Thursday, March 13, 2008

America, Patriotism and Mediocrity

Recently several members of congress and large segments of the public have berated the United States Air Force for awarding a $30 billion contract to French-based Airbus over U.S.-based Boeing to build a fleet of airborne fuel tankers. Here in the south, the criticism was laced with language suggesting that the Air Force’s decision was unpatriotic, that by choosing a French company, they were turning their back on the United States, its workers, its economy and all that our flag represents. Overlooked in much of the criticism is the Air Force’s statement that the quality of the Airbus proposal bested Boeing’s proposal in every significant criteria. What would these patriotic protesters prefer? That Boeing be awarded the contract despite the subpar proposal, despite the fact that Airbus’ attention to detail, quality and cost rendered it a better choice?

American patriotism is fast becoming a descent to mediocrity.

We seem quite willing to shut down our collective intellect in the face of some crude definition of what it means to be an American patriot. Not only does this trend run counter to the supposedly American ideals of merit and just deserts, it promotes nepotism and dim thinking. Awarding Boeing the contract simply because it is an American company is tantamount to nation based affirmative action. The very patriots protesting this award are those who vehemently oppose race based affirmative action with the argument that it undermines quality and is a breach of the contract with merit. Their crude patriotism blinds them even to the simple contradictions in their positions.

Under the banner of patriotism, we yell at Hispanic immigrants to learn to speak English. The implication being, that it is beneath us proud Americans to learn Spanish. The patriot angrily asks, “Why should I learn to speak Spanish to these illegals, this is America?” Indeed it is America and the outcome is that the patriot can only speak English. That renders the American patriot virtually alone in the industrialized world in our inability to communicate in more than one language.

This brand of popular patriotism that we now have is making us average. It is not a proud and bright pursuit of positive competition in the name of collective American improvement. It is a shutting down of reasoning, critical thought and the appetite for learning. Unfortunately this lowly brand of patriotism is being aided and abetted by an equally crude political landscape. Senator Clinton’s crass and derisive campaign does not help. President Bush’s sophomoric reasoning and his ‘us versus them’ ideals are equally culpable.

This brand of patriotism is not the only kind. There is another kind that is based on an appetite for learning and a fundamental respect for the world and all its complexities. This second kind promotes high achievement, cultural and social maturity and ultimately a reason to be proud of the country in which we live. That nation pride is pure and is a sustainable foundation for real American patriotism.

As such... Obama '08!!



azaro said...

Since this is really an unabashed party political broadcast on behalf of your man, Obama I feel I should correct a misstatement in your blog. We would not want you to go the way of Stephanie Powers, you know!

Airbus is not a French company, originally started by a consortium from England, France and Germany with Holland and Spain joining in later. It is now owned by EADS which is still a European company. Yes, yes, I know, the headquarters is in Toulouse but that is only because it is close to foie gras country!

I also understand that France-bashing is a very patriotic American pastime right now but allowing you the poetic licence of your trade is going to have the Clinton campaign baying for blood and your removal from the cyber waves!

As to “a decent [sic] to mediocrity” it WAS a Frenchman, Jean Giraudoux ,who said “Only the mediocre are always at their best.” Now that China, despite its still-dismal human rights record, has been removed from the U.S. worst offender list, the gateway is open for even more products to flow in from the east – now THAT’S real American patriotism!

Colin said...

Hey Kamau! Just wanted to drop a note to say how much I enjoy reading your words and thoughts here. Keep it up! Hope you and the family are well.

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