Allan C. Brownfeld
Allan C. Brownfeld is the author of five books, the latest of which is The Revolution Lobby (Council for Inter-American Security). He has been a staff aide to a U.S. vice president, members of Congress, and the U.S. Senate Internal Security Subcommittee. He is associate editor of The Lincoln Review, and a contributing editor to Human Events, The St. Croix Review, and The Washington Report on Middle East Affairs.
What Vladimir Putin Got Wrong about American Exceptionalism
In his much discussed Op-Ed piece in The New York Times, Russian President Vladimir Putin had a lot to say about the concept of American "exceptionalism."
He wrote that:
It is extremely dangerous to encourage people to see themselves as exceptional. We are all different, but when we ask for the Lord's blessings, we must not forget that God created us equal.
Washington Post columnist Dana Milbank, addressing Putin, noted that:
I'm guessing what went wrong here is your translators let you down when they defined exceptional for you as luchshyy (better) rather than razlichnyy (different).
Few remember that in the 1920s, Soviet leader Joseph Stalin chastised members of the Jay Lovestone-led faction of the American Communist Party for their heretical belief that America was independent of the Marxist laws of history "thanks to its natural resources, industrial capacity, and absence of rigid class distinctions." American Communists started using the term "American exceptionalism" in factional fights. The term slowly moved into more general use.
The term - and the concept - has a long history. American exceptionalism is the theory that the U.S. is qualitatively different from other nations. In this view, America emerged from a revolution, becoming what political scientist Seymour Martin Lipset called "the first new nation," developing a unique ideology based on liberty, egalitarianism, individualism, and republicanism. The English writer G. K. Chesterton pointed out that "America is the only nation in the world that is founded on a creed."
The theory of exceptionalism can be traced to Alexis de Tocqueville, the visitor from France in the 1830s, who wrote in Democracy In America that "The position of the Americans is therefore quite exceptional."
America is more than simply another country. Visiting New Amsterdam in 1643, French Jesuit missionary Isaac Jogues was surprised to discover that 18 languages were spoken in this town of 8,000 people. In his Letters from an American Farmer, J. Hector St. John Crevecoeur wrote in 1782:
Here individuals of all nations are melted into a new race of men, whose labors and posterity will one day cause great changes in the world.
In the 1840s, Herman Melville wrote that "We are the heirs of all times and with all nations we divide our inheritance." If you kill an American, he said, you shed the blood of the whole world.
Many of our leading thinkers have speculated about American uniqueness, from the very beginning. Thomas Jefferson declared that:
The mass of mankind has not been born with saddles on their backs, nor a favored few booted and spurred, ready to ride the people legitimately, by the grace of God.
In his book, The Liberal Political Tradition in America (1955), Harvard political scientist Louis Hartz argued that the American political tradition lacked the left-wing/socialist and right-wing/aristocratic elements that dominated in most other countries because colonial America lacked any feudal traditions, such as established churches, landed estates, and a hereditary nobility.
Historians David Potter, Daniel Boorstin and Richard Hofstadter followed Hartz in emphasizing that political conflicts in American history remained within the tight boundaries of a consensus regarding private property, individual rights, and representative government. The national government that emerged was far less centralized than its European counterparts.
There are also Puritan roots to the idea of American exceptionalism. The Puritans believed that God had made a pact with their people and had chosen them to provide a model for the other nations on earth. One Puritan leader, John Winthrop, expressed this idea as creating a "city upon a hill" - that the Puritan community of New England should serve as a model community for the rest of the world.
Historian Gordon Wood writes that:
Our beliefs in liberty, equality, constitutionalism and the well-being of ordinary people came out of the revolutionary era. So too did the idea that we Americans are a special people with a special destiny to lead the world toward liberty and democracy.
Thomas Paine's Common Sense expressed the belief that America was not just an extension of Europe but a new land, a country of nearly unlimited potential and opportunity. These sentiments laid the intellectual foundations for the revolutionary concept of American exceptionalism and were closely tied to republicanism, the belief that sovereignty belonged to the people, not to a hereditary ruling class. Religious freedom characterized the new republic in unique ways - at a time when major nations had state religions.
