Making the United States Exceptional Again
Rich Lowry and Ramesh Ponnuru had an excellent cover piece in the National Review before last on the domestic battle over American exceptionalism, which divides pretty conveniently along the current line of left and right. President Obama is obviously a key figure in the dispute.
Not surprisingly, what strikes me is the gargantuan task facing those of us who’d like to defend and reassert the principles on which our nation was founded:
Corporations, meanwhile, are also becoming more dependent on government handouts. Rivalry between business and political elites has helped to safeguard American liberty. What we are seeing now is the possible emergence of a new political economy in which Big Business, Big Labor, and Big Government all have cozy relations of mutual dependence. The effect would be to suppress both political choice and economic dynamism.
The retreat from American exceptionalism has a legal dimension as well. Obama’s judicial nominees are likely to attempt to bring our Constitution into line with European norms. Here, again, he is building on the work of prior liberals who used the federal courts as a weapon against aspects of American exceptionalism such as self-government and decentralization. Increasingly, judicial liberals look to putatively enlightened foreign, and particularly European, opinion as a source of law capable of displacing the law made under our Constitution.
Liberal regulators threaten both our dynamism and our self-government. They are increasingly empowered to make far-reaching policy decisions on their own — for instance, the EPA has the power to decide, even in the absence of cap-and-trade legislation passed by Congress, how to regulate carbon emissions. The agency thus has extraordinary sway over the economy, without any meaningful accountability to the electorate. The Troubled Asset Relief Program has turned into a honeypot for the executive branch, which can dip into it for any purpose that suits it. Government is increasingly escaping the control of the people from whom it is supposed to derive its powers.
I’d suggest that the Republicans of the Bush years proved that the temptations for corruption and intermedling are too great at the national level. Even the best intentioned of people will find it difficult to resist the urge to reach in and fix every problem in sight — which is to say that they’ll convince themselves not to relinquish the power of their offices. The only possibility, that I can see, is a resurgence of attention to local and state government, forcing freedom and federalism back up the tiers of government and pulling authority back toward the people.