'We're No. 1'

July 08, 1991

The Fourth of July is a day for fireworks, barbecues and patriotic rhetoric. But now that the birthday celebration is over, we must ask, are Americans so insecure that we must have our president tell us we're better than everyone else in the world?

What else is one to make of President Bush's statement that Americans are "the finest, most loving nation on Earth"?

For starters, of course, the statement is open to challenge. We are, after all, the nation which has the highest rate of illiteracy among industrialized nations. And one of the highest rates of infant mortality. And, except for South Africa, the highest rate of incarceration of people in prisons.

But even leaving that aside, does it occur to the president how such statements must sound to people of the 160 other nations who are equally proud of their cultural heritage? After all, the 250 million Americans constitute a scant 5 percent of the world's population. Does Bush really mean to suggest that 250 million Americans are "finer" and "more loving" than the other 4.7 billion people who inhabit the world from England to Australia, from Afghanistan to Zimbabwe?

Some years ago the English comic-singing team of Flanner and Swann came up with "The Song of Patriotic Prejudice" as an antidote to the fabled British proclivity for understatement and self-effacement. The refrain goes, "The English, the English, the English are best; so up with the English and down with the rest."

Unfortunately, Bush's "patriotic prejudice" doesn't even have the redeeming quality of humor. It sounds more like a drunken football fan, caterwauling "We're No. 1, we're No. 1." And it ill becomes the great nation that we are.

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