A number of conservative Republican politicians are piling on President Obama with the nonsensical charge that he has publicly rejected American "Exceptionalism" and therefore is anti-American. This is demagoguery in its most malicious, contemptible form.
Let's start right off by pointing out that Obama has made no such statements. On the contrary, he has on countless occasions and in many different public venues both at home and abroad delivered resounding tributes to America's character and accomplishments. So when Mitt Romney, Sarah Palin, Mike Huckabee, and Newt Gingrich, to name but a few, lambaste Obama for repudiating American Exceptionalism, they are simply mouthing pap.
Just what is it about Obama's portrayal of the United States that has so many Republicans in a tizzy?
The GOP drumbeat against Obama's patriotism first emerged during his presidential campaign when the candidate was treated like a rock star during a speech to a quarter million Germans in Berlin's Tiergarten Park. On that balmy July evening in 2008, Obama sang our praises, but also noted that we were not infallible and there were flaws and mistakes that needed to be corrected. His candor was much appreciated by the Germans and elevated rather than diminished America's image not only in Europe but throughout the world.
In ensuing months and following the election, Obama's take on American Exceptionalism was consistent. The following weekly presidential radio address is typical. "The United States must lead the way," Obama declared, "in meeting the major challenges facing humanity, ranging from environmental degradation to international terrorism. But these are challenges that no single nation, no matter how powerful, can confront alone. Our best chance to solve the unprecedented problems comes from acting in concert with other nations...Let us not allow whatever differences we have stop us from coming together around those solutions that are essential to our survival and success."
Does this sound like Obama is throwing the USA under the bus? As we have duly noted, some conservative Republicans think so or would like us to think that they do.
When the propagandistic distortion is dispensed with, what then is American Exceptionalism?
The following is an excerpt from Ed Flattau's new book, Green Morality, published in October by the Way Things Are Publications of Los Angeles:
President George W. Bush's version of "American Exceptionalism" casts us as the world's moral icon as well as its sole superpower. In reality, his vision is little more than a presumptuous claim of self-serving preeminence. A less imperious definition would go something like this. Our country and others vary in political behavior and public opinion. Furthermore, cultural differences lead to divergent, sometimes clashing views about morality. We should respect these differences (provided they are not used to foster genocide or export conflict) as well as candidly acknowledge our own imperfections and the limitations they impose on our sphere of influence. Of course, we need not be ashamed to acknowledge that our vibrant democracy and national wealth make us a world leader -- provided we keep our leadership and power in proper perspective. Otherwise, we risk establishing ourselves as a pariah throughout the community of nations, an unenviable position when international cooperation is crucial for surmounting the challenges of the 21st Century.
Edward Flattaus fourth book Green Morality is now available.