Mandeville, LA – Exclusive Audio and Transcript – Richard Gamble writes at The American Conservative yesterday, and I believe this is totally relevant, “American Exceptionalisms.” Remember earlier in the show today I played you a clip from a video of Michelle Obama taking the neocon international American exceptionalism version and applying it to home and applying it here to domestic issues. The decepticon, neocon version of this is that if freedom is in peril anywhere in the known universe, then we don’t have freedom here, and therefore we have to beat all our plowshares into swords, we have to wage wars, we have to occupy, we have to empire, police, do whatever is necessary to make sure that freedom is safe anywhere where there’s matter, especially if it’s not in this country. That’s the American mission, okay. Mrs. Obama took the exact same American exceptionalism and applied it to domestic affairs. Check out today’s audio and transcript for more…
Begin Mike Church Show Transcript
Mike: Richard Gamble writes at The American Conservative yesterday, and I believe this is totally relevant, “American Exceptionalisms.” Remember earlier in the show today I played you a clip from a video of Michelle Obama taking the neocon international American exceptionalism version and applying it to home and applying it here to domestic issues. Let me play it for you, for those of you that might have missed it. The decepticon, neocon version of this is that if freedom is in peril anywhere in the known universe, then we don’t have freedom here, and therefore we have to beat all our plowshares into swords, we have to wage wars, we have to occupy, we have to empire, police, do whatever is necessary to make sure that freedom is safe anywhere where there’s matter, especially if it’s not in this country. That’s the American mission, okay. Mrs. Obama took the exact same American exceptionalism and applied it to domestic affairs. This is a video that was shown before she came on stage.
[start audio clip]
Michelle Obama: If any family in this country struggles, then we cannot be fully content with our own family’s good fortune, because that is not what we do in this country. That is not who we are. That is not who we are.
[end audio clip]
Mike: [mocking] “That is not who we are. Any family that struggles, we can’t be content with our own good fortune.” Really? Really? Seriously? Think about that for just a moment here. Then that means that we’re all just a bunch of communists. We’re in a giant commune. This is the exact same thing that is exported to the Middle East. Richard Gamble writes about this exceptionalism. Gamble, by the way, is an FOB, friend of Birzer, Brad Birzer.
In 1765, John Adams unwittingly penned one of the proof texts of American exceptionalism. “I always consider the settlement of America with reverence and wonder, as the opening of a grand scene and design in Providence for the illumination of the ignorant and the emancipation of the slavish part of mankind all over the earth.”
This one sentence sums up what we have come to assume is America’s calling: to be a beacon to the world and a liberator on a mission of universal redemption. This was heady stuff for 18th-century colonists with the chutzpah to resist the British Empire. Perhaps such a powerful meta-narrative helped them triumph over impossible odds.
But the simple story of the American identity gets complicated when we discover that Adams edited out these musings when he extended his thoughts a short time later for publication as his Dissertation on Canon and Feudal Law. When his son John Quincy came upon the excised words, he regretted the omission and exclaimed, “Who does not now see that the accomplishment of this great object is already placed beyond all possibility of failure?” Charles Francis Adams in 1851 called his grandfather’s sentiments “the most deserving of any to be remembered.” If John Adams had reservations about American exceptionalism—and he did—later generations got over them.
Today, the United States owes more to the hubristic exceptionalism of Adams’s descendants than to anything bequeathed to us by the Founders of the republic. Hardly a trace of humility survives among the boasts of collective excellence we encounter with numbing predictability from neoconservatives and their allies. [Mike: Don’t leave the libs out of this, you guys. The libs are even more guilty of this because they try and poison all minds with this infection. You just heard Mrs. Obama say, [mocking] “Nobody can be satisfied if there’s one family out there living in a refrigerator box. We’re all doomed.”]
The speed with which this neo-orthodoxy has been fastened onto the popular mind is astonishing. [Mike: Then he goes on to cover how Sarah Palin came to be an American exceptionalist. Why? Because it’s big business and it pays big. This explains the lack of zeroes in some of our paychecks.] Obama’s artful equivocation struck Palin as saying that no one is special if everyone is special. By relativizing America’s sense of itself, she charged, the president stood apart from an enduring tradition that united patriotic Democrats and Republicans into a single vision of the Redeemer Nation.
