Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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April 5, 2009

AMERICAN EXCEPTIONALISM.... A reporter asked President Obama an interesting question yesterday: "[C]ould I ask you whether you subscribe, as many of your predecessors have, to the school of 'American exceptionalism' that sees America as uniquely qualified to lead the world, or do you have a slightly different philosophy?"

It's a loaded question of sorts, which carries some potential consequences. If Obama endorses the concept of American exceptionalism, and explains during an overseas visit that he believes the U.S. is a uniquely special nation, above all others, he runs the risk of reinforcing the notion of American arrogance and jingoism. American exceptionalism is, after all, a favorite of the neocons, and undergirds the idea that we operate on a different level than everyone else. But if Obama rejects the concept, he might give the impression that he sees his own country as less than special or unique. His critics would pounce, insisting that to give up on American exceptionalism is to give up on America's role as leader of the free world.

Given this, the president's response was pretty interesting.

"I believe in American exceptionalism, just as I suspect that the Brits believe in British exceptionalism and the Greeks believe in Greek exceptionalism. I'm enormously proud of my country and its role and history in the world. If you think about the site of this summit and what it means, I don't think America should be embarrassed to see evidence of the sacrifices of our troops, the enormous amount of resources that were put into Europe postwar, and our leadership in crafting an Alliance that ultimately led to the unification of Europe. We should take great pride in that.

"And if you think of our current situation, the United States remains the largest economy in the world. We have unmatched military capability. And I think that we have a core set of values that are enshrined in our Constitution, in our body of law, in our democratic practices, in our belief in free speech and equality, that, though imperfect, are exceptional.

"Now, the fact that I am very proud of my country and I think that we've got a whole lot to offer the world does not lessen my interest in recognizing the value and wonderful qualities of other countries, or recognizing that we're not always going to be right, or that other people may have good ideas, or that in order for us to work collectively, all parties have to compromise and that includes us.

"And so I see no contradiction between believing that America has a continued extraordinary role in leading the world towards peace and prosperity and recognizing that that leadership is incumbent, depends on, our ability to create partnerships because we create partnerships because we can't solve these problems alone."

Nicely done. As threading the rhetorical needle goes, Obama delivered the right response.

Michael Scherer had a very good item about this, and appreciated the president's nuances: "While in the past the idea that America was exceptional, the shining city on a hill, was evoked as an objective description, a fact, a prediction and a course by which the ship of state could be sailed, Obama used the phrase, by contrast, in a more subjective, self-aware way, acknowledging that the fact that he held this belief was not so, well, exceptional."

Steve Benen 12:55 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (48)

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can't speak without a teleprompter, eh?

heck, Boy George couldn't have said one of these sentences, had it been written by a dozen professional speechwriters, and put on a prompter.

for off the cuff, that was some pretty fine work in a difficult spot. i know its been said 1000 times since Nov 4, but it is so freakin nice to have an articular, intelligent President representing us again.

Posted by: zeitgeist on April 5, 2009 at 1:04 PM | PERMALINK

My thoughts, exactly!

No one on the right can come close to that.

Posted by: Bob M on April 5, 2009 at 1:25 PM | PERMALINK

Wait a minute! Are you sayin' I'm not articular? Don't misunderestimate me, now!

Posted by: George W.Bush on April 5, 2009 at 1:25 PM | PERMALINK

That was marvelous....I just wish I had the ability to think fast and come up with a perfect response as he did. I am so proud of our president!

Posted by: Joan on April 5, 2009 at 1:29 PM | PERMALINK

Every time he opens his mouth I regret more and more not getting on his bandwagon the day he announced he would run.

Damn, he's good!

Posted by: Blue Girl on April 5, 2009 at 1:32 PM | PERMALINK

Wow! What an absolutely perfect, nuanced answer! He is wonderful, even though I don't agree with everything he's done, he is a wonderful president, already. Thank you for the story.

Posted by: Vogeloy on April 5, 2009 at 1:47 PM | PERMALINK

The thought of how a President McCain (remember him?) would have responded to that question makes me even more pleased that Americans made the right decision last November.

Posted by: Tony J on April 5, 2009 at 1:51 PM | PERMALINK

Inauthentic. Real Americans communicate in grunts.

Posted by: Davis X. Machina on April 5, 2009 at 1:57 PM | PERMALINK

May I hope that this beautiful answer puts a stake through the fucking heart of "american exceptionalism?" Like the notion that every President needs to have a "doctrine" named after himself, or a "legacy" the idea that any sentient, educated human being could believe that America was truly "exceptional" was an idiocy. Some Presidents don't have "doctrines" while others mistake a fit of pique for an original idea. Others don't have legacies, they just leave behind detritus. And America isn't actually "Exceptional" its just another country, with its own pluses and minuses, as good or as bad as its leadership and its people. A thousand blessings on Obama for taking the question full on and saying "yeah, I love my country and we've done some good stuff...just like every person loves their country and like every country has done some amazing things...now what?"


Posted by: AIMAI on April 5, 2009 at 2:01 PM | PERMALINK

Can you imagine how many countries Bush would offend with his answer to that question? Are there any that he wouldn't? It is a joy to have such a president.

Posted by: Michael7843853 on April 5, 2009 at 2:10 PM | PERMALINK

I was listening to this event, and when that question was asked, I thought, "Uh-oh." But, then Obama delivered those opening lines that - in and of themselves - diffused the bomb embedded in the question. I let out a sigh of relief. But, he then went on and further elaborated on his response, and I did feel proud of him. I do not know if he is going to be able to accomplish all he has either attempted to take on or has had foisted upon him. But, he manages to convince me of his earnestness, and I am willing to forgive the differences I have with him and take the same "wait and see" attitude that saw me through my doubts during the campaign. It further makes me think - with awareness of the sentimentalilty of the notion - that Obama at his best is a personification of American exceptionalism.

Posted by: TuiMel on April 5, 2009 at 2:50 PM | PERMALINK

He's obviously the best man for the job! I'd love to hear a Palin answer to that particular question; just so I could die from embarrassment!

Posted by: The Galloping Trollop on April 5, 2009 at 2:52 PM | PERMALINK

The reason I voted for President Obama was that he was pragmatic. His opponets were idealoges.

Posted by: EC Sedgwick on April 5, 2009 at 3:03 PM | PERMALINK

RE: "a shining city on a hill" -- I just read Sarah Vowell's "The Wordy Shipmates", which is about the early colonization of America and John Winthrop, the first Governor of Massachusetts who wrote the "City on a Hill" quote so often repeated by Americans such as Ronald Reagan. (To be fair, it's a Bible quote, but Winthrop made the imagery part of the enduring American character)

Winthrop didn't use "shining". His phrasing wasn't to say America would become a perfect model for the whole world -- Winthrop meant God was watching us, and if we displease God, there would be no place to hide. A city on the hill is quite conspicuous, and it was incumbent upon us to set an example and hold ourselves to high standards, or God would destroy us as an example to all others.

Posted by: anonymous on April 5, 2009 at 3:10 PM | PERMALINK

Kudos as well to the journalist who posed the question.

I've long advocated that presidential candidates be subjected to (at least) a couple of debates moderated by historians.

Posted by: JL on April 5, 2009 at 3:11 PM | PERMALINK

"American exceptionalism" refers to the fact that God loves America and Americans so much more than He (and God is most definitely a white male) loves other nations and peoples. He has shown this in simultaneously and quite apart from logic leading us to this rich and empty continent and ensuring our heroic triumph over the Indians. Plus He gave us slaves.

It's really very sad how Obama flounders without that teleprompter.

Posted by: The Republican response on April 5, 2009 at 3:25 PM | PERMALINK

Sadly, America is indeed exceptional in many faltering ways. Alone or nearly so among developed nations, we incarcerate/execute more of our citizens (and being almost alone in allowing the latter sometimes for those under 18), we have a horrid health care "system", tax codes and business regulation favoring the richest and the financiers, willingness to intervene in external affairs and abrogate international treaties about detention and torture, make voting for certain groups very difficult, have inordinate influence of, and from the kookiest, religious factions in any non-Muslim nation, and so on.

No I don't hate America, but I do prefer working for progress over lying about the nation.

