Taking Exception

Last night the Seven Dwarfs took to the stage to begin the process of deciding who gets to spend the next year or so reminding us why we should be afraid of Barack Obama.  The hopefuls really didn’t spend a lot of time trying to differentiate themselves from each other; the overriding theme seemed to be “Don’t worry, I’m white and Republican and committed to beating the black guy.”

One of the things Obama is likely to get hammered on between now and next November is the apparently heretical idea that the United States might not be the absolute best number one at every single thing it sets its mind to.  And that maybe, just maybe, we might actually want to try to get along with other countries instead of lording over them how much better we are.  Nope, the USA was forged by the hand of God himself to be the greatest, most wonderful, most kick-ass country the world has ever seen (with sincere apologies to Israel), an attitude summed up by the pithy phrase “American exceptionalism.”

Now I have no problem with someone believing this is a great country.  We’ve got plenty of TV channels, the sports are good, and we’re can reasonably criticize the government without the possibility of ending up in a very dark room at an undisclosed location.  That we have it better than a lot of other countries is an inarguable fact.  So go ahead.  Be proud of your country.  Want it to be great.  But that doesn’t have to mean every other country in the world needs to put us on a pedestal.  And it sure doesn’t mean ignoring our faults.

Look at it this way:  if the boat you’re on is sinking, do you want to be told it’s the best boat in the world by the grace of God, or where the damn life boats are?  Seems like common sense to me.  But it also seems like common sense that a man who attends Catholic church services and has a Hawaiian birth certificate isn’t a secret Muslim terrorist, and look at the legs on that thing.

Saying this country makes mistakes isn’t unpatriotic; it’s honest.  Saying we’ll work with other countries isn’t weakness; it’s diplomacy.  But ever since Reagan, we haven’t been interested in that.  We’ve demanded flag-waving, God-fearing cheerleading.  We’ve wanted someone who’ll watch the kid flap his wings on top of the monkey bars and tell him, “Don’t worry, you’ll fly one day.”

And what’s really troubling is that so many of these people want to take us backward.  Let’s undo the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, let’s undo Roe vs. Wade, let’s undo everything that makes us have to actually tolerate people who look and love and think differently than we do.  Their ideal vision of America is a time when the nebulous “they” knew their places, and their brand of exceptionalism is reserved for those they believe are deserving of it.

But what these people are talking about isn’t exceptionalism, it’s arrogance.  It’s the sheer, bull-headed, “My country right or wrong” attitude that makes so many other countries look at us like the guy who shows up at a party and says what music you should have played, what beer you should have served, and really, why don’t you move this party at his house?  Problem is, most people don’t know the rest of that quote:  “if right, to be kept right; and if wrong, to be set right.”

Or maybe they do know the full quote, and simply read “right” as having a capital R.


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