Posted by: Jeff | February 26, 2010

American Exceptionalism As The Preservation Of Delusion

Damon Linker’s take-down of this essay in National Review (the latter of which extols the basically conservative virtues of American exceptionalism while implying that the agenda of Obama and the entire liberal movement is somehow a threat to essential American-ness) is a magnificent bit of writing and well worth your time. I almost don’t want to excerpt from it, because you should just read the whole thing. But I found this passage especially perceptive and poignant:

Yes, America’s principles are admirable, and the vast majority of liberals admire them deeply. But it is most certainly not the case, as Lowry and Ponnuru piously write, that America’s creed of liberty—including the principle of equality of opportunity and respect—was “open to all” from the beginning. On the contrary, it was closed to many until quite recently. Indeed, it remains nearly closed to this day in the impoverished, blighted ghettos of West Philadelphia, just blocks from my office at the University of Pennsylvania, where thousands of pampered students live and study in a profoundly different world—one structured to provide them with all the knowledge and skills they’ll need to take full advantage of the countless unequal opportunities that our country places before them.

Like many conservatives, Lowry and Ponnuru appear to be untroubled by the chasm that separates these two worlds. Sure, it’s a source of “political tension.” But it’s nothing to be overly concerned about, because, they tell us, a 2003 Gallup poll showed that “31 percent of Americans expect to get rich, including 51 percent of young people and more than 20 percent of Americans making less than $30,000 year.” That’s right: Lowry and Ponnuru think it’s a very good thing indeed that millions of Americans are deluded about their future life prospects—in fact, these senior editors of National Review give every indication of hoping to perpetuate the delusion.

And let’s face it: they have a point. The United States would not benefit from the kind of social and political unrest that would follow from the shattering of its citizens’ economic pipe dreams. Conservatives like Lowry and Ponnuru respond to this fact by upholding the fiction that America has always been a land of equal opportunity for all. Liberals respond by crafting policies that they hope will bring the country into closer conformity to the ideal of equal opportunity for all. That’s one way to define the division of labor that separates our nation’s parties at this moment in our history. What should disgust all historically informed citizens is the smarmy and ignorant insinuation that the liberal response—the one that seeks to make the United States a fairer and freer nation for more of its citizens—is something less than authentically American.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: