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So over in the precincts of the American Conservative, where Dan Larison is completely mystified by the idea that something is askew when judging people by skin color, and sees nothing amiss at a Supreme Court nominee’s dalliance with folks who cheer on Puerto Rican nationalists with a proclivity for violence, Mr. Paleo has struck again.
This time, our friend Dan is having trouble with the concept that both Iran and Poland are populated by human beings.
In the Larison worldview, apparently, a human in Iran is not the same as a human in Poland. (This, perhaps, is related to his views on race?) No explanation here about a seemingly observable fact that both Poles and Iranians appear to have the same body parts, have the same need for air, water, and food and just maybe the same craving for freedom. Certainly there’s not a whiff of a Larisonian thought that what we are witnessing in Iran has been spotted before — and not just in 1980s Poland. That this is not a Polish problem or an Iranian problem but an unfortunately very, very human problem. Not a clue that fanaticism, bullying or just plain power-mad egomania are in fact common problems that have appeared all too often all over the planet throughout history precisely because they are problems evidenced by human beings. A Genghis Khan here, a King George III there, a Napoleon or Stalin or Hitler or Kim Jong Il or Saddam or Iranian Mullah or, yes indeed, just the jerks who run the Cripps and the Bloods or the Mafia — our friend Dan sees them all and misses the obvious. Like a hormone-charged teenager, a proclivity to alcoholism or a relentless desire to eat everything, this is the same problem over and over and over again all through the centuries. Whether presented in the name of religion (the latest round of Mullahs) or Empire (the particular madness of King George) or racial superiority (Hitler and that pesky Aryan race thing, the Hutu ethnic hatred for Tutsis in Rwanda) or turf (perhaps best exemplified by the old severed-horsehead-in-the-bed routine favored by Godfather Don Corleone) or even just plain barking looniness (current awardee: Kim Jong Il) — there is not a thing new to be seen in Iran anymore than there was in Poland. You might even say this is blindingly obvious to some.
What is new in a historical sense is the idea of freedom, of basic human rights, something that has been slowly evolving over the centuries in response to all of the above. As things have worked out, America — a nation built on the idea of freedom — has become what Ronald Reagan liked to call the Shining City on a Hill, borrowing from John Winthrop (who in turn borrowed from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount — Matthew 5:14). It certainly does not make America perfect, an impossibility for precisely the same reason we have bad guys in the world — the good guys are human too. We stumble around, sometimes we are clueless, weak, timid, filled with a touch too much hubris or just plain would prefer to keep our heads down and look the other way — just go about our lives and wish only to be left alone.
But the hard fact is that it always seems to be that unless we in America — which specifically means the human who holds the title President of the United States — holds that torch of freedom high, the world winds up in Big Trouble. At the moment, with the latest batch of bad guys turning up as the rulers of Iran, it is important for President Obama not to flinch. To — gasp! — do exactly what Reagan did, who did what Truman, FDR and Wilson and Lincoln and Washington did. (Alas, Larison views Lincoln as a tyrant — a tough sell unless you’re John Wilkes Booth.) Or for that matter, Eliot Ness. Visibly stand up for freedom. Brother Dan over there at the AC apparently would prefer to just go to the mall. I understand the motivation. But in the end, the bad guys will go to the mall too — and not to shop.