Monday, September 5, 2011

Guest Post: American Exceptionalism

This is from a Marine buddy. The Steele piece he references is at the end. ~Bob.

Recently a very nice, fairly Liberal friend of mine got upset with the essay I sent from Shelby Steele which said that some politicians and Leftists are among the group that deny American exceptionalism.  The note I got back was vehement about us not being exceptional, just one more nation among many in the world.  And the sooner we embrace that, the better off we'll be.  My response is below, thought I might share with others.  If you have comments, pro or con, feel free to send them back to me.



My friend, you see exceptionalism only as "specially blessed by God and intrinsically superior to everyone else".  And yes, some Americans still see it that way, but they are a minority.  I certainly don't see it that way, and for sure Steele doesn't either.

Saying we cannot be an exceptional nation in any sense is like saying in your class of 50 students, no one of them can be considered exceptional. But you know that's not true.

Consider that prior to 1776, most societies were based formally on class, and where you were born tended to dictate strongly what you could do in life.  Before then, no nation was founded on a statement that "all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness."  That was clearly exceptional.

Yes, at the time that ideal was not perfectly embodied in the actual society of the time, but it was the ideal for the nation, an ideal towards which we have progressed, by fits and starts, ever since.  Al Smith couldn't get elected President because he was Catholic, but JFK made it.  Women couldn't vote, hold high office, etc, but they sure can now.  And we have a Black man, descended from a non-American father, raised partially in Indonesia, in the Oval Office.  We ain't perfect yet, never will be, but so what?  Who is?

We weren't the first nation to have slavery, nor the last to abolish it, and we paid by far the highest price to do so.

We got into WW1 very late, it wasn't really our fight, but we swung the balance in the end.  We certainly swung the balance in WW2, with the most extensive industrialization for war the world had ever seen, and that was clearly exceptional.  At war's end we didn't pound our enemies into dust but helped them get back on their feet, and that was exceptional.

When Russia went into total communist expansionism after WW2, we led the resistance to them, our nuclear arsenal and MAD policy held them back, and in the end, we won the Cold War.  That was exceptional.

We were the first nation to have an Act the protected people with Disabilities, and that was copied later by other nations.  Exceptional?

Our economy was not superior to everyone else's simply because we had more natural resources.  Other nations have equal natural riches, indeed most of South American does.  The freedom for people to found and grow businesses, whole industries, the acceptance and praise for entrepreneurship, coupled with the gradual acceptance of so many contributory immigrant groups, is what made us progress further and faster than anyone else.  Exceptional.

Did immigrant groups face initial discrimination and problems?  Yep, for sure, my grandfathers were among them.  But the system let their kids go to school and fight to succeed and ultimately succeed.  That's at least somewhat exceptional too.  My Muslim doctor has no trouble here, loves this country.  That's not how things worked out for the Turks in Germany, the Algerians in France.

One can look at the many bad things that have happened here, the exploitation of minorities, the stubborn resistance to new people and new ideas, the somewhat imperialistic moves made in South American in the 1930s.  Again, common to many other nations, and we have tried to progress past those things.

Americans give more to charities here and abroad than any other people do.  Exceptional again.

Finally, we have more personal freedoms than any other people on earth, coupled with the highest standard of living.  Our poorest people have obesity problems!

Do we have many problems and lack of perfect justice?  Yep, for sure, but in that we are far from exceptional.  What other nations do not have problems?

Lastly, why is it that one of our problems is trying to control all the people from all over the world who want to come here to live and work? They "vote with their feet", as the saying goes.  If they all think we are exceptional (why else face all the difficulties to try to get here?), who are we to say they're wrong?

Shelby Steele: Obama and the Burden of Exceptionalism
Excerpt: As a president, Barack Obama has been a force for mediocrity. He has banked more on the hopeless interventions of government than on the exceptionalism of the people. His greatest weakness as a president is a limp confidence in his countrymen. He is afraid to ask difficult things of them. Like me, he is black, and it was the government that in part saved us from the ignorance of the people. So the concept of the exceptionalism—the genius for freedom—of the American people may still be a stretch for him. But in fact he was elected to make that stretch. It should be held against him that he has failed to do so.

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