There is a topic, a meme, a banner that Conservatives continue wave;  a banner that fuels legions of like-minded patriots to fall in-line behind it, whenever it is spoken.

That banner is the all-purpose amorphous idea of "American Exceptionalism."  That somehow America has a unique special destiny among nations;  and that our choice of National Leader in the next election, will either put that "unique destiny" back on track -- OR as Conservatives will rage, we can continue to see our American destiny derailed.

The problem I see, is that progressive-thinking people often have trouble responding to these nationalistic charges and one-dimensional rallying cries -- we generally want America to become more "fair and equitable" for everyone, much more than we want "American exceptionalism" writ large.

BUT our national critiques feed right into the Conservative narrative, that "Libruls are at heart Socialists -- and they only want to take away your stuff, and give it to those who didn't really work for it".  Conservatives will contend that 'Democrat' America-bashing is the antithesis of "American Exceptionalism". That this is the road to American Mediocrity.  That this is the road, from which we MUST Exit.  And far too many hard-working, exhausted Americans will believe them.

This is tricky political-water-cooler terrain, but I raise it since I see it as THE ideological battleground on which the next election will either be won or lost, in my opinion. The potency of this Patriotism "thought virus" has not been lost on Romney or Gingrich.  And at CPAC, this exceptionally simple banner was one of their major themes, as per usual:

Now is the time to promote American exceptionalism, remove barriers to upward mobility for those in need, and put the nation back on a path to renewed prosperity for all.

Look, the Obama presidency has been a disappointing failure. He should have taken steps immediately to restore confidence in the American economy.

Instead, he sidetracked the economy to pursue a debt-fueled ideological agenda that squandered the trust of the American people.

Text of Paul Ryan’s CPAC Speech -- “America Deserves a Choice”
nationalreview.com -- February 9, 2012

For their part, organizers say the magic’s still there at CPAC.

“This great annual tradition is an opportunity for the conservative movement to set our agenda for the coming year, hear from our most influential leaders and unite and energize an army of patriotic, committed conservatives in the pursuit of a return to American Exceptionalism,” American Conservative Union chair Al Cardenas said in his opening remarks on dais.

Even At CPAC Conservatives Seem Despondent About 2012 Choices
by Benjy Sarlin & Evan McMorris-Santoro, talkingpointsmemo -- Feb 10, 2012,

Sounds like the ideological battle-lines are being drawn up to me ... winning the hearts and minds of a Nation's inherit "natural patriotism", is not something to be taken lightly ... especially when our natural tendency, as progressives, is to criticize and correct the misdeeds of that very same Nation.  That is often our singularly-focused 'Job One'.

We might take solace in the fact that "American Exceptionalism" has two-sides to the tale. But constantly hearing the harsh critiques about the Country that most, naturally want to take pride in, rarely fosters the far-reaching hope in the future, upon which our Nation was originally built.

Do you see the dilemma?

Can that exceptional founding hope of America be rekindled?  Should it be?  Is it outdated? Is "American Exceptionalism" simply very selective history-telling, which always puts our unique Country in the "best possible light"?  It seems the Conservatives have already taken their stand on the topic:  

Right or wrong, America our country, special among all nations, is "exceptionally" endowed "by our Creator" to follow our very abundant wealth-creating pursuits. It is that uniquely American opportunity for all, which still makes America "Great". And it is that "exceptional" freedom that must be protected from overreaching Government intrusion ... that would seek to re-distribute your wealth -- your happiness to somebody else.

Or so they will say ... so they will persuade folks, to vote against "their own best interests" once again.

Here are some deeper considerations from some objective thinkers, who have a thought or two, on our uniquely American opportunity, for Life, Liberty, and the endless Pursuit ...

Over the last two centuries, prominent Americans have described the United States as an "empire of liberty," a "shining city on a hill," the "last best hope of Earth," the "leader of the free world," and the "indispensable nation."

Most statements of "American exceptionalism" presume that America's values, political system, and history are unique and worthy of universal admiration. They also imply that the United States is both destined and entitled to play a distinct and positive role on the world stage.

The only thing wrong with this self-congratulatory portrait of America's global role is that it is mostly a myth. Although the United States possesses certain unique qualities -- from high levels of religiosity to a political culture that privileges individual freedom -- the conduct of U.S. foreign policy has been determined primarily by its relative power and by the inherently competitive nature of international politics. By focusing on their supposedly exceptional qualities, Americans blind themselves to the ways that they are a lot like everyone else.

