Matt Miller writes:
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?
Miller quotes newly-elected Republican senator, Marco Rubio, who offers this supercharged declaration of American exceptionalism: “Americans believe with all their heart, that the United States of America is simply the single greatest nation in all of human history, a place without equal in the history of all of mankind.”
Leave aside the fact that many Americans who hold this view have never actually visited another country, expressions of America’s exceptional character such as that by Rubio, represent a view of the world as much as one of America. Moreover, this is not merely about saying that America is unique but that it is superior to every other nation and that it must vigorously guard this position of supremacy.
If this was about praising a set of virtues, then one might imagine that those who see America in this way, would hope that every other nation might at some time share the same set of virtues. Clearly they do not hold this hope, because this is not about virtue or excellence — it is about power and domination. That America could be dislodged from its position of supremacy — this is the greatest fear of the supremacists.
In as much as American exceptionalism is rooted in a belief in American supremacy, then the power ascribed to the nation is implicitly shared by every American. That this is make-believe power is evident in the frequency and loudness with which it is declared and the fact that those who profess their conviction in this power nevertheless clearly easily feel threatened — threatened by the government; by the rest of the world; by immigrants; and by other Americans who don’t share their views.
And yet, the idea that the next presidential election will be a contest based on Americanism, is something that Democrats can justifiably fear. Even if Sarah Palin’s candidacy flops, this theme will be picked up by others as the cause of raw American nationalism easily resonates with a dispirited electorate.
As his victory speech made evident, Marco Rubio has an America-first message much harder to dismiss than Palin’s. The worst mistake of those who find this view of America unpalatable is to fail to take it seriously.