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Of Thee I WHAT?
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President Obama's new book, Of Thee I Sing, praises Sitting Bull, whose warriors are responsible for the death of General George Custer.

The royalties from the book will benefit a scholarship fund for the children of American service members who were killed or disabled in battle. Does Obama really not get it that children grieving the loss of a father or mother on the field of battle are not going to be interested in celebrating an historical figure who killed a soldier on the field of battle, and slaughtered his men before scalping and mutilating their bodies? Does he think these kids are going to want the royalties from such a book?

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Ben, I appreciate your measured thoughts. I think we are not so far from being on the same page, but I think we see things instinctively somewhat differently. America is clearly not superior in every way, but it is superior in many ways. It may not be to everybody's taste (it wasn't for T.S. Eliot), but objectively America has created the more wealth and liberty than mankind had ever known previously.

And I'm sorry, but without America WWII would have turned out very, very differently. Same with the Cold War. Heck, there wouldn't even have been one, because the Soviets would have run over the rest of the world. Might have been a dystopian world where a third spoke Russian, a third German, and a third Japanese.

There may be other exceptional countries, but none in the same way America is exceptional. Our founding was unique in the history of the world. Surely someone like the Frenchman de Tocqueville would not have written what he did about any other country in the world. Tell me where I'm off on this? Certainly England's greatness and goodness and contribution to the world is fantastic, but it is not the same as America. So everyone should be able to agree about the distinctive nature of America's contribution to the world, although they might disagree to its value. We're not talking about how proud one is of their own country. I think that's great and applaud that. But that is a myopic way of looking at things. We are talking about the unique principals and ideas that founded our country and that made it a beacon of freedom and hope for the entire world.

For gosh sakes, man, my grandfather came from Sicily in the early 1900s, and America was the only country he thought whose streets were paved with Gold. Sure the reality was different, but the IDEA of America fired his dreams. I would wager, a lot, that there is not another country in the world that could do that. America is indeed exceptional in a way no other country in the world is. The context of Obama's statement here isn't really important. But the idea that America is better in some objective ways than any other country offends him. He is a man firmly of the left.

And I'm glad you don't see America's founding as illegitimate. That just means you are not a raging leftist. There are many, yes many, on the left, while they might not use that word, look at America because of it's founding and many sins, with a severely jaundiced eye. A rational person can clearly see the difference between an ideal and the nasty stuff of reality, but that doesn't make those ideals any less valuable in that real world.
Which is why I didn't object to the comment; although for some reason it sounds different in Obama's mouth then it would if, say, David Hackett Fischer(a favorite social historian) had said it. Kind of a "LBJ sure can't go to China" thing.

To be fair, what a lot of people mean by American Exceptionalism is the belief that America is somehow more different from most other countries then they are from each other.

For instance several have noted that America's identity is more abstract and less dependent on local folkways.
Sure, Jason, but look at how people reacted to Obama's comment about American vs Greek or English exceptionalism. For many people, it's not okay if everyone is just proud of his own country; we want everyone to acknowledge that we're the *best*.
At the same time, Ben, I think a lot of Europeans confuse with arrogance even a pride that is no more then a pride I would expect Europeans to have in their respective countries.
I apologize in advance for the length.. I hope this adequately addresses the points about Obama/leftism.


Mike, I fear you've lost me. How could our country's founding be "illegitimate"? (Well, ignoring how King George and the Parliament may have viewed it as "illegitimate"). Sure, our leaders have made mistakes, and it's possible that we've benefited from unjust wars or policies, but that doesn't mean that our country or the idea of our country is somehow illegitimate.

With your posts, Mike, one minute I'm scratching my head about what leftists are said to believe, but the next I'm nodding right along. You see, I won't roll my eyes when you talk about America's greatness... but I will roll my eyes if you talk about our superiority. We *are* an exceptional country, but we're not the only one. I've no doubt that if I was born and raised in England, I'd be just as proud about my English heritage as I am now of my American heritage. And why shouldn't I be? England was nearly the front line in both World Wars, for a long time it has been one of the strongest, richest, and most-free countries, and the English have often been at the forefront of the push for human rights.

