Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

Email Newsletter icon, E-mail Newsletter icon, Email List icon, E-mail List icon Sign up for Free News & Updates

January 31, 2011

THE ONLY MODERN PRESIDENT TO ENDORSE 'EXCEPTIONALISM'.... In his State of the Union address, President Obama emphasized principles of "American exceptionalism" rather explicitly, a fact more than a few observers acknowledged, even on the right.

Kathleen Parker, a conservative pundit for CNN and the Washington Post doesn't see it that way. Unless Obama uses the word "exceptionalism" literally and repeatedly, she's argued, the president's motivations deserve to be held suspect. Conservatives, she said, "long to hear" the word, not just the principles behind the word. Obama, Parker added, "studiously avoided using the word" and asks, "So why won't Obama just deliver the one word that would prompt arias from his doubters?"

Robert Schlesinger did some worthwhile digging over the weekend on this point, and discovered something interesting.

Only one sitting president in the last 82 years has publicly uttered the magical phrase "American exceptionalism" -- care to guess who it is? Ronald Reagan, he of the "shining city on a hill?" George W. Bush, who closed his speeches by asking that "God continue to bless" America? Nope. The only president to publicly discuss (and for that matter embrace) "American exceptionalism" is Barack Obama.

This would be the same president, of course, who is subject to a steadily rising stream of suspicion because of his supposed refusal to give voice sufficient voice to his love of country.

Yes, the one word conservatives "long to hear" has been uttered at the presidential level, but it wasn't a Republican who said it. Ironically, it was Obama who did what Reagan and Bush did not, though he's facing baseless attacks for doing what his detractors choose to ignore.

Bush, in case you're curious, twice used the word "exceptional" to describe Harriet Miers, his failed, ridiculous Supreme Court nominee, but never referenced American "exceptionalism," Republican longing notwithstanding.

For her part, Parker acknowledges that Obama repeated the word she's desperate to hear, but said it didn't count because she disapproved of the context. "Why won't Obama just deliver the one word that would prompt arias from his doubters?" Apparently because they won't be satisfied when he does.

Schlesinger's research, however, does cast this in a new light. I'm sure Obama's critics will feel compelled to call out his predecessors for "studiously avoiding" use of the "e" word, too, right?

Steve Benen 10:45 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (39)

Bookmark and Share

when you wrote about this yesterday, i suggested, in the first published comment, that it would be interesting to search past states of the union for the phrase, since as far as i could remember, it hadn't ever come up in a state of the union address.

so kudos to robert schlesinger for confirming my impression, not that it will make the slightest difference to kathleen parker and the other right-wing thug liars who have media platforms.

Posted by: howard on January 31, 2011 at 10:50 AM | PERMALINK

Let's face facts here.

If Obama could walk on water, they'd complain that he's only doing that because he doesn't know how to swim.

So few of THOSE people do, you know...

Posted by: c u n d gulag on January 31, 2011 at 10:52 AM | PERMALINK

Reality does not exist for the Right.

They, and many in the media (here's lookin' at you, Cokie) subscribe to the idea that "Perception is Reality".

That philosophy is why civilizations die.

Posted by: Newton Whale on January 31, 2011 at 10:58 AM | PERMALINK

If Obama uttered the word even once, then the Right would demand that he say it regularly, once a month, then once a week, every speech,etc. The point is, by making this demand they are implying that he needs to defuse the suspicion that he is unpatriotic or worse. So he's right not to use the word, since that would be to admit the legitimacy of the suspicion and hence to fall into the trap.

Posted by: davidp on January 31, 2011 at 10:58 AM | PERMALINK

Parker ... asks, "So why won't Obama just deliver the one word that would prompt arias from his doubters?"

Oh, yeah, right. Obama's "doubters" aren't arguing in good faith -- they're looking for something to get all het up about. (How about pretending the closed captioning was directions to applaud, despite occuring, you know, after the fact?)

As howard points out, Parker -- who has been the focus of consiervative ire herself -- stands exposed as either ignorant or a liar, but her basic complaint -- that Obama doesn't break through her negative perceptions enough to make her feel good about his speech -- is simply phony.

Regardless of which, it's clearly conservative conventional wisdom. Facts simply don't matter to these jackasses -- though, given how often facts contradict their rancid little cultlike faith, it's hardly surprising they reject them.

Posted by: Gregory on January 31, 2011 at 10:58 AM | PERMALINK

It's Birther madness all over again...

Posted by: andrew on January 31, 2011 at 10:59 AM | PERMALINK

Flag pins, big ears, mustard on hamburgers, flip flops in Hawaii, tints his hair, yada yada yada. Like the static on late night radio, it will always be there- a soothing sound for some insomniacs. . .

Posted by: DAY on January 31, 2011 at 11:04 AM | PERMALINK

Shorter Parker: Why is Obama not white?

Posted by: wab on January 31, 2011 at 11:04 AM | PERMALINK

This kinda crap is reminiscent of what Bill Clinton had to endure as well. Just start throwing all kinds of bullshit out there. You can't defend against it all, and there is always somebody who will believe something and repeat it.

