Tuesday, March 17, 2009

The 10 Big Lies about America

A couple of months ago I was in a bookstore with my girlfriend. She was looking for a workbook for her son, and I was enjoying browsing without the kids. As she was checking out, I glanced over the shelves behind the registers and exclaimed, "I see at least three books here I want to read!" I quickly memorized the titles, wrote them down when I got home and looked for them at my local library.

I've recently just finished the first one - The 10 Big Lies about America: Combating Destructive Distortions about our Nation by Michael Medved. How could you not be interested in a book with that title? In fact, my husband picked it up and started reading it and occasionally fought over who's turn it was to read it!

Turns out - it's good. Quite intellectual, well-documented - not really a book that you would pick up for a quick read before bed. I will, if I remember (!), add this book to my children's high school American history course.

In case you're curious - here's a list of the lies Michael Medved refutes in this book:

1. "America was founded on genocide against Native Americans"
2. "The United States is uniquely guilty for the crime of slavery, and based its wealth on stolen African labor."
3. "The founders intended a secular, not Christian, nation."
4. "America has always been a multicultural society, strengthened by diversity."
5. "The power of big business hurts the country and oppresses the people."
6. "Government programs offer the only remedy for economic downturns and poverty."
7. "America is an imperialist nation and a constant threat to world peace."
8. "The two-party system is broken, and we urgently need a viable third party."
9. "A war on the middle class means less comfort and opportunity for the average American."
10. "America is in the midst of an irreversible moral decline."

The topic that most interested me was number 9 - the 'war on the middle class.' What really sparked my interest in that topic was the book I read last year titled (Not) Keeping Up with Our Parents (which I wrote about in December's post "An Emotional Month of Reading"). In that book, Nan Mooney interviews people like her, struggling to keep up with her parents standard of living from her childhood. Some would say it supports the fact that the middle class is disappearing from our society.

Medved's response to the 'war on the middle class' is only 22 pages long, but pretty convincing. On pg 211 he quotes a May 7, 2007 USA Today headline, " 'Gas or Gamble? Economy Forces Some to Choose.' " The article profiles Carlos Bueno, a 32-year-old father of three who works for a utility company. In the article, he says he's going to have to cancel his family's trip to gamble and their annual trip to the Dominican Republic.

Medved's response: "It's easy to feel sympathetic toward presumably hardworking family men such as Mr. Bueno, but if a 32-year-old utility company employee could previously afford three annual casino trips (costing, he said, $1,500) plus yearly vacations with his wife and three kids to the Caribbean, then how "harsh" could the economy really be?"

Granted - the economy is a lot worse now than when he was writing this book - but still. My husband and I could not have afforded such vacations even when the economy was at it's best. Not that we would chose to spend our money that way.

Medved's main point is that people have lost perspective on how much we (as a country and economy) have gained over the past century or so. We have luxuries that even the very wealthy couldn't even dream of then - indoor plumbing, electricity, telephones, various appliances, etc. During times of economic hardship we have to tighten our belts, cancel vacations and gain some historical perspective(my words, not his). Medved says, "[M]ost members of the real middle class are too smart, and too busy counting blessings and seizing opportunities, to believe the lie that they are losers." (pg 231)

Medved ends his book with some observations about our "Abnormal Nation." "Lies about America proliferate precisely because no one shrugs off the United States as a nation like any other, with the usual mix of strengths, flaws, and eccentricities. Americans have always claimed more for ourselves ("the land of the free and home of the brave"), and those claims have produced inevitable polarization." (pg 258)

"If a Spaniard or a Swede won't acknowledge how much he has benefited from the Unites states and its world leadership for ideals of liberty, free markets, and self-government, he's shallow and stupid. But if a citizen of this favored land can't appreciate his own prodigious good fortune, his limitless opportunities as an American, then it's a case of willful ignorance and ingratitude." (pg 259)

Quite honestly, I am proud to be an American. Thanks Mr. Medved for reminding me of that fact.

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