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Discussion Topic: Who is the Most American of Americans? August 27, 2012

Posted by Sobek in News.
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When the Russians erected a memorial to their national poet, Alexander Sergeyevich Pushkin, the famed author Fyodor Dostoevsky claimed that Pushkin was the most Russian of all Russians.

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The Lady-Killingest of All Lady-Killers

That got me wondering, who is the most American of all Americans?  And what would make a person fit that description?

I asked Mrs. S, and she started naming some famous American authors, but was unsatisfied with her answers.  I think that’s because American authors, awesome as they might be, don’t necessarily embody what it means to be American, not in the sense that Russian literature captures something that is distinctly Russian.  So we need to figure out what “American-ness” is really all about, before we can say who best embodies American-ness.

I’m fond of saying there’s no such thing as an American.  I don’t mean I’m ignoring current geo-political reality, I mean there’s no real answer to questions like, What does an American look like?  What does American food taste like?  What language do Americans speak?  When I say there’s no such thing as an American, I mean there’s no good answer to questions about basic cultural identifiers.

But in a more important sense, there obviously is such a thing as an American, and unlike many other societies, it has nothing to do with ethnicity or historical group identity.  Being an American is an idea.  Compare the idea of being Jewish – obviously there is a racial component to that identity, but most important is the sense of covenant between people and God.  So the most Jewish Jew is Moses, because he (the deliverer of the law that expressed that covenant) best personifies that notion.  Nadab and Abihu, having rejected the terms of the covenant, may still rightly be called Jews, but no one would mistake them for being the most Jewish of Jews.

I make a big deal of this point because I suggested to Mrs. S that being an American has something to do with a yearning for liberty, but then walked that back because I don’t want to arrogantly presume that the huge and growing numbers of Americans who prefer the government security blanket aren’t real Americans.  She counter-argued that they may be Americans in the technical sense, but they don’t embody “American-ness,” having rejected the principles of freedom from an oppressive government that animated the creation of the country in the first place.

So then who is the most American of Americans?  I suggest a few possibilities.  George Washington seems like a good start.  Like so many, he put all his life and wealth on the line in the cause of freedom, no matter the depths of suffering – not for personal glory, but for the higher ideal of liberty.  But maybe he isn’t such a good choice, because, although no intellectual slouch, he wasn’t one of the philosophical fathers of the nation, either.  Maybe James Madison, the chief architect of the Constitution.  Or Thomas Jefferson, the author of the Declaration of Independence.  John Adams is an excellent choice, because not only did he help provide the intellectual framework for the Constitution, he did that most American of things when he pulled together a coalition of like-minded lovers of independence and persuaded them to break with England – he got them to sign on the dotted line and try their destinies while more timid men preferred to wait and see.

Ultimately, I think the most American of Americans is not a Pushkin – not a writer like Twain or Steinbeck, Poe or Faulkner, no matter how well they portrayed a slice of Americana – because Americans don’t just describe life, they live it.  The most American person is a statesman, because America itself is an idea about government, and a certain kind of government at that, and because a statesman (unlike a politician) is one who is willing to lead, persuade, sacrifice and suffer for that idea of government which best preserves liberty.

Now I have a follow-up question: what living person is the most American of Americans?

Comments»

1. Sobek - August 27, 2012

Pushkin’s eyes were lop-sided. That, or his portrait-painter didn’t like him.

2. Michael - August 28, 2012

You seem to have ruled out authors, but I’m still gonna go with a gay poet — Walt Whitman. He lived through the Civil War, and his work was distinctly American and original.

His most famous work was probably “When Lilacs Last In The Dooryard Bloomed,” about the assassination of Lincoln. I used to have a copy of his signature collection of poetry, “Leaves of Grass,” but I have not seen it in years. Probably got lost in a move.

Now I have a follow-up question: what living person is the most American of Americans?

It’s either Dave in Texas or me. I don’t want to start a fight, so I’ll just leave it at that.

(However, a deep and spiritual appreciation of “Rolling in the Deep” covers is, in my opinion, a signal of the true American ethos.)

3. BrewFan - August 28, 2012

It is impossible for a Texan to be a true American. A true Texan, yes. A true American, no. A true American? Duh!

4. digitalbrownshirt - August 28, 2012

Audie Murphy.

5. Michael - August 28, 2012

A true Texan, yes. A true American, no.

America is actually Texas, with outlying provinces. I’ve heard, for example, that there is a place due north of us called Ohio, and a city called Chicago.

There is also some place called Connecticut, but I’m not sure that’s part of America.

6. Mark in NJ - August 28, 2012

Walt Whitman’s a great choice except he was maybe not enough of a go-getter, moneywise…how about P.T. Barnum – showman, successful businessman, philanthropist, author, politician, anti-slavery guy, etc.

Among the living, it’s not even close – Clint Eastwood.

7. wintersetruss - August 28, 2012

Mickey Spillane. Next question please.

(Seriously, you could make a case for Raymond Chandler).

8. wintersetruss - August 28, 2012

And I’m not sure that Moses is the most “Jewish Jew”, but he’s still the #1 Google result for “The Prince of Bacon”. And he’s got the largest herd of cattle (2) of anyone else in the 4-1 section of the Wee Learners Preschool. Which is nice. I think.

9. Mitchell - August 28, 2012

Benjamin Franklin! He kicked all kinds of ass.

10. Michael - August 28, 2012

I would nominate Henry Ford — who invented the assembly line — but he is tainted by his reputation for antisemitism, which is not American.

11. Michael - August 28, 2012

Among the living, it’s not even close – Clint Eastwood.

Are you kidding? If we’re going to consider actors, it’s Chuck Norris, who is actually a pretty interesting guy aside from all the internet jokes. He developed his own martial arts regime, wrote books, and is an avid Christian, conservative, and philanthropist.

