Sunday, July 10, 2011

The Exceptionalism of One-Termers

Luck is dumb. Exceptionalism is noble (and deserved).

That's what the last intellectual in the White House learned about exhorting the electorate to live within its means. It sounds reasoned and centrist. But it fires up a base like cold water on a jobless recovery. This is not a winning re-election strategy no matter how consoling the fireside sweater or how cool the poise maintained in the spotlight glare.

I was reminded of this in a recent essay by legal scholar Stephen L. Carter called Lost in Afghanistan:
"We expect to win them all (wars). When we don't we look for someone to blame."

Mr. Carter was responding to Obama's decision to resist labeling America's longest war as a victory. He was taking the "W" out of the win column on the premise that such conflicts defy traditional notions of won and lost military conflicts. This was the opening foray into the coming campaign season launched by Mitt Romney, well before the current recovery lost its mojo.

Because he couldn't be labeled as weak, incompetent, corrupt, or born in Kenya, I found it an interesting choice that Obama's inclusive and relativist view of mutually assured superiority was the new foreign invasion -- threatening to push our "shining city upon a hill" off the map. Said Obama:
“I believe in American exceptionalism, just as I suspect that the Brits believe in British exceptionalism and the Greeks believe in Greek exceptionalism.”

What's more curious? The rap that Obama's governing style contradicts the very notion of his historic election -- living proof of American exceptionalism.

It would be one thing if this was boilerplate jingoism. But exceptionalism is so much more than a war strategy. Who's going to be offered their job back after the acquisition goes through? Me of course. Who's going to defeat death for all but the most infirmed or my name isn't Medicare?  I've got my ticket punched and my number's ripe for the the Powerball picking.

On a personal level exceptionalism is as good for individual ambition and self-initiative as it's a detriment to personal sacrifice for the greater good -- a notion that reverberates within the defenders of our freedom -- not us actual civilian freedom dwellers.

Could there even be the idea of an America devoid of exceptionalism? A level-headed approach and a temperate demeanor  works well in certain social laboratories like court rooms, lecture halls, and board rooms. But in the cauldron of a contested election the qualities are perceived as aloof, and recast as defeatist. That narrative for a sensible, shining city has yet to be spoken for.

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