The U.S. is unique in that it was founded on a set of republican ideals (not wholly realized in its early days, in particular, with the existence of slavery) rather than on a common heritage, ethnicity or ruling elite. In the Gettysburg Address, Lincoln declared that America is a nation "conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal."
During the radicalism of the 1960s, when many young critics of America denounced their own country, although they knew little of its history, author Mario Puzo wrote:
What has happened here has never happened in any other country in any other time. The poor who had been poor for centuries . . . whose children had inherited their poverty, their illiteracy, their hopelessness, achieved some economic dignity and freedom. You didn't get it for nothing, you had to pay a price in tears, in suffering, why not? And some even became artists.
As a young man growing up in Manhattan's Lower East Side, Puzo was asked by his mother, an Italian immigrant, what he wanted to be when he grew up. When he said he wanted to be a writer, she responded that, "For a thousand years in Italy no one in our family was even able to read." But in America everything was possible - in a single generation.
It was hard for my mother to believe that her son could become an artist. After all, her own dream in coming to America had been to earn her daily bread, a wild dream in itself, and looking back she was dead right. Her son an artist? To this day she shakes her head. I shake mine with her.
In 1866, Lord Acton, the British Liberal party leader, said that America was becoming the "distant magnet." Apart from the
. . . millions who have crossed the ocean, who shall reckon the millions whose hearts and hopes are in the United States, to whom the rising sun is in the West?
Vladimir Putin seems not to understand that America has been a nation much loved. Germans have loved Germany. Frenchmen have loved France. Swedes have loved Sweden. This, of course, is only natural. America has been beloved not only by its own citizens but by men and women throughout the world who have yearned for freedom. America dreamed a bigger dream than any nation in the history of man, and welcomed men and women of every background who shared that dream and wanted to be part of it.
American exceptionalism, Mr. Putin may eventually come to understand, lies in the fact that our ancestors came from every corner of the world - with every race, ethnicity, religion and language represented. Our free society - this great mixing together - has produced unprecedented creativity and ingenuity. It is not for no reason that America looms so large in the world. As the German Jewish song-writer, Kurt Weill, who found refuge here during World War II, wrote, " Every name is an American name." That very fact alone makes America unique - and exceptional. Perhaps most revealing is the fact that Americans themselves don't think this is unusual at all.
Want to Bash a Dead White Male? Try Karl Marx!
At many universities, it has been said that the teaching of Homer, St. Thomas, Shakespeare, Freud, and Einstein is the perpetuation of the power of "dead white males" over women and minorities.
It is, of course, a contemporary illusion that particular works of art, literature or music are, somehow, the possession of only those who can trace their lineage to the creators of such culture. Shall only Jews read the Old Testament? Only Greeks read Plato and Aristotle? Only those of English descent read Shakespeare, and only Italians appreciate Dante or Leonardo da Vinci?
Western culture is relevant to men and women of all races and backgrounds, particularly those living in the midst of our Western society. The distinguished black intellectual W. E. B. DuBois recognized this reality when he wrote more than one hundred years ago:
I sit with Shakespeare and he winces not. Across the color line, I walk arm in arm with Balzac and Dumas, where smiling men and welcoming women glide in gilded halls. From out of the caves of evening that swing between the strong-limbed earth and the tracery of the stars, I summon Aristotle and Aurelius and what soul I will, and they come all graciously, with no scorn or condescension. So, with Truth, I dwell above the veil.
Ironically, one dead white male who remains in vogue among campus radicals in the U.S. - as well as with radical movements in Asia, Africa, and Latin America - is Karl Marx.
What has been widely overlooked by those who are keeping the Marxist flame alive is the blatant racism of Karl Marx. Largely unknown to his non-white and non-Western admirers is the contempt in which Marx held all non-European peoples and cultures.
Much has been written about the fact that Marx, although of rabbinical descent on both sides of his family, was a dedicated anti-Semite. In fact, his book, World Without Jews is considered by many to be a forerunner to Hitler's Mein Kampf.
Little, however, has been written about Marx's racial views, the contempt in which he held not only non-whites, but whole groupings of Europeans, especially the Slavic peoples.
