Monday, January 3, 2011

The Exception That Proves

What shall we make of this?

While 80 percent of Americans think that America "has a unique character that makes it the greatest country in the world," more than a third say President Obama does not share that belief, according to a USA Today/Gallup poll conducted Dec. 10-12.

Gallup's poll on the concept often referred to as "U.S. exceptionalism" found that Americans rank Obama significantly below three other modern presidents in terms of whether Obama subscribes to the idea.

Fifty-eight percent of those surveyed believe he does regard America as exceptional while 37 percent say he doesn't. Three-quarters of Americans or more say that Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush believed in U.S. exceptionalism."His worldview is dramatically different than any president, Republican or Democrat, we've had," Huckabee told Politico last August. "He grew up more as a globalist than an American. To deny American exceptionalism is in essence to deny the heart and soul of this nation."

Or, from the same piece, this?
As far as the political significance of this subject, Karen Tumulty wrote last month in the Washington Post that "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."

One thing, clearly, is that it's the latest attempt of the RWS™ to hit President Obama over the head with a bag of tea. But really, what the heck is "American Exceptionalism," and what do we do with it?

I think this article has hit on something: the idea of exceptionalism is, like so much of the teabaggers' rhetoric, nothing but an excuse for bad behavior:

No country can be great if its citizens are unwilling to pay for it. No country will remain great if it neglects the health and education of those citizens who lack lobbyists. The tax cuts may have assured the President's reelection, but they also ensure America will grow more separate and unequal, not unlike the proverbial banana republics. As a result the U.S. will slowly slip from the leader of the First World to an honorary member of the Third, unless Americans stop believing their exceptionalism stems only from their virtue and requires no sacrifice. [Emphasis mine truly]

There's surpassing irony in the fact that the people who swing "exceptionalism" like pudenda in nude volleyball are the same ones whose policies will be the end of it, if it ever was. Beating their collective chests with one hand, with the other they're taking away the very things that have made us great: investment in education, pushing forward the boundaries of science, opening our doors to immigrants, building railroads and highways, tunnels and bridges. It's enough to prance and pose: God forbid we were to pay for anything anymore; to pitch in with more than words; to think of others.

Shout it out,
And call it a day.

For the record, I've been impressed with America's accomplishments since I was old enough to understand them. ("Impressed," more than "proud." Because pride goeth before the fall, don't you know; and because I had nothing to do with them.) Invention, prosperity (until it trickled), confronting racism, the brilliance of the Constitution, embracing (bluish, anyway) multiculturalism and finding ways to make it work, generosity toward and protection for much of the world. It's indeed exceptional.

But what is it that one should do about it? Brag about it, push people around? How ought the belief manifest itself in a president? Addressing health care, or invading countries that aren't a threat, and doing it with no planning (because, presumably, our exceptionalism will make body armor appear and will quell uprisings with the wave of a flag)? What will Exceptional Sarah do? And what will come of it? There are already serious consequences, which threaten us.

Nope. Sorry. In Lake Wobegon the average kid is above average, and we're not the only country on the planet with a claim on exceptionalism; and even if we were, it's not a useful concept. Except, as we see, as another cynical and disingenuous hammer with which to bludgeon our exceptional president. And as a sorry excuse for doing not a damn thing to maintain it.

[Addendum: coincidentally, Gary Hart -- exceptional himself, for well-known reasons, during his presidential campaign -- published a post about exceptionalism this morning. His is a little squishier than mine but, I suppose, makes some of the same points.]


  1. Umm maybe its because He(Peace be upon Him)answered a question about "American Exceptionalism" in his typical mealy-mouthed way..
    Stating that America was exceptional, but so were England & Greece.
    Now I like a nice greasy Gyro every now and then, and who doesn't enjoy young Co-Eds in there Sorority Sweaters with the Greek Letters, and I consider Spiro Agnew one of the greatest Geniuses of the 20th Century.
    I mean Frank Zappa, and Kurt Rambis made me believe that a slow white guy with dorky glasses could play in the NBA,
    hmm maybe He's right.
    But if Spiro Agnew hadn't come to America, he'd just be another Gyro Vender, people come to AMERICA to make there fortune, just like the President (Peace be upon Him).
    And just name a good Greek Rock n Roll Band, no fair googling.

    Frank "Born in the USA" Drackman

  2. Gee, Frank, his thoughtful response (taken out of context from that moment on) was exactly my point. That, and the point of the entire rest of my post, which you seem to have dyscomprehended.

  3. Thanks for doing the donkey work on these matters, Sid. I always find out about the latest RWS hijinx here.

    This reminds me of Bush senior's touchstone: "I'll never apologize for the United States of America. Ever, I don't care what the facts are." (Said for instance after the US shot down a civilian airliner.) History went on to show how well this attitude served him as a parent.

    The most effective leaders of US would by and large acknowledge that "feedback is the breakfast of champions." This exceptionalist view on the other hand is similar to the belief that "instincts" or "gut" or "moral compass" is the key to being effective. The RWS is so committed to this now that it has become downright anti-intellectual.

    The Huckabee quotation is a case in point. It's a celebration of insularity and ignorance. It reminds me of the Texan proverb, "We don't give a shit how y'all done up North."

  4. Maybe the President (Peace be upon Him) can be President of Greece(or England) after 2012...

  5. They might have birthright rules.

  6. We are exceptional in that we believe that we are the first country in history in which people were free to bitch about the government and taxes while screaming about other people being anti-American for bitching about the military being sent to places we shouldn't be sending them (like, say, Iraq) and which calls the liberals traitors.

    We're the first country that talks about freedom from one side of our mouths while doing our damnedest to make sure that "certain" people don't get "special rights" to be just as free as us white people. White, male, people.

    So, yep, we are exceptional. Obama should know his place and not accept that people can be patriotic in other countries.

  7. Mark,
    your Wrong Wrong Wrong,
    Wrong as 2 man having sex...
    Wrong as the Ayatollah Khomeni living to be 97...
    Wrong as a 7-9 team making the NFL playoffs...
    England did the same thing 200 years ago, and look how they turned out...


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