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Tilting at Windmills

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May 2, 2011

EXCEPTIONALISM.... Towards the end of his remarks last night, President Obama took a few moments to offer a big-picture view of what America is capable of.

"[T]oday's achievement is a testament to the greatness of our country and the determination of the American people.

"The cause of securing our country is not complete. But tonight, we are once again reminded that America can do whatever we set our mind to. That is the story of our history, whether it's the pursuit of prosperity for our people, or the struggle for equality for all our citizens; our commitment to stand up for our values abroad, and our sacrifices to make the world a safer place.

"Let us remember that we can do these things not just because of wealth or power, but because of who we are: one nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all."

There's a phrase for this kind of sentiment. It's often known as "American exceptionalism."

As John Dickerson put it, "Thus did the president both answer his conservative critics and rise above them. Yes, he was saying, I do believe in American exceptionalism -- and so should any terrorist who would wish America ill."

I can only assume this won't satisfy the Kathleen Parkers of the world, who are needlessly literal about Obama and use of the word "exceptionalism," but the principles here are plainly evident for anyone who cares to hear them.

Steve Benen 10:45 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (32)

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You know, the phrase "Walk softly and carry a big stick" would seem to summarize the President's approach ... It's a shame the Republicans are so far gone in their collective madness that they can't realize Obama is the best representation of American exceptionalism we've had in decades.

Posted by: blondie on May 2, 2011 at 10:58 AM | PERMALINK

[The whole "Al" schtick has run it's course. Let it go. --Mods]

Posted by: Al on May 2, 2011 at 10:59 AM | PERMALINK

Until he actually utters the phrase "I believe that America is an exceptional nation AND I believe in American exceptionalism," he doesn't believe in American exceptionalism. Them's the rules, buddy.

Posted by: Lifelong Dem on May 2, 2011 at 11:03 AM | PERMALINK

I've been told here that Al is a parody. if he is his schtick is getting pretty old and tired. If he isn't he makes the term blithering idiot seem pretty sane.

Posted by: Gandalf on May 2, 2011 at 11:05 AM | PERMALINK

Obama was only wearing a teeny weenie little American flag pin on his lapel last night instead of a big flashy one! He's belittling America!

Posted by: Eeyore on May 2, 2011 at 11:05 AM | PERMALINK

"As John Dickerson put it, "Thus did the president both answer his conservative critics and rise above them. Yes, he was saying, I do believe in American exceptionalism -- and so should any terrorist who would wish America ill."

Except that the critics of Obama's actions in AF/PAK have been almost exclusively from the left. Obama did a great job of carrying on the Bush GWOT, tracking down the bad guy and bringing him to justice program. The "conservatives" have been the ones behind Obama on this issue. It has been the liberals screaming about getting out.

You can't have it both ways. You should be happy though as this should give Obama a fairly good bounce in the polls and takes the focus on his poor handling of the economy. At least for a week or so.

Posted by: Nite on May 2, 2011 at 11:12 AM | PERMALINK

Ah, but Obama didn't say WHICH God!

Posted by: c u n d gulag on May 2, 2011 at 11:21 AM | PERMALINK

We can only believe in things that are a matter of faith, and we can only know things that are a matter of fact.

Exceptionalism is another world for national socialism at the patriotic level without all that take care of your neighbor jargon, and is the consummate religion of American despotism.

One of its favorite mantras is "the king can do no wrong".

Posted by: Dredd on May 2, 2011 at 11:34 AM | PERMALINK

Donald Trump,"We should stay in Iraq and take their oil."

Thats exceptionalism in a nutshell.

Its also wrong in many ways.

Posted by: Kill Bill on May 2, 2011 at 11:41 AM | PERMALINK

And once again the progressive framing of exceptionalism:

whether it's the pursuit of prosperity for our people

Welfare

or the struggle for equality for all our citizens;

Civil rights

our commitment to stand up for our values abroad

Human rights and democracy, without torturing our enemies.

Firebaggers if you're still out there: watch and marvel @ how it's done by people who actually know something about what they're doing.

Posted by: Danny on May 2, 2011 at 11:50 AM | PERMALINK

Ah, but Obama didn't say WHICH God!

But he did say "God," which is a problem in and of itself. I've come to terms with "God bless America" at the end of his speeches, or when he talks about his personal belief in God. But hearing him say that we're a country "under God" always rankles.

Posted by: chi res on May 2, 2011 at 11:50 AM | PERMALINK

Nite, apparently, you haven't listened to the many comments by Scarborough and his fellow RepuGs on "Mourning Joe" saying we should get out of Afghanistan, as it is costing us a fortune in both wealth and lives. Joe has many military friends who feel it is breaking our military. Of course, immediately, after making such comments, he will revert to calling Paul Ryan's stealing from the elderly and poor, "Courageous".

Posted by: berttheclock on May 2, 2011 at 11:53 AM | PERMALINK

chi res,
Oh, I'm with you on that!
Also, too - 'faith-based' anything.

Our government should not be involved or financing anything 'faith-based.'

