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  • Is American Exceptionalism Back in Vogue With the Left?

    Speaking on Meet the Press this week, former congressman and current chairman of the Democratic Leadership Council Harold Ford Jr. said:

    I think that there is a sense of who we are, what we represent, and why we’re important to the world. The notion of exceptionalism is thrown around… I think people realize that we’ve built a lot of stuff in this country, we’ve innovated, we’ve lead, and for us to maintain that position, some changes are going to have to come about.

    It was only last spring that President Obama explained to a reporter in Strasbourg, France, that American exceptionalism may not be as exceptional as it’s cut out to be: “I believe in American exceptionalism, just as I suspect that the Brits believe in British exceptionalism and the Greeks believe in Greek exceptionalism.” Though the President went on to highlight some of the things that make America extraordinary in his eyes—“the United States remains the largest economy in the world. We have unmatched military capability”—his opening words and subsequent reminder to recognize “the value and wonderful qualities of other countries” essentially amounted to a denial of American exceptionalism.

    It is therefore encouraging to see a prominent Democrat like Harold Ford Jr. publicly reembrace the idea of American exceptionalism. The question is whether American expcetionalism boils down to our formidable economic  might, as Ford’s remarks seem to suggest?

    There is of course no denying that we continue to lead, innovate, and “build stuff”: America’s economy, after all, produces a quarter of the world’s wealth and has been doing so for the past several decades. But must we not look deeper to uncover the true meaning of American exceptionalism? As Matthew Spalding argues in the inaugural essay of Heritage’s Understanding America series:

    America is an exceptional nation, but not because of what it has achieved or accomplished. America is exceptional because, unlike any other nation, it is dedicated to the principles of human liberty, grounded on the truths that all men are created equal and endowed with equal rights.

    One of these fundamental rights, of course, is the right to acquire and possess property. Prosperous as we may be, we must not lose sight of the fact that our prosperity is the result of our commitment—precarious at times, but sustained nonetheless—to property rights. As Calvin Coolidge noted more than 80 years ago in a speech commemorating the Declaration of Independence: “We live in an age of science and of abounding accumulation of material things. These did not create our Declaration. Our Declaration created them.”

    President Obama also admits that there is something exceptional about America’s founding principles. In a part of his answer to the reporter in Strasbourg that has received scant media attention, he went on to note: “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.”

    Whereas the Founders spoke of inalienable rights and self-evident truths, President Obama, good product of our elite universities that he is, gives us mere “values” drained of any permanency. And while he may insist that these imperfect values are exceptional, it is clear that they are not exceptional in the strong sense of the word, flawed as they are. What President Obama gives us is “We hold these imperfect values to be self-evident,” which just doesn’t have the same ring to it, does it?

    Harold Ford’s reembrace of American exceptionalism marks a step in the right direction but the Left still has a long way to go to arrive at a sound understanding of the ideas—neither flawed nor changing—that make this country truly exceptional.

    Posted in First Principles [slideshow_deploy]

    5 Responses to Is American Exceptionalism Back in Vogue With the Left?

    1. Eric Matheson, Downi says:

      I read your recent editorial in the Inquirer (11/17/2010). As an energy advisor to the Pennsylvania PUC, I was very disappointed in the content of the editorial. Nicolas Loris comes across as someone who opposes any governmental effort to promote energy efficiency, not as one interested in really contributing to the knowledge of this issue. This "researcher" concludes, that because one incandescent plant in Winchester, VA was shut down, that this legislation should be scrapped, because it doesn't create jobs in America. We need better statistics than this to drive the debate. This research would have been more credible if it had discussed how many incandescent light bulbs are built in the US relative to China, for example, relative to the same statistic(s) for CFLs. How many incandescent factories having been shutting down anyway because of cheaper imports. It's likely that China is already producing a very high percentage of incandescent lights too. However, this article failed to impart any facts on these possibilities. This researcher also fails to clearly describe the legislation – it doesn't require the elimination of incandescents – only the inefficient incandescents. It doesn't dicate technology – only an efficiency standard – which is generally viewed as the proper way to move effficiency forward. In reality, LED technology, or some future technology will win out in the long run. The government is not picking winners here.

      Listen, I agree that government should shy away from picking technologies, since this does often lead to inefficiencies and higher costs. However, as a policy advocate, the lack of true and hard research underlying this editorial does nothing to advocate your position. I expect better from such research organizations. I look forward to future articles that can contribute to the debate. However, please provide more convincing and thorough articles on the matter. Otherwise, your organization just comes across a mouth piece, instead of a true research organization. As you note below, I agree we need to be appropriately informed. Hopefully, your future research will contribute more towards this subject going forward.

    2. Jill-Maine says:

      Alex DE'Tocquevile said that America is great because America is good. If America ever ceases to be good, America will cease to be great.

      It is always America who is first on the scene at any natural or man made disasters.

      At the root of our philosophy's is the Judeo-Christian belief system. Goodness is from God.

    3. Chris says:

      American is indeed exceptional because of our Christian founding and continued Christian beliefs. We have always been the No 1 country in economy, education, invention, science, exploration and business climate. In the recent decades, many of these elements have changed. Many of our principles have become eroded. So why is that?? Let's connect the dots…what else has changed in recent decades?? Well the most glaring change has been the influx of immigrants and acceptance of different cultures. Which is what America is, we welcome people to our country who want to live free and be productive. However, we are seeing some critical changes now. First we are seeing an increase in corruption, crime and increased government. What we are also seeing is a decline in morals in this country!! We are seeing attacks against what this country was founded on, Christianity. We have been expected to be tolerant of intolerable things. We the people, of this country, have been way too tolerant for way too long. This countries ethics and morals have declined so that we no longer can can be considered a leader, become leaders don't lead their country to ruin!! If you are a concerned American citizen who wants to see our country return to its strong Christian basis, then please join with others who feel the same way. They are standing united for a better America through Christianity and Patriotism. http://www.PatrioticChristiansToday.com.

    4. Sam Elgawly says:

      Thanks for the thoughtful piece.

      My only question is this- and it has always concerned me. What makes a truth self-evident? If we are to criticize Obama's "imperfect values" or "'values' drained of permanency"….what foundation do we have, other than faith/religion, for a "value system" that is more permanent, exceptional, or strong?

    5. ckirkland says:

      Regardless of how Obama feels about this nation we are an exceptional people and nation. For some one (obama) who has never served our country in uniform, who has taken advantage of a free education, never had a real job, run a business, how in the world would he know about America, he is not invested in this great country. He is trying to destroy it in my opinion.

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