April 3rd, 2012

The exceptional Obama

In all the brouhaha surrounding Obama’s statements yesterday preemptively criticizing the Supreme Court, these completely unrelated remarks of his passed relatively unnoticed:

Responding to Romney’s campaign trail claims that American influence has declined during the Obama administration and that the president “doesn’t have the same feelings about American exceptionalism that we do,” the president noted that he emerged on the national stage with a speech on the issue at the 2004 Democratic National Convention. More broadly, he said, “my entire career has been a testimony to American exceptionalism.”

For Obama, it all comes down to “me, me, me,” doesn’t it?

And by the way, his speech at the 2004 Democratic Convention started with a long portion about himself and his life story, too. At least he’s consistent. But once he got past his personal story, Obama’s 2004 speech did contain a paean to the blessings of liberty and equal opportunity in America, certainly part of what goes into the idea of American exceptionalism.

As to whether Obama really does have a different understanding of American exceptionalism—or even believes in it at all—in the international sense (which was, after all, the sense to which Romney seemed to be referring), these 2009 remarks are (at least as far as I know) Obama’s fullest statement on the subject.

Here’s the relevant excerpt. It’s Obama’s first sentence that’s usually quoted, but I think it’s fairer (and more interesting) to read the full version:

[Question]: Thank you, Mr. President. In the context of all the multilateral activity that’s been going on this week — the G20, here at NATO — and your evident enthusiasm for multilateral frameworks, to work through multilateral frameworks, could I ask you whether you subscribe, as many of your predecessors have, to the school of American exceptionalism that sees America as uniquely qualified to lead the world, or do you have a slightly different philosophy? And if so, would you be able to elaborate on it?

[Answer] PRESIDENT OBAMA: I believe in American exceptionalism, just as I suspect that the Brits believe in British exceptionalism and the Greeks believe in Greek exceptionalism. I’m enormously proud of my country and its role and history in the world. If you think about the site of this summit and what it means, I don’t think America should be embarrassed to see evidence of the sacrifices of our troops, the enormous amount of resources that were put into Europe postwar, and our leadership in crafting an Alliance that ultimately led to the unification of Europe. We should take great pride in that.

And if you think of our current situation, the United States remains the largest economy in the world. We have unmatched military capability. And I think 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 belief in free speech and equality, that, though imperfect, are exceptional.

Now, the fact that I am very proud of my country and I think that we’ve got a whole lot to offer the world does not lessen my interest in recognizing the value and wonderful qualities of other countries, or recognizing that we’re not always going to be right, or that other people may have good ideas, or that in order for us to work collectively, all parties have to compromise and that includes us.

And so I see no contradiction between believing that America has a continued extraordinary role in leading the world towards peace and prosperity and recognizing that that leadership is incumbent, depends on, our ability to create partnerships because we create partnerships because we can’t solve these problems alone.

As usual, Obama straddles the line. Whether you believe him or not, he does pay at least lip service to the idea of American exceptionalism when he says, “And if you think of our current situation, the United States remains the largest economy in the world. We have unmatched military capability. And I think 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 belief in free speech and equality, that, though imperfect, are exceptional.” It may not be Reagan’s shining city on a hill—in fact, it’s not Reagan’s shining city on a hill—but it’s not a complete rejection of the idea of American exceptionalism, either.

Of course, the statement of Obama’s also contains many qualifications about the importance of other countries and working with them, and how the American notion of American exceptionalism isn’t so exceptional (“the Brits believe in British exceptionalism and the Greeks believe in Greek exceptionalism”)—a sort of exceptionalist relativism. So Romney’s remarks may indeed be correct, that Obama “doesn’t have the same feelings” about American exceptionalism that “we do”—especially if the “we” involved is “Republicans.”

By the way, I think Obama’s two choices of other nations that believe in their own exceptionalism was interesting. Both Britain and Greece were exceptional in the past, but no longer. Greece was the ancient cradle of democracy and Britain the more recent cradle of liberty, from which some of our ideas have come. So one wonders if Obama also sees us as a country whose exceptional days are starting to be over, just as Romney suggested he does.

