We’ve heard a lot about “American exceptionalism” lately, but most of it misses the point. Barack Obama was asked if he believed in American exceptionalism early in his presidency. “I believe in American exceptionalism, just as I suspect that the Brits believe in British exceptionalism and the Greeks believe in Greek exceptionalism”, he replied. Subsequently he amended that view on numerous occasions, only to reveal that he continues to completely misunderstand the meaning of the term.
Just last week, the president stood in front of a group of healthcare workers who had recently returned from Ebola stricken Africa. “That’s American exceptionalism!”, the constitutional scholar informed us, which was ironic because many of the care givers present were members of a French organization known as Medecines Sans Frontieres, known here as Doctors Without Borders. Oops, maybe he meant French exceptionalism.
No doubt, any person who goes to Africa to treat Ebola patients is an exceptional human being, but that has nothing to do with American exceptionalism. American exceptionalism refers to our founding principles; never before in human history had a nation been formed with the central principle being the supremacy of individual rights along with deliberate limits on the powers of the state. It made us an EXCEPTION among nations. And it made us great.
But those days are gone, and probably forever regardless of who controls the senate after this election. We’ve been traveling down this road for a century, in fits and starts, progressing away from American exceptionalism and towards reversion to the mean. This is the essence of progressivism: progressing towards average. Americans see the rest of the world and want to emulate it because the grass is always greener, right? Americans want "free" government healthcare like they have in other countries. They want "free" secondary education like they have in other countries. They want a government that controls every aspect of the economy like they have in other countries. They want a government that provides them with every want and need in life. They want an all-powerful government, just like they have in other countries. In other words, Americans have turned away from the idea of being exceptional; they want to be just like all the other un-exceptional nations. They want to be average.
No president has embodied this zeitgeist more than Barack Obama. He has openly denigrated the concept of limited government as laid out in our constitution, calling it a “charter of negative liberties”. Ummmm, yes it is from the perspective of the all-powerful state. But from the perspective of the ultimate minority – the individual - our exceptional form of government, with its emphasis on individual rights, amounts to an emancipation proclamation. This is the key to this election; will voters make the final turn towards a post-exceptional America, or will they once again turn, albeit temporarily, in the direction of American exceptionalism?