Posted by: Neil B on April 5, 2009 at 3:35 PM | PERMALINK

Completely off topic....but did anyone read George Will's column today? You know him, the sort of intellectual and reasonable kind of Republican conservative. Apparently it's not worth waiting a minute for your compact flourescent bulbs to warm up. Besides, as we learned recently in a couple of his previous columns, there's no global warming to worry about anyway. Maybe global cooling instead.

Sorry for the diversion. Besides, zeitgeist took the words right out of my mouth with the first comment above.

Posted by: emjayay on April 5, 2009 at 3:55 PM | PERMALINK

Is this a reporter who spent hours thinking up the perfect "gotcha" question, only to see his efforts foiled by Obama's thoughtful and articulate answer, or was it a serious, thoughtful question of the type rarely asked of a national leader? The very fact that my first impulse was the former says a lot about the state of journalism today. (And, no, I'm not Glenn Greenwald.)

Posted by: seriously on April 5, 2009 at 4:08 PM | PERMALINK

zeitgeist: i know its been said 1000 times since Nov 4, but it is so freakin nice to have an articular, intelligent President representing us again."

#1001: No kidding! It is a fantastic relief to have an articulate, intelligent President representing us again! Better still, is that I agree with nearly everything he says, or at least I'm willing to consider his point of view. He is both articulate and right, as opposed to being inarticulate and Right-wing, like his predecessor.

Posted by: PTate in MN on April 5, 2009 at 4:19 PM | PERMALINK

When I saw the question, my first thought was that there was only one answer to it -- along the lines he used -- though I'd never been able to elucidate so nicely. I agree with everyone else; having a president who is able to give -- off the cuff -- an answer which is good enough to be included in a book of examples of how to speak in public, is *awesome*.

My second thought was: what, no questions about whether he prefers tea to coffee and what his favourite colour is? Sheesh. And also: how come *our* reporters don't ask questions which elicit such thoughtful and well-reasoned responses?

Emjayay (vis George Will): The smartest part of George Will is his bow tie. There's no sense in getting exercised about his inanities.

Posted by: exlibra on April 5, 2009 at 5:19 PM | PERMALINK

Anonymous, I couldn't agree with you more. Although in some ways the authentic interpretation (read: non-Reaganesque) of Winthrop's words sets an equally unsettling precedent: It encourages all of the "religious" zealots who blame catastrophes (9/11, Hurricane Katrina, an abortion doctor's children dying in a plane crash in the Montana cemetery with a "Tomb of the Unborn") on God's judgment against "godless" Americans.

Posted by: AuntieSlats on April 5, 2009 at 6:00 PM | PERMALINK

RE: "a shining city on a hill" -- I just read Sarah Vowell's "The Wordy Shipmates", which is about the early colonization of America and John Winthrop, the first Governor of Massachusetts who wrote the "City on a Hill" quote so often repeated by Americans such as Ronald Reagan.

My husband and I listened to a big chunk of the unabridged audiobook while we were on vacation and I also highly recommend it. She spends a lot of time exploring how the "city on a hill" idea was regarded by the Puritans and how our modern understanding of what was meant by it is extremely shallow. As anonymous said, the verse contains both a promise and a threat.

Posted by: Mnemosyne on April 5, 2009 at 6:03 PM | PERMALINK

Not bad, although he should have defended the U.S. a lot more strongly against its unreasonable and jealous critics.

But if you kids think he didn't practice that answer for weeks in front of a mirror, I've got an iPod I'd like to sell you.

Posted by: Myke K on April 5, 2009 at 7:00 PM | PERMALINK

Inauthentic. Real Americans communicate in grunts.

Posted by: Davis X. Machina at 1:57 PM

Followed by a burst of gunfire.

Posted by: burro on April 5, 2009 at 7:57 PM | PERMALINK

American exceptionism? Well, lemme, uh let's just say there are some that say, you know, that America is a force for bad in the world. I reject that. I do. I think that America can do good, good things. That doesn't mean we can't do better, and we try, I'm tryin every day to think of ways to do better. And so are our friends. All over the world, good people, you know, of good will to the US. Ever since 9/11, freedom's enemies have been trying to harm us and Europe. So that's just the way I see it. Thank you.

Posted by: "43" on April 5, 2009 at 8:22 PM | PERMALINK

The Flesch-Kinkaid grade level of "43"'s post above is 1.68.

That's first grade, almost seventh month.

