Saturday, November 20, 2010

On American Exceptionalism

Paul Woodward at War in Context has a nice piece about American exceptionalism, building on an essay by Matt Miller ("Ohhhh, America, you're so strong") in the WaPo.  Notes Woodward:

In as much as American exceptionalism is rooted in a belief in American supremacy, then the power ascribed to the nation is implicitly shared by every American. That this is make-believe power is evident in the frequency and loudness with which it is declared and the fact that those who profess their conviction in this power nevertheless clearly easily feel threatened — threatened by the government; by the rest of the world; by immigrants; and by other Americans who don’t share their views.

And Miller winds up his piece beautifully, and explains nicely some of the basis for Ms. Palin's appeal:

The conservative use of American exceptionalism as a political sword today is perversely revealing. There's something off when the first generation of Americans that is less educated than its parents feels a deep need to be told how unique it is. Or that a generation that's handing off epic debts and a chronically dysfunctional political process (among other woes) demands that its leaders keep toasting its fabulousness. Especially when other nations now offer more upward mobility, and a better blend of growth with equity, than we do - arguably the best measures of America's once-exceptional national performance.

Wouldn't it bolster Americans more to be told that we can meet the challenges of this moment? Wouldn't we be better off striving to be exceptional at solving our common problems?

Sarah Palin's focus on this theme proves she is shrewder than her critics acknowledge. I don't doubt that Palin's beliefs are sincere. But she's also tuned in to her audience: Millions of Americans who are anxious about America's trajectory and worried about their family's economic future. If you don't have real answers, soothing words are a start.

Oooh, you're so strong, baby, so handsome. Palin knows the country she is courting.

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