Uncomfortable With Exceptionalism?

Occasionally I wonder how much of the impetus for changes in our foreign policy, government health care, government takeover of industries, climate change regulation, and other recent policy initiatives is attributable to simple discomfort with the fact that American policies and approaches in many of these areas is just different from those in other developed countries.

For most of our history, there has been a strong current of American exceptionalism in our politics. Since the dawn of the Republic, America has emphasized its differences with Europe and its royalty, nobility, and class systems. We proudly trumpeted our differences and were glad to accept the tired, the poor, and the huddled masses who wanted to take their chances in a society that was different from the “old country” they knew. In the Cold War era, too, we were happy to point out how we were different from the Soviet Union, China, and other “eastern bloc” countries with their state-run media, restrictions on personal freedoms, and planned economies that inevitably failed to provide their citizens with the products and lifestyles and opportunities that were available in America in abundance.

I think there has been a change in this formerly pervasive attitude of American exceptionalism. Rather than being proud of America’s uniqueness, some peopIe appear to be unsettled by it. One undercurrent in the health care reform debate seems to be simple discomfort with — and even embarrassment about — the fact that America is, in that area as in so many others, different from other countries. After all, Canada, England, France, and other countries have systems where the government provides health care. Wouldn’t it just be easier and better to just go along with what everyone else is doing?¬† Why should America expend its blood and treasure¬† fighting in faraway lands when other nations are unwilling to do so?

It takes some courage to be different, and even more courage to argue that your approach is not only different, but better. I think that, in many areas, the American approach has been better. In view of that history, the fact that other countries do things differently does not seem, to me, to be much of an argument that we should change.