Just thought that was interesting.

Posted by: Davis X. Machina on April 5, 2009 at 8:56 PM | PERMALINK

Looking at it rhetorically:
Para 1:
A: Yes I agree with your proposition
B: I take your proposition as my own and convert it into my intentionality (this is the most interesting bit of ju jitsu)

Para 2: Here's why we are exceptional.

Para 3: Reach across. But you are too.

Para 4: Here I synthesize my compromise response.

This is a pretty masterful ad hoc response. It is eloquent and I guess pretty obviously off the cuff (How deeply have any of us thought about American exceptionalism and its relationship to the world?).

This doesn't just leave Bush in the dust but I can't think of any public figure who would have come up with any similarly well crafted response.

Shit, I guess those madrasas must teach something other than bomb making and stuff.

Posted by: paulo on April 5, 2009 at 9:00 PM | PERMALINK

Pretty meets Ominous

You've read the purty, the Washington Post gives us the Onimous:

The Obama administration is engineering its new bailout initiatives in a way that it believes will allow firms benefiting from the programs to avoid restrictions imposed by Congress, including limits on lavish executive pay, according to government officials.

Administration officials have concluded that this approach is vital for persuading firms to participate in programs funded by the $700 billion financial rescue package.

The administration believes it can sidestep the rules because, in many cases, it has decided not to provide federal aid directly to financial companies, the sources said. Instead, the government has set up special entities that act as middlemen, channeling the bailout funds to the firms and, via this two-step process, stripping away the requirement that the restrictions be imposed, according to officials.

Later in the story there is this:

A Treasury spokesman defended the approach. "These programs are designed to both comply with the law and ensure taxpayers' funds are used most effectively to bring about economic recovery," spokesman Andrew Williams said.

In one program, designed to restart small-business lending, President Obama's officials are planning to set up a middleman called a special-purpose vehicle -- a term made notorious during the Enron scandal -- or another type of entity to evade the congressional mandates, sources familiar with the matter said.

Holy Death Knell Batman..

Who is Andrew Williams? What financial firms has he worked for? Where did he get his degrees from? Why should I believe he has my best interest's in mind?

Posted by: koreyel on April 5, 2009 at 9:20 PM | PERMALINK

Well said, indeed. Too often in recent history, and on occasion in the past, the notion of American exceptionalism was delivered with the spin of, "stand back, and watch how it's done, son". That only makes observers snicker when you step on your dick, but more importantly, it delays or precludes the possibility of help when you actually need it. Why should you need help - after all, you said you could easily do what everybody else had tried to do, and failed, right?

Bush was so arrogant that he made Napoleon look humble by contrast, but he did perform the valuable service of flushing out all the self-absorbed, look-at-me twits who thought as he did, and who imagined he and leaders like him were here to stay. My personal favourite is Anne Applebaum, the bloodthirtsty warmongress of the Washington Post. You'll be lucky if you can still find it, but shortly after the successful drive on Baghdad (which must be rated a brilliant military operation, although the brilliance dropped off rather sharply after that point) she wrote in her regular column, "...the war proved, as we all knew it would, that America no longer needs military allies."

Is that so, Annie? It wasn't long after that article that America began to suggest - rather peevishly - that NATO should step up and begin providing some troops to share the load. Mind you, that was after Paul Wolfowitz drafted his famous memo (now also not easy to find) stating that a good chunk of the NATO alliance was ineligible to bid on reconstruction work, because they had refused to join militarily in the invasion, which was at the time still being referred to as a "liberation". What the war actually proved, as we now do all know, is that America needs allies and friends as much or more than ever.

George W. Bush epitomized the sort of American the world loves to hate. Obama epitomizes the sort of international statesman the world likes and respects. When you come across with that, "Aw, shucks" attitude, and then succeed brilliantly, your success is clearly exceptional without the requirement for shouting it from the rooftops.

Posted by: Mark on April 5, 2009 at 10:01 PM | PERMALINK

Apparently, both Obamas make allies and friends everywhere they go and at every level of society, upending long-standing traditions in most socialist fashion. According to this article:
a lowly policeman, who'd exchanged a few words with the President and had his hand shaken by same, so forgot his station, that he offered his hand to Brown...

