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Election Day, Nov. 6, 2012 and American Exceptionalism

American Exceptionalism
American Exceptionalism

That icon of conservatism, Ronald Reagan, reminded us that "this every-four-year ceremony we accept as normal is nothing less than a miracle". Today, Nov. 6, 2012 is such a day. Reagan is pointing to the peaceful transition of executive power that the American constitutional republic carries out every four or eight years. This is one of the great achievements of the American Constitution. On the other hand, it is the bloody transition of power that has plagued mankind throughout its history. And even now in many parts of the world, most notably the Middle East, that condition still exists.

The great task for any modern constitutional democracy is to balance liberty and security. A main concern of the Founders was a suspicion and distrust of the centralization of government power. Tom Paine warned that “government is a necessary evil.” More recently Reagan said: "... government is the problem".

Even locally, here in California, there are American citizens like Debbie Bacigalupi running to un-seat a member of the democrat political class. She is among many that the Tea Party values have inspired. Debbie's politics espouse the traditional values of the original Founders such as personal liberty; political equality; individualism; popular consent; civil society; and religious freedom.

The Framers manifested these lofty ideals when they limited the power of the federal government by instituting the main principles of the U. S. Constitution, i.e. Federalism, separation of powers, and checks and balances. The idea was that the best kind of government was limited government. The Founders’ overriding ambition was for "liberty". It drips from the pages of all the men of letters at that time. And we are the heirs to its founding. Thus the point of limiting government is, in principle, to ensure and protect liberty.

And so the among the many issues at stake in this 2012 election is to decide whether to embrace the trend toward larger and more intrusive government or to choose to scale back government power? Did the last four years show an increase in government spending? Did the last four years show the use of arbitrary power? Did the last four years show an abuse of the unilateral power of the Presidency, i.e. executive privilege and administrative action? Did the last four years show a diminishment of American power by reorienting American foreign policy toward “leading from behind”?

Is this the “fundamental transformation” of which the Obama administration spoke four years ago? Does America need to be fundamentally transformed? Most emphatically not! Why not? Because to fundamentally transform a thing is to change it at its root and branch. Are there not fundamental principles that need no changing? Emphatically yes! Can we recognize them? Can we teach them to our posterity? Remember the Preamble to the Constitution: “We the people of the United States … secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”

Among the hallmarks of leadership is grace under pressure and the ability to inspire and negotiate. Is this evidenced in the present democrat President? It is character that is the feature most required for the Presidency. Yet do we, as the American electorate, know how to assess it? It is, after all, not mentioned in the Constitution as a qualification to be President. That is left to an informed citizenry to measure. But are the requisite critical thinking skills possessed by the body politic to do such an evaluation?

The American public prides itself on the idea that a government that is not watched can ultimately be corrupted by individuals of malicious intent. Yes, true enough. But it is not just malicious intent that is the problem. There is something even more insidious. Consider what Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis noted in 1928, "Experience should teach us to be most on our guard to protect liberty when the Government's purposes are beneficent. The greatest dangers to liberty lurk in insidious encroachment by men of zeal, well-meaning but without understanding."

And so in the interest of “healing the planet”, a leading idea of the liberal progressive Left is that America is too strong, too intrusive in the world, responsible for much that is destabilizing and reactive in other countries’ policies. Note that the present administration’s meme about Benghazi is that the anti-Mohammad video inspired the violence in the Middle East. But the subtext here is that it is the First Amendment that is the problem, because it enabled the video to be made and shown in the first place and therefore it is that First Amendment freedom that has to be re-thought and chastised. Is this the “fundamental transformation” of which the Left speaks?

And yet if America is“fundamentally transformed” so much is lost.

At a European Summit meeting in April 2009, President Obama was asked “Do you subscribe, as many of your predecessors have, to the school of American exceptionalism that sees America as uniquely qualified to lead the world?” President Obama replied, “I believe in American exceptionalism, just as I suspect that the Brits believe in British exceptionalism and the Greeks believe in Greek exceptionalism.” But isn't the President confusing exceptionalism for patriotism?

Is America Exceptional? If there is any way in which America can be defined as exceptional it would be as a measure of its contributions in military, economic, scientific and cultural matters. Thus what America has stood for over the last sixty years needs a recounting.

