Some thoughts about American exceptionalism, and the apparent allergy to the notion from the Left:
Republicans must take care that “exceptionalism” doesn’t collapse through thoughtless repetition into a mere slogan, another bit of political cant like “Take Our Country Back” or “Move America Forward,” losing all meaning even as it wows the focus groups. For the line of argument that Rubio pursues, his way of framing the choice that voters face in the Obama era, is uncommonly—you might say, exceptionally—useful, for three reasons.
First, the idea of American exceptionalism has the benefit of being true. The United States is fundamentally and demonstrably different from other countries. It is bound together by a founding proposition, and properly applied the proposition has brought freedom and prosperity to more people, and more kinds of people, than any other. Second, a large majority of Americans believe American exceptionalism to be true. And third, it drives Democrats right around the bend.
It’s not clear why. Maybe liberal polemicists don’t quite understand what the phrase means, and so they pummel it into a caricature. In Politico last week, under the oddly truncated headline “U.S. Is Not Greatest Country Ever,” the columnist Michael Kinsley wrote that exceptionalism is “the theory that Americans are better than everybody else.” The next day, on a well-trafficked liberal website, another columnist said much the same thing—they tend to run in packs, these guys. Other countries, this columnist wrote, are “investing in infrastructure,” unlike the United States, which apparently just spent $780 billion in stimulus on chopped liver. At the same time, he went on, “the Republicans have taken refuge in an antigovernment ideology premised on the lunatic notion that America is the only truly free and successful country in the world.”
Assuming they were offered in good faith, these characterizations are hopelessly confused, conflating exceptionalism with jingoism or xenophobia or mere self-aggrandizement. (He got the antigovernment part right, though.) But even if they do understand what the term means, we can’t be sure that professional Democrats really believe it. Liberalism in its present degenerate form is reactionary—a gesture of irritation at the backward quality of ordinary American life, at its culture, its food and dress and amusements and politics, and especially at the mindless and sentimental patriotism that unsophisticated Americans are so quick to embrace.
It strikes me that a lot of the hysteria about the change in direction of space policy this year arose from a knee-jerk assumption that it was just one more way in which the president was trying to make America unexceptional. But in fact, the Apollo program and paradigm is an exception to exceptionalism in its big-government, central-planning approach, and ironically, the new plans are much more in keeping with traditional American values. I think I’m going to do an essay on this to at least convince those Republicans who sincerely oppose it on what they mistakenly imagine are conservative ideological grounds, and aren’t driven by the pork considerations.