If your 'faith' has something it want to 'base' an action or money towards, by all means, do so. But leave the US government out of it.

Posted by: c u n d gulag on May 2, 2011 at 11:56 AM | PERMALINK

I like Blondie's reference to President Obama speaking softly but carrying a big stick. This is in sharp contrast to the GWB administration, which preferred to speak loudly and carry a big schtick.

Sadly, the actual quote is from a great Republican President who, much like Taft + Eisenhower after him, has been completely disowned by today's GOP, in its efforts to prove that Atilla the Hun was a flaming liberal. After all, he was clearly a tree-hugging outdoors type, who never once drove a manly SUV.

-Z

Posted by: Zorro on May 2, 2011 at 12:04 PM | PERMALINK

@Nite

Bullshit. The Bush administration and his conservative sycophants such as yourself chose Iraq as the central theatre in the so called GWOT. Repeatedly and explicitely.

Both Barack Obama and John Kerry were explicit in their critique of this strategy in their respective campaigns for president. They ran on AfPak and getting OBL being our prime objectives and democratic voters voted for it. Republicans all ran against that strategy and republican voters - such as yourself voted against it.

For you to come creeping around trying to yet again claim credit for conservatives from something you had nothing to do with and in fact actively worked against, is pathetic.

We'll give credit where credit is due, for GWB that means wielding the bullhorn after 9/11 and rallying the nation; for capturing Saddam Hussein. Those are his and noone can take them from him. But also taking us to the wrong strategic theatre on fradulous pretenses, fucking up two wars and specifically allowing Afghanistan to slowly spiral out of control and the resurgence of the Taliban, pissing away money like crazy, and failing to get the job done wrt OBL.

We'll give Obama, our troops, and the CIA credit with taking out OBL. GWB had nothing to do with it, and no other movement conservative either.

You got a problem with that?

Posted by: Danny on May 2, 2011 at 12:05 PM | PERMALINK

"Today's achievement is a testament to the greatness of our country" - I'm sorry, but killing one man that has eluded the US for ten years doesn't sound like an achievement. I honestly see no greatness either with all the bullshit on prosperity and equality when we are fighting tooth and nail just to hold the line for SS, Planned Parenthood, Medicare and Medicaid and we've already lost the fight for our unemployed, holding banksters accountable, and the slow-acid drip of fundamentalism into our politics.

Posted by: Glidwrith on May 2, 2011 at 12:14 PM | PERMALINK

At this point, with this wonderful success that to a great extent was delivered by the hard work of the CIA we may want to revisit the Bush admin's politication and perpetual war with the intelligence community in the first half of 00s.

This was as we all remember a direct consequence of the neocons and the Bush admins' will to get us into Iraq and stifle any dissenting opinion on the wisdom of that venture. Lest we forget, it culminated in the willful outing of an undercover CIA operative by the Bush admin.

No wonder really that the Bush admin couldnt get useful intelligence on the whereabouts of OBL in seven years trying while it only took BO one year to get the lead that brought our enemy down. It helps respecting the professionality and hard work of our agencies instead of trying to beat them into submission to fulfil your political ends of trumping Daddy.

Posted by: Danny on May 2, 2011 at 12:19 PM | PERMALINK

We'll give credit where credit is due, for GWB that means wielding the bullhorn after 9/11 and rallying the nation; for capturing Saddam Hussein.

Seems you have your credit and debit columns mixed up, unless you consider that fomenting the rise of jingoistic nationalism and slaughtering tens of thousands of innocent civilians in order to kill one bad guy are good things.

Posted by: chi res on May 2, 2011 at 12:21 PM | PERMALINK

@Glidwrith

The glass is always half empty for you, is it?

Or is it maybe the case that being a concern troll is a full time job where you don't even get time off for 5 minutes to celebrate successfully taking down the guy that killed 3000+ innocent people and brought down the WTC?

Posted by: Danny on May 2, 2011 at 12:26 PM | PERMALINK

@chi res

What you read is an example of the rethorical trope of giving your adversary generous credit - maybe more generous than what is due - to make the following takedown seem reasonable, and thereby all the more damaging.

Obama uses it frequently (and with great success if you ask me).

But on the merits - you're absolutely right, the Iraq war was not worth it, especially in the loss of life. That's why i wrote that it was "the wrong strategic theatre" - but maybe you skipped over that part?

It just wasnt very relevant to what needs to be said right at this moment, which is that all the conservative sophistry about how Bush should get credit, and that this success proves them right, is backassed and wrong and they should go f-k off.

Posted by: Danny on May 2, 2011 at 12:37 PM | PERMALINK

@Danny

I don't concern troll and I notice you didn't refute anything I said, but immediately resorted to name calling. I've got better things to do like telling my Congresscritter (R) to fuck off. Enjoy the 5 minutes, then go do something that might help this country pull itself out of the hole its in.

Posted by: Glidwrith on May 2, 2011 at 12:38 PM | PERMALINK

Best line: "Let us remember that we can do these things not just because of wealth or power, but because of who we are: one nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all."

