There’s an interesting point in the last section of the document, though, which goes to the definition of the phrase "American Exceptionalism" that we’ve been hearing a lot recently. A couple weeks ago, I attended a forum at the Hudson Institute with a star-studded panel of conservatives arguing, basically, that conservatives had deep philosophical ideas ("foundations") whereas liberals had none. But the panel was hardly about conservatism at all; with some exceptions, it was devoted to a lengthy exegesis of how liberals or "the left" don’t believe this or that. We don’t believe in the Declaration of Independence, one speaker (a signatory to the Princeton Principles) declared, and above all, over and over, I heard that we don’t believe in "American Exceptionalism."
Now I happen to think I believe in American Exceptionalism. I believe that it matters that this is the first and only country founded on an idea and an ideal, of equality and justice. As an American, I believe we have a distinctive role in the world, a distinctive obligation, some of which is inherent and some of which is derived from our postwar and post-Cold War status. I think this country’s great -- though not that whatever it does is automatically great just because it’s America. So I listened to all this and thought, "I don’t know what these people are talking about."
Now the last section of the Princeton Principles is entitled, "American Exceptionalism and the Way Forward." What does that have to do with gay marriage? Evidently, it goes something like this: While the rest of the Western world is loosening the bonds of marriage, we Americans "are the only country with a "Marriage Movement." "The great task for American exceptionalism in our generation," they write, "is to sustain and energize this movement for the renewal of marriage." If the rest of the world zigs, exceptionalism means we zag.
And of course, you can see where one would go with this, segregation in the past and the death penalty today are also examples of American exceptionalism, if it is defined simply as things that make us different from the rest of the developed world. Is that in itself justification for them?
One of the responses to Schmitt's post was by my friend Roger Keeling, and I think he made some very good points:
The rightwing, as we should all know by now, has a well-oiled system for finding and devloping new ways to "frame" issues to their liking. They know how to create "memes" that can take root throughout the rightwing world. They constantly experiment with new arguments, running ideas up the flag pole endlessly, constantly searching for something -- anything -- that will gain a little traction and be useful in advancing their agenda of gaining and holding power, and winning elections.
More often than not, those ideas are laughable, and doomed almost out of the gate. We always laugh about their latest idiotic language or framing, and sometimes predict that it's a sign they're sliding downhill. But then the idiotic wanna-be-meme vanishes, to be remembered only if you care to wade through yellowing newspaper clippings. (Seems like an examination of George H. W. Bush's two presidential campaigns would give you lots of examples like that).
But ... these guys are thinking like nature does when it comes to, say, seed production. An insect lays a gazillion eggs, yet only one if 10,000 survives. But that's enough. So the same for them: they EXPECT a high failure rate. But when one sticks, the benefits are huge. Think for a second, and you'll remember the earliest (and arguably most successful) example: the conscious development in the mid-1960s of the "Eastern liberal media establishment" meme, later shortened to just "liberal media." That it NEVER had any meaningful basis in fact meant nothing; it proved an incredibly powerful vehicle for undermining opposition, holding their own troops in tight order, and as a means of "playing the refs" when it came to news coverage.
Many other examples both big and small abound: "Compassionate conservativism," "litigation CRISIS," "the war on Christmas," "tax-and-spend liberalism," "political correctness," and a thousand more over the years.
And now the term "American exceptionalism" is perhaps joining the list. Doesn't it seem like a variation of the Atwater / Rovian concept of taking your enemy's best trait and using it as a weapon? In this case, taking a liberal (and mostly academic) concept and turning it into a badge of honor?
And of course you didn't know what they were talking about! That's the genius of it: you hear the term, and immediately try to fit their usage with what you already know of the term (and the historic understanding we liberals have of it). But they don't care about that at all! The term's very ambiguity -- its lack of specific meaning to non-academics -- and its intrinsic nationalistic tone are almost perfect for their purposes. Its actual meaning counts for nothing.
I don't know that it can be proved or ever will be, but I'd bet dollars for doughnuts that one of the rightwing's many thinktanks (perhaps the Hudson Institute itself) popped up with this at some recent point -- probably just weeks or months ago -- and you are now seeing its implementation. They are co-opting the term, and will use it to bash us with. "Liberals don't believe in American exceptionalism!" The average person on the street hears that, and it doesn't matter WHAT the actual meaning of it ought to be, their minds will fill in the blanks ... and never to our advantage.
If this was the first place the term "American exceptionalism" was bandied about in the rightwing -- and it very well may be -- then, Mark, you were Present for the Creation. Congratulations! (And, yeah, it COULD have been the very first place it was ever used. You say that it was being used right and left. Don't assume that it is just an idea that worked its way into the rightwing universe; it's entirely possible that nearly every single person who used it that day was prepped to do so).