So, while the US has done many great things, it would be improper to say that we've been given the right to act like the US is superior to all other countries, just as it would be ludicrous to expect the citizens of other countries to be pleased if we act in our best interests at their expense. Let's face it - the US is exceptional, but if we compare it to other countries worldwide, it's not the most religiously free, or economically free, or free from corruption. And I'd love for us to fix those things.

If it is true that leftists roll their eyes when you talk about America's "greatness", they've probably got a reason. Americans have a reputation for being boorish - acting like we won World War 2 by ourselves and saved poor little Russia and England from the Nazi threat, or saying that ours is the bestest country and you're crazy if you prefer England or Denmark or Sweden, because everybody knows that America is #1. And on a political level, this sort of "hoo-rah" nationalism can promote pushing other countries around - sometimes for good, sometimes not. This is a reasonable reason to be wary when someone talks about "American exceptionalism", especially if he thinks freedom and overthrowing governments go casually hand-in-hand.

No one wants to take away your constitutional government, not even Thomas Friedman. Did you read what he actually said? He drew a distinction between fantasizing about being China for a day, having the power to fix our problems, and reality, where he doesn't want to be China for a second, he just wants our democracy to work with the same kind of focus. Democracy is slow and frustrating at times. Don't you agree?

I wonder - do you really hear what "leftists" say, when they speak?


Terrell, is there anything exceptionally good about the Cambodian massacres? I mean, the Greek and English cultures are famous for their contributions to democracy, philosophy, and human rights - but I can't think of anything about Khmer Rouge that could inspire the same sort of pride. Please read Obama's full answer to the question about "American exceptionalism" and see if the values he touts are compatible with the idea of "Cambodian exceptionalism":


"PRESIDENT OBAMA: I believe in American exceptionalism, just as I suspect that the Brits believe in British exceptionalism and the Greeks believe in Greek exceptionalism. I'm enormously proud of my country and its role and history in the world. If you think about the site of this summit and what it means, I don't think America should be embarrassed to see evidence of the sacrifices of our troops, the enormous amount of resources that were put into Europe postwar, and our leadership in crafting an Alliance that ultimately led to the unification of Europe. We should take great pride in that.

And if you think of our current situation, the United States remains the largest economy in the world. We have unmatched military capability. And I think that we have a core set of values that are enshrined in our Constitution, in our body of law, in our democratic practices, in our belief in free speech and equality, that, though imperfect, are exceptional.

Now, the fact that I am very proud of my country and I think that we've got a whole lot to offer the world does not lessen my interest in recognizing the value and wonderful qualities of other countries, or recognizing that we're not always going to be right, or that other people may have good ideas, or that in order for us to work collectively, all parties have to compromise and that includes us.

And so I see no contradiction between believing that America has a continued extraordinary role in leading the world towards peace and prosperity and recognizing that that leadership is incumbent, depends on, our ability to create partnerships because we create partnerships because we can't solve these problems alone."
Well obviously some norms are equivalent and others are not. The difference between how different tribes cook their food really isn't that important-except to chefs.
Absolutely
I would expect him to condemn Pol Pot, but on what grounds. That was maybe Cambodian exceptionalism to them, same as Greek exceptionalism and British exceptionalism. I am trying to figure out what it is that makes everyone so exceptional that none are exceptional and we are back to every cultural norm is morally equivalent or are there some that aren't and are we willing to name them and say why they aren't, outside of the evil American culture that is.
Ben, I would hardly say there are "few" liberals who hate America and at the least liberals do seem to give their sympathies in inverse proportion to how closely a given faction represents what seems to be the archetypical picture of America. And they do so with excruciating consistency.
Terrell,

