Over at National Review, Rich Lowry has written a daring column about American greatness:
When the likes of Marco Rubio, the new Republican senator from Florida, say this is the greatest country ever, sophisticated opinion-makers cluck and roll their eyes. What a noxious tea-party nostrum. How chauvinistic. What hubris.
Yet, what other countries deserve this designation?
His conclusion: "Our greatness is simply a fact."
Somehow Lowry fails to grasp why this kind of assertion is so, well, fatuous and irritating. Imagine that once a month or so, Michael Jordan called a press conference, confidently listed his achievements as a basketball player, and insisted, "My greatness is simply a fact." He'd be correct: he was a spectacular basketball player, arguably the best in history. Same with Tiger Woods. Or Stephen Hawking. On the other hand, we're put off when people announce their own greatness experience has taught that they're usually doing so because they're a braggart, or a narcissist, or a bully. (In Rich Lowry's case, it's intellectual bullying - wielding the collective club of nationalism against genuine worries about America's fiscal bankruptcy, academic decline, and economic stagnation).
So it goes when conservatives invoke the greatness of America. The rhetoric that follows is inevitably political. When Marco Rubio lauds the USA, we roll our eyes because we have not had our skepticism of politicians sugically removed: we understand that politicians pin on flag lapels and talk about the greatness of America because they're calculating pols, not because they think more highly of the United States than the rest of us. Our eyes tend to roll when politicians kiss babies too. That isn't because we object to the notion that babies are lovable - merely because most politicians aren't. Especially when uttering fatuous platitudes.