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Wednesday, May 25, 2011

President Obama and American Exceptionalism

Some critics have said that President Obama is insufficiently enthusiastic about American exceptionalism. Two articles suggest that, whatever his rhetoric may be, he actually embodies the idea.

Carl Cannon writes at RealClearPolitics:

"His worldview is dramatically different from any president, Republican or Democrat, we've had," chimed in Mike Huckabee. "To deny American Exceptionalism is in essence to deny the heart and soul of this nation."

But there is something discordant about this critique, just as there is about a black scholar using the lingo of the 1960s to attack the first black president of theUnited States. It's actually a classic form of cognitive dissonance, a point underscored this week by the thousands of adoring Irish citizens who came to see the U.S. president. In other words, whatever Obama says or does not say about American Exceptionalism, he is its living embodiment.

"Standing there in Moneygall, I couldn't help but think how heartbreaking it must have been for that great-great-great grandfather of mine, and so many others, to part -- to watch [the] Donegal coasts and Dingle cliffs recede, to leave behind all they knew in hopes that something better lay over the horizon," he said Monday.

"When people like Falmouth boarded those ships, they often did so with no family, no friends, no money, nothing to sustain their journey but faith -- faith in the Almighty; faith in the idea of America; faith that it was a place where you could be prosperous, you could be free, you could think and talk and worship as you pleased, a place where you could make it if you tried," Obama added.

"And as they worked and struggled and sacrificed and sometimes experienced great discrimination, to build that better life for the next generation, they passed on that faith to their children and to their children's children -- an inheritance that their great-great-great grandchildren like me still carry with them. We call it the America dream."

Shelby Steele writes in The Wall Street Journal:

What gives Mr. Obama a cultural charisma that most Republicans cannot have? First, he represents a truly inspiring American exceptionalism: He is the first black in the entire history of Western civilization to lead a Western nation—and the most powerful nation in the world at that. And so not only is he the most powerful black man in recorded history, but he reached this apex only through the good offices of the great American democracy.

Thus his presidency flatters America to a degree that no white Republican can hope to compete with. He literally validates the American democratic experiment, if not the broader Enlightenment that gave birth to it.

He is also an extraordinary personification of the American Dream: Even someone from a race associated with slavery can rise to the presidency. Whatever disenchantment may surround the man, there is a distinct national pride in having elected him.

How can the GOP combat the president's cultural charisma? It will have to make vivid the yawning gulf between Obama the flattering icon and Obama the confused and often overwhelmed president. Applaud the exceptionalism he represents, but deny him the right to ride on it as a kind of affirmative action.

A president who is both Democratic and black effectively gives the infamous race card to the entire left: Attack our president and you are a racist. To thwart this, Republicans will have to break through the barrier of political correctness.

In this light, expect Republicans to talk about Senator Marco Rubio as a potential vice presidential nominee. Like Obama, he embodies the American Dream, and he has spoken eloquently about American exceptionalism.