“I think it’s quite natural that Americans – all of whom feel that they could have been President if they wanted – like to read about that ultimate fulfillment.”
- Edmund Morris, author of a three volume biography of Theodore Roosevelt, quoted in Time Magazine, November 29, 2010
What is it that’s different about America? What is it that makes us feel that we’re the best nation on the planet? Answers like Freedom and Liberty come to mind. But also more subtle ones like adherence to the rule of law, application of law equally to all citizens, jealous guarding of property rights (think how a loss of property rights would impact the economic choices of investors in America).
Here’s a quote that may point to an underlying cause of the unconscious ‘buy-in’ we Americans have toward out Constitution in particular, and our Country in general. I’ve heard it said that non-Americans can have respect toward America and her people while simultaneously vilifying her leaders. That stems from other countries’ history of a separation between the populace and the leadership. But here in America our government is of, by and for the people. So we have a much more personal stake in government, both local and national. Our stake is not only in the consequences that fall on us from government action or inaction, but more importantly a sense of ownership in the government. It’s almost like a parent-child relationship, where we citizens are the parents and our children-leaders have left the nest to go into the big world. We cheer them on and suffer with them in their defeats. If we were the children and leaders the parents, would we care so much about their accomplishments? No, it’s because we see them as our creation, our responsibility, that we have so much invested in their successes and failures.
The feeling of responsibility is quite natural: we have voted them into office. We are responsible for them. And what parent doesn’t struggle with the desire to step in and do for his child what his child needs to do for himself? But this feeling seems to go beyond a parental responsibility. I find, therefore, a truthiness to Morris’ statement, and some application of it to my questions at the start of this essay. What nation wouldn’t feel itself the greatest whose citizens all feel they could be the leader, if only they weren’t so busy doing other things?