John Kerry

You Can't Blame Americans for Not Feeling Exceptional

John Kerry called it like it is, and neocons are throwing a tiresome fit.

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"We are exceptional in a certain way that no other nation is," Secretary of State John Kerry told U.S. embassy staffers in Vienna last week.

We're the only country founded on "the idea that people are created equal and that all people have a chance to aspire for greatness. … Pretty amazing, right?" Kerry enthused.

So far, so patriotically correct — but Kerry really stepped in it when he admitted getting "a little uptight when I hear politicians say how exceptional we are."

"Not because we're not exceptional," he hastened to add — but because bragging about it is "kind of in-your-face."

Hit the Drudge siren! Mobilize the shock troops of righteous indignation!

"This guy is America's Chief Diplomat? Shameful," tweeted Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal.

"Deeply offensive," huffed Ben Shapiro.

"These people are laden with self-hatred and self-guilt," Rush Limbaugh proclaimed.

Here we go again. The Kerry kerfuffle is an even-more-tedious replay of the conservative rage-spasm over President Barack Obama's 2009 comments at a NATO summit in France. "I believe in American exceptionalism," Obama affirmed when asked by a reporter. But he ran into a conservative buzzsaw when he allowed that "the Brits" (who gave us Magna Carta) and "the Greeks" (who invented philosophy and drama) probably have their own versions of exceptionalism as well.

There's something sweaty and desperate about a patriotism that cannot tolerate the diplomatic acknowledgment, on foreign soil, that other countries might have their own reasons for national pride. You'd think a great-souled nation could afford a little magnanimity — but too many conservatives think it betrays weakness. We're well on our way to becoming the first hyperpower with short-guy syndrome.

Worse still, some neoconservative ideologues have turned American Exceptionalism into an ersatz religion, fidelity to which demands reshaping the rest of the world in our Image, by force, if necessary.

In a recent column, David Brooks laments Americans' waning faith in the "democratic gospel," our "sacred purpose" and sole reason for being. Brooks can't see any point to an America that minds its own business at home and abroad: "If America isn't a champion of universal democracy, what is the country for?" he sputters. We'll be condemned to "just go our own separate ways making individual choices."

Jefferson called that "the pursuit of happiness"; apparently, it's David Brooks's vision of Hell. But the older, wiser version of American Exceptionalism held that the source of our national greatness was a system that gave Americans space to pursue their own dreams. As the sociologist Seymour Martin Lipset put it, America's founding creed "can be described in five words: liberty, egalitarianism, individualism, populism, and laissez-faire."

When it comes to living up to that creed, though, lately we're not doing so hot. As conservative legal scholar F.H. Buckley points out in his new book, The Once and Future King: The Rise of Crown Government in America, the U.S. is no longer "even in the top tier of economic freedom" in cross-country comparisons. In the latest edition of the Cato and Fraser Institutes' Economic Freedom of the World rankings, we're number 17 and we don't try harder.

We're not exactly lighting up the scoreboard on measures of civil and political liberty, either.

No wonder, then, that a recent Pew poll notes a significant drop in the percentage of Americans who think the US "stands above all other countries in the world" — a decline that's been "particularly acute among Republicans." Meanwhile, record numbers of us tell pollsters that the federal government is "the biggest threat to the country in the future."

Maybe conservatives should take a break from chest-thumping about American Exceptionalism and focus on restoring the limits to government power that made us exceptional in the first place.

This column originally appeared in The Washington Examiner. 

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  1. You never really hear people say “Well, it’s a free country” anymore. I wonder why that is?

    1. Because it’s patently untrue?

      1. Hey, you can think that way if you want – it’s a free country.

        1. Hey, is that weed I smell in your car?

          1. *shoots own dog to save cop the trouble*

    2. Because nobody ever asks if they can sit next to Epi?

      1. You don’t ‘ask’ to sit next to Epi. You get sentenced to sit next to Epi.

      2. The odor comes from a glandular problem, Hugh! I can’t help it!

        1. +2 Pitstains

    3. people who talk about free countries and constitutions are surely domestic terrorists

      1. +1 SPLC

  2. America!

  3. We’ll be condemned to “just go our own separate ways making individual choices.”

    “Condemned”. The horror. The HORROR!

