Toward ever-greater debt and dependency

November 2, 2008 | By | 2 Replies More

Bill Moyers sat down with history and international relations expert and former US Army Colonel Andrew J. Bacevich, who has authored a book entitled:  “The Limits of Power: The End of American Exceptionalism.” Bacevich has identified three major problems facing our democracy: the crises of economy, government and militarism.  These three problems all have something in common: they are of our own making.  Bacevich calls for a redefinition of the American way of life:

According to Bacevich,

there’s a tendency on the part of policy makers and probably a tendency on the part of many Americans to think that the problems we face are problems that are out there somewhere, beyond our borders. And that if we can fix those problems, then we’ll be able to continue the American way of life as it has long existed. I think it’s fundamentally wrong. Our major problems are at home.

Over and over again, Bacevich points out that America is a country in denial and that, in considering why we have so many big problems, we refuse to look in the mirror.   He argues that this is a fundamental problem that is not going to go away, no matter who is elected on Tuesday.  Here are a few excerpts:

BILL MOYERS:
“The pursuit of freedom, as defined in an age of consumerism, has induced a condition of dependence on imported goods, on imported oil, and on credit. The chief desire of the American people,” you write, “is that nothing should disrupt their access to these goods, that oil, and that credit. The chief aim of the U.S. government is to satisfy that desire, which it does in part of through the distribution of largesse here at home, and in part through the pursuit of imperial ambitions abroad.” In other words, you’re saying that our foreign policy is the result of a dependence on consumer goods and credit.

ANDREW BACEVICH: Our foreign policy is not something simply concocted by people in Washington D.C. and imposed on us. Our foreign policy is something that is concocted in Washington D.C., but it reflects the perceptions of our political elite about what we want, we the people want. And what we want, by and large – I mean, one could point to many individual exceptions – but, what we want, by and large is, we want this continuing flow of very cheap consumer goods.

We want to be able to pump gas into our cars regardless of how big they may happen to be, in order to be able to drive wherever we want to be able to drive. And we want to be able to do these things without having to think about whether or not the book’s balanced at the end of the month, or the end of the fiscal year. And therefore, we want this unending line of credit. . .

BILL MOYERS: And you write that “What will not go away, is a yawning disparity between what Americans expect, and what they’re willing or able to pay.” Explore that a little bit.

ANDREW BACEVICH: Well, I think one of the ways we avoid confronting our refusal to balance the books is to rely increasingly on the projection of American military power around the world to try to maintain this dysfunctional system, or set of arrangements that have evolved over the last 30 or 40 years . . .
I think historians a hundred years from now will puzzle over how it could be that the United States of America, the most powerful nation in the world, as far back as the early 1970s, came to recognize that dependence on foreign oil was a problem, posed a threat, comprised our freedom of action.  How every President from Richard Nixon down to the present one, President Bush, declared, “We’re gonna fix this problem.” None of them did.

One prominent American politician did appreciate and articulate the dangers we are still struggling to understand.  It was Jimmy Carter, in 1979, when he delivered his

so-called Malaise Speech, even though he never used the word “malaise” in the text to the address. It’s a very powerful speech, I think, because President Carter says in that speech, oil, our dependence on oil, poses a looming threat to the country. If we act now, we may be able to fix this problem. If we don’t act now, we’re headed down a path in which not only will we become increasingly dependent upon foreign oil, but we will have opted for a false model of freedom. A freedom of materialism, a freedom of self-indulgence, a freedom of collective recklessness. And what the President was saying at the time was, we need to think about what we mean by freedom. We need to choose a definition of freedom which is anchored in truth, and the way to manifest that choice, is by addressing our energy problem. He had a profound understanding of the dilemma facing the country in the post Vietnam period. And of course, he was completely hooted, derided, disregarded.

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Category: American Culture, Psychology Cognition

About the Author ()

Erich Vieth is an attorney focusing on consumer law litigation and appellate practice. He is also a working musician and a writer, having founded Dangerous Intersection in 2006. Erich lives in the Shaw Neighborhood of St. Louis, Missouri, where he lives half-time with his two extraordinary daughters.

Comments (2)

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  1. lisa rokusek says:

    Don't know if you had seen this Erich, but Bacevich is another conservative who came out as supporting Obama.

    Good stuff. http://is.gd/6fvW

  2. Dan Klarmann says:

    Lisa, Thanks for showing us is.gd!

    Here's the instructions for the rest of youse who may need an easier shorter url generator than even tinyurl.com

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