In his book Karl Marx: Racist, Nathaniel Weyl shows how Marx privately developed an entire racial hierarchy and racial view of history by the 1860s. In the middle of that decade, Marx was casting about for some scientific or pseudo-scientific justification for his racial notions, which he found in the work of Pierre Tremaux. He and his friend and benefactor Friedrich Engels went so far as to advocate wars of extermination against Slavic peoples and the destruction of Russia. How ironic that the Soviet Union proclaimed itself a "Marxist" state.
"Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels," Weyl writes:
. . . were neither internationalists nor believers in equal rights for all races and peoples. They opposed the struggles for national independence of those races and peoples that they despised. They believed that the "barbaric" and "ahistoric" peoples who comprised the immense majority of mankind had played no significant role in history and were not destined to do so in the foreseeable future. They regarded them as obstacles to the forward sweep of history. They considered them as objects rather than subjects. They were people who ought to be conquered and exploited by the more advanced nations. Some of these inferior stock were people who ought to be eradicated and swept from the surface of the earth.
Marx took from Hegel, another German philosopher, the idea that certain races, peoples, and nations were "ahistoric." Either they had never played any role in history and never would, as in the case of black Africans, or they were insignificant peoples whose history was irrelevant, or they were frozen at civilizational levels at which the more advanced portions of mankind had already left them behind.
"There were ideas," Weyl notes:
. . . which Marx would adopt and transform. . . . Publicly and for political reasons, both Marx and Engels posed as friends of the Negro. In private, they were anti-black racists of the most odious sort. They had contempt for the entire Negro race, a contempt they expressed by comparing Negroes to animals, by identifying black people with "idiots" and by continuously using the opprobrious term "nigger" in their private correspondence.
Marx, for example, wrote to Engels on July 30, 1862, about one of the leaders of socialism in Germany and his rival, Ferdinand Lasalle, whom he referred to as, "that Jewish nigger, Lasalle." He wrote:
It is now absolutely clear to me that, as both the shape of his head and his hair texture shows - he descends from the Negroes who joined Moses' flight from Egypt (unless his mother or grandmother on the paternal side hybridized with a nigger) . . . The pushiness of the fellow is also nigger-like.
Marx even championed slavery in North America. When Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, probably the leading socialist thinker in France at the time, published a book called The Philosophy of Poverty, Marx replied with a vitriolic rebuttal entitled The Poverty of Philosophy (1874). Proudhon had advocated the emancipation of slaves in the U.S. Marx replied:
Without slavery, North America, the most progressive of countries, would be transformed into a patriarchal country. Wipe out North America from the map of the world and you will have anarchy - the complete decay of modern commerce and civilization. Abolish slavery and you will have wiped America off the map of nations.
In the U.S., socialists early in the 20th century adopted Marx's racist views. On September 14, 1901, the Social Democratic Herald characterized black Americans as inferior, depraved elements who went around "raping women and children." In an article in the paper dated May 31, 1902, Victor Berger, one of the national leaders of the Socialist Party, wrote that "there can be no doubt that the Negroes and mulattos constitute a lower race."
It is ironic that the most acceptable white male in the curriculum for "diversity" on many campuses is Karl Marx, who was himself a bigot. At one time, Marx referred to a Creole man who married his niece as a "gorilla offspring." Marx also approved of European imperialism in Asia because he considered the Asian culture so inferior that it was incapable of entering historic development without a European push. Of China and India, he said they were "semi-barbarian and semi-civilized" and had "no history at all, at least no human history."
Marx's colleague Friedrich Engels was equally racist in his views. When he learned that Marx's son-in-law, who had some African ancestry, was running as a socialist in a district that also contained the Paris zoo, Engels observed:
Being in his quality as a nigger a degree closer to the rest of the animal kingdom than the rest of us, he is undoubtedly the most appropriate representative of that district.
In his address to the freshman class at Yale in 1990 - which is as relevant, if not more so, today - Donald Kagan, at that time Professor of History and Classics and Dean of Yale College, declared:
The assault on the character of Western civilization badly distorts history. The West's flaws are real enough, but they are common to almost all the civilizations known on any continent at any time in human history. What is remarkable about the Western heritage . . . are the important ways in which it has departed from the common experience. . . . It has asserted the claims of the individual against those of the state, limiting the state's power and creating a realm of privacy into which it cannot penetrate. . . . At its core is a tolerance and respect for diversity, unknown in most cultures.
