Well, better late than never, I suppose. I guess I should welcome the Statists to the party…although it took them a while to arrive. Oh, I know, Woodrow Wilson hinted at it and FDR offered his own version of it in 1941—although he included “freedom from want” in his laundry list, as well as other bits of socialist dogma. In a country founded upon individual liberty, shouldn’t that be an individual responsibility, as opposed to a “right” or imagined “freedom” to be granted and guaranteed by the State? Then again, it was FDR.
The French aristocrat Alexis de Tocqueville is credited with the first use of the term “exceptional” in reference to the United States in 1831. In Leftist circles these days, it’s fashionable to characterize de Tocqueville’s words as an “insult” to the early United States; and perhaps they were intended to be exactly that—I could care less.
Another popular Leftist take is that none other than the Soviet butcher Joseph Stalin coined the term “American Exceptionalism,” while having a tiff with an American Communist (shouldn’t that be an oxymoron?) in 1929, after the American Commie informed Uncle Joe that the American “proletariat” wasn’t interested in revolution. Apparently they had it too good over here. Again, this take might be absolutely correct—and, again, I could care less.
Perhaps more appropriate and correct references to our Exceptionalism come from men such as Thomas Jefferson (hey, he was no Joe Stalin, but he was the best we could do at the time), who said, “The last hope of human liberty in this world rests on us”; or Abraham Lincoln, who referred to the United States as “the last best hope of mankind”. Of course, among modern politicians, no one alluded to our Exceptionalism (though he may not have used the term) more than Ronald Reagan, who famously and beautifully referred to America as a “shining city on a hill,” referencing John Winthrop’s seventeenth-century quote.
In my opinion, the argument shouldn’t be about who first coined the term, or precisely what they meant by it, or whether or not it was intended to be pejorative. I think we should have an honest discussion about whether or not our country is, in fact, “exceptional,” and if so, why.
I bring this up because, on September 10th 2013, President Obama said that America was “exceptional” in his attempt to convince the American people that we should bomb Syria, sort of, if the Russians don’t bail us out first, and if the Syrians don’t get rid of their chemical weapons quickly enough…I’m still not sure of what he was actually trying to say. Regardless, the text of his speech is as follows:
…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. That’s what makes America different. That’s what makes us exceptional. With humility, but with resolve, let us never lose sight of that essential truth.
Okay, that’s ridiculous on so many different levels I don’t know where to start; and I’m not going to attempt to deconstruct the passage, much less the entire speech—whether or not we should bomb Syria is beyond the scope of this article. What I would like to take issue with is the President’s assertion that we’re exceptional because we “can stop children from being gassed to death.” Really? Who writes this stuff for him? Isn’t he supposed to be a brilliant orator? Is he not capable of looking at a speech beforehand and saying, “That’s moronic and I won’t say it”? Does he simply read whatever is put on his teleprompter? Never mind.
Then, following Russian President Vladimir Putin’s disingenuous, snarky op-ed in the New York Times two days later, in which he took issue with Obama’s use of the term “exceptional,” Nancy Pelosi screeched in a news conference, “America is an exceptional country.” All of a sudden, we have Obama and Pelosi defending our “Exceptionalism.”
I would love to ask the President and the…screecher (I’m sorry, but she is one of the least impressive humans I’ve ever been exposed to, and for her to have been second in line for the Presidency makes me shudder) just why they think we’re an exceptional country. Does Obama really believe it’s because we can keep Syrian kids from being gassed? I think not—any number of countries could do that, which begs the question: do they really think we’re exceptional? And if so, why?
Webster’s defines “exceptional” as: “Far beyond what is usual in magnitude or degree.” With that in mind, how are we exceptional in the minds of Obama and Pelosi? Are we more socialist than European countries? Are we poorer than African countries? Are we as authoritarian as China? These would seem to be traits the Left admires; yet the answer to each question has to be “no”…at this point anyway. Yet, all of a sudden, “America is an exceptional country” according to these two.
On this one issue, I have to agree with them. The United States of America is an exceptional country, but not because we could bomb Syria if we wanted to. We’re exceptional because we were founded upon the concept of individual liberty, and because that concept still—despite efforts against it—is a part of our national psyche; and that makes us far more unique than those on the Left want to admit. It also carries with it a burden of responsibility that’s not fashionable these days; and it argues against the Left’s efforts to expand the welfare state at every opportunity, thereby creating more dependency and less individual liberty.
These same politicians who crammed Obamacare down our throats because it was “good for us,” and who want to tear the heart out of the 2nd Amendment (thereby subjugating us to the State), now stomp their feet and declare us exceptional. That’s an insult I won’t stand for. The American Left quite obviously wants to strip us of the very individual liberty that makes us unique in the world, and they have the gall to still call us “exceptional”?
Though they chose the correct word, their actions haven’t earned them the right to use it. Too many have sacrificed too much in defense of the one thing that, in fact, makes us exceptional—individual liberty and all that comes with it, good and bad. American Exceptionalism is (barely) alive, and not too well these days; but to whatever degree it still draws breath, it does so in spite of people like Obama and Pelosi.