Majorities of Americans believe so. Even the liberal Brookings Institution recently published a survey that found 58 percent of citizens believe: “God has granted
American exceptionalism, as it is called, has been in the news quite a lot lately. In his victory speech Nov. 2, Florida Senator-elect Marco Rubio eloquently extolled American exceptionalism, provoking howls of outrage from liberals. “
Rubio was implicitly drawing a distinction between he and other conservatives and liberals like President Obama. The left and many in the media took notice. In a Nov. 29 Washington Post article, Karen Tumulty discovered American exceptionalism as a threat to an Obama second term. “But with Republicans and tea party activists accusing President Obama and the Democrats of turning the country toward socialism, the idea that the United States is inherently superior to the world's other nations has become the battle cry from a new front in the ongoing culture wars. Lately, it seems to be on the lips of just about every Republican who is giving any thought to running for president in 2012.”
But far from acknowledging it as a standard electoral tool or a valid issue for an American president, liberal commentators have associated conservatives' embrace of exceptionalism with “birtherism” and “the suggestion that Obama is not really one of us.” They've suggested appeals to exceptionalism are a way of flattering the electorate or creating false divisions in society. They called exceptionalism a “lunatic notion” and out right declared that “
In newspapers from USA Today to the Washington Post, magazines from Newsweek to the
Obama and Exceptionalism
Conservatives have long noted President Obama's ambivalence toward American exceptionalism. In spring 2010, Rich Lowry and Ramesh Ponnuru of National Review wrote that “President Obama's first year in office should be seen in the context of contemporary liberalism's discomfort with American exceptionalism. The president has signaled again and again his unease with traditional American patriotism.”
But in extolling the singular virtues of the nation, conservatives aroused the ire of the left and the amused disdain of many in the media. Add to that Sarah Palin's extolling of American exceptionalism in her latest book, anti-exceptionalism all the rage among liberals (because if she's for it, they're against it.)
In an April 2009 press conference in
As a man of the left who managed to get elected president of a center-right country, much of what Obama does cuts against the grain of American sensibilities, including the belief in American exceptionalism.
But that's not good enough for liberals who need to find deeper, more sinister thinking behind appeals to exceptionalism.
In the Post, Tumulty's readers shouldn't be fooled into thinking exceptionalism is about ideology and the direction of the nation, however. “With a more intellectual sheen than the false assertions that Obama is secretly a Muslim or that he was born in Kenya, an argument over American exceptionalism 'is a respectable way of raising the question of whether Obama is one of us,' said William Galston, a former policy adviser to President Bill Clinton who is now a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution.”
This refrain was picked up the same day by liberal Post blogger Greg Sargent. “The intended subtext of the argument is unmistakable,” Sargent claimed. “While respectable right wing commentators are careful to disavow the 'birther' movement, the suggestion that Obama is not really one of us subtly permeates virtually every aspect of the right's critique of the Obama administration and its policies.”
In summation, Sargent wrote, “The real goal is to hint that you should find Obama's character, story, motives and identity to be fundamentally alien, unsettling, and insidious.”
The only certainties are death, taxes and Sarah Palin's ability to anger liberals. The former
What kind of evil code is Palin speaking? Marcotte quotes her: “When we say
The hint (if you missed it) should be clear for her readers –
In the Nov. 21 Las Vegas Sun, the aptly named Brian Greenspun managed to spin the discussion of American exceptionalism into an attack on Sarah Palin's daughter and her relative success on the show “Dancing with the Stars.”
As CMI reported, Palin made it to the show's finals bolstered by viewer votes, and making liberals see Tea Party conspiracies. And Greenspun, who rejected American exceptionalism as “a superiority complex,” still managed to be offended on its behalf.
“If popularity is the deciding value,” he wrote, “
He continued, “If I were a Tea Party adherent who believes in the American values espoused by so many voters this past election, I would feel used in this instance. For if I believe in real exceptionalism, then I should not have voted for
“The conservative use of American exceptionalism as a political sword today is perversely revealing,” Millar said. “There's something off when the first generation of Americans that is less educated than its parents feels a deep need to be told how unique it is.”
Millar then asked, “Wouldn't it bolster Americans more to be told that we can meet the challenges of this moment? Wouldn't we be better off striving to be exceptional at solving our common problems?” As if acknowledging
Millar suggested that, after all, we're not really so special, “ … a generation that's handing off epic debts and a chronically dysfunctional political process (among other woes) demands that its leaders keep toasting its fabulousness. Especially when other nations now offer more upward mobility, and a better blend of growth with equity, than we do – arguably the best measures of
And this leads into liberal inability to truly fathom the concept of American exceptionalism. In their view, Government doesn't do enough to make
In her Post article, Tumulty acknowledged that “the concept of exceptionalism also speaks to Americans' beliefs about the size, role and scope of their own government.” But at The Daily Beast on Nov. 3, Peter Beinart wrote, “ …
Beinart scoffed at Rubio's suggestion that “almost every other place in the world … what you were going to be when you grow up was determined for you.”
Almost every other place in the world? From China to India to Brazil, hundreds of millions of people are rising economically in ways their parents could scarcely have imagined, in part because their governments are investing in infrastructure in the way the United States did in the late nineteenth century. The American dream of upward mobility is alive and well, just not in
Beinart's ideological comrade Michael Kinsley declared in no uncertain terms that “U.S. is not greatest country ever.” That was the title of his Nov. 2 Politico column. As he ranted at the electorate for daring to choose the wrong candidates, Kinsley offered that “This conceit that we're the greatest country ever may be self-immolating. If people believe it's true, they won't do what's necessary to make it true. “
Fair enough. Like what? “The Brits, who suffer no such delusion (and who, in fact, cherish the national myth of being people who smile through adversity), have just accepted cuts in government spending that no American politician – even a tea bagger –would dream of proposing.”
This again misses the point by quite a lot. It's the existence of the government spending in the first place that is the threat to American exceptionalism, not whether the people accept that what government giveth government can taketh away. That Americans, in the form of the Tea Party, rose up this year to demand less from their government is exceptional.