Time to Rethink American Exceptionalism?

Each country thinks that it’s exceptional, and, truth be told, each country really is exceptional in its own special ways. But there’s a difference between celebrating your own unique way of life and thinking that you can do whatever you want and force your way of life onto everyone else. And if we as Americans want to move forward both as a people and as members of the international community, we need to understand this fact and start basing our foreign policy around it.

“American exceptionalism,” the idea that the United States is different or better than other countries, has meant a lot of different things over the years. On the one hand, we’ve used the idea that we’re better than everyone else to justify bullying around countries much smaller than ours. And we’ve also used it to justify invading countries like Mexico and Iraq that were largely minding their own business.

This is the bad side of American exceptionalism. But there’s also a good side to American exceptionalism. For over 200 years, everyday people have used the idea that America is different and special for a lot of noble purposes, like ending slavery and enfranchising women. The idea that everyone should enjoy the “exceptional” core values of American society - “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” - has guided activists and revolutionaries since colonial days, and it will continue to do so well into the future.

In America, like in pretty much every country, it’s a political necessity to say that you love your country and that it’s the best place in the world. This can be a healthy thing, but it can also turn into something toxic when used to assert uniqueness and superiority over other groups.

There’s an important parallel here with tribalism and racism. To say, “I’m of Turkish or Norwegian or African ancestry, and proud of it,” is an entirely different thing from saying that your ancestry makes you superior to other people, and then to go out and assert that supposed superiority by discriminating against or exploiting people who don’t have the same background as you. Feeling awareness and even pride in your country is different than oppressing or asserting power over other countries.

This kind of exceptionalism - the kind that makes people believe that because they’re German, American, or Chinese that they’re better than everyone else - leads to bad behavior and even fascism, as we saw in the years leading up to the Second World War.

It also leads to the Bush theory of international relations, the idea that the United States can run around the world blowing things up and spreading “American values” regardless of whatever anyone else thinks. As pretty much everyone except for a few neocons acknowledges, the foreign policy of the Bush years was a total disaster. If America really wants to be a responsible and “exceptional” superpower, it needs to lead by example, not by force of arms.

President Obama made this point yesterday in a speech at West Points’ commencement ceremony, subtly changing the definition of American exceptionalism away from the Bush era definition:

"I believe in American exceptionalism with every fiber of my being. But what makes us exceptional is not our ability to flout international norms and the rule of law; it’s our willingness to affirm them through our actions. That’s why I will continue to push to close GTMO – because American values and legal traditions don’t permit the indefinite detention of people beyond our borders.

"That’s why we are putting in place new restrictions on how America collects and uses intelligence – because we will have fewer partners and be less effective if a perception takes hold that we are conducting surveillance against ordinary citizens. America does not simply stand for stability, or the absence of conflict, no matter what the price; we stand for the more lasting peace that can only come through opportunity and freedom for people everywhere."

While most Americans probably didn’t catch this nuanced shift in the President’s definition of American exceptionalism, I think it’s worth noting. While politics demands that he continue to use the word “exceptionalism,” he’s altered its meaning to one that’s more rational and useful, one that fits more with the “good” side of American exceptionalism.

And no matter what the President’s critics might say, this is a welcome change. I mean, can you imagine what “American exceptionalism” might mean today if John McCain had been elected president? Iran would be a smoldering pile of rubble, we’d have a hundred thousand troops in Syria, and God-knows where else.

Saying that America is “exceptional” because we actually follow international law and advocate peace is to say that all countries can fit that definition and it sets a good example for the rest of the world. This doesn’t make us weaker; it makes us stronger because it reaffirms the same values that make America so special to begin with.

Now, if President Obama would just take it all the way and follow international law by not killing civilians in foreign lands with drones, we might be taken more seriously. And if Republicans would get with the program and let the president use federal money to close GTMO, we might begin to meet this new healthy definition of American exceptionalism.

Meanwhile, it’s time for the rest of us to get talking about what really makes America special, because only then will we be able to truly rejoin the family of nations around the world that embrace peace and the rule of law.


Sherrie's picture
Sherrie 8 years 43 weeks ago

That's fine, but at the same time, here within this country, we hard working income tax payers do not want the welfare queen liberals imposing their lifestyle on us by having us and our grandchildren pay for it. Fair?

chuckle8's picture
chuckle8 8 years 43 weeks ago

Sherrie -- Does that mean you prefer the billionaires to determine your lifestyle?

