Thursday, September 12, 2013

American Exceptionalism, Mr. Obama, Mr. Putin

Whoever wrote the op ed for Vladimir Putin appearing in today's New York Times did a masterful job and credit must go to Mr. Putin for being smart enough to sign it.

In his last paragraph he addresses what must be in the minds of many Europeans and Africans and South Americans: Americans think of themselves as special. American conservatives,  in particular, have bally hooed this idea that Americans are "exceptional" in today's world and throughout history. 

What this leads to, Mr. Putin is saying, is the idea that Americans, being exceptional, ought to follow their own star and act in exactly whatever way they see fit, because they have some special vision, not shared by mere mortals elsewhere on earth.

When Mr. Obama used that phrase during his Tuesday evening remarks, it rang out to Mad Dog, just as it did, apparently, to the Russians. "That is what makes us exceptional," must have been a slap in the face to the Russians, and the Brits. We are better and different and wiser and more clever than you, so we do exactly what we want to do.

Of course, Mr. Obama was doing the thing Democrats do--he was trying to co opt a phrase all the Fox people love, and show he is the biggest gun in town. Nobody can accuse the Democrats of being wimps, although the Republicans do, every day.

Mad Dog is not saying America should confine itself to whatever the United Nations decides, but Mad Dog agrees fully it is a dangerous think to insist you are somehow different, meaning above, all other people on the planet.

The Germans told themselves they were the Master Race. British aristocrats told themselves they were exceptional--the cream that rises to the top, naturally. Southern plantation owners thought they were meant by God to rule over the Black race and the poor white trash who did not own plantations.

Mad Dog does note, and humbly, because he has no thorough going background in world history, but, to Mad Dog's knowledge, no other country in the history of the planet has ever fought a war to free a derided, enslaved underclass, at such cost. To this date, as far as Mad Dog knows, more Americans were killed during that Civil War than in all the wars the nation has fought, combined.  

So, in that history, we are different. But that doesn't mean we are exceptional in 2013. 

We are just living here in Lake Woebegone, where all the children are above average.


  1. Mad Dog,
    Putin was sounding so diplomatic and reasonable until he threw in the part about the opposition forces being responsible for the attack and cautioned about the rumor that Israel could be next..Not a good run for the President when Vladimir is showing you up in the measured and reasonable department..

  2. Maud,

    You are quite right to focus on the lie in that otherwise reasonable sounding piece. Of course, we here in America believe Assad and the Russians are lying about who used the weapons. But we believed Saddam had chemical weapons by the truckload. What do any of us know? Nevertheless, I am with you--in my ignorant gut, I think Putin lies.
    His point about the arrogance of exceptionalism and it's toxic nature is a good one.

    Mad Dog