Magazine article The Spectator

Go West to Discover the True America

Magazine article The Spectator

Go West to Discover the True America

Article excerpt

'Go West, young man, go West, ' newspaper editor Horace Greeley advised ambitious 19th-century Americans as the nation pursued its Manifest Destiny. Well, it might have been Greeley, or perhaps John Babson Lane Soule, editor of the Terre Haute (Indiana) Daily Express. No matter the author: the advice is as applicable today as it was 150 years ago -- and not only for young men.

After a stint in the rancorous atmosphere of our nation's capital, where resurgent Democrats are out to prove that another surge, this one in Iraq, is doomed to failure, I headed west on a business trip. America's Manifest Destiny, of course, has already been fulfilled. We long ago 'overspread the continent allotted by Providence', to borrow from John L. O'Sullivan, who coined the phrase in 1845.

My reason for heading west was to fulfil a number of speaking engagements, and attend meetings at Arizona's most venerable and prestigious law firm (a client), Snell & Wilmer, famous for having won the lawsuit that brought Colorado River water to Phoenix and made it possible for this city of hundreds of verdant fairways and millions of air-conditioners (it was 104infinityF when we arrived) to grow into the nation's fifth largest (behind only New York, Los Angeles, Chicago and Houston).

At one of those meetings I was reminded that Washington D.C. is not America, that patriotism and civility remain dominant strains in American life, and that the American West is not the same as the West Side of Manhattan, where love of country is confined to an appreciation of the virtues of country houses scattered around Long Island.

The audience for my talk included some 400 lawyers and a smattering of spouses;

with more than half of all new law school graduates women, the term 'spouse' at meetings such as this includes almost as many men as women. It was not so long ago that organisers of these meetings could be confident that they had adequately arranged to amuse spouse tag-alongs by arranging embroidery and cooking classes. No longer.

The session's chairman began by welcoming back a partner who had been serving with the Marines in Iraq. With no prompting, the entire audience sprang to its feet and bathed the returnee in waves of applause.

Some wept. I later found that the firm had made up the difference between the partner's military pay and what he would have earned at the firm, and that it is doing the same for a young woman now serving as a captain in the army in Iraq.

Flash back to Washington. Newspapers report atrocities American soldiers are allegedly committing in Iraq; Democratic politicians speechify on the uselessness of the sacrifices of our troops; and it takes a mighty battle by President Bush to prise funds from Congress to pay for the armour and ammunition needed by American servicemen and women. In Phoenix and the West (for these purposes Hollywood and San Francisco count as part of the East), patriotism is considered a virtue; in some Washington circles it is thought to be the last refuge of scoundrels, or at minimum something practised only by uncool rednecks.

Differences over Iraq are only the most obvious manifestation of the East-West divide. Go west and you get a sense of the possible, a sense that deserts can become town houses, country clubs and shopping malls; that families matter so much that the baseball field includes an adjacent swimming pool for use by children too young to appreciate the choreography of a game devoid of pace and violence; that a massive increase in population represents hands to work rather than bodies to hasten global warming. …

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