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Delicious Pundit

How the f**que can these people support American Exceptionalism and the torturers in the executive branch at the same time? (I'm assuming they do.)

If the torturers in the executive branch prove anything it is that this country is now an empire like any other in history; they are no more about principle than the Romans or the Spanish or the Mongols were.


Oh, maybe it's my lefty-academic background, but I thought "American exceptionalism" usually had a more specific reference: the fact that class politics don't break down into the (relatively) neat antimony between bourgeoisie and working class that marks European economic and political life. Of course, identifying American exceptionalism, however you mean it, can be a descriptive rather than a normative move. For that reason it seems bizarre to hear claims that the Left doesn't believe in American exceptionalism. It does believe in its existence, it just doesn't like it!

Myself, I'm don't put much stock in normative versions of American exceptionalism, but one point of nationalism that's always held strong for me is a certain pride that the US was where gay liberation was invented (or discovered, depending on your perspective). Oddly enough, we perfected both the oppressive forms of pervasive homophobia and the political expression of opposition to those forms.


This is a very ugly document. One reason why marriage is such an important indicator of social well being is because law and custom already enshrines marital status as a touchstone for preferential treatment in tax, inheritance, and legal and employment based benefits. This goes hand in hand with the fact that, because we have such an inadequate social safety net for individuals on the basis of their membership in society at large, husbands and wives are the de facto safety net for each other and their offspring for many, many families.

So when thinking about this, you might do one of two things. You could move heaven and earth to prop up marriage to preserve its special status, even though all social trends over the last 50 years have clearly limited the social importance of marriage for all classes and sectors of society, and many people view marriage as a suboptimal route to personal if not financial well being. In other words, you can structure society to coerce people to enter into marriage even if, strictly speaking, they'd rather not, and simply punish those who won't as desrving of their relative poverty, etc. because they are deviant. I believe this is the path that this document adopts. Hence, regulation of the fertility industry ensures that lesbians or single women have much reduced access to having children and doesn't otherwise have much to do with marriage at all.

Or you could try to restructure society so that marriage is not the only available vehicle for delivering a social safety net.


"Now I happen to think I believe in American Exceptionalism. I believe that it matters that this is the first and only country founded on an idea and an ideal, of equality and justice. As an American, I believe we have a distinctive role in the world, a distinctive obligation, some of which is inherent and some of which is derived from our postwar and post-Cold War status. I think this country’s great -- though not that whatever it does is automatically great just because it’s America. So I listened to all this and thought, "I don’t know what these people are talking about."

I think you've totally hit onto something important.

Because if people DON'T believe in American exceptionalism in the best sense of the word there's no outrage when our government engages in torture in the name of "freedom", wiretaps everyone in America, wages a genocidal war based on lies, fails the most basic tests of humanity and competence time and again in places like New Orleans.

Instead people shrug their shoulders and go on with their lives like good Germans. And that makes it harder to change anything.

A big part of the problem today is that the right wing has claimed the mantle of American exceptionalism and used it to support empire, in exactly the way that Stalin appropriated the notion of workers control of industry to promote industrial slavery and rigid authoritarianism based on fear.

It's this method of equating America's vision for world freedom with blind jingoism and unconditional support for genocidal wars that has to be fought. And the only way to do that is to stand up for what America SHOULD stand up for and fight for things that matter to ordinary people.

And this is what the Democratic party has consistently failed to do over the last many years. That has fueled the idea that nobody on the left has any "ideas".

Roger Keeling

Mark, always I find your postings spot-on and breathtakingly incisive. But this posting was especially interesting ... and not a little bit frightening. The reason I find it a little frightening is because of somethning I think you missed.

The rightwing, as we should all know by now, has a well-oiled system for finding and devloping new ways to "frame" issues to their liking. They know how to create "memes" that can take root throughout the rightwing world. They constantly experiment with new arguments, running ideas up the flag pole endlessly, constantly searching for something -- anything -- that will gain a little traction and be useful in advancing their agenda of gaining and holding power, and winning elections.

More often than not, those ideas are laughable, and doomed almost out of the gate. We always laugh about their latest idiotic language or framing, and sometimes predict that it's a sign they're sliding downhill. But then the idiotic wanna-be-meme vanishes, to be remembered only if you care to wade through yellowing newspaper clippings. (Seems like an examination of George H. W. Bush's two presidential campaigns would give you lots of examples like that).

But ... these guys are thinking like nature does when it comes to, say, seed production. An insect lays a gazillion eggs, yet only one if 10,000 survives. But that's enough. So the same for them: they EXPECT a high failure rate. But when one sticks, the benefits are huge. Think for a second, and you'll remember the earliest (and arguably most successful) example: the conscious development in the mid-1960s of the "Eastern liberal media establishment" meme, later shortened to just "liberal media." That it NEVER had any meaningful basis in fact meant nothing; it proved an incredibly powerful vehicle for undermining opposition, holding their own troops in tight order, and as a means of "playing the refs" when it came to news coverage.

