The hoariest and most oft-repeated cliche in American politics may be that America is the greatest country in the world. Every politician, Democrat and Republican, seems duty bound to pander to this idea of American exceptionalism, and woe unto him who hints otherwise. This country is "the last, best hope of mankind,'' or the "shining city on the hill,'' or the "great social experiment.'' As if this weren't enough, Jimmy Carter upped the fawning ante 30 years ago by uttering arguably the most damning words in modern American politics. He called for a "government as good as the American people,'' thus taking national greatness and investing it in each and every one of us.
Carter was speaking when Watergate was fresh, and government had been disgraced, but still. The fact of the matter is that whenever anything really significant has been accomplished by our government, it is precisely because it was better than the American people.