Friday, May 18, 2012

American Exceptionalism? Mr. Coffman, what ever were you thinking?

In his apology for saying President Obama is, “just not an American,” Congressman Mike Coffman (R) from Colorado went on to clarify what he really meant by saying, “I don’t believe the President shares my belief in American Exceptionalism.”  It would be an exceptionally fair question to ask Mr. Coffman just what he means by that phrase.   American Exceptionalism is one of those phrases with so many connotations that additional context is required to correctly interpret what someone means.

Was Mr. Coffman referring to that meaning in which American Exceptionalism refers to the theory that the United States is different from other countries in that it has a specific world mission to spread liberty and democracy? Or that it refers to the United States being a place that offers opportunity and hope for humanity for the world?  If so, perhaps he has forgotten how President Obama’s inspirational address to the Muslim world in Cairo on June 4, 2009 helped set the stage for the Arab Spring and the overthrow of entrenched dictators around the Muslim world, or how his adroit handling of the crisis in Egypt helped bring about peaceful change, or how his planning and judicious use of US air power helped freedom seeking Libyan’s turn the tide against Muammar GaddafiThis is not to mention the excellent efforts of this administration to stand up democratic governments in Afghanistan and Iraq.  . 

I suspect Mr. Coffman’s remark was more in keeping with those who view American Exceptionalism in the sense that we are some how morally superior to the rest of the world; the biblical "shining city on a hill" metaphor.  Used in this sense it has a distinctively “Christian” ring and a nationalistic flavor. It is the type of interpretation that, if taken to extremes, could substitute for “Manifest Destiny”, This was the phrase used to justify a century of slaughter and the conquest of native North Americans.  If this iteration of American Exceptionalism was the context behind Mr. Coffman’s remarks than the implication is that he views President Obama as being less Christian and less American. If so,  Mr. Coffman was restating the very same sentiments for which he was offering an apology.   What Mr. Coffman was apologizing for was for forgetting to use his dog whistle.  Here is the article.

Mike Coffman Apologizes For Claiming Obama Is 'Just Not An American'
Mike Coffman, a Republican congressman from Colorado, issued an apology on Wednesday after a recording of comments he made about President Obama's origins aired on a Denver news station.
According to KUSA-TV, the NBC affiliate that obtained the audio of Coffman's comments, the congressman made his initial remarks at a fundraiser on May 12.
"I don't know whether Barack Obama was born in the United States of America. I don't know that," Coffman said. "But I do know this, that in his heart, he's not an American. He's just not an American."
Coffman released a statement Wednesday backing away from his comments.
"I misspoke and I apologize,” Coffman said in the statement. "I have confidence in President Obama’s citizenship and legitimacy as President of the United States."
He also clarified the intent of his comments: "I don’t believe the president shares my belief in American Exceptionalism. His policies reflect a philosophy that America is but one nation among many equals."

American exceptionalism is the theory that the United States is different from other countries in that it has a specific world mission to spread liberty and democracy. In this view, America's exceptionalism stems from its emergence from a revolution, becoming "the first new nation,"[1] and developing a uniquely American ideology, based on liberty,egalitarianism, individualism, populism and laissez-faire. This observation can be traced to Alexis de Tocqueville, the first writer to describe the United States as "exceptional" in 1831 and 1840.[2] Historian Gordon Wood has argued, "Our beliefs in liberty, equality, constitutionalism, and the well-being of ordinary people came out of the Revolutionary era. So too did our idea that we Americans are a special people with a special destiny to lead the world toward liberty and democracy."[3]
The specific term "American exceptionalism" was first used in 1929 by Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin chastising members of the Lovestone-led faction of the American Communist Party for the heretical belief that America was independent of the Marxist laws of history "thanks to its natural resources, industrial capacity, and absence of rigid class distinctions."[4][5]
Although the term does not necessarily imply superiority, many neoconservative and American conservative writers have promoted its use in that sense.[1][6] To them, the United States is like the biblical "shining city on a hill," and exempt from historical forces that have affected other countries.[7]
Since the 1960s, postnationalist scholars have rejected American exceptionalism, arguing that the United States had not broken from European history, and has retained class inequities, imperialism and war. Furthermore, they see most nations as subscribing to some form of exceptionalism.[8]

 American exceptionalism is the idea that the United States and the American people hold a special place in the world, by offering opportunity and hope for humanity, derived from its unique balance of public and private interests governed by constitutional ideals that are focused on personal and economic freedom. [snip]
Some interpret the term to indicate a moral superiority of Americans, while others use it to refer to the American concept as itself an exceptional ideal, which may or may not always be upheld by the actual people and government of the nation. Dissenters claim "American exceptionalism" is little more than crude propaganda, that in essence is a justification for a America-centered view of the world that is inherently chauvinistic andjingoistic in nature. Historians may use the term to simply refer to some case of American uniqueness without implying that an innate superiority of Americans resulted in the development of that uniqueness.
In the wider historical view, American exceptionalism is the term for a popularized cultural mythos that delivers a benevolent explanation for why and how American society succeeded. It replaces the original phrase "Manifest Destiny" which was commonly employed at a time when it became apparent that the absolute destruction of the native American Indian was unstoppable. "Manifest Destiny" cast an esoteric righteousness over the reality of ethnic cleansing that was being enacted on the ground. In one way or another, "exceptionalism" (and ideas like it) attempt to assert either a "divine destiny" of American history (see US nationalism) or are otherwise (for sake of discussion) simply focusing on subjective and ideological factors, while avoiding the material ones; particularly if they seem too obtrusive or general.

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