Last night, Mitt Romney gave what was billed as the opening speech of his general election campaign. Jamelle has explained how much Romney distorted the economic story of the past four years, while Ezra says accurately that "If this speech was all you knew of Mitt Romney -- if it was your one guide to his presidential campaign -- you'd sum his message up as, 'vote for me: I think America is great.'" Indeed you would—the speech included the word "America" a numbing 33 times. But there's something else I want to note from Romney's speech, something that both Republicans and Democrats do, and it drives me crazy:
I’ll tell you about how much I love this country, where someone like my dad, who grew up poor and never graduated from college, could pursue his dreams and work his way up to running a great car company. Only in America could a man like my dad become governor of the state in which he once sold paint from the trunk of his car.
You see, Mitt Romney may not have pulled himself up by his own bootstraps, but he has a pair of bootstraps that he inherited from his father, which he keeps in a small mahogany box and takes out and gazes upon every now and again to remind himself of how great it is for someone to have bootstraps, and pull himself up by them, if that's what he needs to do. All he's saying is, he knows from bootstraps.
Can we just put aside the "only in America" schtick? It's like every presidential candidate has to channel Yakov Smirnoff at some point. Let's be honest about this. America does indeed offer enormous opportunities for all kinds of people, despite our huge and growing inequality. The attraction it has always held for immigrants made this country what it is. For a long time, the kinds of opportunities available here were a rarity among nations, when in so many places class lines were much more rigid. But that's not true anymore. There are lots of places where somebody can come from modest circumstances and achieve wealth and/or power. South African president Jacob Zuma's father was a cop, and his mother was a maid; he grew up without any formal schooling. Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper's father was an accountant. Evo Morales was a subsistence farmer who turned to growing coca, and now he's the president of Bolivia. Now those are some bootstraps! And you know who else pulled himself up from modest circumstances? Saddam Hussein, that's who.
Why is it necessary to assert that every good thing about America can only be found in America? We should continue to be enormously proud of the fact that we were the first democracy, but sometimes we act as though America is the only place in the world that isn't still ruled by a king. Are we so insecure about ourselves and our nation that we have to be constantly told that we're the most terrific country that ever was or ever will be, and there's nobody else even remotely like us? Is Mitt Romney running for president, or does he want to be some combination of a proud grandfather and a national life coach?
But it isn't just Romney. Barack Obama does this too; he has repeated many times that only in America could someone with his unusual background have become president. Which is certainly closer to the truth than the assertion that only in America could a guy like George Romney have become governor of Michigan, but still. There's no easier or more foolish way to check off the patriotism box than to repeat "Only in America!" Enough already.