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On Point

Barack Obama: American Exceptionalist


by Austin Bay
March 29, 2011

Once again, it's time for Candidate Obama, circa 2007-2008, to condemn President Barack Obama. For that matter, the April 2009 Obama avatar should also sneer at the current version -- if he can't find the time to attend a Washington-area protest demonstration.

So why should Candidate Id kvetch about President Ego? Let's start with the third paragraph of Obama's speech addressing Libya's War of Liberation. The paragraph begins his argument for intervention:

"For generations, the United States of America has played a unique role as an anchor of global security and advocate for human freedom. Mindful of the risks and costs of military action, we are naturally reluctant to use force to solve the world's many challenges. But when our interests and values are at stake, we have a responsibility to act."

With this paragraph, which stresses America's "unique" role in the world, President Obama becomes an American exceptionalist. Moreover, Obama becomes a muscular American exceptionalist, since he not only reiterates a compelling ideal, but uses it as an essential and pragmatic guide to formulating and implementing policy.

Later he added: "To brush aside America's responsibility as a leader and ... 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."

This represents a radical change from April 2009, when President Obama said in Strasbourg, France: "I believe in American exceptionalism, just as I suspect that the Brits believe in British exceptionalism and the Greeks believe in Greek exceptionalism." That amounted to a put-down of American exceptionalism as an ideal and definitely its rejection as a force shaping sound foreign policy and global security decisions.

American exceptionalists argue that Earth's first constitutionally grounded representative democracy, dedicated to the still radical principles that "all" people are created equal and "endowed" with inalienable rights (such as the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness), plays a special role in world affairs. Exceptionalists believe America is an empowering experiment in individual freedom and a pragmatic example of liberal democracy that serves as a prototype for mitigating and potentially bridging ethnic and religious divisions. At some point, dedication to its founding principles means acting on behalf of freedom, to include, on occasion, waging war.

However, for the past four or five decades, left-wing academics and other self-proclaimed genius persons -- like Obama and his fans said he was in 2008 -- have scorned the concept of American exceptionalism.

According to these pompous toffs, belief in American exceptionalism is for those they deem to be -- well, to paraphrase Candidate Obama in San Francisco -- those uncredentialed types who cling to their guns and religion. For lefty toffs, this category includes tea partiers, Republicans, conservatives and, harrumph, benighted idealists who make the palpably foolish assertion that human beings yearn for freedom instead of a government paycheck and academic tenure.

The more pathological toffs promote "negative exceptionalism." Amerika (their spelling) is uniquely flawed. Amerika's "deep structure" is fundamentally racist, greedy, warmongering, genocidal, genderist and anti-biosphere, et cetera.

Hope and change? It appears reality has given President Obama an extended "teaching moment," and he's learned from it. Instead of putting down American exceptionalism, he has embraced it.

In his speech, President Obama argued that he acted to stop mass murder, but he also emphasized that "democratic impulses ... are dawning across the region" and that it was not in America's interest to have "repressive leaders" conclude "that violence is the best strategy to cling to power."

Promoting Arab democracy using military power? I know, a lot of Candidate Id still haunts the Oval Office, since Obama insists on calling the Libyan war a "military kinetic operation." But only the toffs who buy that rhetorical gimcrack will fail to hear the echoes of George W. Bush in Obama's speech.

America does have a vital interest in remaining on the side of individual freedom. Jumbo jets (freedom of movement) and the Internet (freedom of speech and information) are two technologies that promote individual choice, which ultimately connects to freedom. These technologies are strategic givens, vehicles for the "democratic impulses" the tyrants fear. It's why Libya's War of Liberation will be one of many other 21st century wars for the terms of modernity. 

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