Thursday, May 31, 2012

Recognizing problems is not the same as apologizing for America


I suppose there is a sense in which former Secretaries of State are considered above the political fray. Maybe it's for this reason that the endorsement of Mitt Romney by former George W. Bush Secretary of State, Condoleeza Rice, is considered news. But I hardly think it's a "man bites dog" story. Gee, we didn't see this one coming.

In endorsing Mitt, she said that America's strength in the world comes from the fact that anyone can rise and do great things, adding that that is "the truly exceptional nature of this country."

I don't have a dictionary handy, but when one describes something as "exceptional" in this context, I'm inclined to think they mean America is unique in this way, that only in America can "anyone" rise to do great things.

I even recall President Obama saying, as he launched his 2008 presidential bid, "For as long as I live, I will never forget that in no other country on earth is my story even possible." Really? Well, I can think of a number of places where bigotry is not as prevalent, income equalities are not so great, social safety are nets stronger, multiculturalism is more respected, and education systems are more effective. In places like that your story would be possible, if not more likely.

So, while even Barack Obama seems to have drunk the cool aid on this point in some ways, I still think he understands that a lot of work needs to be done to deliver on the promise of American exceptionalism. On the other hand, Republicans typically think that everyone already has an equal opportunity to succeed if only the government would get out of the way. This was, no doubt, true for Mitt Romney who, as they say, was born on third base and thought he hit a triple.

As I say, Barack Obama can sometimes suffer from blindness regarding some of America's failings, but he does understand there is room for improvement.

And on that point, and let's be clear about this, when conservatives say Obama "apologizes for America," what they really mean is that he tries to be realistic about our failings in order to address them. For conservatives, that qualifies as apologizing.

Better that we lie to ourselves, right, Condi?

(Cross-posted at Lippmann's Ghost.)

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