My new friends from Zimbabwe saw their homeland devastated and looted in a manner not seen since Attila swept west from the Volga. They left Zimbabwe for a time and lived in South Africa, where the murder rate is 34 per 100,000 (it is 5 in the U.S., 2.8 in Israel). I’ve been to Zimbabwe and South Africa, so I have a small notion of their experience.
They arrived in Seattle five months ago and we became friends. Last week, my wife Nancy and I took them to a French bistro on Madison. We enjoyed a lively conversation that rambled to travel experiences.
“I have just left two struggling third-world countries,” he said. “I don’t need to see any more of them.”
His meaning was clear: We’re in America — the best place on earth. His perspective is heartfelt by immigrants, yet widely underappreciated by our native born.
America is exceptional, a theme I wrote about in 2007. Given the turbulent events in North Africa and elsewhere, I think the subject is even more relevant today:
America is a light unto the nations. We are a beacon of freedom, equal rights, prosperity, and security. As such, we have a moral duty to lead the world, protect the peace, and bring our message of liberty to all peoples.
America is a chosen nation. As American Jews, we are twice chosen. We cannot opt out of either and be true to our birthrights. To deny our leadership role in the world is to succumb to fashionable but absurd notions of American guilt. All human enterprises are flawed, and America is flawed. But thinking people can discriminate between what is truly good and what is truly evil.
America is not just a place on a map. It is tikkun olam on an epic scale. American industry lifted the world from drudgery into the modern age. American medicine overcame ravaging diseases and extended our lives. One mechanized American farmer feeds 144 people around the world. Americans spend 10 percent of their income on food, lowest in the world, compared to 51 percent in India.
America saved Western Civilization in two world wars and won the existential struggle against dehumanizing Communism. We sought no empire, no spoils of war. We even rebuilt countries we vanquished. The view of America as an imperialist bully is a lie that erodes our national will and undermines our leadership role in an uncertain world.
America is chosen not because of her power or her prosperity, but because of her values. The supremacy of the individual over the state. Limited government. A classless meritocracy with equal opportunity for all. Freedom that inspires the bold to imagine, to dream, and to build on an unprecedented scale.
Our constitutional republic was built on Western cultural traditions and Judeo-Christian ethical mores from the Torah and the Ten Commandments. As a Jew, I am especially proud of that heritage. It is yours and mine whether your ancestors landed at Plymouth Rock or Ellis Island.
Americans are chosen because each individual citizen knows, or should know, he is responsible for his government, his nation and his neighbors. The world needs a strong America. To retreat from our responsibilities will leave a vacuum into which chaos and suffering will surely follow.
It’s easy to imagine such a place. It is on exhibit every day in Turtle Bay, New York. The United Nations is where the U.S. and Israel are marginalized and despised by grandstanding despots from miserable, unsuccessful countries; a corrupt and ineffectual charade openly hostile to Jews. If you like the U.N., you’ll love a world without American leadership.
So, brave readers, embrace the Torah, the Constitution, the Bill of Rights and the American flag! Carry them high. Stand tall. You are the few, the proud, the twice chosen. You are the Jewish Americans.
My premise seems even more relevant today. President Obama said that America is no more exceptional than Greece is exceptional to Greeks. He’s wrong. The Wall Street Journal recently editorialized that if President Obama is trying not to lead, he is remarkably successful. We once had leaders who understood American exceptionalism:
“Let every nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill, that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe, in order to assure the survival and the success of liberty.”
I’m a Republican, but I remember and miss JFK. Get out ahead, Mr. President. The world can little afford another Iran. One Jimmy Carter in my lifetime is enough.