Newt’s new book is subtitled “Why American Exceptionalism Matters.” I’ve blogged occasionally about American exceptionalism, usually to defend the position and to suggest that President Obama is not a true believer. Over the course of debating the issue with liberal readers of my blog, I have moved a bit to the left and have come to believe that the issue is just one on a long list of so-called wedge issues that hyper-partisans waste time and energy bloviating about. (“Bloviating” is one of Bill O’Reilly’s catch phrases.)
Recently, while enjoying a Happy Hour with my great friend Robert in Austin, we compared the argument over American exceptionalism with the contentions (Franklin Graham) that President Obama may or may not be a Christian. Although Robert and I took the typical red-blue positions, I believe these positions are genuine, not knee-jerk.
My position that President Obama is not a genuine Christian is based on the premise a genuine Christian thinks that the only way to heaven is through Jesus. And a person with a worldly perspective like President Obama (he famously said that he believes in American exceptionalism, just as the Brits believe in British exceptionalism and the Greeks believe in Greek exceptionalism) is not going to believe that the billions of human beings around the world who are not exposed to Christianity are doomed. That is not in Obama’s essence.
Robert’s position (I think) is that perhaps my premise is wrong – i.e., President Obama truly believes in Jesus, but doesn’t accept the “fire & brimstone” preaching. (See my earlier posting regarding the nascent movement amongst Evangelicals asking, “What if there is no hell?”) Who says that friends should avoid discussions of religion and politics? Robert and I had an enjoyable, enriching discussion, and left his bar Icenhauer’s as good of friends as ever.
But my point is that arguing over American exceptionalism or whether Obama is a true Christian does not move us in a positive direction or help us find common ground. All it does is divide us. It reminds me of Bill Bennett’s classic response when asked to comment on the validity of studies that show IQ differences between blacks, whites, and Asians. Bennett said that he doesn’t waste his time trying to evaluate those studies because the answer is irrelevant. Public or personal policy does not need to know whether races have different IQs. Similarly, President Obama should be judged on his public policies, not on whether he genuinely believes in the concept of American exceptionalism or strict Christian orthodoxy.
In addition to Newt’s new book, there have been a couple of other developments to put the issue of American exceptionalism back in the news. First, Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg opined during an Egyptian TV interview that Egypt might do better to emulate the up-to-date South African constitution rather than America’s 223-year-old model:
- “You should certainly be aided by all the constitution-writing that has gone one since the end of World War II. I would not look to the US constitution, if I were drafting a constitution in the year 2012. I might look at the constitution of South Africa. That was a deliberate attempt to have a fundamental instrument of government that embraced basic human rights, had an independent judiciary… It really is, I think, a great piece of work that was done. Much more recent than the US constitution – Canada has a Charter of Rights and Freedoms. It dates from 1982. You would almost certainly look at the European Convention on Human Rights. Yes, why not take advantage of what there is elsewhere in the world?”
Then, a few days later an op-ed piece in the NT Times explained “Why China’s Political Model is Superior.”
- “Many have characterized the competition between these two giants as a clash between democracy and authoritarianism. But this is false. America and China view their political systems in fundamentally different ways: whereas America sees democratic government as an end in itself, China sees its current form of government, or any political system for that matter, merely as a means to achieving larger national ends…. The fundamental difference between Washington’s view and Beijing’s is whether political rights are considered God-given and therefore absolute or whether they should be seen as privileges to be negotiated based on the needs and conditions of the nation. The West seems incapable of becoming less democratic even when its survival may depend on such a shift. In this sense, America today is similar to the old Soviet Union, which also viewed its political system as the ultimate end. History does not bode well for the American way. Indeed, faith-based ideological hubris may soon drive democracy over the cliff.”
Gingrich’s book A Nation Like No Other provides a more comprehensive description of American exceptionalism than is typically given by pundits in columns or sound bites. Conservative pundits typically use glowing terms like liberty, equality, and a republican form of government whereas liberal pundits use disparaging terms like nationalism, xenophobia, and superiority complex.
Gingrich begins his book by describing the American Creed in the glowing terms used by conservative pundits, but he adds a heavy dose of religion and God. He also asserts that continued immigration plays an important role in American exceptionalism, and suggests that assimilation of these people is not a problem because most of them come to America already with the values that are consistent with the American way of life.
Separate chapters in the book elaborate on liberty, faith and family, work, civil society (a thousand points of light), rule of law, and safety and peace.
Gingrich concludes by prescribing ten steps to restore American exceptionalism:
- Learn America’s history;
- Speak out;
- Question governmental authority at every turn;
- Teach the children around you;
- Insist that schools teach responsibility and the fundamentals of American citizenship;
- Defeat and replace bad judges;
- Reestablish the work ethic;
- Celebrate American holidays;
- Volunteer in your community; and
- Run for office.
Having recently read Ameritopia by Mark Levin, I found Newt’s book to have a similar subject-matter, but Newt presented the material in a more accessible, less abstract manner. He makes a powerful, cogent argument in favor of American exceptionalism that goes beyond the jingoistic, nostalgic calls for nationalistic superiority.