Many other examples both big and small abound: "Compassionate conservativism," "litigation CRISIS," "the war on Christmas," "tax-and-spend liberalism," "political correctness," and a thousand more over the years.

And now the term "American exceptionalism" is perhaps joining the list. Doesn't it seem like a variation of the Atwater / Rovian concept of taking your enemy's best trait and using it as a weapon? In this case, taking a liberal (and mostly academic) concept and turning it into a badge of honor?

And of course you didn't know what they were talking about! That's the genius of it: you hear the term, and immediately try to fit their usage with what you already know of the term (and the historic understanding we liberals have of it). But they don't care about that at all! The term's very ambiguity -- its lack of specific meaning to non-academics -- and its intrinsic nationalistic tone are almost perfect for their purposes. Its actual meaning counts for nothing.

I don't know that it can be proved or ever will be, but I'd bet dollars for doughnuts that one of the rightwing's many thinktanks (perhaps the Hudson Institute itself) popped up with this at some recent point -- probably just weeks or months ago -- and you are now seeing its implementation. They are co-opting the term, and will use it to bash us with. "Liberals don't believe in American exceptionalism!" The average person on the street hears that, and it doesn't matter WHAT the actual meaning of it ought to be, their minds will fill in the blanks ... and never to our advantage.

If this was the first place the term "American exceptionalism" was bandied about in the rightwing -- and it very well may be -- then, Mark, you were Present for the Creation. Congratulations! (And, yeah, it COULD have been the very first place it was ever used. You say that it was being used right and left. Don't assume that it is just an idea that worked its way into the rightwing universe; it's entirely possible that nearly every single person who used it that day was prepped to do so).

How to defend ourselves ... and, perhaps, turn the table and put them on the defensive? Well, we could start -- I think -- just the way you've done. Without giving the rightwingers any credit at all for anything, we could just try to convince a ton of prominent liberal writers and figures to start using the term "American exceptionalism" in a POSITIVE way (that is, talking about our history as the world's first true democracy, or our invention of the concept of the National Park, or our willingness to endure a trial of blood in order to end slavery, or anything else we have to be proud of and that is not common in other nations). Co-opt the word right back from them.

Just a thought.

Kurt Ehrsam

I wish I had a cite, but the notion of "American Exceptionalism" (if not the exact term) has been used for some time by some on the Evangelical right to refer to the notion that the USA has replaced the ancient Hebrews as God's chosen people. In this sense it goes back at least as far as Jonathan Edwards.

The new meme is that the term has taken on a political tone involving the issues the Evangelical right cares about. This, also, is not new. The same tranformation took place in the 1840-50s as Manifest Destiny. Different application, but the same basic idea. Apparently it floods its religious banks every 150 years or so.


the ties into religion that kurt ehrsam notes are suggested in the text of the Principles and confirmed by a little googling on the various names mentioned in the post and on one of the main researchers referenced in the notes. that pretty much ties it together in my mind. these are in fact exceptional people in every way: exceptional achievers living no doubt exceptional life styles (due, I trust, to their exceptional self-reliance) in an exceptional country and with an exceptional relationship to god. it's easy for some of us to accept our unexceptionalism, but with all that going for them, what can one expect from these folks?

well, perhaps that they would exept themselves from the signatories to such an inane, ideology-driven, hypocrisy-laced document. could it be they are exceptional in some less flattering ways as well?


In my mind American Exceptionalism has always had a strong if not dominant foundation that is theological. If that is out of line with historical convention so be it but certainly in todays context it is almost impossible to find among it's strongest and most vocal proponents anyone who isn't an Evangelical or is making appeals to them.

God has a special place for America in His plans. That in a nutshell it the belief. Bush said so directly at least one time during the 2000 campaign. (Which was weirdly reported by Frank Rich to be what Liberman said, not Bush. Go figure) No doubt every single fundamentalist Christian who holds that idea dear belives that Bush believes it as well.

The democratic/free market ideal as a civic matter is inseperable from the thieologial one. They go hand in hand.

I doubt that there are few tribes or nations during all history which haven't subscribed to this notion about their group to some degree. The Enlightenment was a direct assault on these beliefs. It's argueable I suppose if the architects of the Constitution and the nation were embracing rationality over religion but I think it's fair to say the majority of historians based upon documentary evidence support the idea that their bias was strongly secular. I'd guess the Second Great Awaking was the date when the theological exeptionalists gained the upper hand in the popular mind. Long before them however Jonathan Edwards make plain in his Sinners at the hands of an angry God sermon the direct connection of the idea and ideals of American with the direct intervention of God.

I'd hazard a guess and say there isn't a politician in America who would openly scorn the idea of theological exeptionalims. Some majority probably holds the belief in God's direct interest is Americas role in history as it unfolds but even the stronest secularists must know that rejection of that idea would be the kiss of death .


American Exceptionalism = Cultural Relativism

All morality is relative to American nationalists.


PurgeCongress.com is the defender of American Exceptionalism.

Purge Congress seeks to cleanse, cleanup and purify Congress.

Purge Congress is onto Congress.

Professionally developed website is in progress.

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