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Extolling American Exceptionalism

WaPo notes that Palin, Romney, Pence, Huckabee, Santorum and Gingrich have all recently extolled "American exceptionalism." In part, this arises from Obama's reluctance on the matter.

Obama was asked by Financial Times correspondent Ed Luce whether he subscribes, as his predecessors did, "to the school of American exceptionalism that sees America as uniquely qualified to lead the world."

The president's answer began: "I believe in American exceptionalism, just as I suspect that the Brits believe in British exceptionalism and the Greeks believe in Greek exceptionalism."

Though purportedly affirming his belief, many understood the president to have signaled denial by nuance.

The rhetoric of exceptionalism is likely to continue, as it has an eager audience not only in Tea Party and conservative circles but also among moderate American. The (rightful) perception that Democrats eschew the doctrine not only plays very well in the current environment but clearly defines a fundamental divergence in liberal and conservative political perceptions and policies.

WaPo quotes the late political sociologist Seymour Martin Lipset, who employed exceptionalism to explain "why the United States is the only industrialized country which does not have a significant socialist movement or Labor party." Many Americans see in Obamacare, finance regulation, massive spending and the like an attempt to impose institutions and policies which conflict with the established modes and inheritances consistent with a sense of exceptionalism. Tea Party Americans instinctively responded to this shift with defiance, demonstrating a visceral attachment to a continued sense of American exceptionalism and its social, political and economic consequences.

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"Denial by nuance" takes a nuanced reading by the president's critics. After all, here's what he also said in that press conference:

In addition to the world's largest economy and its mightiest military, Obama said, "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."

You don't get much more straightforward than that. Which is why, presumably, so many of the conservatives who critically quote the first part of the president's statement omit the second part.

A "yes" would have been more straightforward than that. It doesn't take a paragraph to qualify your answer - and you are ignoring the implications of "the Brits think they're exceptional, the Greeks think they're exceptional". Do you, Mr. Mathis, believe in American Exceptionalism?

There is a scene in the Incredibles where the boy says to his mom that their super hero powers make them special. The mom replies that "everyone is special." To which the boy replies: "Which is another way of saying no one is." Seems to be pretty much what Obama is saying.

I thought of the exact same scene.

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