21 Responses to “The exceptional Obama”

  1. vanderleun Says:

    “but it’s not a complete rejection of the idea of American exceptionalism, either.”

    No, silly person, it is not. What it is is A LIE!

    Sheesh.

  2. George Pal Says:

    I wonder at all this talk of exceptionalism. There is nothing at all of it in the West. If it were so – and not just a political platitude in the form of “mine’s bigger than yours” – then why the drive for diversity, and alien cultures, and supersessionary religions and ideologies?

    The great democratic tidal wave has put an end to exceptionalism by making some more exceptional than others while yet allowing anyone the ‘right’ to think themselves exceptional. If anyone, I mean anyone, even those making this stuff up, can make sense of all the double speak and triple think going on I should think them much too comfortable with insanity.

    All of which is to say no-one claiming exceptionalism, as concept or reality should be taken seriously – even those most vigorously beating their own chest.

  3. KLSmith Says:

    George Pal: your comment is incoherent. No offense.

  4. T Says:

    Word. Just Words. Not what he SAYS, what he DOES.

    When the two are congruent (e.g., I will transform America, clinging to guns and religion, energy prices will necessarily skyrocket) then, and only in that instance, will I believe.

  5. Artfldgr Says:

    For Obama, it all comes down to “me, me, me,” doesn’t it?

    yeah… in germany it was all hitler hitler hitler..
    and in russia, it was lenin lenin lenin, until it was almost trotsky but stalin showed him how to ‘pick’ his friends… then it was stalin stalin stalin.
    i guess at one point it was mao mao mao.

    so NOW rather than before the election, we are figuring that the despotic are all about themselves.

    now..

    how can someone so focused on himself, actually care about others?

    cant.. but they sure can fake that cargo cult image… and if your not used to substance but following the others looking at the wrong indicators… your going to see what they want you to see, not what you want to see, or what is there.

    American exceptionalism IS dead
    killed in 1968…

    as i pointed out… some things cant coexist.
    the exceptional cant exist in a socialist state, but for the great leader.

    and once women got affirmative action, and such… exceptionalism was killed… its why they did it… of course, its not what they told the useful idiots that would prine their family trees for eternity and make their work taxable, and remove effort and competitive effort as the decider, but now the state.

    after all.
    when they say we need more women in X, what they are saying is that whatever exeptionalism that created that mix, and that created the situation others want to get into to get rewards from, is now negated.

    its the SAME as saying that if the supreme court agrees, then they are valid… and if not, then they are invalid and should be removed..

    same thing…

    the person in the job is either a woman, and valid, or they should be removed…

    feminism killed exceptionalism
    racism put the nails in the coffin

    now we are producing substandard engineers that are homogenized in diversity…

    while china and russia and the countries these people look to, ignore the idiocy and such they delivered and compete, and spy, and more

    what do you want?
    you cant have exceptionalism in a state that will not accept that people are not equal!

    women destroyed the ability to be better before they climbed up to try…

    oh. the coffin was intereed with huge non selective arbitrary immigrant flooding rather than the old brain drain selection…

  6. Don Carlos Says:

    I pay as little attention as possible to what Baraq says. What aren’t lies are half-truths at best.

    I get what George Pal said, and tend to agree. Try a bit harder, KLS.

  7. Artfldgr Says:

    today what makes one exceptional is a pudenda, higher melanin production, or the willingness to be infertile with your own sex…. we now have women’s measures of exceptional, which if you haven’t noticed is the whole “flashdance fantasy”…

    whats the difference? easy..

    women want to be exceptional for just being who they are.. and doing what others judge them by on the surface..

    men are exceptional for what they do and accomplish…

    so when we went from masculine… we went from earning due to exceptional action, to wanting to all be exceptional for just being. the feminine form.

    so Einstein was replaced by American Idol

    Einstein had to work and toil and sacrifice…
    American idol is the flash dance fantasy

    one struggles and does something at great personal sacrifice to be worth something. einstien without e=mc2 is just another jewish guy who avoided death in the camps..

    but american idol… like flashdance, or pretty woman, or even goldiggers of 1935… :)

    the exceptional woman doesn’t work and gets lots of great things for just who she is…

    isnt that the same thing that they did with the self esteem thing? everyone is exceptional for existing, like a very pretty woman..

    so american exceptionalism died when the sexual revolution made sex common and debased.. and just being was enough (So why be more?)