  4. You know who else thought their country was exceptional…

    1. The Ukranians?

    2. George Jones?

      1. +1 RIP

    3. Paddy Roy Bates?

  5. What has made us exceptional as a general rule in the past was rule of law, freeish markets, a generally strong work ethic, and so on. People today are shitting on all of that, some to such an extent that they are actively calling these virtues vices.

    So when our economy continues to slow, our military weakens, and our general standing fades, by all means, keep taking away the freedoms and incentives that provided the U.S. with advantages over the rest of the world–that will solve everything.

    1. u mad, bro?

      1. I have many cunning plans that would make me wealthy in a free society. Instead, I comment here. For free. Well, free except for the Koch subsidy.

        1. This made me chuckle. Tchuss, mein freund!

    2. Slowing economy? Implosion seems more accurate.

  6. ” Secretary of State John Kerry told U.S. embassy staffers in Vienna last week. We’re the only country founded on “the idea that people are created equal and that all people have a chance to aspire for greatness. ? Pretty amazing, right?”

    He forgot to say “gnarly.”

    1. All sacrificed in the name of egalitarianism.

      oh well….

    2. “Strange things are afoot at the Gaza Strip.”

  7. Any “exceptionalism” this country enjoyed was a direct result of our liberty.

    Now that that’s gone…

  8. We were in fact actually a pretty exceptional country before the so-called “progressives” took over everything.

    Not perfect of course, we certainly had flaws. But we were pretty exceptional there for quite a while.

    And despite all our recent slippage, we’re still pretty damn good compared to most countries. Nobody risks their life trying to become a Norwegian.

    1. Once again I advocate violence to reduce the number of shitbag progressives. This pisses off many of you. Not sure why.
      At least I’m suggesting some course of action. Rather than bitching while they steal more from us.

  9. Isn’t the whole american exceptionalism thing about the constitution?

    – That the US is the first form of government of its type, and the most wildly successful experiment to emerge from the Enlightenment/Age of Reason?

    I think most of this stuff for the pols and the pundits is really just a pro-wrestling-level game of Smack-Talking each other, and has nothing in fact to do with the meaning of that particular expression.

    And there’s nothing ‘in your face’ about noting that our country has things like, “Freedom of religion, speech”, etc. i also think we shouldn’t have to apologize about it… as Obama/Hilary did to Pakistan as part of the whole Benghazi cover-up process, as is done frequently by the progs, who seem to regard the constitution as handcuffs placed on them by ‘patriarchical corporatist theocrats’.

    1. Even the right, which theoretically supports constitutional government and, well, less-regulated markets, usually makes it sound like our “exceptionalism” is purely about being Christian and hard-working. That’s not all that was at play here (and sort of still is, in isolated pockets).

      1. “American exceptionalism is a traditional belief – or theory – that the United States is qualitatively different from other nation states.[2] In this view, U.S. exceptionalism stems from its emergence from a revolution, becoming what political scientist Seymour Martin Lipset called “the first new nation”[2] and developing a uniquely American ideology, “Americanism”, based on liberty, egalitarianism, individualism, republicanism, populism and laissez-faire.[3] …

        …”In 1989 Scottish political scientist Richard Rose noted that most American historians endorse exceptionalism. He suggests that these historians reason as follows:

        “America marches to a different drummer. Its uniqueness is explained by any or all of a variety of reasons: history, size, geography, political institutions, and culture. Explanations of the growth of government in Europe are not expected to fit American experience, and vice versa.”[9]”

        it would seem Kerry doesn’t even know what the expression is meant to suggest

        i.e. “we’re not Europe”

        1. Yes, and this recent shift to being more like Europe is a bad thing. Sorry, they’re not a good role model for many things.

