Jonathan Zasloff comments on McCain’s characterization of Obama as “redistributionist in chief” by pointing out that if Obama gets elected then it will be a sign that the American public wants redistribution. That’s actually similar to some thoughts I’ve been mulling over. In about a week, it seems highly likely that the US electorate will send a clear signal about what kind of government they want. I believe Obama will win, the Democrats will control both houses, and the only question is whether the Democrats will achieve a 60-vote “supermajority” in the Senate. In the face of that, trying to portray the majority of the American people as somehow “un-American” is just absurd. It’s not only rude but it’s also bad strategy, alienating those the speaker cannot afford to alienate and marginalizing him or her even more than is already the case.

UPDATE: Nick Anderson of the Houston Chronicle “says” it with a cartoon.

There might be some historical basis for claiming that certain kinds of policies are “un-American” in the sense that they buck tradition or even violate the Holy Constitution, but I for one don’t care. What I care about are principles that are no more tied to one document than to one time or place. The constitution is a pretty good picture of a certain moral reality, through the lens of its time and circumstances, but it does not define that reality. At the time the constitution was written, one large segment of the population was enslaved and another disenfranchised. I do not feel bound to honor all traditions of that time, and the changes in either reality or our understanding of it since then cannot be so easily separated. I think it’s a bit disingenuous to say, “Of course I don’t support those artifacts of 1787, but these others must be held sacred.” Besides the differences already noted, and the obvious technological differences, at that time we didn’t have anything like today’s corporations or insurance or credit ratings or zoning issues or environmental issues or a thousand other social/legal/financial constructs that dominate our lives. Life now, at least so far as it relates to functions of government, is different not just quantitatively but qualitatively, not just in details but in overall concerns and priorities. We should judge policies and ideologies not on their consistency with a document written in a very different world but on whether they are effective today while remaining consistent with basic principles that may or may not be reflected in the constitution as written.

A real American is one who remains true to the moral reality I mentioned earlier, not one who tries to hide their personal biases behind either popular appeal or a piece of paper. Nowadays, I believe the people braying most about “real Americans” are those who least represent that ideal.