Tuesday, July 04, 2006

America's Capacity for Self-Correction

I don't disagree with E.J. Dionne when he says that what distinguishes our country from others is its capacity for self-correction. I certainly agree that it is America's dissidents who have, in every instance, moved us forward along the path toward a more complete realization of democracy.

But I also think that Dionne misses a larger point -- and the right-wing bloggers who have commented on Dionne's essay not only miss the point, they don't even know the point exists.

If "the true genius of America has always been its capacity for self-correction," that is not because of something unique in the American character. It's because we have been allowed to do so.

What do I mean when I say we have been allowed to self-correct? I mean simply that no one outside our borders has sabotaged our efforts to self-correct. Right-wingers like Gaius at Blue Crab Boulevard implicitly acknowledge this, without realizing that's what they are doing:

Ultimately, this country has a genius for figuring out what is right and what is wrong. It sometimes takes years, even generations. But we get there in the end.

Indeed, indeed, indeed. And haven't we been a blessed and fortunate people to have had the extraordinary luxury of being able to take those years, and generations, and sometimes centuries, to figure out what the right thing is and how to do it, without other nations invading our country and fighting wars in it or overthrowing our leaders or occupying our land for years and years and years, for the alleged purpose of "helping" us liberate ourselves, expand our freedoms, right our wrongs, and do the right thing?

If I am not mistaken, the American Revolution, which won us the independence that we celebrate on this day, was the last time and the only time a foreign army fought on our shores. That foreign army was France's, and they fought on the colonists' side against the British -- nominally to help us with our cause, but more specifically to harm the interests of their particular enemy, which was England. Whatever their motives, however, we appreciated their help. We could not have won the war without their help. That said, what did the French do once the British had been defeated? They left. They left, even though our brand new country was quite unstable still, did not have a constitution, and was awash in warring factions who could not agree on what direction to go in. They left, even though our first attempt at a constitution, the Articles of Confederation, was a disaster; and even though the Founding Fathers defied their mandate to amend the Articles and instead met in secret, totally scrapped the Articles, and wrote what became our Constitution -- which caused an uproar of outrage.

We new Americans made plenty of mistakes, both small and large, before we found our way back to the right path. There is an excellent case to be made that the reason we were able to find our way to the right path was because the French left. If the French had used our inexperience and instability as an excuse, and decided they had to keep their troops here because we "had never known independence or democracy before" and "couldn't govern ourselves," we very likely would never have solved our problems, or it would have taken much longer. Why? Because we would have been resentful and angry that the French wouldn't leave, and we would have fought them, and the American insurgency against the French occupation would have destroyed our efforts to form our own stable government and society.

So while E.J. Dionne and bloggers like Gaius and A.J. Strata and the "Good Lieutenant" pat themselves on the back for being part of a country that fixes its own problems and always does the right thing, even if it takes a while, they might reflect on what a difficult thing that is to do, and how time-consuming it can be, and what an enormous advantage it has been for us, as a nation, to be able to take all the time in the world that we needed to do it, without fear that some other government somewhere would decide we weren't doing it right and needed to be shown a better way.

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