A co-worker pointed out to me the following quote from Joe Klein of TIME magazine: “. . . [the Democratic Party has] a problem that has hurt [it] since the Vietnam era, a fixation on the (often spectacular) deficiencies of superpower governance while slighting this nation’s incredible strengths.” This struck me, and it made some pieces fall into place that have been floating around in my head of late.
What Klein is criticizing the Democratic Party for is pointing out the country’s problems, while failing to recognize its greatness. Besides the fact that I think he’s slightly wrong, he does expose a rather large flaw in modern conservative thinking.
First he criticized the Dems for pointing out “deficiencies of superpower government.” In business there is a common analytical tool called a SWOT analysis; it is meant to be a tool for a broad and deep search of a company’s Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats. The problem is that a lot of companies prefer a SO analysis, focusing on strengths and opportunities, while conveniently ignoring weaknesses and threats. These companies fail. Many governments fall into the same trap. The U.S. military has a system called the Red Team—they are basically hole-pokers, devil’s advocates, no-men whose job it is to find all the faults with the idea before them, in order to solidify the idea. If the nation doesn’t have a Red Team analysis, it won’t plan effectively.
Dems/liberals/progressives are too often the nation’s Red Team regarding the effective use of America’s superpower super powers because 1) we have not used them to lead as much as to exploit, and 2) we have missed out on so many great opportunities. We have been so concerned with favorable economic terms and military supremacy that we have treated the other nations of the world as though they were recalcitrant children or playground rivals rather than fellow problem solvers. According to the DoD’s 2007 Base Structure Report, we have 823 military “installations” in 39 foreign countries throughout the world (and that’s without counting Iraq or Afghanistan!). This is what we’ve been doing for too long—missile launch sites, banana republics, and puppet regimes.
We have been negligent in our stewardship. We are the servant given one talent—we’ve been so concerned about preserving our economic and military superiority (an illusion of security), we haven’t bothered to invest our resources in productive endeavors. I guess that’s what “conservative” means. It is only a matter of time before the master returns, takes an accounting, and give our one talent to another who will do something with it.
The second part of Klein’s quote is also important: “slighting the nation’s incredible strengths.” Let me go through the infinitive verbs in the Preamble to the Constitution: form, establish, insure, provide, promote, and secure. Nowhere in there does it refer to cheerleading or patting ourselves on the back. Government is all about action toward a future result, not looking back at the fine work we’ve done. If I downplay America’s strengths, it’s because I see a lot of wasted potential. America has been the Tony Mandarich of the 20th century. If I fail to laud our track record, it’s because I keep hearing the words inscribed on the pedestal of Ozymandias.
I like to think I love this country as much as anyone. I love much of what it has done and is, but it has fallen far short of its unfathomable potential. The job of government is not to congratulate itself on the good it has done but rather to find new ways to do good and to do better.