President Obama discussed American exceptionalism during his Syria speech. But he knows nothing of America’s true exceptionalism and its role in preserving freedom.
In the closing lines of his address to the nation attempting to justify the use of military strikes against Syria, President Obama showed yet again how little he understands (or values) America’s founding principles, which are essential to freedom.
The president said this:
America is not the world’s policeman. Terrible things happen across the globe, and it is beyond our means to right every wrong. But when, with modest effort and risk, we can stop children from being gassed to death, and thereby make our own children safer over the long run, I believe we should act. That’s what makes America different. That’s what makes us exceptional. With humility, but with resolve, let us never lose sight of that essential truth.
Here we pause for just a moment to remind you–and the president, of his earlier remarks regarding “American exceptionalism.”
“I believe in American exceptionalism, just as I expect the Brits believe in British exceptionalism; just as the Greeks believe in Greek exceptionalism.” Which at its core meaning is to say, he does NOT believe in exceptionalism at all. If everyone is exceptional, then no one is. As the word suggests, “exceptional” refers to something being unusual or an “exception” to the rule.
Does the president truly believes in American exceptionalism? Or was he merely using it as the tagline for a 15-minute commercial attempting to swing wildly unpopular opinion for his desire to start another military conflict in the Middle East?
American exceptionalism is not to say that the US is the world’s policeman or is unusual because it has economic or military strength. It does not mean that Americans are “better” than Obama’s Brits or Greeks–or anyone else for that matter. It doesn’t mean America deserves a larger seat at the world’s table of decision makers because we think we are special.
The true meaning of American exceptionalism can be traced back to the founding of the country and the values and principles that were infused into the Constitution as written in 1787. America was exceptional or an exception to the rule at that time because in an age of kings and queens and despotic rulers, a country was founded where rule would be by the consent of the governed not by a “divine right of kings” or a “mandate from heaven” claimed by despots.
At a time in the world’s history of serfs and subjects, existing by the grace and mercy of a liege lord or a sovereign, the American Declaration of Independence boldy declared that “We hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights.” Put another way, rights were recognized as existing in nature, as blessings from a Creator, not as privileges that are granted by a government. In America the government’s purpose is to secure these rights, not to grant them in exchange for political favors.
The US Constitution limits government’s power–establishing the principle of governing by consent of the people or the idea that Americans are citizens, not subjects. But this principle is lost on one such as Barack Obama. He views the US Constitution not as promoting freedom and individual liberty. No, to him, the Constitution is like “a charter of negative liberties” because it only states what the government cannot do to its citizens; it does not charge the government to take actions (such as redistributing wealth) on behalf of citizens.
Imagine the rights guaranteed by the Bill of Rights that you hold dear, whatever they may be (or all of them). Freedom of speech, freedom of the press, freedom to keep and bear arms in one’s own defense, freedom from unreasonable search and seizure, right to a jury trial, freedom from testifying against yourself, freedom from cruel and unusual punishment (partial list). To Barack Obama these things are “negative liberties.” They do not grant the government the power to do what it wants, these rights only provide people guarantees of freedom from government action.
Thus, to Obama, and those that think the way he does, the Constitution is not a great document. It is not great because it tells the government it cannot infringe on people’s rights. The Constitution is flawed because it does not empower the government to act on the behalf of some, at the expense of others. Examples of what progressive statists have in mind of what the government should be empowered to do are similar to the “rights” that the Soviet constitution offered its subjects–or the rights that FDR attempted to propose in a “Second Bill of Rights” in the 1940s, such as a right to employment, a right to a living wage, healthcare, housing, education and social security–even food, clothing, and recreation.
But Liberty is: the quality or state of being free (thank you Merriam-Webster):
a : the power to do as one pleases
b : freedom from physical restraint
c : freedom from arbitrary or despotic control
d : the positive enjoyment of various social, political, or economic rights and privileges
e : the power of choice
Because to give the kinds of things to people that progressive statists want, the government needs more power, not less. They need the power to tell you what to eat; what to put in your car–if you even get to have one; power to decide if you will receive medical treatment, or the power to kill you if it deems you are too expensive and too useless to keep around. They need power to tell you where you can live, how big of a house is too much, when you’ve made too much money, how much electricity you will be allowed to consume, and so on.
But these are not liberties according to the common sense definition above. Freedom and liberty exist when people are not told what to do–this is the exact opposite. To Barack Obama, the obvious definition of freedom and liberty doesn’t come about by limiting the government’s power over its people. To him those are “negative liberties” (even though they apply only to the government). To Barack Obama, liberty only exists when the government has the power to grant its citizens the material things that will seem to bring them happiness. And while some may claim this fits into definition “d” above, that is not true. The things that the government grants must be produced by or paid for by someone. The arbitrary seizure of property in order to redistribute it to someone else fits clearly into a definition of “arbitrary or despotic control.”
The meaning of actual freedom–that is the real world definition and not that of a learned constitutional scholar–matches the idea present at America’s birth: that freedom exists in nature and it is government’s job to secure it for their people. Barack Obama’s interpretation is more in line with the vision that governments must take more power in order to grant rights to their people. But this idea, despite being forwarded by self-proclaimed “progressives” as they like to call themselves, is quite regressive. It diverts us back to the world from which America emerged as an exceptional nation–a world where citizens are subjects rather than the masters of their own destiny that they can be in a free society.
Barack Obama does not identify with the values that were forged into the American constitution. These are the ideas that allowed individual freedom to take hold and propel the country to its present stature. These ideas and values are foreign to him. Leaving us to ask, if Barack Obama knows nothing of the true exceptionalism from whence America came, how can he claim the moral authority to lead its government?