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The real un-Americans

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By Harold Meyerson
Thursday, September 23, 2010

There are un-Americans among us. They don't share our values, yet they control the most powerful offices in the land. We must rid ourselves of this fifth-column menace.

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That's pretty much the Republican and Tea Party line these days. When a right-wing talk show host interviewing Sharron Angle, now the Republican senatorial candidate in Nevada, told her last year that "we have domestic enemies" and that some of them worked within "the walls of the Senate and the Congress," Angle chirped up, "I think you're right."

The Tea Partyers aren't wrong about the growing influence of un-Americans in high places. They've just misidentified who those un-Americans are.

As the right-wingers see it, even President Obama's more conventional ideas have no place or precedent in the American experience. Ending the Bush tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans, Dinesh D'Souza reasons in his summa idiotica currently on the cover of Forbes magazine, cannot be explained within the confines of American political thought. However, he writes, "if Obama shares his father's anticolonial crusade, that would explain why he wants people who are already paying close to 50% of their income to pay even more."

I'd like to see D'Souza explain why the highest tax brackets during the presidency of Dwight Eisenhower took 90 percent of people's incomes.

This ascription of all things Obama to alien ideologies and religions -- he's a Muslim, a European socialist, an anti-colonial African Marxist -- has a basis not in empirical fact, of course, but in political logic. It speaks, in powerful metaphoric terms, to that large group of white Americans who see their country slipping away. With each passing year, America grows less white, less powerful and less prosperous, at least from the perspective of all but the rich. There's no correlation between the demographic change and our economic slump, but millions of Americans believe and fear that there is. And for many of those millions, Obama has become the object of their fear and rage that their America is being lost.

In fact, a good deal of American prosperity is being lost, but if there are homegrown agents of this decline, they're not in the administration.

Consider the debate in Congress about whether to impose tariffs on Chinese imports if China continues to depress the value of its currency. Roughly 150 House members, including 45 Republicans, have authored a bill to do just that, and the Ways and Means Committee will take up the bill on Friday. Unions and some domestic manufacturers support the bill. But a large number of American businesses, in a campaign coordinated by the U.S.-China Business Council, oppose it.

Now, there's nothing un-American in opposing the legislation as such -- far from it. Support for and opposition to tariffs are both as American as apple pie. The question here is whether the 220 corporations that belong to the council -- household names such as Coca-Cola, Bank of America, Ford, GM, Wal-Mart, Intel, Microsoft, Hewlett-Packard, J.P. Morgan Chase, Chevron, Exxon Mobil and Boeing -- are already so deeply invested in China as manufacturers, marketers or retailers that buy goods there to sell them here that their interests are more closely aligned with China's than with America's. Revaluing China's currency would be helpful to domestic U.S. manufacturers, their employees and the communities where those employees live and work, but America's largest companies have long since ceased to be domestic.

Given the explosive growth of the Chinese economy, it's a safe bet that every major U.S. corporation will devote greater resources to building, buying and selling there. But China, unlike the Obama administration, truly is guided by an ideology alien to most Americans -- Leninism -- and wields far greater control over what U.S. corporations can and can't do there than the U.S. government does over what corporations can and can't do here. Our leading companies' economic interests, and those of their Chinese hosts, whom they cross at their peril, are increasing likely to pit them against proposals that diminish China's edge, however obtained, in global competition.

As the Tea Partyers contend, there are un-Americans among us. They hold some of the most powerful offices in the land.

meyersonh@washpost.com


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