Kend's picture
Kend 8 years 43 weeks ago

Interesting you mention invading Mexico and Iraq. Mexico was invaded by the Spanish then America invaded the Spanish who called themselves Mexicans. Iraq invaded Kuwait before America moved in and liberated Kuwait as well. That doesn't make it right but you are trying to make it sound like these poor peacefull people where attacked doing nothing. I am sure Italy, France, Belgium, Holland, Great Britan, Sweden, Finland, Norway, all of Africa, etc etc are very happy with American exceptionalism or they would be speaking German right now.

Sherrie good for you. On this blog the left is always forcing its socialist ways on others. I guess its only ok if it is what they want. Oh by the way you now owe over $55,000 per person in Federal debt and depending on which state you live in you might have to add as much as $30,000 per person to that. I hope your grandchildren have lots of money.

dianhow 8 years 43 weeks ago

REAL ' welfare queens 'are Corporations & Billionaires who receive huge tax cuts - loopholes.. subsides - co's who profiteereer on death & wars. US Bloated ' defense' dept wastes trillions of taxpayer dollars . Funding for education- disabled, vets , mentally ill gets deep cuts GOP fights contraception which leads to more abortions . GOP demands we privatize Social security so Wall St can gamble seniors money away while making huges fees doing so. So called welfare queens are a tiny percent of our budget but are played up by far right radicals who love to manipulate our thinking .Think Fox Hannity Rush Drudge Cantor Ryan Demint and 800 radio talk shows that spew mis information - 1/2 truths to millions each day .

dianhow 8 years 43 weeks ago

Bush Cheney should have thought of all that with their un funded war- corp cut debt that they were leaving for our kids and 2008 global crash that necessitated TARP and yes more spending to dig us out of a deep depression. Was anyone worried about debt then ? I never heard it mentioned till Obama ! Once economy fully recovers US debt will be paid down as it has been in the past. if GOP will stop blocking stalling filibustering & defunding essentials that could help us do so. Econ 101 When people make more,they spend more which helps business's Then we all prosper not just the ' chosen few ' Cons, moderates and libs Unite to fight our common enemies To do otherwise is to be diverted from healing our country . WE have all been shamelessy manipulated by the powerful & well connected Critical thinking is the key .

delster's picture
delster 8 years 43 weeks ago

Well stated.

Willie W's picture
Willie W 8 years 43 weeks ago

Life was good when trickle up ruled. Money moved and so went the economy. Trickle down seemed like a good idea and also would have worked if corporations would have let the money flow instead of stuffing their pockets. Billionaires get testy when someone mentions raising the minimum wage. Granting raises is in essence what trickle down means. It's the plan all you rich farts wanted and now, when it's your turn to open the tap, you get all bitchy. Get with the program!! [ Your program. ]

Kend's picture
Kend 8 years 43 weeks ago

Dianhow, no one said anything when Bush was spending money because the economy was booming. When you spend a trillion a year more than you have and the economy sucks (one in five without work) that is a different story.

Yes you need more people making money so they can spend it but it counter acts when you borrow the money to create the jobs. You need private jobs to get ahead. What is your Gov. doing to to help with that? the sad answer is nothing.

Willie billioners don't care about how high themin wage is. High min wages hurt small business.

Corperate welfare do you mean like Solyndra?

historywriter's picture
historywriter 8 years 43 weeks ago

Welfare queen liberals. Does that mean the $78 billion the big oil, gas, and coal companies get in government subsidies--although these companies are raking in huge profits--Exxon alone made $16 BILLION with a B in profits in just 3 months last year. Poor things. They do need that dough, don't they?

Walmart is the biggest retailer in the world. It boasts of having 1.2 million Americans on their payroll. Its reported annual profits are around $13 billion. So it’s safe to say since it is so big – and so ubiquitous – and so obviously successful – the government can now stop subsidizing it.

Forbes’ published an article in which it said that a single 300-person store in Wisconsin (as an example) costs taxpayers $904,542 a year because of subsidies the government must provide to make up for Walmart's low wages and lack of health care coverage.Now that's royalty welfare in style!

goat-on-a-stick's picture
goat-on-a-stick 8 years 43 weeks ago

Two things you reminded me of Thom:

1. Obama claims that GTMO stands for what we should not be doing, yet he continues to allow it to run to this day.

2. You mention what McCain would do if he were president. While I agree that he would almost certainly have bombed Iran and invaded syria, what most disturbed me is how easily we talk about presidents being able to wage war without the consent of congress! If Obama really wanted us to be more reserved in our actions against other countries that simply bring do more harm than good, he would work toward putting a restriction not just upon his own powers as president, but towards all future presidents.