Posted by: exlibra on April 5, 2009 at 10:15 PM | PERMALINK

Ad hoc? Possibly but I like to think he has thought about being asked such a question. He's that good. I also think Hillary could have done as well, Jack Welch's minions notwithstanding.
It is truly delightful to have an elite in the White House.

Posted by: TJM on April 5, 2009 at 10:25 PM | PERMALINK

Our President gave a masterful response, and in so many ways he and his wife have made me proud since he took office.

On this topic, I have always wondered if the need to constantly brag about our country being best and to fall back to that meme when confronted with questions about anything about our country that is less than perfect is a form of sickness and/or mental laziness

I also look at the way Obama has talked about pursuing a "more perfect union" as completely consistent -- we are not afraid to talk candidly about our shortcoming because we are striving to be better.

This is my kind of patriotism -- it allows room for thinking.

Posted by: Threegoal on April 5, 2009 at 11:41 PM | PERMALINK

My and I thought no one noticed how brillant that answer was. His subtlety and nuanced answer probably confounded the MSM because they couldn't come up with a gotcha moment. I think this President is just GREAT!

Posted by: 1ChanceOnly on April 6, 2009 at 12:39 AM | PERMALINK

One distinction the President missed -- oddly, since he exemplifies it: America IS different, and better, from pretty much every other nation, because anybody can be invited by an American, from anywhere, and come here to become one of US.

That's not true of other nations. Exclusion, even of what they often falsely call "immigrants", is the rule. (Turks in Germany, Filipinos in Kuwait, Koreans and Chinese in Japan, and my personal favorite, Pakistanis in Norway: all invited, all excluded.) We're the exception. Why shouldn't we point out that it makes us exceptional? It's true.

It's what you learn when you think about patriotism based on some knowledge, no? We are NOT like other nations, and they are wrong to imagine that we are. We're BETTER.

British "immigration" is essentially the legacy of conquest. To an alarming degree, German citizenship is still genetic. France is ultimately a language, and if anybody thinks la belle France does 'assimilation' well, look at French Muslims.

I couldn't move to Japan or China anymore than I could climb a tree and become an apple or a pine cone -- but people can, and do, come to the United States by individual invitation from foreign countries and they cease being foreigners, by the millions, through AMERICANIZATION: adopting our civics.

There are only a handful of countries in all the world that have anything remotely like American immigration: Argentina, Australia, Canada, Israel, and New Zealand... that's pretty much it.

None are close to American immigration in size, depth, historical significance, or diversity.

THAT is what makes us truly exceptional -- and it's too bad the President didn't explain what he exemplifies.

Posted by: theAmericanist on April 6, 2009 at 7:32 AM | PERMALINK

Obama absolutely believes in American Exceptionalism. The country *is* exceptional. From his 2007 speech...

So I reject the notion that the American moment has passed. I dismiss the cynics who say that this new century cannot be another when, in the words of President Franklin Roosevelt, we lead the world in battling immediate evils and promoting the ultimate good.

I still believe that America is the last, best hope of Earth. We just have to show the world why this is so. This President may occupy the White House, but for the last six years the position of leader of the free world has remained open. And it’s time to fill that role once more.

You don't say that sort of stuff if you believe everything's relative.

Posted by: red state mike on April 6, 2009 at 9:59 AM | PERMALINK

Yah, Obama doesn't mean that stuff about playing well with others. He just says it to pacify you hypocrits who freak out when someone says something nice about your own country.

I voted for him and I know that underneath it all his foreign policy will be exactly the same as Bush's. And thank God for that.

Posted by: dead weight mike on April 6, 2009 at 10:09 AM | PERMALINK

theAmericanist, thanks for that. I didn't know that. (I hope I'm not the only one?)

Along with the articulateness of Obama's answer, the subtlety of analysis it demonstrated, and the courtesy, prudence, tact, and simple decency it manifested, it also has the clear and immense value of being true.
How much of what Bush, Cheney, or any other Rethug recently or currently would say could be taken as anything but spin at best, bullshit most of the time, and far too often complete and total lies -- which are saved from utter divorcement from reality only by being diametrically opposed to reality?

And red state mike, there's no inconsistency between those two statements of Obama's. Unlike W, Obama can and does "do nuance," and can hold more than one idea in his head at once. He also understands graciousness and manners, again unlike W.