The Republicans have made themselves the party that believes wealth and exceptional military power (we spend as much as almost the whole rest of the world combined) will do the trick to keep us 'on top.' As a result, many have decided WE are the problem, not the solution.

Liberty and justice for all is a much better advertisement for what makes this country exceptional, though conservatives seem to be anxious to erode both ...

Posted by: jjm on May 2, 2011 at 12:43 PM | PERMALINK
There's a phrase for this kind of sentiment. It's often known as "American exceptionalism."

Its one of many ways the phrase "American exceptionalism" has been used over the years, but its not the sense in which those on the right who embraced the term during the George W. Bush Administration use it, and those are the one's criticizing Obama for not following the ideology of "American exceptionalism". So, really, pointing to this as if it were a rebuttal of those claims is engaging in equivocation in the strict sense (not in the sense of a euphemism for "lying").

The sense used by the Right in recent years is that the US is and ought to be above and unbound by the rules that govern other nations, and particular international law; it is certainly related to the sense of "American exceptionalism" you are referring to (in that that older sense is viewed as a component and justification of the new view), but it is not the same as that older sense.

Posted by: cmdicely on May 2, 2011 at 12:43 PM | PERMALINK

The sense used by the Right in recent years is that the US is and ought to be above and unbound by the rules that govern other nations, and particular international law; it is certainly related to the sense of "American exceptionalism" you are referring to (in that that older sense is viewed as a component and justification of the new view), but it is not the same as that older sense.

Quoted for truth and importance. Well done!

Posted by: Danny on May 2, 2011 at 12:48 PM | PERMALINK

@Glidwrith

I didn't see anything to refute, just various opinions and a generous dose of wining.

Posted by: Danny on May 2, 2011 at 12:58 PM | PERMALINK

What you read is an example of the rethorical trope of giving your adversary generous credit - maybe more generous than what is due - to make the following takedown seem reasonable, and thereby all the more damaging.

Obama uses it frequently (and with great success if you ask me).

Obama's use: often well done. Your's: keep practicing.

Posted by: chi res on May 2, 2011 at 1:17 PM | PERMALINK

"Today's achievement is a testament to the greatness of our country and the determination of the American people."

One million dead people. We've killed one million people. Our tax dollars and our military and our political decision-makers and our ignorant population killed one million people.

Greatness of our country?

Posted by: flubber on May 2, 2011 at 1:35 PM | PERMALINK

Sure. I wasnt claiming superior execution, only alerting you to what I was actually saying, since you didn't seem to catch on.

Wrt SH I'll grant you this, there are a lot of things that should (ideally) be said everytime Bush is given credit for getting SH. Because Iraq was a clusterf-k for both the american people and the iraqi people. I'm very happy to give you credit for reminding us all of that fact.

My point though was that while what you said in this regard was true and important, it wasn't terribly relevant to the argument I was making. It's an aside at best, and arguably a hijack.

Posted by: Danny on May 2, 2011 at 1:36 PM | PERMALINK

"Let us remember that we can do these things not just because of wealth or power, but because of who we are: one nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all."

That's a bigger pile of sh*t than I've heard in a while.

Posted by: flubber on May 2, 2011 at 1:37 PM | PERMALINK

@flubber

One million dead people. We've killed one million people. Our tax dollars and our military and our political decision-makers and our ignorant population killed one million people.

I'm not getting into the basis for that specific number, but I have to assume you're mainly talking about Iraq here.

How wonderful then that the president that came out from the start against the Iraq war as misguided, wrong and stupid in the end were the guy that got the actual job done and got the instigator, organizer and financier of 9/11 in Pakistan - not Iraq.

This - if anything - ensures decreased likelyhood that we'll let ourselves as a nation be bamboozled into similar misguided ventures in the future.

Do you agree?

Posted by: Danny on May 2, 2011 at 1:43 PM | PERMALINK

I loathe the concept of "American Exceptionalism" because it usually involves politicians TALKING about how great we are, but not DOING anything "exceptional." IMO, it's a bunch of rhetorical masturbation.

I also don't think this is the time to engage in that rhetoric.

Was the ultimate cost we paid in Iraq and Afghanistan REALLY worth getting OBL? Who really won?

I would hope a little honest introspection would cause the "exceptionalists" to STFU, but I'm not holding my breath.

Posted by: bdop4 on May 2, 2011 at 1:48 PM | PERMALINK
Was the ultimate cost we paid in Iraq and Afghanistan REALLY worth getting OBL?

What does the cost we paid in Iraq have to do with getting ObL? While the Bush Administration certainly leveraged fears fanned by 9/11 to get support for invading Iraq, even they never claimed that going to war there would help get ObL; mostly, they just claimed that there was some, however infinitesimal, chance that if we didn't invade Iraq, there might one day be an attack worse than 9/11 as a result, so we should invade. The invasion of Iraq took resources away from the fight against al-Qaida and the Taliban, it was not part of it.

Posted by: cmdicely on May 2, 2011 at 6:23 PM | PERMALINK
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