January 23, 2011
A few months ago a reader lamented my column by saying, “you probably don’t believe in “American exceptionalism either.” The phrase grabbed my attention. This phrase needs careful examination.
Basically this phrase is used by some to mean that we have a unique American way of life, based on a strong belief in freedom, the practice of constitutional government, and free enterprise capitalism. (1) This meaning is appealing. It has drawn millions of people to this country to pursue their dreams.
promoter of American exceptionalism is Sarah Palin in her latest book, America by Heart (2) She ascribes to the above
meaning and adds, “We're not saying we're better than anyone else, or that we
have the right to tell people in other countries how to live their lives.”
These are fine words on paper, but it is easy to jump to a meaning of
superiority. Palin does exactly that in her unquestioned support of the
military everywhere in the world as a “defender of our freedoms”. She also says
American exceptionalism however ignores three vital aspects of American history. As recently as one hundred years ago our economic system was based on farming. Anyone could stake out a claim to some land and make a living. That’s precisely what many of our immigrant ancestors did, including my grandfather. In other words, the dream of freedom and economic security was readily available. That is no longer true. Our economy is largely urban and land is no longer easily acquired for farming.
This view also ignores the dependence of our greatness on the genocide of the Native Americans and the theft of their lands. It also ignores the enslavement of millions of Africans. The legacy of these two horrible aspects of our history is still being felt.
Palin and many others define constitutionalism as limited government. Then she praised the Kennedy space program as an example of American ingenuity and determination to achieve our goals. Does she not realize that this was a government program, totally contrary to her views on limited government and free market capitalism?
She also wrote that the Civil Rights laws of 1964-1965 “are great human achievements.” Does she not realize that these acts are totally contrary to her philosophy of limited government? People in the 1960’s who held her view staunchly opposed these acts.
To her credit Palin mentions family life and religion as key elements in our American way of life. She also emphasizes strongly that constitutionalism and capitalism both require high public morality for them to succeed. Adam Smith’s entire theory of the Wealth of Nations was based on this premise of morality. She also quoted John Adams to support her assertion of the need for public morality.
Richard Lowry and Ramesh Ponnuru in an article in National Review (3) used this phrase to criticize President Obama. Palin too uses every opportunity in her book to slam President Obama as one who does not believe in American exceptionalism and is therefore unfit to be our President. But the exceptionalists have it wrong on all these counts.
Public morality has fallen to a new
low. I am finally coming to the conclusion that our politicians on both sides
of the aisle are not interested in the welfare of the
Palin is right in saying that family life is at the heart of the raising of these values to a new consciousness, Just saying what she does however will not make the problems of public morality and family life, not to mention national debt, the economy, and the banking crisis, go away. Solving these problems will require efforts by all segments of our culture and way of life, including government, non-profits, business, education, and every citizen. The change truly requires a “fundamental transformation”, not an appeal to jingoism
American exceptionalism is the idea that the
Commentary on Palin’s book:
Darrell Delamaide' Dec 1, 2010
Political Capital Market Watdch
“She is in every respect the anti-Obama: he is black, she is
white; he is male, she is female; he is cerebral, she is emotional. She doesnâ€™t want change, because
Richard Lowry & Ramesh Ponnuru, “An Exceptional Debate, National Review Online (no date):
Aaron Gardner, Permanence, Change, and American Exceptionalism
March 29, 2010
Commentary on above
quote inside this article:
The late Seymour Martin Lipset defined it as liberty, equality (of opportunity and respect), individualism, populism, and laissez-faire economics. The creed combines with other aspects of the American character — especially our religiousness and our willingness to defend ourselves by force — to form the core of American exceptionalism.
Karlyn Bowman, Understanding American Exceptionalism
Review of a book of essays published by American Enterprise Institute
Nick Baumann, “Obama and American Exceptionalism”
Mother Jones, March 2, 2010
This sentence tripped me up:
... But the statement that
Greene goes on to explain how even Freedom House, a US-based
organization widely seen as center-right, ranks America far below first in
terms of freedom and democracy. In fact, the