This unchallenged faith in American exceptionalism makes it harder for Americans to understand why others are less enthusiastic about U.S. dominance [...]

The Myth of American Exceptionalism
The idea that the United States is uniquely virtuous may be comforting to Americans. Too bad it's not true.
by Stephen M. Walt, foreignpolicy.com  -- November 2011

What?  America is NOT special? But, but ... What about the American Revolution?  What about all the 'rugged individuals' that built this country brick by brick?  Valley by valley. Territory by territory.

What about that uniquely American "entrepreneurial spirit" that lures us all on, with the distinct possibility, no matter how practically remote, that

"We too, can each one day become rich ... if only we work hard enough for it ... if only we apply ourselves ..."

Isn't that modern-day crux of the "American Dream" broadly speaking, across most demographic groups?

That America is still the land of Opportunity ... for all ... Isn't THAT promise at its core, what makes us SPECIAL among all nations of the world ... ?

In its classic forms, American exceptionalism refers to the special character of the United States as a uniquely free nation based on democratic ideals and personal liberty. Sometimes this special character is inferred from the nature of American political institutions founded in the 1776-89 period–the declaration of independence (1776), revolution (1776-83), constitution (1787) etc. Thus the “revolution” and its aftermath freeing the US from British control are important in ideas of American exceptionalism. But often the political differences are said to be underpinned by material differences brought about by the wealth/resources of the United States, sometimes seen as a direct product of the freedom of the American people, but by others as the product of the inheritance of the North American continent’s abundant resources. This is the frontier version of the theory, and this and the ideas of social mobility and immigrant assimilation are closely tied to this set of ideas of American material prosperity. Many aspects of American history may be left out or distorted in the traditional narratives [...]

It is also important to realise that there is a “negative” version of exceptionalism, i.e. that the US has been exceptionally bad, racist, violent. While this is less a part of the common myths about American history, the attempt to compensate for American exceptionalism by emphasising unique American evils is equally distorting.  [...]

Some historians prefer the terms “differences” or “uniqueness?” Are these suitable substitutes? Whatever the terminology, the implications of American difference/uniqueness have long been debated. Some have said the difference was temporary, and eventually the US would be like other countries. Others have argued that American “specialness” stems from its political, intellectual, and even religious heritage, and is enduring.

The United States is often said to be a model which should be emulated by the rest of the world, but at other times it has been argued instead that the conditions which gave birth to the United States could not be reproduced elsewhere. Thus other countries are generally seen as trying to follow or catch up, but never do.

What is American exceptionalism?
Ian Tyrrell -- iantyrrell.wordpress.com

It seems generic labels can paper-over an abundance of historic abuses and inequities.  That banners can spur majorities to fall in line, as opposed to its alternative, falling out of favor.

When the sloganeers cheer on "My Country, right or wrong" ... it becomes much easier to ignore what's really wrong, and blindly look forward to that next inspiring "leader of the free world," once again turning yet another fabled-page on our long tortured history.

If the American Dream is still alive and well ... will there ever come a day, when as a nation we all collectively "wake up" from it?  To challenge it?  To objectively measure its results, for those who routinely follow its call, every-time the alarm clock rouses us towards yet another day's fruitless labor?  Seems unlikely, what with that 'endless chain of bills' being what it is and all ...

Will there every come a day when the uniquely compassionate and hard-working American people, learn to embrace, both the good and the bad that has been done in our names, by our Nation ... and resolutely vow to do Better next time ... for ALL our citizens ... and for the citizens of the world too ... Do better for those "not-so exceptional Nations" -- that we routinely choose to influence with our "unique way of life" ... be that influence, by the carrot, or by the ever-present stick.

Now, on that day, America would be truly Exceptional, in my opinion. May that day be quick in arriving.  When we all wake up, from the mythical American Dream ... til then, it shall no doubt remain, our Country, right and often very wrong.  In other words, very multi-dimensional, in scope, and in deed.

But who's really keeping score, anyways?  And who among nations, can match our overreaching Footprints?  And why should Americans care, when we each have our own impossible dreams to pursue ... such is the American Way.  (Just ask the nearest Conservative banner waver.)

Your Email has been sent.