Obama and American exceptionalism
(Salon.com) -- by Glenn Greenwald --
Numerous commentators have observed that President Obama's Libya speech last night rested on an affirmation of American "exceptionalism." That conviction, they contend, was expressed by Obama's appeal to "America’s responsibility as a leader" and by this claim: "some nations may be able to turn a blind eye to atrocities in other countries. The United States of America is different."
Steve Benen proclaimed that Obama's speech should put an end to the debate over whether he believes in America's exceptionalism: "the president wasn't subtle -- the United States isn't like other countries; ours is a country with unique power, responsibilities, and moral obligations." Andrew Sullivan observed that exceptionalism was "the core message of the President's speech" and that "he clearly believes in that exceptionalism - and now will live with its onerous responsibilities." Mark Kleiman announced that last night's speech exposed "one of the stupidest of right-wing talking points about Obama . . . that he somehow disbelieves in the exceptional nature of the American project" (though Kleiman also bizarrely equates that accusation with "the lie that Barack Obama does not love his country" -- as though you can't love your country if you don't believe in its exceptionalism).
Adam Serwer wrote: "After Obama's speech last night. . . anyone who alleges the president doesn't believe [in exceptionalism] deserves to be laughed out of town." And the most enthusiastic praise for Obama's speech came from Bill Kristol in The Weekly Standard, who gushed that with this speech, "President Obama had rejoined -- or joined -- the historical American foreign policy mainstream" and "the president was unapologetic, freedom-agenda-embracing, and didn’t shrink from defending the use of force or from appealing to American values and interests."...
Beginning almost immediately after 9/11, George W. Bush frequently asserted that America was "called" -- by whom he didn't say -- "to defend freedom." A Gallup poll from late last year found that 80% of Americans believe their country "has a unique character that makes it the greatest country in the world." There are very few political propositions which can command 80% support; that this one does shows just how much American exceptionalism is solidified as political orthodoxy in the United States...
Still, it's not a particularly appealing trait for an individual to run around hailing themselves "the greatest in the world," so it becomes perfectly acceptable -- mandatory even -- to nationalize this sentiment: "my country, the United States, is the greatest country in the world," and thus -- to use Benen's description of Obama's mindset -- "the United States isn't like other countries; ours is a country with unique power, responsibilities, and moral obligations" (This is not a question of whether one finds things to admire in America; just as one can appreciate one's own strengths without believing one is The Greatest in the World, one can appreciate attributes of American political life -- its domestic protections of free speech and press rights, its relatively integrated racial and ethnic diversity, its class mobility (as evidenced by two of the last three Presidents), its social progress -- without believing it to be The Greatest)...
The fact remains that declaring yourself special, superior and/or exceptional -- and believing that to be true, and, especially, acting on that belief -- has serious consequences. It can (and usually does) mean that the same standards of judgment aren't applied to your acts as are applied to everyone else's (when you do X, it's justified, but when they do, it isn't). It means that you're entitled (or obligated) to do things that nobody else is entitled or obligated to do (does anyone doubt that the self-perceived superiority and self-arrogated entitlements of Wall Street tycoons is what lead them to believe they can act without constraints?). It means that no matter how many bad things you do in the world, it doesn't ever reflect on who you are, because you're inherently exceptional and thus driven by good motives. And it probably means -- at least as it expresses itself in the American form -- that you'll find yourself in a posture of endless war, because your "unique power, responsibilities, and moral obligations" will always find causes and justifications for new conflicts.
It's a nice political point on the President's behalf to insist that he has proven his belief in American exceptionalism. That insulates him from a political vulnerability (i.e., from the perception that he rejects a widely held view), which is nice if politically defending the President is an important goal for you. But the harder -- and far more important -- question is whether this American exceptionalism that you attribute to him is actually true, whether it's well-grounded, and whether it should serve as a premise for our actions in the world...MORE...LINK
Chris Moore comments:
So much of this prideful and vain "exceptionalism" nonsense grew out of a puffed-up interpretation of America's past accomplishments that was flattered and encouraged by Machiavellian neocons and FDR-worshipping neolibs for their own self-serving, Big Government-agenda purposes.
Naive Americans who grew up in the shadow of "the great" accomplishments of FDR and later, within the self-insulating Baby Boomer bulge were easy-pickings for these sophisticated operators and grifters.
But as Daniel Sayani recently noted, while all of this puffery and Big Government glorification may be consistent with the FDR-left, it is totally inconsonant with the vision of the American Founders, and with the mores of traditional conservatism that ruled the roost on the right until it was compromised and betrayed by unprincipled frauds and vainglorious fools and rubes who were easily manipulated by neocon flattery:
It is no secret to constitutionalists that the Republican Party has neglected to embody a political message consonant with the teachings of the Founding Fathers and the principles of free-market economics. The traditional conservatism of individuals such as Barry Goldwater and Robert Taft has given way to a nuanced “neo” conservatism, which instead looks to Theodore Roosevelt, FDR, and Reagan for inspiration.What are liberal internationalism, Keynesian economics and unrestrained spending other than "exceptionalism"-inspired childish delusions that the rules of international warfare, free-market economics and responsible budgets don't apply to Americans because they are oh-so-special and "beyond" the restraints of reality?
Whereas traditional conservatives, regardless of party, assiduously adhered to a belief in individual freedom, a foreign policy of nonintervention, and the primacy of the Constitution, of limited government, and of the free market, today’s conservatives have gone astray, as evident in the GOP’s embrace of liberal internationalism, Keynesian economics, and heightened spending.
All of this reminds me of the smoke and mirrors states of false consciousness induced by Marxist-magicians, Madison Avenue hypnotists, and Hollywood fantasy weavers.
The child-like state Americans were induced into by these types was bad enough coming from the arrested-development left, but when a critical mass of ostensibly level-headed conservatives fell into it as well, that was all she wrote for any further prospects of American "exceptionalism" for a long time to come.
Today, our leadership has become ordinarily grasping, primitive and even feral -- to the point of banality.