    Research shows entrepreneurial differences between the sexes

    We found that women are 1.17 times more likely than men to create social ventures than economic ventures, and women are 1.23 times more likely to pursue environmental ventures than economic focused ventures,” says Diana Hechevarria, a doctoral candidate in management and entrepreneurship in the University of Cincinnati’s Carl H. Lindner College of Business.

    Their research—”Are women more likely to pursue social and environmental entrepreneurship?”—is published as a chapter in the book, “Global Women’s Entrepreneurship Research: Diverse Settings, Questions and Approaches,” recently released by Edward Elgar Publishing, Inc.

    they make it seem positive… but its not..
    not to a nation that needs economy to live and pay its social debts..

    \

    you have to love this one

    From a policy standpoint, government initiatives are aimed at minimizing the entrepreneurial gender gap to increase equity and economic growth, Hechevarria says.

    really? then wouldn’t you want them to focus on money making not social cache for reputation and ego?

    what made people exceptional before 1968

  8. George Pal Says:

    KLSmith

    Nothing I can do about your inability to comprehend.

  9. Artfldgr Says:

    another way to look at it…

    For Obama, it all comes down to “me, me, me,” doesn’t it?

    l’etat ce moi

    “the state, it is I”

    I am the State. or The State, it’s me.
    It was a Louis XIV’s famous quote. He said it to the Paris Parlement (In charge to agree the royal decrees) in April 1755. He was young and actually Mazarin ruled the country as regent. During a session, while some parlement’s magistrates contested the legitimacy of the young king’s edicts in order to refill the coffers, and fearing a new fronde of the french nobility, he came into the parlement and said this quote.
    During this parlement session, he reinforced his power and confirmed his legitimacy as a King. It was one of the first “emancipation” actions of Louis XIV to transfer power from Cardinal Mazarin to himself.
    Actually misattributed to Louis by Voltaire.

    funny how history repeats…

  10. Artfldgr Says:

    Does anyone know who coined the phrase?

    American exceptionalism
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/American_exceptionalism

    The specific term “American exceptionalism” was first used in 1929 by Soviet leader Joseph Stalin chastising members of the Lovestone-led faction of the American Communist Party for the heretical, according to Stalin, belief that America was independent of the Marxist laws of history “thanks to its natural resources, industrial capacity, and absence of rigid class distinctions.”

    STALIN…. he said it first…

    In June 1927 Jay Lovestone, a leader of the Communist Party in America and soon to be named General Secretary, described America’s economic and social uniqueness. He noted the increasing strength of American capitalism, and the country’s “tremendous reserve power”; a strength and power which he said prevented Communist revolution.[32] In 1929, the Soviet leader Joseph Stalin, disagreeing that America was so resistant to revolution, called Lovestone’s ideas “the heresy of American exceptionalism”—the first time that the specific term “American exceptionalism” was used.

    In the 1930s, academicians in the U.S. redefined American exceptionalism as befitting a nation that was to lead the world, with the newer United States ready to serve the older European societies as an example of a liberated future free from Marxism and socialism.

    More recently, socialists and other writers have tried to discover or describe this exceptionalism of the U.S. within and outside its borders.

