britain, and that these will remain strong over time. But that’s no reason to assume that delusional obeisance–what Gardiner apparently would prefer—is ever going to return. Just as in America, Britain continues to have its citizens who long for an imaginary past. And some of them will always be writing for The Telegraph.

6 replies »

  1. One other huge problem – his presentation of “Obama’s Big Government Agenda” as an item of fact. The truth is that Obama’s vision of government doesn’t seem to be any bigger than anybody else’s. Sure, the GOP has been trying to gut everything except the military, but its military is sufficiently gigantic. I mean, federal spending levels area fair measure of a government’s bigness, right?

  2. I can see why many Brits would be unhappy with the special relationship. They gave us an empire built over several hundred years and we ran it into the ground in less than 60.

    As we’ve all been over the spending issue a few times, i’d like to take up this: “…greater individual freedom and limited intrusion by the state.” Really? I haven’t heard about the Tea Party’s vehement hatred of the PATRIOT Act or the “papers please” immigration laws being tested in the South West. Is the Tea Party all for ending the War on Drugs and i missed it? How does it feel about the TSA?

    I don’t know, there might be something worthwhile in the Tea Party somewhere…but it doesn’t appear to extend beyond the individual level. Strangely, i have a hard time hating on them after coming to the conclusion that they’re mostly people who probably feel that things are deeply wrong in America, without being able to really articulate what that wrongness is. Unfortunately, they’ve got a host of borderline fascist demagogues ready to articulate the wrongness for them. Without any serious counter from the Left…or even sane conservatives…we get what we see.

  3. I know, this guy’s a jerk, but he writes for The Telegraph, so it’s to be expected. And I’ve long given up any hope for consistency among tea partiers. You’re right, if any of them are unhappy with the Patriot Act, where are they?

    I have a problem, with the whole small government thing anyway. It’s vacuous, since there’s usually (among the tea partiers, at least) little in the way of any thought on how to get there other than just shutting stuff down–which will happen again if the Repubs take the House. It worked so well the last time. I’ll start taking them seriously when they start addressing localism and how to get there–that’s a much more interesting and fruitful discussion to have. But I don’t see much interest in having this discussion among this group.

    I’m not sure I agree on they’re seeing that something is deeply wrong, but unable to articulate it. I’m sure there are some who feel this way. But the interviews I’ve seen, all the commentary I’ve read, suggests not much more than a bunch of white people afraid of losing their place in the pecking order. I suspect what they see and what I see as “deeply wrong” are poles apart. Of course, until I actually run into any over here, I won’t know for sure, so I’m probably just babbling. The only real evidence I have for what they really believe is who they vote for. And as far as I can tell, it’s a bunch of willfully ignorant cranks, liars and charlatans.

  4. Oh sure, Wuf, here i was trying to be thoughtful and understanding and you point me back towards my natural bitterness and cynicism…

    I do wonder how things would be different if there A. wasn’t a host of right-wing demagogues whipping the ignorant* into a furor and/or B. there was any sort of populist leadership on the Left or Center.

    I wish that there was more discussion of localism, if for no other reason than i believe it has the power to unite a broad spectrum of political beliefs. I don’t know that pursuing localist policies would make government smaller, but they would at least decentralize the power structure which would in turn invest more people in the process and decision making. (None of this is to say that there should be no federal structure.) It would also create networks of resilient communities. Unfortunately, i think that all of this runs completely counter to the current, accepted tenants of Capitalism (as if it were a true faith) so i’m not sure that we’ll see much local fruition until this incarnation of Capitalism finishes destroying itself. On the other hand, the best way to prepare for that eventuality is with localism, because it’s how parallel structures capable of replacing failed structures can be prepared before failure.

    *I don’t consider “ignorant” to be a passive noun indicating lack of knowledge but rather an active noun from the root “ignore”. I’ve also seen enough of this world to know that America has no monopoly on ignorance, just a perverse pride in it.

  5. Oh, and i completely agree about the candidates purporting to represent the Tea Party, but i figure that those candidates go hand-in-glove with the media demagogues.

  6. I can’t believe I used “they’re” for “their.” Pah. It’s late here.

    The best discussions on localism I’ve found is over at Front Porch Republic. A lot of it is flailing around, and some of it is dopey, but that’s to be expected–everyone is trying to figure what what’s required, and it’s hard. Not to mention that it would represent such a major change for how America works at practically every level. And I keep coming back to the irony that in Europe, including Britain, there’s a whole lot more localism on a number of levels–certainly in terms of food, for example–than you find in America, in spite of more federalist governments. So I keep coming back to the question of whether you actually need a strong federal government in order to ensure a viable localism. I haven’t even sorted it all in my own head, really, but I think I’m edging towards that position. Which means that smaller government doesn’t necessarily get you there. It might, but it’s not clear to me at this point that there’s definitive evidence either way.

    The other issue that bears on this is size–America is a big country, with a lot of regionalism, whereas European countries are smaller (although also with a lot of regionalism too). So it’s a lot easier to keep local agriculture in a place like England–it’s a small island relative to the size and geographic diversity of the US. Population density is relevant, clearly. It’s complicated, obviously. But Wendell Berry is right–it’s what will save us.

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