Mike: That’s what we are, we’re a redeemer nation. No one is allowed to fail. If there’s any dummy out there, then we’re all stupid. If there’s any impoverished hack or hick or hayseed out there, then we’re all hicks and hayseeds. In other words, we must all be dumbed or impoverished down to the lowest common supportable denominator. If that makes us all paupers reliant on Obama and his grand schemes or some Republican version thereof, then so be it. I posted this in today’s Pile of Prep. Read the whole thing. Then Gamble gets into how all this may have come about. People have asked me, “Mike, when did this exceptionalism stuff, this stuff you talk about all the time, when did it get started?” I actually trace it back in What Lincoln Killed: Episode I to the conflict between Andrew Jackson and John C. Calhoun over South Carolina nullification. Gamble goes back to the work of William Graham Sumner on this issue.
More than a hundred years ago the Yale sociologist noticed the damage being done to the old exceptionalism. His classic 1899 speech “The Conquest of the United States by Spain” affirms the old exceptionalism in a way that might prove useful in combatting the new exceptionalism that bolsters nationalism and imperialism while undermining what’s left of federalism.
Sumner deftly captured his thesis in his title. America had militarily defeated Spain on land and sea. But with that victory, the United States had been conquered by the old European lust for empire. [Mike: See chants of “USA, USA” on floor of RNC last week for evidence of this.] By its adventures in the Pacific and the Caribbean in the Spanish-American War, the U.S. was not venturing on something new but on something very old and even un-American. The old imperialism gave birth to the new exceptionalism.
“The point which I have tried to make in this lecture is that expansion and imperialism are at war with the best traditions, principles and interests of the American people, and they will plunge us into a network of difficult problems and political perils, which we might have avoided, while they offer us no corresponding advantage in return.”
Mike: That’s right. Once you start believing you’re actually able to rid the world of poverty, the unintended consequences, as Mises wrote, of human action in this endeavor are going to multiply. You’re never going to stop them. Once government starts interfering in things like education or healthcare, it creates more problems, unintended consequences. Then it rushes in to fix the next unintended consequence, like childhood obesity. If it starts paying attention to childhood obesity, it will create another malady and we’ll be told we must be taxed and stolen and impoverished from to fix. This cycle doesn’t end. This is why you just have to say no. You’ve got to wipe the damn thing clean. Dismantling this monster is the only possible hope. Boy, does Richard Gamble add some intellectual and historical gravitas to the effort.
There is much in Sumner’s long speech of contemporary relevance. His indictment of President William McKinley could apply as easily to Bush or Obama. [Mike: Listen to this, folks, especially you decepticons out there, you empire builders, you settlers of the world, those of you that want a Messianic crusade to shove Jeffersonian democracy down the throats of anyone that lives, eats, sleeps and breathes in the Middle East. Listen up. Be humble for a moment, please, and listen.] “A statesman could not be expected to know in advance that we should come out of the war with the Philippines on our hands, but it belongs to his education to warn him that a policy of adventure and gratuitous enterprise would be sure to entail embarrassments of some kind.”
Sumner believed that the plunge into war and territorial expansion pointed first and foremost to a failure of statesmanship, the craven use of foreign policy to wage domestic party warfare, the “truckling to popularity” at the expense of “moral courage.” But he knew that we cannot simply blame our leaders. A dangerous public appetite for spectacle and pomp made cynical political exploitation of imperialism possible.
“The thirst for glory,” he said, “is an epidemic which robs a people of their judgment, seduces their vanity, cheats them of their interests, and corrupts their conscience. My patriotism is of the kind which is outraged by the notion that the United States never was a great nation until in a petty three months campaign it knocked to pieces a poor, decrepit bankrupt old state like Spain.”
Mike: Think about it. Chanting, “USA! USA!” and spiking a football in the end zone, yeah, we’re big and bad. We’re big and bad because we have better military hardware and kick-butt special ops guys than you do. That is imperial hubris. That is what presages the end of empires. Ladies and gentlemen, I don’t tell you these things because I enjoy bashing parties, as some of you routinely accuse me of. I tell you these things because as I learn them and as I read these texts and read history, they inform me of the path that the future holds for us if we continue down this course. It’s as simple as that. Woe be to those who forget history and therefore are doomed to repeat it. Oh, but we’re immune from all that.
End Mike Church Show Transcript