The newspaper headline yesterday (Thursday, Nov. 6th, 2008) was イエス・ウィー・キャン  We can what? Americans pride themselves on being a can-do nation: not just a nation of practical people of ability, but also of an optimistic attitude that is expressed in that old chestnut: “The possible we do straight away. The impossible takes a little longer.” An admirable attitude, and one that is rooted in a strong sense and understanding of personal freedom, and the excitement that generates.

But just being able to do something (or anything) is not, in itself, suffficient. A sense of ethics, or a code of values, is also required in order to judge which of many possible courses of action should be chosen. In this area, recent events do not inspire immediate confidence. When I say “recent”, I include 1945 and the decision to drop not just one, but two atomic bombs on civilian populations.

And the other question that occurred to me as I read the headline was, “Who is ‘we’?” This is often an interesting, and fruitful, question to ask. In movies and popular fiction, the lead character is often a magnet for the viewers’ and readers’ hopes, fears, expectations and dreams. In the opening chapters (actually, more like the first third- to one-half of the book) of any Harry Potter novel, Harry himself actually does very little: he more of a foil for all the other characters. But the reader imagines himself or herself in Harry’s shoes and easily relates to his situations – of embarrassment, of anger, of alienation, of revenge, of being mistreated and misunderstood. Harry needs to do very little. The reader does most of the work.

In a similar way, when a politician says “we”, he or she does not need to define this “we”: the listeners, viewers or readers fill in the empty space by themselves.

I was reminded of an article by GoldMoney founder James Turk, Government Money or Sound Money? in which Turk takes the government to task for the proposed $700 billion bailout. Turk wrote,

Secretary Paulson even brought out an old bromide to justify this pillaging of American taxpayers: “The financial security of all Americans…depends on our ability to restore our financial institutions to a sound footing.”

Note the use of the communistic “our” in Paulson’s quote. It’s not “our financial institutions”. I don’t own any bank stock, nor do most Americans. What’s more, it’s not the “financial security of all Americans” that is at stake here.

Well spotted, Mr Turk.