How to defend ourselves ... and, perhaps, turn the table and put them on the defensive? Well, we could start -- I think -- just the way you've done. Without giving the rightwingers any credit at all for anything, we could just try to convince a ton of prominent liberal writers and figures to start using the term "American exceptionalism" in a POSITIVE way (that is, talking about our history as the world's first true democracy, or our invention of the concept of the National Park, or our willingness to endure a trial of blood in order to end slavery, or anything else we have to be proud of and that is not common in other nations). Co-opt the word right back from them.
As it happens, Digby has a post today which touches on a related subject:
The Republicans have figured out something that the Democrats refuse to understand. All political messages can be useful, no matter which side has created it. You use them all situationally. The Republicans have been adopting our slogans and memes for years. They get that the way people hear this stuff often is not in a particularly partisan sense. They just hear it, in a sort of disembodied way. Over time thye become comfortable with it and it can be exploited for all sorts of different reasons.
In this instance, there has been a steady underground rumbling about stolen elections since 2000. Now we know that it's the Republicans who have been doing the stealing ---- and the complaining has been coming from our side. But all most people hear is "stolen election" and they are just as likely to paste that charge onto us as they are onto them. It's like an ear worm. You don't know the song its from, necessarily, but you can't get it out of your head.
We have created an ear worm that the Republicans are going to appropriate --- and they will use it much more aggressively and effectively than our side did. They are already gearing up for it. As I mentioned a month or so ago, Karl Rove was at the Republican Lawyers Association talking about how the Democrats are stealing elections.
The Democrats could have innoculated against this when the Republicans stole the 2000 election, but they didn't. Had they been screaming bloody murder for six solid years about Republican vote fraud, it would be much more difficult for the GOP to suddenly glom onto this issue. Instead, it was a mere underground drumbeat that was heard, but only in the vaguest way. Now the CW about stolen elections is going to be turned on us --- and we will be on the defensive fighting both the charge of electoral fraud and being soft on criminal Mexicans because we need illegal aliens to stuff the ballot boxes for us.
If we allow the Republicans to define this next election as they usually do, it will be about immigration and voter fraud. [...] They will attempt to create a national story, which will be exploited in the last days of the campaign in various individual ways through their media infrastructure. If they lose it will be blamed on dishonest vote stealing Democrats and illegal aliens. If they win it will be be because they fought back against the dishonest vote stealing Democrats and illegal aliens. Unless the Democratic party wakes up and figures out a way to both define the election to our advantage and counter this move, it's going to be much harder to dislodge those GOP incumbents than we think.
hostile to science
lacking in empathy
lacking in public spirit
out of control
Thanks to: Breeze, Chuck, Ivan Raikov, Kaiju, Kathy, Roger, Shirley, S.M. Dixon
i've got a little list...
Steven Abrams (Kansas BofE)
Howard Fieldstead Ahmanson
Roger Ailes (FNC)
Alan Bonsell (Dover BofE)
Bill Buckingham (Dover BofE)
George W. Bush
Bruce Chapman (DI)
The Coors Family
William A. Dembski
Leonard Downie (WaPo)
John Gibson (FNC)
Fred Hiatt (WaPo)
James F. Inhofe
Philip E. Johnson
by Joel Pelletier
(click on image for more info)
Stephen C. Meyer (DI)
Judith Miller (ex-NYT)
Sun Myung Moon
Elspeth Reeve (TNR)
Martin Peretz (TNR)
Richard Mellon Scaife
Susan Schmidt (WaPo)
John Solomon (WaPo)
Richard Thompson (TMLC)
Bob Woodward (WaPo)
All the fine sites I've
Be sure to visit them all!!
Arthur C. Clarke
Daniel C. Dennett
Philip K. Dick
Stephen Jay Gould
"The Harder They Come"
Ursula K. LeGuin
The Marx Brothers
Michael C. Penta
Michael Powell & Emeric Pressburger
"The Red Shoes"
"Singin' in the Rain"
Talking Heads/David Byrne
Hunter S. Thompson
"2001: A Space Odyssey"
If you read unfutz at least once a week, without fail, your teeth will be whiter and your love life more satisfying.
If you read it daily, I will come to your house, kiss you on the forehead, bathe your feet, and cook pancakes for you, with yummy syrup and everything.
(You might want to keep a watch on me, though, just to avoid the syrup ending up on your feet and the pancakes on your forehead.)
Finally, on a more mundane level, since I don't believe that anyone actually reads this stuff, I make this offer: I'll give five bucks to the first person who contacts me and asks for it -- and, believe me, right now five bucks might as well be five hundred, so this is no trivial offer.