In terms of the military aspect, American exceptionalism is quite unique, both in terms of relative power, and more importantly, in terms of the use of that power. For example, at the end of World War II, the USA and USSR were the only two remaining, intact powers. True, Great Britain had held on in the world struggle but emerged a shadow of its former self.

At the end of the war the USSR had a large army in Europe, but no strategic air force or navy. The USA possessed, large armies in Asia and Europe, a large, battle-hardened navy, and vast numbers of B-29 strategic bombers. Also it alone had the Atomic bomb and the will to use it.

So what did America do with its preponderant military advantage? It began the largest de-militarization in the history of the world, and sent billions dollars to its defeated mortal adversaries to help them recover. And in all the years since, the USA has deployed it’s armies in response to aggression in Berlin, Korea, Vietnam – all of it Communist.

What about American “Imperialism”? Imperialism is when a country rules over other countries, and the entire point of an empire is for the ruling nation to pull resources and wealth from the subject peoples.

However, the exceptional quality of America comes from how it responded to its preponderant position. If America had been like any other power in the history of the world, the US would have used that monopoly of absolute military supremacy to plant its flag anywhere it wanted with little or no opposition. In addition, America did not use its atomic weapons in the very hard fought struggles of the Korean and Vietnam wars. Moreover, America after First Gulf War of 1991 did not keep possession of the Kuwaiti oil fields, and yet from the Left, the war was about oil.

America has military bases all over the world, it’s true, and some have said it is an empire. Yet in the countries that house American military bases, America does not only, not steal the resources of those nations, but rather pumps vast amounts of money into those countries. When countries like the Philippines in 1986 and Uzbekistan in 2005 decide they no longer want those bases, the bases are removed, unlike the USSR in Hungary in 1956 and Czechoslovakia in 1968 where thousands were slaughtered. Furthermore, America pays for whatever resources it is sold. That benefits America and its trading partners. Free trade is the economic and moral antithesis of imperialism.

As a world economic power, Obama frequently chides his own country saying the US has less than 5 percent of the world’s population, yet uses the majority of its resources. But what is forgotten is that America produces nearly a third of the world’s total economic output, the largest of any country. America, with 300 million people, produces about $15 trillion dollars in GDP. It nearest competitor China, with a population of 1.3 billion (four times the US) produces half that amount, about $8 trillion dollars in GDP.

In terms of scientific contributions, scientists from many parts of the world write research papers. These papers produce scientific citations. These citations are “units” of science, that is, a measure of how much ground-breaking science is being performed. The tally in terms of science papers that are cited per year the US contribution is 286,430 papers cited. Japan, the closest rival, accounts for 80,000 papers; Germany 73,100 papers; Great Britain 65,320; France 52,960; and China 47,190.

Moreover, all of the images of the deep structure of galaxies and nebulae from the Hubble Space Telescope are provided to the world at the expense of the American taxpayer. In addition, almost all of the life-saving drugs administered around the world are the product of American pharmaceutical research. The American university system is the envy of the world. Nowhere is there more innovative science being done, and nowhere is there anything like the numbers of people receiving advanced scientific and engineering degrees.

Furthermore, the list of American breakthroughs over the years is, well, quite amazing. For example, refrigeration; the electric telegraph; anesthesia; assembly line production; the airplane; the bulldozer; extragalactic astronomy; the liquid-fueled rocket; EEG brain topography; the digital computer; nylon; nuclear weapons; the transistor; supersonic flight; the video game; cable television; radiocarbon dating; the atomic clock; the credit card; the nuclear submarine; the laser; carbon fiber; the integrated circuit; the weather satellite; the birth control pill; the communications satellite; Kevlar; the compact disc; the jumbo jet; the personal computer; email; the Heimlich maneuver; the space shuttle; the graphic user interface; and the global positioning system. And incidentally, America landed on the moon two generations ago, and also mapped the human genome about a decade ahead of schedule.

Culture is an expansive concept, but in terms of the 50 top-grossing movies of all time they are the product of American studios. The top 50 movies are American movies, spoken in English. In terms of music albums sold, American Michael Jackson is the only one to sell over 100 million worldwide. The following six best-selling albums are all American, with Andrew Lloyd Weber, coming in at number eight.

If the question is which country produces the international culture? The answer would have to be America.

Therefore, based on the aforementioned evidence, America is not only exceptional in one or two of these areas, but has dominated all of these fields – military, economic, scientific and cultural – in a way never before matched in history. Thus America is simply quite exceptional. This we celebrate today on Election Day.


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