In the run up to another war in the Middle East, after stalemate in Afghanistan and Iraq, what is it in the American DNA that makes us think it it will be different the next time? What is the story we continually tell ourselves about our indispensable nation that seems to cloud the facts on the ground?
It boils down to two poles of the American personality personified by two iconic Americans: the rough and ready Teddy Roosevelt and his teacher, the pragmatist William James. Do we respond more to the dream of an indispensable nation with a monopoly on freedom, faith, and the high ground or the notion of pragmatic realism and restraint and the insistence on testing every idea by its results?
The historian Jackson Lears says the Roosevelt triumphal vision of America has itself triumphed: we go to war, and make decisions, based on a deathless dream of winning the day. We’re thinking through both sides of the century-old conversation in the person of Seth Moulton: Harvard graduate, Marine officer and veteran of Iraq, now on his way to Congress after a primary challenge that unseated the nine-term Representative John Tierney.
Hillary Clinton, at the start of her pre-election media blitz, says we’re failing to tell the American story. But just which story is it? Are we charging up San Juan Hill, or are we settling down and growing up?