          1. Yes, and this recent shift to being more like Europe is a bad thing. Sorry, they’re not a good role model for many any things.

            Spending most of my early childhood in Europe and working there sporadically for much of my adult life has taught me that Americans have NOTHING to learn from Europeans except how not to do things.

      2. That’s not quite right,

    2. No, because the US Constitution was widely & quickly copied.

  10. “”If America isn’t a champion of universal democracy, what is the country for?” [Brooks] sputters. We’ll be condemned to “just go our own separate ways making individual choices.””

    The American Union shouldn’t even be a champion of democracy at home. Our Union should be a constitutional republic.

    And didn’t some dude named John Quincy Adams say something about going abroad in search of monsters to destroy? He was in favor of it, right? No, he was *against* it.

    And Steven Spielburg made a movie about J.Q. Adams. How many Hollywood movies will be made of David Brooks’ career?

    1. It is amazing that, as time goes on, America follows the course that it wisely forsook when that course was witnessed in revolutionary France: forced equality, government inserting itself into social issues and abritrating longstanding social grievances, placation of the mob, bellicose and messianic foreign policy, forced secularization of the public sphere, and failed domestic regimes quickly being replaced by even worse regimes.

      1. Crap, that means the metric system and a renamed calendar, doesn’t it?

        1. Hottest June Thermidor on Record, Says National Climatic Data Center

      2. All of that is on the progressive wish list.

    2. Well, they did make a sequel to Dumb and Dumber.

  11. Y’know, I think the thing that annoys me about those who are against American exceptionalism is that most are against it not because they find America’s government unexceptional, but because they find the American values of individual liberty, free markets, and classical liberalism either unexceptional or hostile to what they would prefer. This is certainly the case with Obama and Kerry, who would prefer something in the vein of Europe’s social democracies (or worse).

  12. You know who else though their country was truly exceptional, and destined to rule for a thousand years long time?

    1. Abraham?

    2. Nicholas Chauvin?

    3. Dees freedom ting iz not how ve do tingz im der wermacht?

    4. False equivalency.

  13. “We’re well on our way to becoming the first hyperpower with short-guy syndrome.”.

    I guess that using the term “Napoleon-Complex” would’ve raised too many questions.

    1. I knew a guy with acute Napoleon complex.

      I should have told him, “don’t be short with me!”

      1. (nb – he was an asshole)

  14. So you live in an exceptional country, does that make you an exceptional individual ?

  15. John Kerry has devoted his whole life to making America unexceptional. That, and marrying rich broads.

  16. I’ve never understood American exceptionalism to be a compliment to the nation, nor an expression of an individual or collective desire, but rather a value-neutral observ’n that the USA is a raare exception to many generaliz’ns about countries. An “-ism” in the sense of “condition” rather than “tendency” or “belief”. The 1st time I encountered the term was in the context of discussion of why the labor movement in the USA isn’t socialist/communist as it is in nearly the whole world.

    Canada shares a lot of American exceptionalism, so it’s not all about the US.

  17. the idea that people are created equal and that all people have a chance to aspire for greatness. ?

    Well, except for women, niggers, and indians. /George Carlin

    1. Wasn’t that a while ago?

      Live in the past much?

  18. The wet dream of progressives is to become a European welfare country. But we won’t get nude beaches because of fat hairy feminists. And no Amsterdam legal hash dens. But we probably will end up with $9 per gallon gas. Excuse me but I have to leave now for a soccer riot.

  19. Well John fn Kerry is rather unexceptional. I can see him projecting.

  20. USA #1

    In: military spending and imprisoning citizens and … well, that’s about it really.

    1. I’m betting you still live within a few miles of where you were born.

      1. Different country as it happens. Why would you have assumed that?

  21. Thanks to the assclown in the White House, American exceptionalism has taken a huge hit.

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