Exceptionally Exceptional

In order to support a strong hypothesis – that the American public has been fed a “Big Lie” about the President being an “anti-American hyper-leftist… spending the US into oblivion,” Andrew Sullivan proposes – or, rather, conducts and concludes – a “thought experiment”:

If a black Republican president had come in, helped turn around the banking and auto industries (at a small profit!), insured millions through the private sector while cutting Medicare, overseen a sharp decline in illegal immigration, ramped up the war in Afghanistan, reinstituted pay-as-you go in the Congress, set up a debt commission to offer hard choices for future debt reduction, and seen private sector job growth outstrip the public sector’s in a slow but dogged recovery, somehow I don’t think that Republican would be regarded as a socialist.

Sullivan proceeds to examine a particular charge against Obama that, as he demonstrates, has filtered throughout the rightwing media, appearing over and over again in nearly identical form, from talk radio shouter to “responsible” center-right explicator, from Limbaugh to Barone and back again – by now having taken on the form of dogma for “everyone in the conservative movement.”

It has to do with a by now notorious statement regarding American exceptionalism:  “I believe in American exceptionalism, just as I suspect that the Brits believe in British exceptionalism and the Greeks believe in Greek exceptionalism.”  Sullivan provides the full context, and takes it as obvious that the extended remarks support his contention, flatly contradicting the rightwing-fostered “Big Lie.”

I think Sullivan gets the better of this argument, but, in his desire to set the record straight, ignores the real difference between Obamist Americanism and the hyper-patriotic version asserted by contemporary American conservatives. For the latter group, a president should always, everywhere, uniformly, and unambiguously declare the exceptionally exceptional exceptionalism of America.  In this view, that Obama’s remarks were being made to foreigners, on foreign soil, imposes even more stringent requirements:  The more foreign the audience, the more exponentially exceptionalistically he should express himself, by way of compensation, and in the hope of getting through, even a little bit, to those whose benightedly unexceptional origins (like Sullivan’s as a matter of fact) make acknowledging and accepting the exceptionally exceptional difficult.  Any modulations, any polite concessions, any recognitions of other perspectives are despicable, against our interests and virtually treasonous.

At the risk of committing my own crime against exceptionalism – or yet another in a long line of infractions against the right and good – I’ll add that neither Sullivan nor the Big Liars seem to have noticed that Mr. Obama’s references to the Greeks and the Brits could be taken as rather well-chosen for those who are earnest about collecting historical accolades for Team America.  Greece stands for the cradle of Western Civilization and the birthplace of democracy, while Britain stands for America’s mother country, the great tradition of parliamentary democracy, and the world-historical power that America eventually replaced. We could go on and on about the glories of Greece and Britain – not least as vacation spots!  Suffice it to say:  Neither those Doric columns in Washington, DC, nor the language in which we the exceptional happen to describe them just popped up at random – though I recognize that any comparisons at all may be taken as culpably diminishing of American grandeur.  The sheer gall – to suggest that America did not give birth to itself and on a higher plane, surpassing understanding!

Sullivan includes a quote from the National Review‘s Rich Lowry and Ramesh Ponnuru in which they ask whether it is “just a coincidence that [Obama] reached for examples of former hegemons?”  There, in a nutshell, is the paradox of “common sense conservatism.”  They want their hegemony and to decry it, too – as though the Exceptional States of America could represent moral and cultural super-superiority, as validated in America’s exceptionally incredibly exceptional wealth, power, leadership, accomplishments, and influence, never to be other than uniformly and exceptionlessly celebrated, and at the same time represent and exercise anything other than hegemony in a world otherwise populated by cultural, moral, historical, military, and economic super-inferiors.


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18 comments on “Exceptionally Exceptional

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  1. “They want their hegemony and to decry it”
    Love that. And while I’m with Cornell West in thinking that Obama “doesn’t care about poor people,” can you imagine what it must be like to be Obama? You have the TP saying you’re a socialist, and people like me thinking you’re a conflict averse, Manchurian Candidate, reassuring the establishment. If he was an NBA ref he’d be justified in thinking he must be doing a good job because both sides hate him. That’s what refs like to think in a similar situation. But this is different. Remember when Michelle Obama said what she said about being proud of America for the first time? People went nuts about that one. I was like, “400 years of terrorism and you think an intelligent, educated African-American woman should have been proud of America at all, ever?” Come on. Black America is where the exceptionally exceptional part of our society exists. 400 years of terrorism and they have never gone to counter-terrorism. If any group of people ever had a right to be counter-terrorists its black America and it’s never happened. (The Black Panthers wanted to work within the community and while they did go by the “by any means necessary” credo, they would have been a positive force within black communities if allowed to be that.) And why? Why no counter-terrorism? The capacity to love. Courage. The capacity to put the pain into all kinds of creative channels and keep going without becoming counter-terrorists. So if you’re looking for what is exceptional about America, look at Black America.

