Sarah Palin sets the bar for chauvinism high. It is shrouded in an appeal to Americans’ pride in their nation’s accomplishments and position in the world. It hijacks a concept its originator would not recognize. “American exceptionalism” is being recast to excuse any requirement for intellectual rigor or personal achievement.
In today’s Washington Post, Karen Tumulty describes the battle within the Republican Party to claim the mantle of patriotic messiah by painting President Obama as a betrayer of American destiny. Clearly it is much easier to portray an accomplished scholar or executive than to be one. And while every day is another day President Obama gains on executive experience and accomplishment over any potential Republican opponent, none of them have demonstrated his scholarship. So they conveniently shift to protestations that rattle personal demons borne in their constituencies’ darkest fears, stoking misperceptions.
With a more intellectual sheen than the false assertions that Obama is secretly a Muslim or that he was born in Kenya, an argument over American exceptionalism “is a respectable way of raising the question of whether Obama is one of us,” said William Galston, a former policy adviser to President Bill Clinton who is now a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution. – from Tumulty’s WaPo piece
Separating the player queen from the queen in this play within a play becomes more difficult day by day. At times, Palin appears to be a Republican strawman, useful in rallying a part of the base the party elite considers unacknowledgeable but an essential margin required for electoral success. But then in short order the cast of pretenders, from Romney (who draws further from his father’s GOP at every turn) to Mike Pence, Newt Gingrich, and Rick Santorum to the former weight loss champion Mike Huckabee echo the baseless rhetoric. It’s hard to tell who is playing whom but all of them are bent on delivering the most dramatic performance; all by sapping the spirit that really defines the original concept and meaning of American exceptionalism (and not any evolved form).
“Tonight, we gather to affirm the greatness of our nation not because of the height of our skyscrapers, or the power of our military, or the size of our economy; our pride is based on a very simple premise, summed up in a declaration made over 200 years ago: ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.’ That is the true genius of America.” – Barack Obama, 2004 Democratic Convention
Ironically, President Obama’s philosophy and election does more to confirm the prospect that there is something exceptional about America than any transient material proof these might cite for greatness; like wealth or military might. But Sarah and her ilk, by their protestations have proven that they, like their criticisms, are neither credible nor sincere. They are propagating the philosophy that rules apply to everyone except America (or themselves). They are all Gertrudes, but it is more difficult to ferret out the Claudius(es). We have to hope we are a nation of Hamlets who will see the play for what it is and the actors for who they are; none of them exceptional at all. That is the revelation they fear the most.