THE ONLY MODERN PRESIDENT TO ENDORSE ‘EXCEPTIONALISM’…. In his State of the Union address, President Obama emphasized principles of “American exceptionalism” rather explicitly, a fact more than a few observers acknowledged, even on the right.
Kathleen Parker, a conservative pundit for CNN and the Washington Post doesn’t see it that way. Unless Obama uses the word “exceptionalism” literally and repeatedly, she’s argued, the president’s motivations deserve to be held suspect. Conservatives, she said, “long to hear” the word, not just the principles behind the word. Obama, Parker added, “studiously avoided using the word” and asks, “So why won’t Obama just deliver the one word that would prompt arias from his doubters?”
Robert Schlesinger did some worthwhile digging over the weekend on this point, and discovered something interesting.
Only one sitting president in the last 82 years has publicly uttered the magical phrase “American exceptionalism” — care to guess who it is? Ronald Reagan, he of the “shining city on a hill?” George W. Bush, who closed his speeches by asking that “God continue to bless” America? Nope. The only president to publicly discuss (and for that matter embrace) “American exceptionalism” is Barack Obama.
This would be the same president, of course, who is subject to a steadily rising stream of suspicion because of his supposed refusal to give voice sufficient voice to his love of country.
Yes, the one word conservatives “long to hear” has been uttered at the presidential level, but it wasn’t a Republican who said it. Ironically, it was Obama who did what Reagan and Bush did not, though he’s facing baseless attacks for doing what his detractors choose to ignore.
Bush, in case you’re curious, twice used the word “exceptional” to describe Harriet Miers, his failed, ridiculous Supreme Court nominee, but never referenced American “exceptionalism,” Republican longing notwithstanding.
For her part, Parker acknowledges that Obama repeated the word she’s desperate to hear, but said it didn’t count because she disapproved of the context. “Why won’t Obama just deliver the one word that would prompt arias from his doubters?” Apparently because they won’t be satisfied when he does.
Schlesinger’s research, however, does cast this in a new light. I’m sure Obama’s critics will feel compelled to call out his predecessors for “studiously avoiding” use of the “e” word, too, right?