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A Nation Like No Other
Why American Exceptionalism Matters,
by Speaker Newt Gingrich
(Click for Amazon book review)
OnTheIssues.org BOOK REVIEW:
The concept of "American Exceptionalism" will permeate the 2011-2012 GOP primary, and likely the 2012 general election as well. Newt Gingrich attempts to out-exception his GOP rivals here, by dedicating an entire book to the concept. We surveyed our non-pundit readers and discovered that the term itself has not yet entered the general voter lexicon -- so we will first define it and then analyze its implications here, in anticipation of its usage in upcoming debates.
American exceptionalism means that America has a unique status in the world today, as the sole superpower, and that U.S. policy should work towards recognizing and maintaining that unique status. In contrast to previous nations which ruled the world, America is non-imperialist: previous nations ruled "empires" by occupying territory for the gain of the occupying nation, whereas America establishes bases abroad to enforce the rule of international law and to secure democracy.
Gingrich's definition, the first to capitalize "Exceptionalism" and hence elevate the term to a formal policy, focuses on the necessary military buildup required to maintain America's unique role (p. 164), as well as on a spiritual basis as its underlying cause (p. 21 & 85). Gingrich previously authored a book, Real Change, expounding upon the need for a larger military; and wrote another book, Rediscovering God in America, outlining the spiritual basis of American society; this book joins those two themes together.
The GOP's interest in American exceptionalism counters Obama's rejection of the concept. When asked in 2009, Obama responded, "Sure, I believe in American exceptionalism in the same way the British believe in British exceptionalism and the Greeks believe in Greek exceptionalism." Republicans generally interpret that as meaning, "No, I don't believe in your version of American exceptionalism at all." The GOP infer in that disagreement a self-fulfilling prophecy that America is in decline; i.e., that by denying America's role as the sole international superpower, America will eventually doom herself to not being the sole international superpower.
Noam Chomsky and the Left view American exceptionalism as just another form of imperialism. Does it matter to the people of Saudi Arabia that our bases there "protect" them from enemies in common with their dictator's enemies? Do the people of Cuba feel like the U.S. military base at Guantanamo Bay is not a land grab like any other historical invasion? No, say Chomsky and others, all imperialists justified their invasions as for the good of the world, and probably meant it as much as America does today.
Gingrich chose to publish this book at the start of the primary campaign, hence positioning American Exceptionalism as the theme for his presidential candidacy. Gingrich is a history professor, and cites examples of American Exceptionalism from throughout American history. But Gingrich ignores the most relevant historical analysis, "The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers," by Paul Kennedy. Kennedy's 1987 book is the most well-known post-Cold War analysis of whether America should maintain an exceptionally large international military presence. Kennedy demonstrates that every society that did so -- from ancient Rome, through medieval Spain, up until pre-WWII Great Britain -- doomed itself to decline due to military overreach. Kennedy's analysis clearly warned the direct opposite of Gingrich's recommendation of American Exceptionalism: If America unilaterally maintains a large military abroad with the goal of outmatching the rest of the world combined, America will collapse economically.
We'll see in a few decades whether Gingrich or Paul Kennedy were right. But I suspect we'll see in a few months that Gingrich was wrong about making American Exceptionalism his campaign theme. Gingrich brilliantly implemented the Contract With America in 1984, with his hand solidly on the pulse of the American electorate. But now, not only is Gingrich's hand no longer on the electorate's pulse, but Gingrich seems to not even know where to find their wrist at all. This book just screams "out of touch with the American public."
-- Jesse Gordon, editor-in-chief, OnTheIssues.org, July 2011
Why American Exceptionalism Matters,
by Speaker Newt Gingrich.
Page last edited: Mar 30, 2012