Our unity as a nation is threatened, in Kagan's view, by those who would replace the teaching of our history and culture with some other "multi-cultural" curriculum:
. . . . American culture derives chiefly from the experience of Western Civilization, and especially from England. . . . I say this without embarrassment, as an immigrant who arrived here as an infant from Lithuania. . . . Our students will be handicapped in their lives after college if they do not have a broad and deep knowledge of the culture in which they live and the roots from which they come. . . . As our land becomes ever more diverse, the danger of separation and segregation by ethnic group . . . increases and with it the danger to the national unity which, ironically, is essential to the qualities that attracted its many people's to this country.
Given the racial attitudes of Karl Marx, it is an irony of history that he remains immune from criticism on the part of those non-whites and non-Europeans for whom he expressed such distaste. Of course, as it has been said many times, the one thing we learn from history is that we learn nothing from history. It is high time that we pay attention to the past so that we do not repeat its mistakes - or make heroes of those for whom we should have contempt. Karl Marx would be a good place to begin.
Disapproval of Congress Reaches an All-Time High - and with Good Reason, as Evidence Grows That We Have the Best Congress Money Can Buy
The latest public opinion polls show that only 8.4 percent of Americans approve of the way Congress conducts business, while 84.7 percent disapprove.
Approval of Congress is at a new low in 40 years of polling. Beyond this, Americans' approval of their own representative in Washington is under water for the first time, and a record number of registered voters are inclined to look for someone new in 2014. Only 25 percent of registered voters say they are inclined to re-elect their representatives to Congress. This is true for Republicans and Democrats, liberals and conservatives.
The role that money plays in our political life deserves increased scrutiny. A new book from a conservative advocate of tighter campaign finance regulations seeks to draw attention to a number of questionable - but legal - activities that place the spotlight on Capitol Hill.
The author is Peter Schweizer, a fellow at the Hoover Institution of Stanford University, whose earlier book focused on how members of both parties enriched themselves by trading stock based on information they obtained by virtue of their position in Congress. The book helped lead to the Stock Act, which banned insider trading for representatives and senators.
It is Schweizer's hope that his new book, Extortion, will push Congress to address loopholes in the campaign finance system, including the banning of "Leadership PACs," which permit politicians to solicit and spend money without the same restrictions they face when using their campaign committees.
In Schweizer's view, these groups have become slush funds that enable lavish lifestyles while they exist, in theory, to help members of Congress finance their own campaigns and help political allies.
The book details the extravagant spending of both Democrats and Republicans. Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-GA) presided over a leadership PAC that spent $10,000 on golf at Pebble Beach, nearly $27,000 at Ruth's Chris Steakhouse, and $107,752 at the Breakers resort in Palm Beach, Florida. Sen. Roy Blount (R-MO) spent $65,000 at a resort on Kiawah Island, South Carolina. Rep. Charles Rangel (D-NY) used his leadership PAC to spend $64,500 on a painting of himself. Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) used hers to pay for catered parties at her home several times a month.
Peter Schweizer accuses Congress of running an "extortion racket." Writing in The New York Times, he notes:
Consider this: of the thousands of bills introduced in Congress each year, roughly 5 percent become law. Why do legislators bother proposing so many bills? What if many of those bills are written not to be passed but to pressure people into forking over cash? This is exactly what is happening. Politicians have developed a dizzying array of legislative tactics to bring in money. Take the maneuver known inside the Beltway as the "tollbooth." Here the speaker of the House or a powerful committee chairperson will create a procedural obstruction or postponement on the eve of an important vote. Campaign contributions are then implicitly solicited. If the tribute offered by those in favor of the bill's passage is too small (or if the money from opponents is sufficiently high), the bill is delayed and does not proceed down the legislative highway.
