America is unique among nations in being founded not on a common ethnicity, but on a set
of ideas. A nation based on ethnicity perpetuates itself by the fact of birth. But a nation founded
on an idea starts anew with each generation and with each new group of immigrants. Knowing
what America stands for is not a genetic inheritance. It must be learned, both by the next generation and by those who come to this country. In this way, a nation founded on an idea is inherently fragile. And a nation that celebrates the many ways we are different from one another must remind itself constantly of what we all share
This understanding of the inherent fragility of America represents the essential insight of American conservatism – an understanding that George W. Bush has entirely rejected. I describe this as a conservative insight based on a more traditional view of conservatism that, in Buckley’s phrase, “stands athwart history shouting ‘Stop!’ ” A conservatism that in the tradition of Edmund Burke and Russel Kirk respects traditions and the status quo.
George W. Bush is not a conservative by any of these standards. He is instead, a right-winger, divorced from the divorced from the inherent moderate or even reactionary elements of the conservative tradition. He is not a liberal – as some conservatives now claim, trying to distance themselves from him. Bush is a radical right-winger whose main focus has been the establishment of an American empire abroad and an elected monarch at home.
What is most perplexing about Bush is that even as he has sought monarchical powers – the ability to imprison people without charge or judicial review indefinitely, the right to be free from the constraints of law, the authority to wage war without checks or balances, and the protection from accountability to the people or other branches of government – he has been relatively restrained in his use of them. This makes his presidency all the more insidious – as the greatest majority of Americans have not noticed the growing power of the presidency even as it threatens the very idea of America – and idea which is inherently fragile.
This report focuses on how we need to educate America children and citizens in order to enable America to survive. This is true. But what this report appears to miss is that the most dire, the most pressing threat to America today is the legal framework and the precedent set by the actions of the Bush administration.