Go West, America; Protectionism Today Is Wishful Thinking

By George Will Copyright Washington Post Writers Group | St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO), November 25, 1993 | Go to article overview

Go West, America; Protectionism Today Is Wishful Thinking


George Will Copyright Washington Post Writers Group, St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)


In October 1900, when Seattle was a raw town of 80,000, across the continent in Cambridge, Mass., a Harvard philosopher, George Santayana, addressed an undergraduate literary club, delivering a pointed poem, "Young Sam's First Wild Oats," which began:

Mid Uncle Sam's expanded acres

There's an old, secluded glade

Where grey Puritans and Quakers

Still grow fervid in the shade;

And the same great elms and beeches

That once graced the ancestral farm,

Bending to the old men's speeches,

Lend their words an echo's charm.

Laurel, clematis, and vine

Weave green trellises about,

And three maples and a pine

Shut the mucker-village out.

Yet the smoke of trade and battle

Cannot quite be banished hence,

And the air-line to Seattle

Whizzes just behind the fence.

Back then, before the birth of Seattle's Boeing Corp., an "air-line" was a fast train. In Santayana's poem, such a train symbolized the mingling of booming commerce and imperial politics that much of Harvard's faculty considered unaesthetic ("mucker-village") and immoral. McKinley's re-election campaign and the angry debate about the Philippines - America's acquisition of Pacific empire - were boiling along. Santayana was indicting people whose politics amounted, he believed, to a feckless wish that the world would spin another way.

Today protectionism is a popular form of wishful thinking - more popular and durable than many complacent people think now that NAFTA has been approved. But protectionism cannot deflect the forces that have turned this nation's attention to the ocean on the left side of the continent.

When Secretary of State Warren Christopher says "Eurocentric" policies are anachronistic because "Western Europe is no longer the dominant area of the world," his words express what the president's behavior expresses. Clinton has not been to Paris, London or Bonn but has been to Tokyo and Seoul.

The Asian orientation of U.S. policy is partly a result of Europe's decadence.

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