In his appeal for support for his foreign policy that calls for threatening Syria with an air strike unless they dismantle their chemical weapons in compliance with international laws and supervision, President Obama used the term “exceptionalism.” Russian President Putin seized upon the term, and challenged it. According to some, that sent Ronald Reagan into a graveside spin.
The audience for the speech was American citizens, but of course everyone was listening, including the former KGB officer who is now President of Russia. That is either irony or hypocrisy, or both.
“American exceptionalism is the theory that the United States is "qualitatively different" from other nations. In this view, America's exceptionalism stems from its emergence from a revolution, becoming what political scientist Seymour Martin Lipset called ‘the first new nation’ and developing a uniquely American ideology, ‘Americanism’, based on liberty, egalitarianism, individualism, republicanism, populism and laissez-faire. This ideology itself is often referred to as ‘American exceptionalism.’”
As with all such ideas, there is not uniform agreement. Having traveled the world throughout my career, and having taught students from all over, I can tell you that it is humbling to visit places and to witness extraordinary accomplishment where you were told it didn’t exist.
The fact is that developed nations and even some second tier nations are capable of accomplishing extraordinary things inspite of their shortcomings.
Americans have one of the freest nations on Earth, but what we do with our freedom, and how we perform to optimize return on national resources is a variable. We can actually underperform, and end up with results equal to or similar to what appear to be lesser forms of government.
That may be the case today. You see you can’t have a perpetually dysfunctional congress without having negative consequences. You cannot have an appetite for war that exceeds the nation’s economic capacity to support that foreign policy without negative consequences.
Now, we have had a string of bad luck with foreign policy and government following President Clinton. President Clinton’s administration produced favorable economic results for awhile, but that bubble burst coincident with the dot.com bubble bursting.
Then, we had terrorist attacks and deficient responses that took its toll. We are trying to recover, but a hostile Congress is holding America back.
So, Putin observed this situation and decided to challenge American exceptionalism. He is a sore loser, because even while America has struggled under its own political dysfunction, Russia struggled even more.
Now, going forward, in the spirit of American cooperation and collaboration that is a lost art, the opportunity is here to demonstrate exceptionalism by acts of good will and deeds of accomplishment.
Taking a dose of Russian medicine is distasteful, but if it awakens American spirit to do some soul searching and reality checking, that is a good thing.
Congress is struggling to keep the government in business as a backdrop to all of this. Factions are trying to take away a solution to America’s need for health care for all citizens without a solution or improvement. That undermines American exceptionalism more than anything.
Watching children being gassed to death by the Syrian military is like watching Congress deny American children better protection from rampant gun use in America, don't you think?