Posted by: smartalek on April 6, 2009 at 10:40 AM | PERMALINK

I'm a big believer in American exceptionalism, but I'm not going to be surprised if the rest of the world says "prove it". And I'm confident we will.

Posted by: Glen on April 6, 2009 at 10:52 AM | PERMALINK

I think theAmericanist underestimates the extent of immigration and assimilation around the world. Indians in South Africa and Uganda and other African countries, massive ethnic Chinese populations in all of southeast Asia (Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia, Vietnam, etc.), and widespread immigration from everywhere into South America. Does Peru get no credit at all for electing a Japanese-Peruvian as its president in the early 90s?

The large immigrant populations in Europe are still a relatively recently phenomenon. Assimilation takes more than a generation. In another 40 years you will not be able to speak as if the Algerian and other immigrants into France are not, in fact, essentially French. And England is already very much a nation of immigrants.

Posted by: Rob Mac on April 6, 2009 at 12:51 PM | PERMALINK

Yeah, I know about all that -- as well as, f'r instance, that Gandhi got his start as an Indian oppressed in South Africa, that Idi Amin expelled Indians from Uganda, much as the North Vietnamese drove ethnic Chinese to become boat people after the fall of Saigon -- and they're not much more popular anywhere else in Southeast Asia, nor Indonesia. There are a couple outlier examples (like Japanese immigration to Peru), but methinks my point stands.

In fact, for the two biggest countries you name, India and China, 'immigration' essentially means an export industry: both produce more engineers than they can consume locally, f'r instance.

Face it -- the very IDEA of "immigration" in the American sense, that "they" become "us", is essentially an American idea, and a big part of what makes us a truly exceptional nation.

It's just the truth. Why argue otherwise?

Posted by: theAmericanist on April 6, 2009 at 1:29 PM | PERMALINK


Well, the last time I looked, immigrants were hardly wildly popular in the U.S. either, nor have they ever been. Every group that has come here--Mexicans, Jews, Irish, Italians, Chinese etc--has experience a great deal of prejudice and hostility. Moreover, this prejudice was reflected in immigration quotas enacted during the 1920s which lasted for decades. The Chinese Exclusion Act was enacted in 1882, and not repealed until 1943.

It's certainly true that immigrants have not suffered the degree of mistreatment to be found in some other countries, but I seriously question whether the U.S. attitude toward immigration is as unique as you portray it. As others have stated, there are a number of other countries where foreigners can immigrate to and assimilate.

Posted by: Lee on April 6, 2009 at 2:54 PM | PERMALINK

Lee, strive to pay attention: there are a SMALL number of other countries which have immigration, and NONE on the scale, depth or historical significance of the United States.

Got that? It's a simple, quantifiable fact.

There is a Rule for the world's nations -- when foreigners show up in large #s and stay, that's generally known as "invasion" and "conquest", or sometimes "enslavement" or "servitude".

The United States is an exception. Put another way, we are exceptional. There are other exceptions -- but we're by far the biggest and best example, both in degree and in kind.

Canada is the most similar to us, in that the majority of Canadians are not descended from their First Peoples, but is otherwise radically different because the #s are much smaller. (The Canadian history with their Indians -- a term they don't use -- is a bit different, also.)

The other nations that have immigration, in the way the US does, are the ones I listed: Argentina, Australia, Israel, and New Zealand. If you try to extend the list, you find yourself throwing in highly marginal and idiosyncratic examples, like Japanese immigration to Peru, or you start counting the common labor market created by the European Union, which at least OUGHT to be so different from the US model (nobody born in Puerto Rico requires a complex international negotiation to get a job in NYC) that my point should be obvious.

Great Britain, for example, has "immigration" that is almost entirely from the former constituents of its empire, e.g., Pakistan or parts of Africa. This is nothing like American immigration, which is not and never has been about people coming here from places we used to rule.

And as for the idea that "immigrants" are not, and never have been popular here: that isn't even half a point to make in rebuttal, because even the half you're trying (and failing) to make, PROVES what you think you're refuting.

Consider the narrow and idiosyncratic example of ethnic Germans from central Europe, who can now claim ancestral citizenship in a united Germany, with the going on fourth generation of Turks in Germany, who continue to be excluded in a million ways.

