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Jewish World Review July 17, 2002 /8 Menachem-Av, 5762

Mort Zuckerman

Mort Zuckerman
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What scandal cannot dim | Tanking stock market. Forest fires. Wall Street scandals. And looming over all that the menace of terrorism. Has ever our Independence Day had quite so many shadows? Yet we celebrated with a special depth of feeling this year, reflecting the innate sense of patriotism and pride that binds our brilliantly diverse nation. It is utterly right to look beyond the shadows as they seem to deepen. What can we see by dawn's early light?

First and foremost, a society that has pursued the ideals of freedom, human dignity, the rule of law, democracy, and private enterprise well enough to achieve a better life for more people than in any other society in history.

At home, we have opened our arms to millions of immigrants, producing the most racially, ethnically, and religiously diverse and tolerant country on the planet. Our free-market economy has provided unparalleled and unprecedented upward mobility. It grows out of a culture that has long valued individualism, innovation, and common sense rather than ideology, a culture that nourishes its mavericks, cherishes its young, welcomes newcomers, and is dramatically open to energy and talent rising from the bottom up. We value merit and achievement more than inheritance and social standing.

Yes, we have had certain advantages of geography in the size of our continent and our numbers, which have given us a huge marketplace with all the economies of scale, but geography and population would never have been enough if we had not practiced freedom-freedom of movement, freedom of choice, a readiness among millions to move physically and psychologically through education. No other country has a people so inclined to self-help, self-improvement, and even self-renovation.

That is why America's culture is uniquely suited to today's rapidly changing, knowledge-based economy. This bottom-up, open economic environment is tantamount to a giant information-processing system that enhances our capacity to absorb, adapt, and manage the dynamic and highly complex revolutions in technology, information, and logistics.

Talent rules. Yes, we have suffered a series of troubling scandals recently, but our system is sound. America's financial system is unmatched in providing the money to back good ideas, a market to allocate investments to firms that seem likely to maximize returns rather than what commonly prevails elsewhere, the lending to friends or relying on established corporate relationships. Our merit-based system funds the future, not the past; the new, and not the old.

All this economic energy is buttressed by a rough consensus in public policy that supports the view that the private sector, not the government, must make the majority of strategic and practical business decisions. And American workers do their part in adaptability and mobility, for they understand that their employment and success today depend far more on global competitiveness than on government subsidy.

For all these reasons, America is a magnet-a magnet for money seeking investment and a magnet for people, for scientifically trained foreign workers who vote with their feet and seek to immigrate here.

But America is not simply an economic success story. It is an example of ethics in action. This is the most generous society in the world. Charitable giving is four or five times greater as a percentage of income than in any other country. This is not just a reflection of the great foundations and prolific corporate sponsorship. Private giving by ordinary citizens is by far the greatest element in our country. Volunteerism runs high.

So does the spirit of equality. We are committed uniquely to mass higher education, to the emancipation of women, and to the elimination of discrimination in overcoming the appalling heritage of slavery.

Given all this, America might well be an insular nation, smug and content. But not so. We have extended the hand of friendship in the cause of common humanity and the fist in the cause of freedom. In the 20th century, we saved the West from fascism in Europe and Asia, and then we saved nations yet again from the global ambitions of Soviet communism. Today, our unrivaled military predominance is the indispensable component in saving civilization from terrorism and preserving international stability in the face of overt aggression.

The penalty for our wealth, our culture-our virtues, if you like-is envy among more people than we ever cared to imagine, disparate centers of religious and anarchic hatred that fear the power of freedom, of human rights, and of optimism. We will resist them, and we will overcome so that America will remain, as the Pilgrim John Winthrop once described it, the light of the world and a city set upon the hill. And that is what we celebrate.

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JWR contributor Mort Zuckerman is editor-in-chief and publisher of U.S. News and World Report. Send your comments to him by clicking here.


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09/08/00: The Perfect Storm
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08/15/00: Voting for grown-ups
08/01/00: Arafat's lack of nerve
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06/08/00: Using hate against Israel
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04/13/00: A paranoid power
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02/25/00: Web wake-up call
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12/23/99: The times of our lives
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10/14/99: A nation divided
10/05/99: India at center stage
09/21/99: Along with good cops, we need a better probation system
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08/31/99: The military should spend more on forces and less on facilities
08/05/99: Squandering the surplus
07/06/99: More than ever, America's unique promise is a reality
06/24/99: The time has come to hit the brakes on affirmative action
06/15/99: America should take pride in honoring its responsibilities
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05/11/99: Technology's transforming power is giving a lift to everything
05/04/99: The big game gets bigger
04/30/99: On Kosovo, Russia talked loudly and carried a small stick
04/21/99: No time to go wobbly
04/13/99: The Evil of two lessers

© 2001, Mortimer Zuckerman