Kend's picture
Kend 8 years 43 weeks ago

History oil companies like Exxon pay their employees very well with great benifits. Oil companies might be the only place left that does that. Maybe if they taxed all companies less the employees else where would do as well.

Oh and by the way it is a good thing that companies profit. Isn't that the idea?

Aliceinwonderland's picture
Aliceinwonderland 8 years 43 weeks ago

Thom, your basic point about exceptionalism is spot-on, one I can fully embrace. However I would not be too quick to praise President Obama. Our president talks a great game about our "legal traditions" versus indefinite detention and so on. But this is the same president who signed indefinite detention into law, who keeps a mafia-style hit list, arbitrarily tagging men & boys in certain countries as "enemy combatants", even targeting American citizens for assassination without charge or trial. He uses more drones to murder innocents abroad than Bush did. He persecutes and imprisons whistleblowers while the criminals they expose skate free. His deeds have never been aligned with his actions.

When I was in Australia years ago (October & November of 1999), Australians often asked if I was Canadian. Turns out that Americans on the West Coast speak a dialect closely resembling the Canadian accent. I felt so embarrassed by my U.S. citizenship, I was tempted to lie and tell them yes, I'm "kanook". This country's homicidal foreign policy, not to mention its disregard for the wellbeing of its own citizens, makes it a fucking disgrace. Certainly not anything I would want to be associated with.

As for Republicans getting "with the program" to close GTMO, dream on Thom! I'd love to be wrong, but it's when I'd most love to be wrong that I'm generally the most accurate in my assessments.

I wish I could say with a straight face that America is special. I guess it can be said we're special, all right; in a negative sense anyway. We have the biggest military in the world while at the same time, we rank lowest in upward mobility of all developed nations. We have the highest per-capita statistics on obesity and diabetes while our healthcare system is a goddam joke. Even our voting rights are under attack. You know this as well as I do; in fact, Thom, you've actually enlightened me to some of it. Considering all this and more, we've got a long way to go before we can claim anything "special" about America. - Aliceinwonderland

Aliceinwonderland's picture
Aliceinwonderland 8 years 43 weeks ago

Chuck, Historywriter, Dianhow… your sentiments are spot-on, but you needn't waste your breath. Sherrie's post (#2) does not warrant the dignity of a response. Ignore her. We've better things to do than quibble with idiots. - AIW

ChicagoMatt 8 years 43 weeks ago

I liked what Obama also said in that same speech about how, even though we have the biggest hammer (military), we don't have to go around driving down every nail. Finally. I'm tired of paying for the world's police department. It's someone else's turn.

DAnneMarc's picture
DAnneMarc 8 years 43 weeks ago
Quote Aliceinwonderland:Sherrie's post (#2) does not warrant the dignity of a response. Ignore her. We've better things to do than quibble with idiots. - AIW

Aliceinwonderland ~ "Quibble with idiots?" Please correct me if I'm wrong but it seems like that is all we do.

Kend's picture
Kend 8 years 43 weeks ago

Alice it is "Canuck" unless of course you are making fun of me. I think "kanook" is a Eskimo word for, I hate a Canadian bloggers named Kend and please don't be embarrassed America has done a lot more good then bad. But I won't lie. I always have Canadian flags on everything to let everyone know I am Canadian. Why not everyone loves us. Well except on this blog.

Aliceinwonderland's picture
Aliceinwonderland 8 years 43 weeks ago

Thanks Kend. I didn't know the correct spelling, and the dictionary was no help. If ya can't even get the first couple letters right, you're plumb out of luck.

Marc, you make a good point about how much time we actually have spent quibbling with idiots. But today when I discovered Sherrie's little poop pile, right under Thom's introductory post, all I could do was plug my nose and run. I'd just had it out with Matt over privatized education and was already pretty saturated. I've had my bullshit quota for the week.

So hey my friends, if ya wanna tango with Sherrie, go right ahead; have at it! But this time, I think I'll pass. - AIW

P.S. Loren Bliss, where are you?! I'm hungry for some inspiration, and you never disappoint.

