Wednesday, January 16, 2013

American Exceptionalism

We've heard much talk this past year about American exceptionalism--in essence, that the U.S. has values and ideals plus a culture that keeps us from falling into the disasters that befall other less-favored states such as dictatorship and genocide.  So there's lots of chest-puffing about us being "a light unto the nations" and such.

I'm as patriotic as any reasonable American, but lately, I've read enough about two major subject areas in which Americans are exceptional only in being behind the rest of the world: health care and guns. A recent survey found that we were last of 17 nations in mortality of those under 50 and it's been clear for years that we experience a far greater number of gun deaths than anyplace else on earth.

The mortality figures are shameful, especially since our standing improves once people make it to 80. This is accounted for by the fact that those who last that long have reached the stage where health care is provided to all; before then, the market rations health care to those who can afford it. In short, the comparative stats show that socialized medicine works, at least for the mass of people. Yes, we have wonderful medical technology and skilled personnel, but only those well-off or well-situated can take full advantage.

As for guns, we've been dragged far beyond what are reasonable limits--those that would allow hunters and sportspeople to pursue their avocations in the fields and woods. That was what I expected when I was quite young, enjoyed target shooting, and yes, was even a member of the NRA. But the 2nd Amendment crazies--led by the NRA and Antonin Scalia--have perverted the sporting basis, much less the wording of the amendment, which as former Justice Stevens's dissent (for the 4 in the 5-4 ruling) clearly demonstrates, was intended to support militias, not an armed camp, much less concealed weapons everywhere.

So to those who glory in American exceptionalism--and I won't even get into the argument about torture, which we clearly engaged in during the Bush-Cheney days and perhaps at other times, noting, however that Zero Dark Thirty is a terrific picture, whatever its factual basis--there are two major fields in which we have little to boast about to the rest of the world. What I fault President Obama for is not doing enough to get people who agree with him--in Congress and out--to support his proposals as loudly as the mouthy opponents criticize.

1 comment:

  1. Well said, Richard. The only clarification I would add is that the Second Amendment refers not just to "militias" but to "A well regulated Militia." This excludes the sort of ad hoc, unregulated militias that have sprung up here and there fueled by paranoid fantasies about the U.N., black helicopters, and the like.