I think this idea, that Obama sees all cultural norms as morally equal, is blatantly false. Do you really think he wouldn't condemn Pol Pot? Obama has taken a more anti-torture stance than Bush, so the implication that he sees human rights as just a cultural phenom is out of whack. Likewise, there are conservatives who feel that liberals/progressives are attacking their culture - they probably don't feel that Obama sees all cultures as equivalent.
America's Founding, etc.
Ben, you have some good thoughts. But if hate is too strong a word then there are several other words that could apply, all implying that America's founding was illegitimate, for all the reasons you state. So the very idea of America is suspect to many, yes many, on the left. The essence of this was President Obama’s reply to a question about American exceptionalism when he was in Greece last year. When asked if he believed this, he said sure, just like he thinks most Greeks believe in Greek exceptionalism, and most Brits believe there country is exceptional. This is quintessential leftism. Modern liberals, at least the 20% that are still willing to call themselves that, roll their eyes when one talks about America’s greatness.

And progressives just don’t want to progress America away from its initial sins. No, they want to change the fundamental nature of what America stands for, which is individual liberty and constitutionally limited government. They hate, and yes that is the right word, the limits of constitutional government. Thus they invented something called a “living constitution.” It’s why someone like Thomas Friedman, a liberal in good standing, can speak approvingly of the communist government of China. None of the bothersome checks and balances getting in the way of them making whatever they want to happen in what they deem the best interest of their citizens. He was speaking I think of the global warming hoax (yes, that’s the right word) and Congress’s inability to pass the cap and trade bill.

Yes we conservatives think slavery was pure evil, but if the Founders did not compromise there would have been no United States of America, and there might still be slavery in the southern portion of North America today. The 18th Century is not the 21st. And we’re all glad for the progress America has made to live up to the ideals of its founding, but not away from them. Egalitarianism and redistribution of wealth were not, are not, nor should they ever be American ideals, and those are twin pillars of the left’s agenda, which would include Mr. Obama.
It seems to me to be an unpleasant habit of modern ideologymongers to demonize individuals merely for being on the opposite side. When this extends to history it becomes even more distasteful.

I remember how angry the Left was when Reagan visited the German cemetery. I always thought their sentiments were uncivilized and I still do. The people there were soldiers and died as soldiers and we have no way of knowing whether any given one of them deserved to be blackballed in death except that they fought on the wrong side(we can estimate that some did, but that is a different story). Therefore there was no reason not to give them the customary tribute to a fallen enemy and assume God can sort the wheat from the chaff.

Historical blackballing of people merely for fighting for a cause one dislikes, is as dishonorable a practice as mutilating an enemies corpse on the battlefield, and hasn't the excuse of the stress of the moment. It is worse, in fact; a reputation is worth more then a body. If you wish to blackball someone you should have a good reason.
Actually Terrell, surprisingly few of the complaints mentioned were the cause of the revolt, and many took place in the natural course of it. Much of the grievances against the crown were the normal customs of eighteenth century warfare. And when you think about it, it resembles complaining in the Declaration that the British used muskets just a little bit.

The Continental Congress also made alliances with Indians and used foreign mercenaries. They tolerated the suppression of dissent with mob violence. And saw fit to ally with the French who were far more despotic then the British. And while they never used press-gangs that I recall, they certainly did often let the army supply itself by foraging.
Technically that's true, Michael as the land was given to the Sioux by treaty.

However much of that is a Meme. If the land is "there's" then there must be a limit to it. Or do they own the whole continent? The whole world? Did their lordship extend to the right to kill farmers merely for settling on "their" land?

Unless you define what "their" land means, you cannot say it was "their" land.

One problem for several generations was that it was a clash between cultures with different definitions of property rights.

Furthermore it was not a contest between the rapacious whites and the avatar-like indians. Sioux were notorious robbers and had been plundering anyone whom they could for ages. It was more a contest between two empires one of whom happened to be bigger.

