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Ed Driscoll

The Bashing of American Exceptionalism

November 9th, 2010 - 8:00 am

Speaking of President Obama’s troubling discomfort with American exceptionalism, they’re the subject of Jonah Goldberg’s latest L.A. Times piece, which notes how common such punitive views are amongst the president’s fellow leftwing elites:

Last year, when asked if he believed in American exceptionalism, President Obama responded, “I believe in American exceptionalism, just as I suspect that the Brits believe in British exceptionalism and the Greeks believe in Greek exceptionalism.”

This reminded me of the wonderful scene in Pixar‘s “The Incredibles,” in which the mom says “everyone’s special” and her son replies, “Which is another way of saying no one is.”

But at least the president made room for the sentiment that America is a special place, even if he chalked it up to a kind of benign provincialism. Not so Michael Kinsley, who recently penned an essay for Politico titled “U.S. is not greatest country ever,” in which he mocked those who traffic in this exceptionalism nonsense.

Not to be outdone, Daily Beast columnist Peter Beinart railed against the GOP‘s “lunatic notion” of America’s exceptionalism. In particular, Beinart was infuriated by Sen.-elect Marco Rubio‘s claim that “America is the single greatest nation in all of human history.” Doesn’t the Florida politician know, Beinart wonders, that China and Brazil are opening opportunities to their citizens too? According to Beinart, Rubio, the son of Cuban exiles, is too ideologically blinkered to know that “the American dream of upward mobility is alive and well, just not in America.”

What’s bizarre about Beinart and Kinsley’s rendition of American exceptionalism is that it reflects the premise that the idea of American exceptionalism is an artifact of right-wing jingoism, xenophobia or ignorance. And even Obama flirts with this sort of thing every time he chalks up opposition to his agenda to fear, bigotry or small-mindedness.

Forget that every Fourth of July we celebrate the fact that we fought a Revolutionary War to become an exceptional nation. From their dismissive condescension, you’d think these three educated men didn’t know that American exceptionalism has been a well-established notion among scholars for more than a century.

It’s all part of the Great Relearning, to coin a phrase.

As Jonah concludes, “by all means, Democrats, listen to the sophisticates who chortle at the idea that there’s anything especially good about America. That will solve Obama’s “communication problem.”

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