John Wayne also deserves consideration as the penultimate American actor.

12. Michael - August 28, 2012

We also seem to be ignoring women.

In that category, it’s either LauraW or Halle Berry.

Make your choice.

13. wintersetruss - August 28, 2012

I don’t know about The Duke. I’m a partisan, because…duh. But if you look at “Liberty Valance”, Jimmy Stewart acted rings around him there. And in “Stagecoach”, the drunken doctor stole the show. He was a great actor, but the greatest? Just off the top of my head, I’d go with Lancaster, Stewart, Hackman and Holden as all greater actors than Wayne. He was a better icon, but not a better actor.

14. wintersetruss - August 28, 2012

And Kirk Douglas. Can’t forget him.

15. Michael - August 28, 2012

Russ, we’re not talking about who is a good actor.

The Duke was not a good actor. He just played the same role every time.

We’re talking about who was American.

Which means you had to appear in Westerns, which is why Roy Rodgers ranks higher than Meryl Streep.

16. Michael - August 28, 2012

Meryl Streep has consistently blown me away — her talent is just awesome. Probably the best actor of our generation.

Jack Nicholson is a close second.

There is nobody else in the same league with those two.

17. Michael - August 28, 2012

OK, sorry, I forgot Johnny Depp.

There is nobody else in the same league with those three.

You judge actors by the range of characters that they can perform. Clint Eastwood and John Wayne basically did one character. Johnny Depp has done Edward Scissorhands and Captain Jack Sparrow.

18. Mitchell - August 28, 2012

I like Nicholson, but come on. He also pretty much does the one character – The Jack Nicholson Character. It only varies by how much Jack he puts into it. Witches of Eastwick, heavy on the Jack sauce. Chinatown, lighter on the Jack sauce. Joker, the whole bottle of Jack sauce.

I’m bored with the Depp / Burton combo. You know who REALLY has great acting skills? William H. Macy.

19. Retired Geezer - August 28, 2012

Yeah, W.H. Macy is cool but kind of a weird duck.

I’ll second the Chuck Norris nomination. He is a great American.

20. Anonymous - August 29, 2012

Leaving actors aside, the greatest living American is probably Bill Gates.

I would prefer to say Steve Jobs, but he died last year.

21. Anonymous - August 29, 2012

Last comment was me.

Think about what Jobs did. He resurrected Apple from a company that was stagnant with its Macintosh PC brand, and turned it into a revolutionary force on the internet. He deserves to be considered in the same league with Ford or Rockefeller.

22. Anonymous - August 29, 2012

OK, the last two comments were Michael. I’m logged into WordPress, but it is ignoring me.

23. digitalbrownshirt - August 29, 2012

“Which means you had to appear in Westerns, which is why Roy Rodgers ranks higher than Meryl Streep.”

Which brings me back to Audie Murphy. His MOH action and his western movie career alone puts him in the running. Add being dirt poor as a child, coming from Texas and not giving up after being refused by every branch of the military before going on to being the most decorated American warrior of WWII. He also wrote country music, advocated for veterans rights and supported his younger siblings after his mom passed away.

To me he’s the epitome of the little guy that wouldn’t give up. That’s America.

24. Retired Geezer - August 29, 2012

Yep, Audie Murphy would be in the top 5 if he were alive today.

25. Michael - August 29, 2012

Audie Murphy was never in a Boy Scout marching band.

26. wintersetruss - August 29, 2012

Interestingly enough, I believe that Audie Murphy once killed 2/3 of a Hitler Youth Marching Band during March of 1945. General Patton personally congratulated him and went on a weekend-long bender to celebrate this momentous event.

(“Stuff Audie Murphy Did”, 2nd Edition, page 203)

27. Pupster - August 29, 2012

^Heh.

I’ll third the Chuck Norris nomination.

28. Retired Geezer - August 29, 2012

Audie Murphy once killed 2/3 of a Hitler Youth Marching Band, the entire Clarinet section, with extreme prejudice, during March of 1945.

FIFY

29. Michael - August 30, 2012

Paul Ryan’s speech was awesome. If he had done a clarinet solo, it would have been perfect.

30. Vmaximus - August 30, 2012

What about Mark Twain He is in the top 10.
Ben Franklin freaking kite in lightning storm big brass ones.
Thomas Edison
John Browning Sam Colt
Art Arfons

31. kevl - August 31, 2012

Alex Jones.

32. BrewFan - August 31, 2012

Hi kc! *waves*

33. daveintexas - August 31, 2012

HAH!

Most American, living, non-actor/actress?

Luap Nor.

34. digitalbrownshirt - August 31, 2012

It might be Clint Eastwood right now

35. Sobek - August 31, 2012

The different responses here, most well thought out *glares at Dave* make me wonder whether the idea of America is even compatible with a “Most American of Americans.”

Maybe the idea of America is, by definition, a conglomeration, just as our ethnic and cultural basis is a conglomeration. That is, America was created by the statesmen by Adams, Jefferson, Washington and Madison, but just as much by the writers (Franklin, Paine, Whitman), the war heros (Murphy, Stewart), the actors (Norris, Eastwood), the businessmen (Jobs, Browning, Colt). Anyone, in short, who believed they could make something better, recognizing that it was the sum total of all those people making things better that are the basis of America.

36. Michael - August 31, 2012

In other words, Sobek, the most American of Americans are actually my grandparents, from Germany and Sweden (but all Lutheran), and people of humble means. They worked and hoped for a better future for their children.

Numerous speakers at the Republican convention made this point about their heritage.

37. Joe Biden - September 1, 2012

Well, I don’t wanna brag, but…

38. Michael Moore - September 1, 2012

On behalf of all those who speak truth to power, I’ll accept that award. You’re welcome, America.


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