CAN WE END THE ‘EXCEPTIONALISM’ DEBATE NOW?…. Not surprisingly, President Obama’s remarks last night on U.S. intervention in Libya did not end the debate on the mission’s value. No one seriously expected it would.
But maybe it can help end the debate on “American exceptionalism”?
About midway through the speech, Adam Serwer noted, “After this speech, anyone who argues Obama doesn’t believe in ‘American exceptionalism’ deserves to be laughed out of town.” That’s entirely right (though those folks probably deserved to be laughed out of town before last night).
Mark Kleiman, pushing back against the right’s odd preoccupation with the “e” word, highlighted this portion of the speech, in particular:
“To brush aside America’s responsibility as a leader and — more profoundly — our responsibilities to our fellow human beings under such circumstances would have been a betrayal of who we are. Some nations may be able to turn a blind eye to atrocities in other countries. The United States of America is different. And as President, I refused to wait for the images of slaughter and mass graves before taking action.”
I can only assume this won’t satisfy the Kathleen Parkers of the world, who are needlessly literal about Obama and use of the word “exceptionalism,” but the principles here are plainly evident for anyone who cares to hear them. Indeed, the president wasn’t subtle — the United States isn’t like other countries; ours is a country with unique power, responsibilities, and moral obligations.
It follows Obama’s State of the Union address, when he talked 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.”
The notion that the right is sincere about debating the “exceptionalism” question in good faith is itself patently absurd, but for anyone who actually cares about the substance of the debate, the question has been answered.
Garance Franke-Ruta didn’t seem especially impressed with last night’s speech, but noting the larger thrust of the remarks, she explained that Obama offered “a reminder to a war-weary nation that it is exhausting to be globally exceptional.”