“I believe in American exceptionalism, just as I suspect that Brits believe in British exceptionalism and the Greeks believe in Greek exceptionalism.” Those words were spoken by President Obama during a press conference in France back in 2009.
The president took a lot of heat for that remark from conservatives at the time, and it wasn’t all that hard to understand why. His stated belief seemed to be that the concept of exceptionalism really didn’t have a whole lot to do with actually being exceptional. Instead, he appeared to view it merely as an attitude – a rallying cry from home-team fans at a sporting event.
This perceived sense of indifference or perhaps even distaste toward America’s power, relevance and influence in the world has always been a major point of contention for the president’s critics, including myself. Many of us view Barack Obama as a man who has long been irritatingly reluctant to recognize this country for its greatness, admire it for its achievements, and accept its vast importance to the world stage.
When we listen to him speak broadly about what makes America special, we often hear him refer to our spirit and our state of mind as Americans, but he rarely reflects on the uniqueness of the American way of life. We rarely hear him describe the magnificence of our country as a testament to a long history of defending freedom, liberty, and the rights of individuals. We don’t hear him talk about America as a place where someone can bring their limitless dreams to fruition with enough hard work and determination, and then bask in the fruits of their achievements.
Instead, we hear him talk about a nation with grand potential that may one day be great if only we make the right decisions going forward.
In President Obama’s recent proclamation on the remembrance of the 9/11 attacks, he said, “Today, we can honor those we lost by building a nation worthy of their memories.”
Are we not already a nation worthy of their memories? According to the president, we’re not.
As we’ve witnessed over the past five years, the kind of nation our president seems to prefer more resembles one that you might find in Europe.
I’m talking about a nation where chronically high unemployment is acceptable, and its citizens are conditioned to believe it’s now just part of the societal culture. It’s a nation where the expansion of the entitlement and welfare states are worth the price-tags of insurmountable debt, a stagnant economy, and a lower quality of living for our children. It’s a nation where disproportionate wealth is viewed as immoral and unjust, a thus must by siphoned off for the greater good. It’s a nation in which the government is heavily involved in the healthcare system, and is steadily going after more control of it. It’s a nation that’s paralyzed by political correctness, and it’s one where self-righteous sanctimony is an acceptable replacement for logic. It’s a nation that’s becoming increasingly and willfully irrelevant to important world matters, leading from behind and content with letting other countries deal with issues that directly affect it.
I don’t believe our president has ever viewed America as being exceptional. I think he came into office believing that our nation was a problem child that needed to be put in a time-out, told that we’re no better than anyone else, and then sent off to a European school for re-education.
That’s why I found it interesting, last Tuesday, when the president invoked American exceptionalism in his address to the country regarding U.S. military intervention is Syria.
“But when, with modest effort and risk, we can stop children from being gassed to death, and thereby make our own children safer over the long run, I believe we should act,” he said. “That’s what makes America different. That’s what makes us exceptional.”
He’s getting closer… at least in the rhetoric. I suppose some of us should feel a little encouraged that he’s now not afraid to use that term in a high-profile speech to the nation – even if it was only for the purpose of pandering for our support.
But even in the rhetoric, Obama still hasn’t quite figured out what the rest of the country is referring to when it talks about American exceptionalism. Russian President Vladimir Putin got it wrong too, in the controversial op-ed he recently wrote for the New York Times.
American exceptionalism isn’t about the means we have as a country, and how we plan to use those means. It’s about how we came to have those means in the first place. It’s about how the U.S. Constitution and the American way of life led us to become such a successful, prosperous, free nation. We didn’t achieve our freedoms by accident. We didn’t become the world’s last superpower by accident. We didn’t become the center of the world economy by accident. Americans don’t have the quality of living they do as the result of some accident. We earned these things because of our uniqueness and because we are exceptional.
It’s not a state of mind. It’s a state of being. And as our country’s leadership continues to work diligently to transform our nation’s state of being into that of a European society, what does that mean for the future of American exceptionalism? Will it one day become exactly what our president defined it as back in 2009 – a home-team rallying cry?
I sure hope not, but I fear that may very well be the case.