Since Glenn Greenwald has misread my post on Obama and American exceptionalism in precisely the same way as commenter Malcolm Kirkpatrick – though from the opposite pole of factional animus – perhaps I should clarify (though other commenters had no difficulty decoding my meaning).
No, of course believing that America is “exceptional” is neither a necessary nor a sufficient proof of love of country. The wisest thing ever said about patriotism was said by Stepanos Orbelian in the 13th Century: “I love my country because it is mine.” That viewpoint makes it possible understand that other people might love their countries, too, and not want them to become mere dependencies or simulacra of one’s own.
Now, an American who loves his country can find, without stretching the facts, many things to admire about it. It is certainly exceptional in many ways: its wealth, its extent, its cultural and scientific and technical creativity, its capacity to draw “huddled masses” from around the globe and fashion their descendants into Americans, which in turn relates to the fact that its basis is a political rather than an ethnic or even geographic one: a Mayflower Yankee is no more “American” than – for example – a Luo/WASP hybrid from Hawaii. “All men are created equal” and “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” and “due process of law” and “free exercise of religion” are all principles to be proud of, and all deep in the country’s DNA.
That same American might find many things to be sad about, or even ashamed of – violence, the health care system, mass incarceration, the national anthem – without loving his country any the less.
As to the claim of “exceptionalism” in the stronger, almost eschatalogical sense in which someone like Mike Huckabee or someone like Bill Kristol pushes it – a country uniquely blessed by God and thereby entitled to impose its ways on the rest of the world – well, I can’t speak for the President, but for myself I find being a member of one chosen tribe quite enough for one lifetime, thank you very much.
If the President wants to appeal to a kind of national noblesse oblige in the “City on a Hill” tradition – to say that some kinds of evil or indifference are unworthy of the Land of the Free – that seems to me like a perfectly reasonable rhetorical trope, as long as you take it well mixed with water. It’s exactly how I feel about torture: yes, I know it’s done around the world, but it makes me sick to my stomach to think that America does it.
But all this is rather remote from the point of my post, which is that the Fox News Republicans have taken the (false) claim that Obama disbelieves in the exceptional nature of the American project and used it to make the (also false, though utterly different) claim that he does not love his country.
I thought it was a nice trick on Obama’s part to use exceptionalist rhetoric in support of the Libyan intervention, both because it ought to make it harder for Republicans to oppose the war effort and because it so grossly falsifies a key Republican talking point against the President personally. But, alas, mere facts, even wrapped in clever rhetoric, simply find no purchase in the Party of the Big Lie.