  11. Artfldgr Says:

    and if you dont know lovestone
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jay_Lovestone

    what a pip, and i will bet 99% of readers have no idea who he and many other VERY influential people molding today were…

    When Stalin purged Bukharin from the Soviet Politburo in 1929, Lovestone suffered the consequences. A visiting delegation of the Comintern asked him to step down as party secretary in favor of his rival William Z. Foster. Lovestone refused and departed for the Soviet Union to argue his case. Lovestone insisted that he had the support of the vast majority of the Communist Party and should not have to step aside. Stalin responded that he “had a majority because the American Communist Party until now regarded you as the determined supporters of the Communist International. And it was only because the Party regarded you as friends of the Comintern that you had a majority in the ranks of the American Communist Party”

    then foster was in…
    William Z. Foster
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/William_Z._Foster

    i would have to just give names to show what this all comes from…

    John Reed
    Benjamin Gitlow
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Benjamin_Gitlow

    Ruthenbergs ashes are in the wall at moscow..
    so is John Reed….
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charles_Ruthenberg

    John pepper… [excuted by his own people]
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Pepper

    the list is longer than my posts..

    but what are we actually discussing if you dont know what it came from and so on?

    Law & Society Review
    Vol. 28, No. 4, 1994

    Paris is Closer than Frankfurt: The nth American Exceptionalism: Comment

    maybe read what the people who have the ears of power read?

    http://www.jstor.org/stable/3054002

    right from the first paragraph, they lead with the frankfurt school and so on…

    so much for THOSE dead white guys

  12. Occam's Beard Says:

    And by the way, his speech at the 2004 Democratic Convention started with a long portion about himself and his life story, too.

    In fairness, what else has he got? Seriously? Holograms have more substance.

  13. holmes Says:

    Yes, he is a testimony to American exceptionalism; we are exceptional despite the politicians we elect.

  14. Steve Says:

    If every country is exceptional, then no country is exceptional.

  15. Artfldgr Says:

    Obama Instructs Journalists On How To Report His Positions

    “As all of you are doing your reporting, I think it’s important to remember that the positions that I am taking now on the budget and a host of other issues. if we had been having this discussion 20 years ago or even 15 years ago … would’ve been considered squarely centrist positions,” Obama said a few moments later.

    http://www.realclearpolitics.com/video/2012/04/03/obama_instructs_journalists_on_how_to_report_his_positions.html

  16. Bob From Virginia Says:

    Occam wrote “Holograms have more substance.”

    Great line, I will have to repeat it and claim as my own.

    But thanks.

  17. Gary Rosen Says:

    “Well, enough about me. Let’s talk about you for a change. What do you think about me?”

  18. njcommuter Says:

    Liberals like to say “Conservatives don’t have the same feelings we do.” But research proves them wrong. A new book called The Righteous Mind takes on the question. Author Jonathan Haidt and his students asked liberals and conservatives to fill out questionaires about ethics as each other. Conservatives did a good job of estimating how Liberals would answer; Liberals did a poor job of estimating how Conservatives would answer.

    Haidt created this test to confirm a theory: that there are multiple aspects to morality (Haidt counts six) and that Liberals focus on at most three, but mostly on just one. Conservatives participate in all of them.

    There’s more at this Hotair Greenroom article by Karl.

    C.S.Lewis said much the same thing in the second part of The Abolition of Man: that every attempt to create a “new” morality in reality takes just one component of the whole and focuses on it to the exclusion and outrage of all the others.

  19. Occam's Beard Says:

    Now, the fact that I am very proud of my country and I think that we’ve got a whole lot to offer the world …

    … but enough about Indonesia.

  20. Gringo Says:

    Artfldgr quotes the POTUS:

    “As all of you are doing your reporting, I think it’s important to remember that the positions that I am taking now on the budget and a host of other issues. if we had been having this discussion 20 years ago or even 15 years ago … would’ve been considered squarely centrist positions,” Obama said a few moments later.

    As it was a centrist position 15-20 years ago to run deficits and government spending as a a percentage of GNP at World War 2 levels at a time when military spending is less than 5% of GNP.

    Nearly every time I see an Obama quote, I am reminded of what Mary McCarthy said about Lillian Hellman.

    Every word she writes is a lie, including “and” and “the.”

    Can Obama ever refrain from propaganda and speak truth to the American people? I doubt it.

  21. Nolanimrod Says:

    In New Orleans there are guys who walk around. That’s what they do. Just walk. Up and down. Back and forth.

    They are spotters. A purse left in a car, or keys? They see it. A bike unlocked? They see it. An open garage door? Bingo!

    If you challenge them they always have a good narrative.

    That’s Obama.

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