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The reason Americans venerate their nation's Founders is that it keeps them humble. Personally humble, at least — however much adoration of the Founding makes for national hubris. 

Oh, social reasons exist as well. Europeans found peculiar the hours of recent US Supreme Court argument about the constitutionality of health insurance. But the court was only echoing the national conversation. All across America — in barbershops and coffee houses — this is what you overhear. It's like walking through a Luis Buñuel film, and the obsession with the Founding is one of the things that binds the nation together.

But the moral reason for deferring to Washington, Jefferson, Madison et al, may be the primary one. Politicians bow their heads a little, gesture toward the wisdom and insight of the Founders, as a way of assuring the public that they have not surrendered to self-importance. From Lincoln to Roosevelt, America has had historic figures, but that was always understood as happenstance: the times calling forth the man. Veneration of the American Founding is supposed to make the nation beware the man who wants to be historic.

Which does raise a worry about Barack Obama, for this is a man who floats above his presidential failures on a cloud of self-importance — a confidence that he is the most historic of figures. In truth, Obama does not use the word "I" much more often than other presidents did, but the idea that he always talks about himself gained traction because he is so obviously self-excited: this is a man who is always thinking "I", regardless of whether or not he says it.

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Ron Edge
June 28th, 2012
7:06 PM
Rather than use the canard, "There's no "I" in Team", let's use "Obama" instead.

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