  2. That’s quite an imagination you got their Scott (are you working any new projects) when your preacher did the yearly AntiZionist coffee
    clatche in Tripoli, for about 20 years, when your foundation partner
    is a yuppified ex Marighela follower, when one of your leading influence
    in your teen years, was another Black Radical, who disdained education
    and colonialism, when another long time friend is a Palestinian radical,
    there is a certain context to your statements. The caveat, is he has
    been ‘the Sorcerer’s Apprentice, playing Alinski, meaning he’s not terribly good at it.

  3. Nice piece.

    “I’m President Obama. I’m here in your country, whatever it is, to tell you that America is worlds better than yours. As a people and a nation, we are so exceptional that you should all fall to your knees before us.
    I’m here to say that our wish is your command. I’ve nothing to lister to from your mouths as you’ve nothing of value to offer to the United States.
    If we have ever done or will do anything with which you do not agree and that you think to be incorrect, it is merely a reflection of your want of enlightenment.
    We do not err. We have an unblemished record of magnificence and benevolence.”

    And the reactionaries posing as conservatives would figure out a way to say that Obama wasn’t dressed correctly, or his posture was wrong, or he was wearing secret defeatist panties.

  4. Ironic how the company that didn’t take ‘the King’s Danegeld’ Ford, has done better than those who did, Chrysler and GM, And Toyota, beating the former, despite it’s own problems, the TARP also didn’t sequester the toxic assets like they are supposed to, much like the RFC from the 30s. Then he put Ron Bloom ‘the one who agrees with
    Mao, that power flows from the barrel of a gun’ who knew nothing about how to run a car company. And then there was the closing
    of successful GOP donor dealerships, over unsuccessful Dem ones,
    reason why I don’t trust something like the DISCLOSE Act

  5. @ miguel cervantes:
    I especially liked the part when Ron Bloom checked the GM employees for calluses and dirt under their fingernails, then trucked the mental laborers off to re-education camps, forcing them at barrel-point to don secret defeatist panties and recite “we are the ones we’ve been waiting for” over and over.

    Have the mass graves containing GOP car dealer donors been exposed yet?

  6. @ CK MacLeod:
    Ok. But with you receiving a very nice consolation prize. Plus, I’m awarding myself something for the “comma” comment. That was pretty funny too considering how miguel had written all those things about my hero and my only response was to question the placement of a comma. Not bad.

  7. His comment was prety much an ‘unforced error’ he could have said something along the lines, that our nation was the one that was conceived in liberty, that at times we have fallen short, but we are
    an inspiration to the world, Beck although a little unclear, seems to have glommed on to this view, re Andrew Jackson, our Ariel Sharon, and manifest destiny. Sarah identifying herself with Seward the premier abolitionist in Lincoln’s cabinet and the father of Alaska, would agree on that point. I have long thought that Plessy was even a greater abomination that Dred Scott, because the former was not informed by the ‘blood dimmed tide’ of the Civil War. Harlan’s dissent had it been adopted in 1896, would have spared the nation, at least a quarter century of strife

  8. miguel cervantes wrote:

    we are
    an inspiration to the world,

    “Hello everyone, thanks for inviting us – though, really, as I think about it, you should be thanking us, considering what an inspiration to you we have been! Not that we are beyond criticism: As you all know, we have from time to time acknowledged having fallen short of perfection, but, unlike you, we were striving for something exceptionally good. So, if we made mistakes, it was always for the best reasons, reasons that you may have difficulty comprehending, but, with our help, may at least begin to grasp, if dimly. Just keep in mind that we are inexpressibly your betters, in every way that matters, and we can set aside your stumbling efforts to express it.”

    You mean like that?

  9. Yes I didn’t get that at all, Scott surprises kind of like the Slider episodes, I was always curious how the multiverse did almost invariably lead to dystopias that the left projected, the pilot was
    an exception,

  10. @ miguel cervantes:
    I can explain that, actually, though you may not like the answer.

    First, imagine Scott (yes, that’s right – you imagined him perfectly!) walking into a pitch meeting, and for the seventh time that season, he says something like, “They end up in a universe where everything is pretty much like in ours, except somewhat better, in a sort of a right wing way.”

    Then, go to the new thread.

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