Another tactic is what Beltway insiders call "milker bills." Schweizer describes them this way:
These are bills designed to "milk" donations from threatened individuals or businesses. The real trick is to pit two industries against each other and pump both for donations, thereby creating a "double milker" bill. President Obama and Vice President Biden seemed to score big in 2011 using the milker tactic in connection with two bills: the Stop Online Piracy Act and the Preventing Real Online Threats to Economic Creativity and Theft of Intellectual Property Act. By pitting their supporters in Silicon Valley who opposed the bills against their allies in Hollywood who supported the measures . . . Obama and Biden were able to create a sort of fund-raising arms race.
Schweizer points out:
The reason these fund-raising extortion tactics succeed is that politicians deploy them while bills are making their way through Congress, when lawmakers possess maximum leverage. That's why at least 27 state legislatures have put restrictions on allowing state politicians to receive contributions while the legislatures are in session.
Beyond the abuse of money, members of Congress regularly pass laws for the rest of us - from which they exempt themselves. In the recent controversy over the Affordable Care Act, for example, Americans learned that congressional staff members were to receive subsidies not available to other Americans, many with far lower incomes. Traditionally, Congress has exempted itself from laws and regulations it imposes upon other Americans - from Social Security, to affirmative action, to occupational health and safety rules.
Recently, Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) introduced a constitutional amendment stating:
Congress shall make no law applicable to a citizen of the United States that is not equally applicable to Congress.
This amendment also contains two provisions that apply that same principle to the executive branch and judicial branch of the federal government.
Sen. Paul declares:
Under this amendment, Congress, federal judges and even the White House will no longer be able to exempt themselves from the laws they create, uphold or sign - as they all regularly do now in a plethora of ways. . . . Obviously, amending the Constitution is no small task. It requires a two-thirds majority in both the House and Senate and must be ratified by at least 38 states. However, which politicians will now publicly say they truly think Washington should be exempt from the laws it makes for the rest of us? What possible excuse would members of either party come up with for not supporting this amendment?
When Americans view Congress with dismay, they have many reasons for doing so. When the Affordable Care Act was first being promoted, Nancy Pelosi, as House Speaker, said, "We have to pass the bill so that you can find out what's in it." Now we can see where passing bills no one has read can lead.
One question that remains to be answered is: who exactly are the 8.4 percent of Americans who do approve of the job Congress is doing?
Lobbyists Want to Change Their Name - But Their Perverse Influence on Our Political Life Will Remain the Same
The Washington association that lobbies for lobbyists wants to change its name - eliminating the term "lobbyist."
The American League of Lobbyists has decided to call itself the "Association of Government Relations Professionals." In a letter to the group's 1,200 members, Monte Ward, the group's president, noted that:
The new brand will seek to fully represent the broad range of responsibilities that a government relations professional practices daily.
Groups often change their names when those names become a burden. In 2006, the Association of Trial Lawyers became the American Association for Justice. But the negative role of lobbyists in today's political environment cannot so simply be removed from public view.
Political scientist Thomas R. Dye points out that politics is about battling over scarce government resources: who gets them, where, when, why, and how.
The Washington Post estimates that in recent years there have been 13,700 registered lobbyists in a nation's Capitol "teeming with lobbyists." In 2011, The Guardian reported that, in addition to registered lobbyists, thousands more unregistered lobbyists are likely to exist in Washington. The ratio of lobbyists employed by the health care industry compared to every elected politician was 6-1.
Wall Street lobbyists and the financial industry spent at least $100 million in one year to court regulators and lawmakers, since they were finalizing new regulations for lending, trading, and debit card fees. JPMorgan Chase has an in-house team of lobbyists who spent $3.3 million in 2010. The American Bankers Association spent $4.6 million on lobbying. A trade group representing hedge funds spent more than $1 million in one quarter trying to influence the government about financial regulations, including an effort to try to change a rule that might demand greater disclosure requirements for funds. Amazon.com spent $450,000 in one quarter lobbying about a possible online sales tax as well as rules about data protection and privacy. Aircraft manufacturer Boeing, which has major defense contracts, pours millions into lobbying.
Between January and September 2011, Boeing spent $12 million lobbying, according to research by the Center for Responsive Politics. Additionally, Boeing has its own political action committee (PAC) that donated more than $2.2 million to federal candidates during the 2010 election cycle.
