“the limits of power: the end of american exceptionalism”

The other day Bill Moyers had retired United States Army Colonel Andrew J Bacevich on his show discussing his new book, “The Limits of Power: The End of American Exceptionalism.” If you have the time, I’d highly recommend watching the video or reading the transcript. It’s all good, but here’s a little clip:

BILL MOYERS: Here is one of those neon sentences. Quote, “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: You intrigued me when you wrote that “The fundamental problem facing the country will remain stubbornly in place no matter who is elected in November.” What’s the fundamental problem you say is not going away no matter whether it’s McCain or Obama?

ANDREW BACEVICH: What neither of these candidates will be able to, I think, accomplish is to persuade us to look ourselves in the mirror, to see the direction in which we are headed. And from my point of view, it’s a direction towards ever greater debt and dependency…

There’s nothing really groundbreaking in what he’s saying — it’s all stuff we’ve discussed here before – but it’s good to hear someone from the military joining the growing chorus of people saying that we desperately need to rethink what it means to be American, to be happy, and to be free. As he says at some point during the interview, when you look at what really matters, it doesn’t have anything to do with consumption.

Of particular interest to me was the part where he talked about Carter and his comprehension in the 1970’s of the problem facing our country today. It’s unfortunate that we Americans were either unable or unwilling to listen to him at the time. Hopefully there’s still time to make amends.

Speaking of consumption, I just saw a new Discover ad on television. It started with a soothing voice saying, “We’re a nation of consumers, and there’s nothing wrong with that,” over uplifting music and images of happy people.

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4 Comments

  1. Steph's Dad
    Posted August 20, 2008 at 12:33 pm | Permalink

    We consume.
    We consume on credit.
    The important thing is that we consume.

    In the wake of September 11, we asked our President what we should do.
    He said that we should shop.

    That’s what we do.
    As Discover Card says, “There’s nothing wrong with that”

  2. applejack
    Posted August 20, 2008 at 5:40 pm | Permalink

    Based on this interview alone, I’d like this guy as an Obama VP or at least in his cabinet. Not going to happen, but he couldn’t be more right about America and the Iraq war.

  3. mark
    Posted August 20, 2008 at 7:46 pm | Permalink

    He doesn’t mention it here, but his son was killed last year in Iraq.

  4. Northern Wolf
    Posted November 14, 2008 at 4:52 pm | Permalink

    Just finished reading “The Limits of Power”. What an eye-opener. How true it rings.

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