Despite some out-of-context quotes, even from writers I happen to respect, President Barack Obama believes in American exceptionalism and wants it to continue, but there’s a problem here: Under his guidance, it may not.
The quote you may have heard is that he said he believes in American exceptionalism the same way “Brits believe in British exceptionalism and the Greeks believe in Greek exceptionalism.” That sounds like multicultural mishmash, a way of saying many believe the best about their countries, but that’s because that’s where their loyalty lies and that “exceptionalism” is relative to where you come from.
But, Obama went on to make the case that America’s exceptionalism is real — “that we have a core set of values that are enshrined in our Constitution, in our body of law, in our democratic practices, in our beliefs in free speech and equality, that, though imperfect, are exceptional.”
I don’t think he meant to say here that the values or beliefs are flawed, but that our adherence to them has sometimes been. He also talked about our continued leadership, our wealth and our military might, saying that obviously other countries also had a lot to offer and that a better world could emerge out of collective effort.
Many on the left would disagree with him. They emphasize the bad of America — killing Indians and taking their land, slavery and then segregation of blacks, denying women full rights and a capitalist economy that, to them, has oppressed many.
It’s certainly true that Americans have been guilty of terrible misdeeds, as have the people of every other nation. But what is simultaneously true is that we have risen above our worst faults, largely in response to ideals that constitute what some scholars have called an American creed and which one of these scholars, Seymour Lipset, summed up as “liberty, egalitarianism, individualism, populism and laissez-faire.”
To many on the far left, a belief in liberty derives from what Marx called “false consciousness,” a rationalization of privileges the rich use to subjugate the poor instead of what it really is — a chief means by which we define ourselves as human beings.
The opposite of the citizenry being politically free is for it to be a puppet of the state, and I am not alone in sensing this is a threat as the Obama administration and congressional Democrats piece together health care, energy and other hugely expensive programs vastly enlarging the government’s role in our lives while shrinking personal choices.
The more you learn about some of these issues, the more you understand we can meet our problems with prudent steps that keep our core values intact, that preserve the American creed and that guard an exceptionalism that need never bend to the rest of the world, but can instead serve as a proud example to others.
Examiner columnist Jay Ambrose is a former Washington opinion writer and editor of two dailies. He can be reached at Speaktojay@aol.com.