Palin's cynical embrace of American exceptionalism

Blog ››› ››› SIMON MALOY

The Washington Post's Karen Tumulty wrote a smart piece this morning that identifies what will likely be the running theme of the 2012 presidential primary season: American exceptionalism. It's the name given to the concept that America is, among the many extant and departed nations of the earth, uniquely superior. It's hardly a controversial idea -- one of the requisites for nationhood, after all, is national pride -- but it often crosses the line into jingoism, which happens when adherents to the philosophy of American exceptionalism seek not to define it but use it as a weapon. That's where Sarah Palin comes in.

Will Bunch was among the first to peg Palin's strategy of parlaying the "emotional trump card" of American exceptionalism into a anti-Obama 2012 message, and Palin's latest book, America By Heart, shows her almost single-minded focus on the concept. Indeed, it is the basis for the book's conclusion, which is its most nakedly political segment. Palin writes on page 266-267:

The question, going forward, is how? How do we embrace our exceptionalism at home and abroad? How do we take this great awakening among the American people and turn it into a positive force for reclaiming our country and our heritage. Like so many Americans, I have been thinking about this a lot lately.

The answer is closer than many of us realize. We don't need a manifesto. We don't need a new party. We just need to honor what our country is and was meant to be. And we need to remember the common sense most of us learned before we went to kindergarten.

What Palin wrote here means absolutely nothing. It's just buzzwords interspersed with rote assertions of American greatness, and she might be the only person I've ever seen laud the "common sense" of preschoolers.

But you're not going to get a better explanation of her political philosophy: Don't think ("We don't need a manifesto"); don't challenge yourself ("We don't need a new party"); just follow me because I, more than anyone else, think America is the greatest ("We just need to honor what our country is and was meant to be").

It's purely emotional, to the deliberate exclusion of critical analysis and policy heft. And it's no coincidence that the pages that precede this emotional appeal are devoted to attacking "educated liberals" like President Obama whose "average-to-below-average view of our country" is informed by "the opinion of European elites."

Palin is still a Fox News contributor and, for the moment, a media figure. If and when she makes the transition from commentator to candidate, expect her speeches to closely follow America By Heart's conclusion. On the surface, her pitch looks like an appeal to the greatness of America and the pride of its citizens. But scratch just a little bit and you see that she's cynically plying the resentments of voters who just don't consider President Obama a true American. And there's nothing exceptional about that.

Sarah Palin
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