Home/Daniel Larison/The Larger Point

The Larger Point

Reacting to theseposts, a commenter at Ross’ blog wrote:

No wonder politicians give up and rely on scripts; this kind of henpecking the details and failing to engage on the larger point that Fred Thompson counts himself an unapologetic patriot who generally sees the US foreign policy as good. I’d think his judgement could be addressed on that point without dithering about body count.

Yes, why “dither” about facts?  Why be concerned with historical accuracy?  It’s not as if a deficient understanding of the past could have any consequences for the quality of policymaking. 

Speaking of “larger points,” one might engage the larger point that Thompson lends credibility to the stereotype of the “unapologetic patriot” as unthinking, ignorant and boastful patriot, which in turn does so much to give proper American patriotism a bad name in the world.  One might engage the larger point that Thompson’s answer reflects not so much patriotism as it does chauvinism, since the patriot, as Chesteron said in Napoleon of Notting Hill, boasts not of the largeness of his country but of its smallness.  One might engage the point that Thompson largely ducked the question about America’s unpopularity today by jumping into a refrain about how much more Americans have sacrificed than all other nations for the “liberty and freedom of other peoples.”  Or a Thompson defender might engage the larger point that ignoring the contributions of our British, French, Commonwealth and other free European allies is an amazing thing for a presidential candidate to do in the announcement of his candidacy.  This is someone who allegedly wants to be President.  He claims to be prepared to run our foreign policy during what he regards as a crucially important time in a major worldwide struggle, and this struggle requires cultivating and tending alliances that have been badly strained over the past few years.  He chooses to launch that effort with an insult to some of our oldest and best allies. 

Suppose for a moment that Thompson genuinely doesn’t know that his statement was, in fact, false–is that supposed to encourage us to regard him well?  Haven’t we had quite enough of presidential candidates who relish their own lack of knowledge about the rest of the world and the history of other nations?  The gaffe, if we can call it that, is indicative of the sort of detail-free campaign he seems intent on running, and yet another example of a Republican who thinks that foreign policy is two parts nationalist rhetoric and one part bombast.  

Here’s another point.  If a Canadian or, God help us, a French politician were to make some similarly overblown statement, the reaction in certain circles in this country would be one of hysterical outrage at the expression of “anti-Americanism.”  Our pols are free to say whatever foolish, ignorant thing they please and can ignore U.S. allies whenever it suits them, but just watch those pols issue denunciations of those same allies the moment their leaders utter the ‘wrong’ thing or fail to show their gratitude to America for all that we have done for them.

about the author

Daniel Larison is a senior editor at TAC, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.

leave a comment