Be that as it may, Michael, your proposal is as ungracious as Anne's complaint. Let the dead rest.
On another note
How come when I read all the grievances in that sacred writ we call The Declaration of Independence that there is a seemingly coherent stream of overintrusive and non-responsive government? No one ever reads that part anymore. The focus seems to be on the life liberty and pursuit of happiness but not much discussion of what that happiness is. Seems to today that the LL&H is license to whatever self destructive libertinism people want to pursue. Mr Jefferson defined the LL&H pretty well in the list of grievances. Quit doing this stuff to us and that will be LL&H.

Makes me wonder what it was Jefferson et al had in mind for me to do about it. Is that in there somewhere too?
I'm okay
with a worthy opponent. Patton himself was an admirer of Rommel. Patton would have been irritated with a lesser adversary, but then again that's an easy viewpoint if you're the general.

What I think Obama suffers from is the poerspective that all cultural norms are morally ( the word really ought to be ethically as in according to that which ought to be but we'll live with morally ) equivalent.

Is is really true? Are we here willing to admit that all cultural norms are morally equivalent? Really? So then how is it we come to condemn Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge so easily? Was that a morally equivalent cultural norm. It is or it isn't.
Custer
As a South Dakota resident, I have long thought that is was a mistake to name one of our state parks after Custer, and even started a petition once to change the name to one chosen by the Sioux tribal council. It was their land that Sitting Bull was defending for all those just war advocates.

Anne Morse seems to have little knowledge of the sad history of the native Americans and our government's atrocities like Wounded Knee.
Mike, "hate" is definitely too strong a word. Sure, there are a few, *few* liberals out there who truly do hate America, just like there are some conservatives who feel the same way. Unfortunately, these extremists get a disproportionate amount of publicity: for every flag-burning liberal, there's a Westboro Baptist Church.

Politically, I'm moderate, but I'm to the left of most people here, so I feel capable of addressing this. When we on the "left" criticize America, we do so because they think America can do better. Yes, the US is a flawed nation - just like every other nation - because it's made up of flawed individuals. Personally, I think it's great that we "sought to progress America beyond its flawed founding". Would you want to live in America where only landowners could vote, where slavery was legal and racism was institutionalized? I'm proud of America's growth as a country, and I want to see us continue to be a place where people can come seeking freedom and liberty, where every person's vote matters and each person can make a difference.

So when we treat people differently based on race, gender, class, or religion, or when we use our country's military might in unjust wars, when we protect those who abuse the poor or downtrodden, these are the times when we've strayed from the ideals of the Declaration of Independence. Attacking these abuses isn't attacking America - it's defending it.
Anne, what's wrong with the concept of worthy opponent?

If we follow that line, any praising of the warlike virtues of anyone fighting against the United States is disloyal. It would even keep me from reading Hornblower, come to think of it.
Custer and Obama
Maybe you're right, Christopher, but this is indicative of the basic nature of President Obama. He is a man of the Left, a man who thinks America is fundamentally flawed, not just wrong in certain instances. He is the very essence of the Progressive, a movement started well over a hundred years ago that sought to progress America beyond its flawed founding. How else could Michelle Obama say that when her husband was nominated to run for president that it was the first time in her adult life that she was proud of this country.

Whether Fox News made a mistake is irrelevant. What this does is cumulatively add to the narrative of Obama being too "liberal." Remember he ran for office as a different kind of politician, the hopey changy thing. Two years in even the most apolitical Americans know that was a load of crap.

Most Americans, again even those who are apolitical, believe in American exceptionalism. They believe America is fundamentally good, not flawed, regardless of slavery or the injustice visited upon Indians. Every Fourth of July I am amazed that probably half of my co-celebrators vote for Democrats. They don't have any idea how much the left, broadly speaking, hates America and the traditional values it was founded on.

You may think "hate" too strong a word, but I challenge anyone to review the statements and writing of what we know as "the left" since the French revolution and they will see that traditional values based on the Judeo-Christian ethic denigrated at every turn. America has always embodied those, and thus for the left is always suspect.
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