It’s not easy to understand why we Americans behave the way we do. Our culture is indeed unique. To be sure, I am convinced, within each and every one of us beats the heart of a free thinker who values personal liberty.It is why “Live Free Or Die” seems to resonate, even if softly, with so many, more than two centuries after it became the rallying cry of a young republic. It is why Americans push back so heard today against not just politicians but large corporations that attempt to steal that freedom from us periodically through control of our money, and our property.
This current economic crisis seems to have crystallized this point as well as anything. The American people across the political spectrum are outraged. Each defining whom they believe to be the enemy, but both seeming to agree on what is at stake. Our very freedom to choose and direct our destiny , not just as a country but as individuals as well.
This essay by Janet Daley, a conservative columnist for the Telegraph in London, is one of the best analysis I have read of the “American Way”. Here’s a portion but I urge you to read it all.
Unlike in Europe – where the historical commitment to democracy has been patchy – America has little difficulty with the question, “who needs to be in charge of our future?” The answer is always, “we the people”. Democratic self-governance, and the concept of personal freedom that underpins it, comes first and last.
Which is why the anger in America about bankers (and the recent furore about AIG bonuses) was more personal than political: the rage was against individuals who had abused the freedom of the market and who needed to be punished as individuals.
When the crisis first hit, the overwhelming majority of Americans were vehemently opposed to any bank bail-out. That was why Hank Paulsen’s first rescue package was thrown out by Congress: the bankers had screwed up and they were not (hell, no) going to be pulled out of the tank by taxpayer dollars.
The US population had to be painstakingly persuaded that if Wall Street went down, Main Street would go with it before they agreed to stump up: they were much more inclined to believe that the banks should be allowed to go under than that the hard-earned money of ordinary people should be given to support them. You take the consequences of your own stupidity: that’s the price of freedom. Faced with the damage that such bank failures would have done to the mass of the population, Americans relented, but I suspect that many still believe they could have rebuilt their lives and economy again from scratch through their own industry and resilience.
It gets better. It is written from a conservative point of view, but I think everyone will see the value in this piece.
Update: Here’s Neil Cavuto’s commentary from last night. It is along the same lines and puts the government takeover of GM into perspective for each of us as Americans.