Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Obama vs. American exceptionalism?

Sullivan tears the GOP media establishment another asshole. Nice to see Sullivan in top form; if he kept that up consistently he'd be a Perfectionist!

Nonetheless, what's the Machiavellian Obama doing, setting himself up for such easy political smearing like that? Could it be his please-everyone pragmatism? What's the point of the first sentence in his response about exceptionalism, the one easily and readily exploited by an unscrupulous partisan media-political machine? Also, why doesn't Obama praise individualism and capitalism as central to America's greatness? He cites nebulous "core values" to America such as democracy (yay!) and the rule of law (yay!) and free speech (yay!) and equality (yay?), but nowhere do I see the words "capitalism" or "individualism". Why not? Is he afraid to declare these as the core principles? Is he ignorant of their being core principles? Would the boundlessly-intellectually-curious Jefferson, were he President today, aware of the obvious similarities between his worldview and Ayn Rand's, be so goddamn ignorant and/or fearful?

This does raise a core and fundamental question of the matter: with the likes of Obama as president, why should America be considered exceptional? How do we stand out, and in virtue of what? Is it in virtue of pragmatism and lack of intellectual curiosity and ignorance of moral individualism and capitalism? Obama only touches upon the principle when he says that only in America could a story like his happen. Why does he fail to explicitly and clearly identify the principle? He says America is exceptional, but doesn't really explain why in fundamentally convincing terms. Had he known a thing or two about Ayn Rand, he would know that by making watered-down and vague explanations for American exceptionalism, he fails to be convincing. People don't respond in fundamental sense-of-life terms to vagueness and pragmatism; they respond to clarity, principle and boldness. Upholding "free speech" as a principle without tying such a value to a more fundamental explanation of its rightness, is just to mouth an empty platitude. This is pretty typical for pragmatistic politicians, but not typical for great leaders (such as Jefferson). (As a pragmatistic politician with no fundamental understanding of what makes America great - and this lack of fundamental understanding is conveyed in conscious and subconscious ways to his audience - Obama actually represents something that should be repellent to his intellectually liberal supporters: a variant of anti-intellectualism. So much for the myth - initially a hope - that he could transcend the anti-intellectualism so pervasive in our politics.)

So, why does Sullivan fail to notice all this, in his smaller-fry campaign of taking shots at a right-wing media machine, as delicious as those shots might be? I mean, c'mon, if you're gonna shoot fish in a barrel, why not do so in regard to Karl Marx and John Rawls rather than nonentities like Charles Krauthammer or Rich "Little Starbursts" Lowry? Lowry? Really?

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