A Brief Look Into ‘American Exceptionalism’

America’s conservative base criticize President Obama for not sharing in their view of American Exceptionalism.  They taut their argument as, “He just doesn’t get it”.  Jon Stewart of The Daily Show pointed out that it is not only the President who “doesn’t get it”, but the voters as well.  This left Stewart to ask, “Getting it? What is it? isn’t it just a substitute generic for whatever you project onto it? I mean, as pronouns go, it’s among the vaguest. It won’t even choose a sex!”  But what is it about American Exceptionalism that only Republicans and Tea Partiers “understand?”

Exceptionalism is defined as the perception that a country or society is “exceptional”, unusual, or extraordinary in some way over all other countries.  So what do Conservatives see that the rest of us don’t?  In what way are we exceptional?

Are we “Exceptional” in educating our children?  As of December, 2009, Programme of International Student Assessment (PISA) released their report ranking the performance of 15-year old students in Reading, Math, and Science Literacy.  American came in 25th in Math, 17th in Science Literacy, and 14th in Reading proficiency.  As a side note, Shanghai ranked 1st in all three categories.  So the answer is: No, we are not exceptional in educating our children.

Are we “Exceptional” in Global Competitiveness?  The World Economic Form reported in their Global Competitiveness Report the US ranked 4th.  Switzerland ranked 1st in Global Competitiveness.  So the answer is: No, we are not exceptional in global competitiveness either.

Are we “Exceptional” in Economic Freedom?  The conservative Heritage Foundation reported their rankings of Global Economic Freedom and found the US ranked 9th.  Hong Kong grabbed the 1st place for this category.  So the answer is: No, we are not exceptional in economic freedoms either.

America is not exceptional at granting equality of freedoms.  Republicans continue their policy of curtailing the rights of women, homosexuals, and the poor.  The Guardian reports on a 15-year old from Mississippi who is being accused of murder after having suffering a still birth.  Republican Gingrich strongly touts his Defense of Marriage Act.  And, The Salon reports  on how the Republican Party is pushing for “repealing Medicaid FMAP Increase”.  Republicans have also promoted the privatization of Medicare and Social Security, essentially gutting these programs.

So we are left to ask, where are we “Exceptional” and in what ways are we “Exceptional”?  I suppose that since we have we spend 20 time more on military programs than the next twenty five combined, we could claim “American Exceptionalism” in military might.  With a minimum of 8 times as many people in prison than the next five countries combined, we could say that we are exceptional in that such large segments of our society are convicts.  The failed War on Drugs and failed War on Poverty has produced the highest murder rate than the next five countries combined.  While Republicans view any reasonable firearm restrictions as tantamount of abolishing the 2nd Amendment, Republicans like Sharon Angle talk about 2nd Amendment Remedies.

Sharon Angle, “You know, our Founding Fathers, they put that Second Amendment in there for a good reason and that was for the people to protect themselves against a tyrannical government. And in fact Thomas Jefferson said it’s good for a country to have a revolution every 20 years. I hope that’s not where we’re going, but you know if this Congress keeps going the way it is, people are really looking toward those Second Amendment remedies and saying my goodness what can we do to turn this country around? I’ll tell you the first thing we need to do is take Harry Reid out.”

And we hear from Republican Presidential hopefuls like Michelle Bachmann that she wants residents of her state “armed and dangerous” over President Barack Obama’s plan to reduce global warming “because we need to fight back.”


Considering Angle and Bachmann are two examples of conservative voices who are making the claim of American “Exceptionalism” and criticize anyone not aligned with the Republican Party as not “getting it”.  What is there to get?  The “American Exceptionalism” to which they refer to has nothing to do with being advanced or excelling at anything.  Rather, their “American Except-ionalism” refers only to what laws and set of morals they wish to impose, “except” for them.  While teachers, policemen, and firefighters are being labled as “greedy”, those who are casting this judgement are typically making 4 times as much in salaries.  And let us not forget that these salaries are tax payer funded.  Those who condemn raising taxes to balance state or federal budgets, severly slash “entitlement” programs such as Medicaid, while recieving tax payer funded health insurance.  School, Police, and Fire department budgets are being slashed at, to make room for tax cuts and tax breaks for businesses.  Is this really the kind of American Exceptionalism we can all believe in?