Bill Clinton is another one of people I never thought I would ever have reason to quote, but I thought his line at the DNC convention was memorable. Speaking about the United States, the former president said:
“People the world over have always been more impressed by the power of our example than by the example of our power.”
Admittedly this comes from a man whose personal morality was anything but exemplary but he wasn’t talking about himself but about the ideals of America.
A number of Clinton’s opponents and those on the opposite side of the political spectrum immediately began blogging against the quote saying those oppressed by the Fascism and Communism were much more impressed by and grateful for our power than our example. From my point of view they represent something I am not particular proud of in America – the end justifies the means and the might is right ideologues who constantly push for the increasing militarization of our country.
Because if these advocates of unmitigated military power are correct and what the world really admires about America is its ability unilaterally to force its way on the rest of the world and to justify anything it does (or the only thing they admire about us is having uncontested military power and the ability to disregard and disrespect the family of nations), then as China, India, Brazil, Russia or any other nation comes to power in the world (as they all are currently doing), the U.S. can expect they will never cooperate with the U.S. but will each in turn unilaterally aim to dominate us, until America so weakened by endless wars and disputes and isolation and overspending, no longer is the world’s only superpower, but becomes a nation struggling to survive like all other second rate nations of the world.
Co-operation and mutual prosperity are preferred to mutual.y assured destruction.
So for my money, for my patriotism, for my concern for the U.S., I much prefer to see the U.S. promote good in the world rather than to simply enforce its power. Admittedly, that is my idealism. It is probably true that if America was but a tiny nation of the world, or a third world nation, all the nations of the globe would not care one whit about our morality, our ideals, our democracy.
But we should not forget that our strength as a nation comes from our concern for justice, for democracy, for freedom, for opposition to oppression and tyranny, and for prosperity for all (In the words of Emma Lazarus carved on the Statue of Liberty:
“Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”).
It is right which gives us might, not might which gives us right. This is what I think Bill Clinton got right and his detractors have failed to understand about what is great about America.
I never voted for Clinton, and was offended by his personal example. His popularity still mystifies me. And even if his line was nothing more than proof of the witicisim that even a blind squirrel occasionally gets an acorn, it does capture for me an American hope and idealism.