I had planned on doing a blog on American exceptionalism, but the article in the NY Times “Palin’s American Exception” By Roger Cohen, beat me to the punch. You might even like Cohen’s new word for “real state of the world” deniers; Palinism.
Exceptionalism might explain the right wing anger toward all of those “blame America first” liberals. Where Democrats see problems and want to correct them, Republicans angrily defend the American ideal and ignore the problem. I’ll let Cohen fine tune my meanderings:
Sarah Palin loves the word “exceptional.” At a rally in Nevada the other day, the Republican vice-presidential candidate said: “We are an exceptional nation.” Then she declared: “America is an exceptional country.” In case anyone missed that, she added: “You are all exceptional Americans.”
I have to hand it to Palin, she may be onto something in her batty way: the election is very much about American exceptionalism. But exceptionalism has taken an ugly twist of late. It’s become the angry refuge of the America that wants to deny the real state of the world. American exceptionalism has morphed into the fortress of those who see themselves threatened by “one-worlders” (read Barack Obama) and who believe it’s more important to know how to dress moose than find Mumbai.
That’s Palinism, a philosophy delivered without a passport and with a view (on a clear day) of Russia. Behind Palinism lies anger. It’s been growing as America’s relative decline has become more manifest in falling incomes, imploding markets, massive debt and rising new centers of wealth and power from Shanghai to Dubai.
The damn-the-world, God-chose-us rage of that America has sharpened as U.S. exceptionalism has become harder to square with the 21st-century world’s interconnectedness.
But, let’s face it, from Baghdad to Bear Stearns the last eight years have been a lesson in the price of exceptionalism run amok.
I’m going to try to make this simple. On the Democratic side you have a guy whose campaign has been based on the Internet, who believes America may have something to learn from other countries (like universal health care) and who’s unafraid in 2008 to say he’s a “proud citizen of the United States and a fellow citizen of the world.” On the Republican side, you have a guy who, in 2008, is just discovering the Net and Google and whose No. 2 is a woman who got a passport last year and believes she understands Russia because Alaska is closer to Siberia than Alabama.
If I were Obama, I’d put it this way: “Senator McCain, the world you claim to understand is the world of yesterday. A new century demands new thinking. Our country cannot be made fundamentally secure by a man who thought our economy was fundamentally sound.”
American exceptionalism, taken to extremes, leaves you without the allies you need (Iraq), without the influence you want (Iran) and without any notion of risk (Wall Street). The only exceptionalism that resonates, as Obama put it to me last year, is one “based on our Constitution, our principles, our values and our ideals.”
Palinism has its intellectual roots. But it’s dangerous for a country in need of realism not rage. I’m sure Henry Kissinger tried to instill Realpolitik in the governor of Alaska this week, but the angry exceptionalism that is Palinism is not in the reason game.