I'm glad someone is saying this:
Oooh, you're so strong, baby, so handsome. You're the greatest.
I'm talking about you, America. You're . . . why, you're exceptional!
Does anyone else think there's something a little insecure about a country that requires its politicians to constantly declare how exceptional it is? A populace in need of this much reassurance may be the surest sign of looming national decline.
American exceptionalism is now the central theme of Sarah Palin's speeches. The supposedly insufficient Democratic commitment to this idea will be a core Republican complaint in 2012. Conservatives assail Barack Obama for his alleged indifference to it. It's part of their broader indictment of Obama's fishy cosmopolitanism, his overseas "apology tours," his didn't-wear-the-flag-lapel-pin-until-he-had-to peevishness. Not to mention the whole anti-colonial Kenyan resentment thing the president's got going.
Real men – real Americans – know America is the greatest country ever invented. And they shout it from the rooftops. Don't they?
Let me be clear, because I know the mail's coming. I love my country, and cherish that America was founded on the ideals of liberty, equality and self-government. We're imperfect – who isn't? – but always in the process of evolving toward that "more perfect union." So I write this as a patriot.
Because, speaking as a patriot, I worry we're looking a little too needy these days.
You can tell a lot about a country by what it requires its politicians to do to win. In Switzerland, do candidates have to proclaim that "Switzerland is the greatest nation ever created in human history"? In Brazil, do ambitious pols insist that "Brazil is the most special country ever to grace the world"?
The conservative use of American exceptionalism as a political sword today is perversely revealing. There's something off when the first generation of Americans that is less educated than its parents feels a deep need to be told how unique it is. Or that a generation that's handing off epic debts and a chronically dysfunctional political process (among other woes) demands that its leaders keep toasting its fabulousness. Especially when other nations now offer more upward mobility, and a better blend of growth with equity, than we do – arguably the best measures of America's once-exceptional national performance.
Wouldn't it bolster Americans more to be told that we can meet the challenges of this moment? Wouldn't we be better off striving to be exceptional at solving our common problems?