Five years into the Obama presidency, many liberal Americans still don’t like America.
A new Pew survey found that 44 percent of Americans don’t often feel pride in being an American, and only 28 percent said that America is the greatest country in the world. Respondents who “often feel proud to be American” were overwhelmingly conservative (from 72 percent to 81 percent depending on the kind of conservative). A majority (60 percent) of “solid liberals” said they don’t often feel proud to be an American.
Georgia Rep. John Lewis recently said that, “If the Civil Rights Act was before the Congress today, it would not pass, it would probably never make it to the floor for a vote.” Lewis is right. If it came before the Congress today, it wouldn’t pass. You know why? Because it passed 50 years ago.
At least Lewis was primarily condemning congressional gridlock, not GOP racism.
A hero of the civil rights era, Lewis has adopted the liberal habit of suggesting that his political opponents have a burning desire to return to the era of Jim Crow. Contrary to what you hear on MSNBC, Republicans don’t want to force Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, Dr. Ben Carson, Sen. Tim Scott or any other African-American to the back of the bus.
In the wake of the Supreme Court’s decision in the Hobby Lobby case, Hillary Clinton insisted we are following in the footsteps of anti-democratic Middle Eastern theocracies. According to Clinton, the majority on the court were like Iranian mullahs, behaving “in ways that are disadvantageous to women but which prop up them because of their religion, their sect, their tribe, whatever.” The shocking, inarticulate stupidity of this analysis is only outdone by the stunning ease with which Clinton offered it.
This glib anti-Americanism manifests itself most readily with issues of race and gender, but it hardly ends there. MSNBC host Chris Hayes celebrated soccer’s growing popularity in the U.S. because it strikes a blow against “anti-soccer trolls” who believe in American exceptionalism. “Part of embracing a truly worldwide competition,” Hayes cheered, “is accepting the fact the U.S. cannot simply assert its dominance. Turns out we have to play just like everybody else.”
It’s ironic. In 2009, conservatives (myself included) pounced when Barack Obama seemed to dismiss American exceptionalism as an empty platitude. “I believe in American exceptionalism,” Obama explained, “just as I suspect that the Brits believe in British exceptionalism and the Greeks believe in Greek exceptionalism.”
By this standard, American exceptionalism isn’t exceptional, it’s a vague and meaningless form of national self-esteem, rather than a complex concept describing the uniqueness of the American founding and American character.
In May, Obama told West Point graduates that he believes in American exceptionlism “with every fiber of my being.” But he immediately qualified what he meant by insisting that “What makes us exceptional is not flouting international norms and the rule of law; it’s our willingness to affirm them through our actions.”
Translation: We prove we’re exceptional by playing just like everyone else — just like playing soccer!
Liberals tend to equate patriotism with the government. Obama was supposed to usher in a glorious new era of European-style big government. He’s failed, though alas not entirely. But in the attempt he aroused a populist movement — the tea parties — full of people who wore their traditional patriotism on their sleeves and tricorner hats. The forces of American exceptionalism proved formidable, taking advantage of our exceptional constitutional structure to thwart European social democracy.
And liberal resentment over that fact is palpable.
Jonah Goldberg is a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and editor at large of National Review Online. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.