Contrast the way no nativist in this country challenges the nativist credentials of a Pat Buchanan based on his ethnicity, though his ancestors were considered human chimpanzees by the descendants of previous, mostly British stock immigrants.

It is bullshit -- in the precise sense of a statement that can be half or even wholly true in context, but is simply bullshit in any case because it is made in DISREGARD of the truth, to insist that because America has some idiosyncrasies of our own regarding immigrants, that we must therefore be just like Germany, or France, or Britain, or any other nation on earth: because that is NOT true, not regarding immigration nor a whole lot else.

Less than 2% of the US population is native American; the rest of us have ancestors that, many within living memory, left someplace else and came here to become Americans. There is no other country on earth with a percentage even remotely close. (Hell, try and name one. Go on, look up the stats.)

With 98% of Americans whose ancestors were immigrants, roughly 12% are African-Americans -- and only most (not all) of them are descended from captives brought here involuntarily.

Look at the forest, for once, instead of getting lost in the -- hell, not even the trees, you're mucking around in the weeds and tall grass: more than 85% of the US population is the direct result of a conscious decision by somebody, somewhere, sometime to take the huge risk to go to a new land to make a better life. Even the 'pull up the ladder' phenomenom you point to, where the descendants of earlier immigrants may resent latter ones (or, for that matter, the way civil rights champions like Booker T. Washington objected to European immigrants' economic competition with the emancipated) only underscores what a unique country this is: cuz NO OTHER COUNTRY has ever done near as magnificent a job Americanizing newcomers as what we take for granted.

And you STILL don't see that makes us exceptional?

Open your eyes.

Posted by: theAmericanist on April 6, 2009 at 5:31 PM | PERMALINK


What is wrong with you? Why the anger and defensiveness when anyone disagrees with you? What gives?

Posted by: Lee on April 6, 2009 at 6:04 PM | PERMALINK

Lee. Sigh.

Let me 'splain it to you slowly, in simple words you can understand, cuz I see that you're kind of SPECIAL, y'know?

Are you sitting down?

Good. As Tip O'Neill used to say when he presided at the bar (no, not THAT bar -- what, you've never been to Boston?): I got summina saytaya.

(That Tip, he knew how to get someone's attention.)

Lee, it's like this. I can no more normally interact with other humans than I can get through this sentence without pointlessly capitalizing SOMETHING. I'm the turd in the punchbowl, Lee, at work, play, home, you name it. I'm a walking DISASTER.

I'm a FUCKING PSYCHO, Lee, and you're about the last one here to figure it out.

Capisce? (That's Italian immigrant talk, Lee. No need to thank me.)

Posted by: theAmericanass on April 6, 2009 at 8:52 PM | PERMALINK

I'm a "Sopranos" and "Godfather" fan, so although I'm not Italian-American I know full well what "Capisce" means.

Posted by: Lee on April 6, 2009 at 9:39 PM | PERMALINK

The arrogance of conservative American exceptionalism is in its denigration of all other nations as not runners-up, but grossly inferior.

If you plan to take on Afghanistan, what difference would it make to have other weakling countries chip in their paltry military forces? They'll only get in our way!

The conservatives behave as if all members of the "coalition of the willing" were children, or employees, and all deference was owed the mighty United States.

A handful of hate filled jerks with IED's are far less mighty than our "puny" European allies, yet they gave substantial grief to our forces for nearly 7 years with not much sign of hope. Instead, the commanders haltingly, grudgingly accepted that only the weak nation of Iraq could hope to suppress this tiny force.

Struggling unnecessarily may be a natural consequence of this flippant demand of respect. Leading once again by example as we did in Europe is a welcome reversal.

Posted by: toowearyforoutrage on April 6, 2009 at 9:46 PM | PERMALINK

I have said it before and I will say it again. There is nothing wrong with espousing exceptionalism - if you are behaving in an exceptional manner. And for the first time in a long time, we appear to be at least trying to live up to our ideals. That is a welcome change, one I have been waiting for for many, many years.

Posted by: Blue Girl on April 7, 2009 at 1:43 AM | PERMALINK



Read Jonathan Rowe remembrance and articles
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