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December 08, 2005

No, It's Not Only In America

Not to be a scrooge about this, but Terry Teachout's point is a bit bizarre:

Jack Fowler's posting made me smile. I'm just three months younger than NR, and it certainly never occurred to me when I picked up my first issue more than half a lifetime ago that my name would be on the cover of the 50th-anniversary issue. It's nice when dreams come true, but it's even nicer when good things happen of which your young self would never have dared to dream. Excuse the cliché, but only in America....

Why do folks insist on crediting "America" for things totally unspecific to our country? Do contributors not get their names printed on magazine covers in Britain? I mean, as an aspiring writer, I think Teachout's experience is very cool, but, like many things credited to some ephemeral surfeit of opportunity specific to this country, it's a personal accomplishment, not something facilitated by the state.

Update: From Allen K. in comments:

Jay Leno, of all people, took on this sacred cow sometime during Bush 41. Some baby had fallen down a well and a great deal of effort was spent finding her and getting her out. "Only in America" claimed GHWB. "What, the Swiss would have let her die?" asked Leno. "`Foolishness! It is not cost-effective to save this child!'"

December 8, 2005 | Permalink

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Comments

Its aart and parcel to the American Myth: the idea that only our society is a meritocricy and that through shere hard work and guts, one can achieve anything. Because all those Europeans are nefarious cronyists and everyone else is a savage.

Posted by: Keith | Dec 8, 2005 3:13:49 PM

A Part of, I meant to say.

Posted by: Keith | Dec 8, 2005 3:17:27 PM

I think Keith is essentially correct. I interpret the cliche in question as a comment on the opportunities afforded ordinary people in a supposedly class-less society.

Of course, in the last generation or two, class has become pre-dominant, if not dominant, in determining who gets the elite jobs.

Class definitely took it on the chin in America in the Age of Jackson, at least in the northern States, and the Civil War sealed the deal with the self-educated, self-made Lincoln and the son-of-a-tanner, Army-dropout Grant defeating the college-educated Jefferson Davis and the aristocratic Robert E. Lee.

FDR's remaking of America in the Great Depression and World War II dealt a second great blow to class. The fact that many of those he helped with the GI Bill, etc., were the children and grandchildren of the waves of immigrants, who came over, 1870-1910, from eastern Europe, and who, originally, formed a despised underclass, helped cement the myth.

But, in the last couple of generations, class has made a comeback. Meritocracy is on the outs. The country's "leadership" is now in the hands of spoiled, lazy ill-educated grandchildren of a more meritorious cohort. We have the likes of "Pinch" Sulzberger, Bill Ford and, of course, George W. Bush, driving once great institutions into the dirt.

Of course, if you are writing for the National Review, the decline of America into fascism and economic oligarchy is something to celebrate.

Posted by: Bruce Wilder | Dec 8, 2005 4:07:40 PM

I just read recently (can't remember where now) that not only is America not the only country in which upward mobility is possible, but it offers less opportunity for upward mobility than most other western countries, including Britain. That didn't used to be true, but it is now. Only in America....

Posted by: Shakespeare's Sister | Dec 8, 2005 4:32:17 PM

Don't be so overly dramatic. It's just a saying.

Posted by: mike | Dec 8, 2005 5:19:33 PM

It's just a saying.

No, it means something.

Jay Leno, of all people, took on this sacred cow sometime during Bush 41. Some baby had fallen down a well and a great deal of effort was spent finding her and getting her out. "Only in America" claimed GHWB. "What, the Swiss would have let her die?" asked Leno. "`Foolishness! It is not cost-effective to save this child!'"

Posted by: Allen K. | Dec 8, 2005 5:40:03 PM

The means for upward mobility are there. The infrastructure is in place. However, culture is probably the most influential variable. If you are of a culture where personal responsibility and self direction are not lauded, taught and applauded, you will not do as well as those cultures that do this.

A great example would be some of the Asian cultures. Asian immigrants come to this country and make a go of businesses where the local natives have declared there is no opportunity. Think of South Central L.A. and the shop owners there.

Rich people understand the need and importance of education and push their children to achieve this. Poor people don't. That is one reason why they are poor and their children have a greater cahnce of beint poor as well. Then someone steps in and whines about opportunity when they are really talking about egalitariansim.....two entirely different things.

Posted by: Fred Jones | Dec 8, 2005 6:33:26 PM

Rich people understand the need and importance of education and push their children to achieve this. Poor people don't.

Wow. That is the most ignorant statement I have read in a long time.

Posted by: tatere | Dec 8, 2005 6:57:39 PM

Of course, outside of America, the phrase "Only in America" has very different connotations.

Posted by: Ginger Yellow | Dec 8, 2005 7:51:49 PM

Jay Leno, of all people, took on this sacred cow sometime during Bush 41. Some baby had fallen down a well and a great deal of effort was spent finding her and getting her out. "Only in America" claimed GHWB.

Maybe the "Only in America" event that GHWB was referring to was not the rescue itself but the optioning of the story for a TV movie.

Posted by: Constantine | Dec 8, 2005 8:13:30 PM

Rich people understand the need and importance of education and push their children to achieve this. Poor people don't.

And, of course, the availability and uptake of educational opportunities (including universal access to quality early education) has nothing whatsoever to do with social priorities and political choices. It's all a matter of individual culutre, you see...

Posted by: Phoenician in a time of Romans | Dec 8, 2005 9:15:40 PM

That is the most ignorant statement I have read in a long time.

So shoot the messenger......more children of those with education get educations.
.....must be the water....yeah, tha's it....

Posted by: Fred Jones | Dec 8, 2005 11:10:39 PM

Anyone who doubts 'only in America' hates America.

Posted by: Adrock | Dec 9, 2005 10:23:58 AM

Anyone that _______________________(place qualifier of choice here)HATES AMERICA!!

Posted by: Fred Jones | Dec 9, 2005 4:33:59 PM

A variant of the cliche, by way of the Obligatory Simpsons Quote:

"When my family arrived in this country four months ago, we spoke no English and had no money in our pockets. Today, we own a nationwide chain of wheel-balancing centers. Where else but in America, or possibly Canada, could our family find such opportunity? That's why, whenever I see the Stars and Stripes, I will always be reminded of that wonderful word: flag!"

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