May 19, 2008

So ladies and gentlemen, if I say I am an Americanist you will agree. ~There Will Be Blood (modified)


A few days ago, I saw the original story that reported the remark of one Josh Fry of West Virginia, which has since been widely discussed:

He would just be more comfortable with “someone who is a full-blooded American as president.”

Now there are ways to understand the word “full-blooded” that do not exactly involve references to someone’s actual physical descent.  “Full-blooded” applies the language of lineage metaphorically to describe whether something or someone is genuine or possesses authenticity in a certain role.  As we are tirelessly lectured by mavens of propositionalism, American nationalism is civic, and not ethnic, and so is not tied to lineage or blood, but exists ethereally on the plane of ideas, and it is supposedly a nationality without ties of blood, whether real or imagined, that can nonetheless have “full-blooded” members in this other sense of complete, entire, full. 

Of course, the statement can be read more plainly to refer directly to ancestry, and I’m not sure that this isn’t what Mr. Fry meant when he said this (and what if it was?), but I would suggest a different reading that is in some ways much worse that has nothing to do with Kathleen Parker’s “blood equity,” whatever that may be.  We have another word that is often used interchangeably with “full-blooded,” and this is the slightly more neutral “red-blooded,” as in “every good, red-blooded American believes…,” and this has the effect of contrasting the people whom you are praising from some presumably “bloodless” set you mean to put down, but this term does not make the distinction clearly enough since everyone on the planet is “red-blooded.”  Because full-bloodedness implies completeness or wholeness, something less or other than this implies deficiency.  So what I’d like to suggest is that this phrase “full-blooded American” should be read as “Americanist,” and that what Mr. Fry was saying was that the President ought to be an Americanist.  This is, of course, exactly what legions of Obama’s critics have been saying for months whenever they tie him to those espousing “anti-Americanism” or berate him for his allegedly “America-hating” wife and his insufficient flag pin zeal, but which Fry and Parker made the mistake of expressing this in terms that were not dripping with saccharine rhetoric about equality and the proposition nation.  Parker made the mistake of arguing that there was some content and substance to Americanism that was non-negotiable and used the dreaded word “heritage.”  For this she is being excoriated as a racist and many other things besides, when I feel fairly confident that she meant nothing of the kind.  Nonetheless, I would press the point and say that it would be worse to reject Obama because he does not live up to the standards of Americanism, which has scarcely ever been good for the actual United States of America, than because his father came from somewhere else.  The latter instinct, whatever else we might say about it, is normal and human enough; the former strikes me as deeply confused and unhealthy.     


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