According to lobbyist Jack Abramoff, who pleaded guilty to a series of violations of the law, one of the best ways to "get what he wanted" was to offer a high-ranking congressional aide a high paying job after they decided to leave public office. When such a promise of future employment was accepted, according to Abramoff, "we owned them." His own conviction on corruption charges led to the convictions of 20 lobbyists and public officials, including Rep. Robert Ney and former deputy Interior Secretary Stephen Griles.
In the Abramoff case, he represented an Indian casino that was worried about the possible ill effects of legislation on its gambling business. Abramoff lobbied actively against his own casino client as a way to increase their fears of adverse legislation. He also overbilled his clients as well as violating rules about giving gifts to congressmen.
Abramoff may be an extreme case. But those lobbyists working within the letter of the law often subvert our system of representative government in other ways. Lobby groups, for example, sometimes write legislation - which is then submitted by members of Congress. Bloomberg News reports that lobbying is a
. . . sound money-making strategy for the 20 largest federal contractors. The largest contractor, Lockheed Martin Corp., received almost $40 billion in federal contracts in 2003-4 and spent $16 million on lobbying expenses and campaign donations. For each dollar of lobbying investment, the firm received $2,517 in revenues.
Perhaps most shocking is the revolving door between members of Congress and the entire lobbying enterprise. There was a time - in recent memory - when members of Congress who retired or were defeated returned to their homes. A few still do. But more and more do not.
Public Citizen reports that the lucrative world of K Street means that former members of Congress with even "modest seniority" can move into jobs paying $1 million or more annually.
In 2005, Public Citizen published a report entitled "The Journey from Congress to K Street." It found that since 1998, 43 percent of the 198 members of Congress who left government to join private life have registered to lobby. A similar report from the Center for Responsible Politics found 370 former members were in the "influence peddling industry," with 285 officially registered as federal lobbyists and 85 others who were described as providing "strategic advice" or "public relations" to corporate clients. These include Democrats and Republicans, liberals and conservatives.
In one case, Bob Livingston of Louisiana stepped down as Speaker-elect and resigned his seat in 1999. In the six years since his resignation, The Livingston Group grew into the 12th largest non-law lobbying firm, earning nearly $40 million by the end of 2004. During the same time period, Livingston, his wife, and two PACs contributed over $500,000 to various campaigns.
It is not only former members of Congress who move on to lobbying. A 2011 study found that nearly 5,400 former congressional staff members had become federal lobbyists over a 10-year period.
Former Rep. Richard Gephardt in 2007 began his own lobbying firm called "Gephardt Government Affairs Group" and in 2010 it was earning close to $7 million in revenues with clients such as Goldman Sachs, Boeing and Visa. Senators Robert Bennett and Byron Dorgan became lobbyists as did former Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour. Senator Trent Lott didn't wait for retirement to become a lobbyist, but resigned from the Senate to do so. In 2010, former Rep. Billy Tauzin earned $11 million running the drug industry's lobbying organization, the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America. When he was in Congress, he was chairman of a committee regulating this same industry.
Barry Hessenius, in Hardball Lobbying for Nonprofits, writes:
The structure of representative government, elected by the people, was to be our system's built-in protection of the whole of us - fairly elected office-holders were to represent their constituent groups, free from any obligations to special interests. Unfortunately, money has corrupted the system and compromised both the fairness of the electoral process as well as the independence and impartiality of elected officials.
Lawrence Lessig, professor at Harvard Law School and author of Republic Lost, suggests that the money and persuasive power of special interests has insinuated itself between the people and the lawmakers. He quoted Rep. Jim Cooper who remarked that Congress had become a "Farm League for K Street" in the sense that members of Congress were focused on lucrative lobbying careers after Congress rather than on serving the public interest while in Congress.
Americans often wonder why their government seems out of control and why we cannot stop subsidizing large corporations, or agricultural conglomerates, or failed banks. Perhaps a careful look at the role played by lobbyists - and the millions of dollars they invest in promoting the interests of their clients - will point us in the right direction. Unfortunately, members of Congress who are looking forward to a large payoff on K Street after public service, are unlikely to resist the influence of lobbyists and those they represent.
The American League of Lobbyists may change its name, but its role in challenging the very essence of genuinely representative government is likely to continue - to the detriment of us all. *