Posted by: kanopsis on January 31, 2011 at 11:04 AM | PERMALINK

I think your analysis of the issue is rather narrow. While your point of fact may be entirely clear, you skip over Parker's context issue. Consider: "Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall" or "Bring it on". Of course those are cartoonish examples, but examples nonetheless of actions that set the tone of an administration. I'm not suggesting that those administrations actually understood the concept of AE ( which I personally think is crap) or used the notional concept of AE to improve the world.

Posted by: jay on January 31, 2011 at 11:05 AM | PERMALINK

Get this info to Spitzer so he can shame the shameless Parker.

Posted by: mikefromArlington on January 31, 2011 at 11:09 AM | PERMALINK

"This kinda crap is reminiscent of what Bill Clinton had to endure as well."

Since conservatives took over in 1980, no Democrat has been or will be considered legitimate. Even presidents elected or reelected with large margins.

And the media falls in line by repeating the conservative frame: "Does (fill in the Democrat's name)relate to 'real Americans'?"

Posted by: Newton Whale on January 31, 2011 at 11:09 AM | PERMALINK

I wonder if Ms. Parker also thinks she has the absolute best mother and father in the world -- no, in the history of the world, and everyone must acknowledge this, or be forever damned.

Posted by: Rathskeller on January 31, 2011 at 11:10 AM | PERMALINK

Conservatives long to hear BHO say "American exceptionalism" because then they know he was rethinking his committment to Sharia law and the repeal of DADT.

Posted by: Al on January 31, 2011 at 11:11 AM | PERMALINK

Hilarious. Parker accuses Obama of not being as big a pig-headed chauvinist as she is, of not being a true believer in the amusing faith known as "American exceptionalism". Obama's "liberal" defenders rush to say, nuh-uh, Obama's right-wing creds are stronger than yours!

And the much heralded battle to "redefine the debate" is postponed for another day, I suppose.

Posted by: dSquib on January 31, 2011 at 11:16 AM | PERMALINK

Several posters have already alluded to what's going on here: for Parker, previous presidents didn't need to prove their patriotic creds because they were clearly, well, you know, American. Simply being biracial, and having grown up in a diverse, multicultural environment (Indonesia, post-war Hawaii) is enough to cast doubts on your commitment to this nation. Funny that -- normally for Parker your white skin and WASP name would be enough for Parker. With Obama, she somehow needs more proof.

Posted by: jonas on January 31, 2011 at 11:20 AM | PERMALINK

In Kathleen Parker's world, being biracial and cosmopolitan is ipso facto proof of a lack of patriotism. Why? Because racialism is a core, central and irrefutable value for right wingers like her. We spend a lot of time in our media discourse tap dancing around this fact. We do so because while "exceptionalism" seems like an important enough subject, "racism" is evidently taboo, despite a history and political strategy that are steeped in it.

Posted by: walt on January 31, 2011 at 11:29 AM | PERMALINK

Surely I'm not alone in finding the doctrine, or perhaps better 'dogma', of American exceptionalism, thoroughly repellent?

Posted by: J on January 31, 2011 at 11:31 AM | PERMALINK

If talking about "American Exceptionalism" is just Americans patting themselves on the back, we can do without that. I thought that conservatives were opposed to doing things just to boost people's self-esteem.

Posted by: Daryl McCullough on January 31, 2011 at 11:33 AM | PERMALINK

Perhaps Parker and the rest of the Republicans are complaining that when Obama uses the term "exceptionalism," he is using it snidely, i.e., in the same manner that it is used when one says "Harriet Miers is exceptional."

Posted by: Ian A on January 31, 2011 at 11:33 AM | PERMALINK

Why should anyone even care about what the loons of the far reich think, believe or want?

Haven't they proved enough by facts and figures that they hate America as it is? That they long for a bona fide Banana Republic?

As for the Democrass, I'm at a complete loss to fathom what is their purpose in political life, other than stick around to gorge themselves on the perks of power.

Posted by: Francois T on January 31, 2011 at 11:37 AM | PERMALINK

OT: Did Steve Benen cover filibuster reform and I miss it?

Posted by: square1 on January 31, 2011 at 11:37 AM | PERMALINK

J - "Surely I'm not alone in finding the doctrine, or perhaps better 'dogma', of American exceptionalism, thoroughly repellent?"

You are not alone. It seems many liberals either share the basic sentiment with conservatives, or else get a little freaked when Obama is accused of not being Ronald Reagan's replica, they rush to prove that he IS, without a thought as to whether what they are defending is at all sensible.

Posted by: dSquib on January 31, 2011 at 11:40 AM | PERMALINK

Except, nobody who has an ounce of thought that is worth any merit at all, gives a fuck!

Exceptionalism is vanity, false and worthless, like Republicans, right wing talking heads and today's "investigative journalism".

Off with their heads, as they say.

Posted by: Trollop on January 31, 2011 at 11:43 AM | PERMALINK

Parker is trying desperately to hold onto her spot on her show with Spitzer, so she'll do anything to (a) generate some buzz for herself, and (b) ingratiate herself to the wingnuts who might tune in.

