Everyone is special, but some are more special than others. That variation of the line about equality comes to mind when I listen to the most pertinent deliberations on the theme of “The Idea of America.”
I was attending a seminar that was held on the topic, rain falling steadily, with speakers flown in and a specially invited audience- it was both informative and thought-provoking.
And soon enough, I was provoked into thinking this: being special, being an exception to the rule, isn’t this a stage in every human life? Namely, adolescence.
To link the USA’s current foreign policy to puberty can appear somewhat stretched, I’ll admit, but there was a hint of youthful delight, an enchantment with everything American projected by most of the speakers. Analyzing everything from the Monroe Doctrine to Obama’s Cairo speech, they seek out that special quality, the deviating standpoints of American policy.
And certainly, crowds of European travelers have sought just this in the New World charm over the past decades. Men and women looking for a new society, a mission in the world, including the likes of Tocqueville, Bremer, and Myrdal, just to mention a few.
But how special is American policy and its point of view? How original is the “American way”? Hasn’t every major power had representatives of missionary reasoning? The British Empire was devoted to the white man’s great duty. The Swedes ventured out as a great power led by the “Lion of the North,” Gustav II Adolfus. Not to mention the French revolutionaries and their own age of glory, brought to fruition by Napoleon’s project.
So, the United States is just one in a succession of history’s savior states. The most intriguing thing about this reality is this: while we sit here and savor these flights of fancy, we also yearn for higher and more thoughtful ambitions from those that steer the course of our world.
It is true that a government is quite simply, on the whole, a matter of overworked politicians who tackle “one damned thing after another.” What these men and women of the bureaucracy must understand is that the consequent problems stemming from their actions are of vital importance to the rest of the world.
The rest of the world, in turn, must understand that the leader of the world’s most powerful state always has his limits-the voters. And sometimes, no matter the might of that state, it will take an Obama to get the job done.
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