AGAIN WITH ‘EXCEPTIONALISM’?…. Of all the punditry following the State of the Union address, one of the stranger moments came when CNN’s Kathleen Parker and House Speaker John Boehner complained on the air about President Obama’s reluctance to embrace American “exceptionalism.”
Parker isn’t done banging the drum.
He didn’t say it. That word: “exceptional.” Barack Obama described an exceptional nation in his State of the Union address, but he studiously avoided using the word conservatives long to hear. […]
The exceptional issue may be political, but it isn’t only that. The idea lies smack at the heart of how Americans view themselves, and the role of government in their lives and in the broader world. Is America exceptional or isn’t she? Is there something about this country that makes us unique in the world?
Of course there is, and Obama has frequently acknowledged those things, including in the State of the Union. But he seems to avoid the word because, among other possible reasons, it is fraught with layers of meaning and because, to some minds, there’s always the possibility he doesn’t quite believe it. […]
Between left and right, however, are those who merely want affirmation that all is right with the world. Most important, they want assurance that the president shares their values. So why won’t Obama just deliver the one word that would prompt arias from his doubters?
Oddly enough, he has delivered the one word. At a 2009 press conference in Europe, President Obama said, “I believe in American exceptionalism.” Parker said the context was too intellectual and therefore didn’t count. Who makes up these rules? Apparently, the right does.
This continues to be one of the more offensive and mind-numbing areas of attack from the right, but Tuesday’s speech should have resolved the issue once and for all. Indeed, more than a few observers noted that Obama embraced American exceptionalism this week even more explicitly than he has in the past. Hell, even Marc Thiessen noticed and appreciated the rhetoric.
But Parker isn’t satisfied. The president has to use the specific words Parker wants to hear, and in the context she prefers. Anything less is, to her mind, grounds for suspicion.
This is terribly misguided. If only Parker could stop listening for the “e” word, and consider the substance of the president’s remarks. If so, this week, she would have heard Obama talk about the qualities that “set us apart as a nation” and the things we do “better than anyone else.” And his belief that America is “not just a place on a map, but the light to the world” and “the greatest nation on Earth.” And his reminder that “as contentious and frustrating and messy as our democracy can sometimes be, I know there isn’t a person here who would trade places with any other nation on Earth.”
Did Parker miss all of this, or dismiss it because, to her, word choice matters more than principles?
She added in her column that the “e” word itself has “become a litmus test for patriotism. It’s the new flag lapel pin, the one-word pocket edition of the U.S. Constitution.” That’s probably true, but it’s an indictment of sorts — the observation suggests use of the word “exceptionalism” is now a lazy trope, used by politicians to simply appear patriotic.
But instead of pushing back against this nonsense, and explaining why the true test of patriotism goes beyond tired buzz-words, Parker effectively does the opposite.