Posted by: bruce k on January 31, 2011 at 11:45 AM | PERMALINK

This Is nothing new. It goes back to the he's not like us theme. Conservatives don't have to say it because they are inherently and by divine right American and patriotic. They believe America is perfect as is. Why change gods greatest creation? LIberals want America to be better so its why we have to constantly prove we love America as it is instead of what it could be.

Posted by: allamr18 on January 31, 2011 at 11:46 AM | PERMALINK

Ms. Parker managed to out-concern troll Richard Cohen. Now that is truly exceptional. America has a new National Concern Troll! Huzzah!

Posted by: Something Polish on January 31, 2011 at 11:48 AM | PERMALINK

What's nuts about this is this sudden embrace by the Right of a term that in my younger days was a bit of scholarly jargon having to do with whether or not the standard categories [like class] applied to Europe were relevant to the American experience. I recall once using the term in a scholarly article and getting attacked for it by a reviewer from another discipline on the ground that he'd never heard of it and couldn't find it in a dictionary. In fact the debates over American exceptionalism I came of intellectual age with were pretty much value neutral; we could be "exceptional" in bad ways as well as good. Louis Hartz, for instance, argued that we were exceptional in that we could scarcely imagine an alternative social arrangement to our own--unlike Europe, where both socialistic and reactionary alternatives were on the table. Of these debates, of course, those who think the word is the linguistic equivalent of a flag pin know nothing.

Posted by: David Temporarily-Not-in-Nashville on January 31, 2011 at 11:50 AM | PERMALINK

This incident is merely a testament to the Right's ability to inject bullshit into our discourse. See also birtherirsm, flag lapel pins, and death panels. All of these are topics on which I continue to receive poorly written emails from my wingnut relatives.

Posted by: Please Shoot Me on January 31, 2011 at 11:59 AM | PERMALINK

Since "American exceptionalism" by that name is a term invented by the American Communist Party, while the broader concept has a much longer and more noble history, I find it a bit ironic that the Right is (or at least acts) so obsessed not with the concept but with getting someone to use the phrase.

Posted by: cmdicely on January 31, 2011 at 12:15 PM | PERMALINK

Exceptionalism is a concept. Right wingers by definition cannot think in terms of concepts: to them, the concept of evolution becomes god, civil rights becomes blacks/gays/women, civil disagreement becomes hate, etc.

True, American right wingers use the term, "conservative", but have utterly no idea it really means. True conservatives despise American righties. Politeness, alas, forbids me from saying why.

Posted by: Bob M on January 31, 2011 at 12:19 PM | PERMALINK

The whole dumb white ignorant always insecure conservative schtick is absolutely humilating to the whole human race. Probably every species as well.

Posted by: Silver Owl on January 31, 2011 at 12:29 PM | PERMALINK

That Parker/Boehner t�te � t�te was an embarrassing demonstration of absence of higher order cognitive skills. I was surprised, because my sense of Parker is that she's quite taken with her own intellect. Simple recognition of synonyms, of scenarios that describe the exceptional qualities of our system without putting her listened-for name to them, listening to large swathes of the speech and synthesizing the content, those require higher order cognitive skills. Either she lacks them, or she was operating from a compulsion to pander to the Know-Nothingism that is becoming the hallmark of the Teapublican party.

Either way, she embarrassed herself.

Posted by: Jeany on January 31, 2011 at 1:02 PM | PERMALINK

Ms. Parker is "exceptionally" stupid. There, I feel better.

Posted by: robert on January 31, 2011 at 1:50 PM | PERMALINK

Is it possible that, being sadly ill-versed in English, the wingnut pundits like Parker simply aren't able to understand the SOTU, and are simply listening for "ek-SEP-shun-ul-is-um"?

It would explain a lot.

Posted by: boatboy_srq on January 31, 2011 at 2:16 PM | PERMALINK

As usual liberals can't see the forest for the trees. Katherine Perker knows very well that Obama said the word. What we also know is that it doesn't make up for all the times Obama apologizes for, denigrates or refuses to acknowledge the absolute uniqueness of the greatest country on earth.

Worshiping global warming, making excuses for Islam, allowing people like George Tiller to continue "practicing medicine" and taxing the wealthy are loud statements of pure hatred for America.

You may not get it but freedom loving tea partiers do. I know that scares you and it should.

Posted by: Mlke K on January 31, 2011 at 2:26 PM | PERMALINK

Thanks Mike! Right-wing parody is always good for a laugh.

Posted by: Daryl McCullough on January 31, 2011 at 2:53 PM | PERMALINK

I know a couple words Obama would probably love to say to her...but don't think she would like them. Such fools.....if he announced the sun was in the sky they would want proof.

Posted by: shanti2 on January 31, 2011 at 5:04 PM | PERMALINK

Brilliantly succinct, wab @11:04am takes this thread hands down! -Kevo

Posted by: kevo on January 31, 2011 at 7:58 PM | PERMALINK



Read Jonathan Rowe remembrance and articles
Email Newsletter icon, E-mail Newsletter icon, Email List icon, E-mail List icon Sign up for Free News & Updates

Advertise in WM

buy from Amazon and
support the Monthly