Monday, October 11, 2010

Rebirth of American Exceptionalism

Chinese friends chide me for overidealizing China. I tell them: “Guilty as charged.” . .China. . . has regular rotations of power at the top and a strong record of promoting on merit, so the average senior official is quite competent. Listening to Prime Minister Wen Jiabao of China tick off growth statistics in his speech here had the feel of a soulless corporate earnings report. Yet he has detailed plans for his people’s betterment, from universities to high-speed rail, and he’s delivering on them.

--Thomas Friedman, 9.21.10

In a nutshell, Friedman admires China because its meritocracy has nearly unchecked power. America by contrast (here Friedman quotes China expert Orville Schell) finds itself “so unable to get things done,” missing "fearfully . . . that ‘can-do,’ ‘get-it-done,’ ‘everyone-pull-together,’ ‘whatever-it-takes’ attitude that built our highways, dams and put a man on the moon. . .hallmarks of our childhood culture.” Sigh. Big Government programs that worked, childhood days of “The Blue Model” Big Government-Big Business-Big Labor, everything (?) working, Democrats in charge.

Democrats like Friedman and Schell are implicitly admitting that Big Government under Obama hasn’t worked, though Friedman blames not the President, but “our poll-driven, toxically partisan, cable-TV-addicted, money-corrupted political class.” He wants more meritocracy, not less. Friedman wants the China Model, a nation led by the exam-tested best and brightest, the modern version of China’s imperial bureaucracy, its scholar gentry. He wants what we have under Obama, only more.

Well, it’s not to be. Americans are on the verge of rejecting the American ruling class, and the big government-run economy upon which our rulers have placed their faith. Politics is about power. Republicans say wise use of power maintains a framework for business to succeed, because business and only business creates jobs, and because jobs are crucial if individuals and families are to enjoy “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” The ruling class wants power in the hands of our national elite, our best and brightest, who will create for us the jobs we need to enjoy happiness.

But the elite has had its two years and the elite has failed. We are now more certain than we were when Reagan became president in 1980, and more certain than when Republicans captured Congress in 1994, that social evolution leads a society away from top-down, ever bigger institutions toward an economy where government steps back and allows the creative genius of millions of Americans, many who score poorly on written examinations but who learn from experience, to build jobs from the bottom up. That’s what democracy is about—treating everybody as equally capable of succeeding, allowing those who both work harder and who are luckier to succeed, and benefiting from the jobs their success creates.

Democracy and free enterprise go together. Each relies on the innate worth of every individual. Neither blesses rule by a superior elite. We are not China. A level playing field, open competition, and the rewards of success built the greatest nation on earth. Pulling government back, pushing our underperforming elite out of the way, these two power shifts will once more allow America to get back to greatness, greatness that will benefit the world’s peoples wherever they live.

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