American Exceptionalism has been in the news the last few weeks thanks to one Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin, current president of Russia. His New York Times op ed chiding president Obama over his desire to strike Syria because of its alleged use of chemical weapons was the platform. President Obama said that America’s desire to mitigate suffering in the world is what makes us exceptional (which is a fundamental misunderstanding of American exceptionalism), and Mr. Putin didn’t like that one bit, which shows you just how much ex-totalitarian communists have in common with progressives.
The howling on the left that anyone would dare think America is exceptional was predictable. I browsed a number of articles to that affect, but the one that gets the award for the most glaring ignorance is by a gentleman named Paul Waldman writing at The American Prospect. In “America’s Exception Deception” he thinks the term means Americans have a “superiority complex,” which is basically what the left-liberal thinks American exceptionalism is. They could not be more mistaken.
Fortunately, this episode presented an opportunity for Carl Cannon at Real Clear Politics to give us an excellent concise explanation of what American exceptionalism actually means. It is definitely an exceptional piece (sorry, I couldn’t help myself). What stands out is that by certain objective standards America really is unique. When discussing the topic this is the first thing that needs to be established, and it is beyond question. So if you are a raging liberal and hate America and everything it stands for, at least you have to admit that there are certain things about the country and its history that are unique, that simply do not apply to any other country in the world. See Cannon’s article to see what these are.
Then you can apply your value system to whether you think these unique aspects of our country and culture are indeed good, and in that sense exceptional or negative or really don’t matter at all. For liberals America’s sins, specifically racism and slavery mitigate any supposed superiority America might possess. The way women were treated didn’t help, and America has always been way too religious for liberal tastes. Add to that America’s embrace of capitalism and free enterprise, Americans’ sense of self-sufficiency and love of individualism and no self-respecting liberal-progressive-leftist could every embrace the idea that America is exceptional.
In fact, to the left America is exceptionally bad. To them America is something akin to a disease, a virus that if not stopped, if not “fundamentally transformed” (as stated by our current president) it will infect the rest of the world. Back in the 70s and 80s Democrats were actually honest about this, and in the election of 1984 the Reagan campaign tagged them as the “Blame America First” crowd. It stuck, and since Americans generally believe America isn’t the problem in the world Democrats realized they had to pretend they loved America. They pay lip service to America’s exceptionalism, but in their hearts America is no more exceptional than any other country in the world. And in this they are exceptionally wrong!