Kend's picture
Kend 8 years 43 weeks ago

LOL Alice, what are the odds of me helping you with spelling. I am buying a lotto ticket.

Aliceinwonderland's picture
Aliceinwonderland 8 years 43 weeks ago

Good point, Kend! And I like your sense of humor.

richinfolsom 8 years 43 weeks ago

"American Exceptionalism." It's a phrase without a specific definition until placed into the context made by the presenter. Reminds me of thhold western notion of John Wayne pulling himself up by his own bootstraps, but another egocentric but false premise. In a larger sense, it is the romantic notion of individualism, often the wreckless disregard of others to accomplish something difficult.

American Exceptionalism - like any "ism" is but an collection of ecltic morays and judgements - without a single aim or purpose. It's great a great political motivational line whether used in the positive - or detractor. It is an emotion with when reflecting on the accomplishments of a nation.

Yes, it was the exceptionalism as a nation who defeated Facism. The post war years of rapid economic growth, a commitment to education, science, landing a man moon the moon, and a fledging movie star could become president.

Exceptionalism isn't an aircraft carrier or ICBM missiles. The exceptionional ability to destroy the planeNoah's no redeeming value.

Exceptionalism is floundering as the nation has idenity and purpose. More is spent on prisons than k-12 education. Productivity has doubled in recent decades while earns are flat. Corporations have consolidated into "too big to fail or jail."

Our healthcare ditribution, availability, and costs is the rosé of any western nation.

so I ask, what is it that makes us so exceptional? I really miss feeling that way....

rich in folsom

Loren Bliss's picture
Loren Bliss 8 years 43 weeks ago

"American Exceptionalism" is nothing more than the U.S. version of the Nazi "Master Race."

(Hi, Alice. Been busy as hell; can't stay long tonight either. But as always, thank you. Means a lot.)

MontanaMuleGal's picture
MontanaMuleGal 8 years 43 weeks ago

Thom - there you go again...

Pretending as though we Americans live in a democracy; that our "two-party" system is really two parties and that one of those parties represents the average American; and that Obama is working on behalf of the average American and not the corporatocracy.

Obama is the neocons' good ol' boy, and he was put into power because he would do as they say and never stand up to them; plus he would appease people who identify as "liberal" who apparently cannot see (or still refuse to believe) that he is a tool of the wealthy elite.

Or, perhaps, it is members of the (now dead) liberal class, which Chris Hedges has so well defined, which are doing well financially (universities, journalists, unions, entertainment industry, politicians, the church) and who continue to define themselves as "liberal," when in truth, they are not. They have been bought off with corporate money.

Effective propaganda, using enhanced PR tactics, has made so many US citizens believe they are, indeed, superior. Sadly, the ability of feeling "superior" is certainly one of mankind's tragic flaws.

Aliceinwonderland's picture
Aliceinwonderland 8 years 43 weeks ago

MontanaMuleGal- I love your blog name, and your avatar makes me smile each time I see it.

I agree with everything you've said, to a point. Your anger and frustration are amply justified. I'm as fed up as anyone in this forum with our two-party system. However as I've pointed out time and again (ditto "chuckle8", in many of his posts), the Dems and Repubs are not identical. One need only check the voting records of all congresspeople from both parties, shown in detail by Project Vote Smart, to see this. The plutocrat-fascists want us to think both parties are the same so that we'll stay home on election day and not vote their sorry asses out of office. Please don't get suckered into that mindset; if you are, you're only shooting yourself in the foot. - AIW

MontanaMuleGal's picture
MontanaMuleGal 8 years 43 weeks ago


I read nearly every one of your posts on Thom's blog.

I objected to being forced into a "two-party" system at the age of 15 in 1969.

Unfortunately, if you think the "Dems" and "Repubs" are not serving the same master, then you are foolin' yourself.

Sure, it's not the same Democratic Party as when my mom and her family went thru the Great Depression (as opposed to today's apparently NOT another Depression),

Voting records? What do they prove? Our, as in the CITIZENS', votes are not counted fairly. You only need to follow Brad Friedman, bradblog.com, to realize that it's how the votes are COUNTED that matters.

I'm not suckered into anything, and I'm not delusional enough to believe OUR votes COUNT.

As both Princeton and Jimmy Carter have recently confirmed, we no longer live in a democracy, we live in a neoliberal oligarcy adminstered as "inverted totalitariansim." (see Chris Hedges)

Aliceinwonderland's picture
Aliceinwonderland 8 years 43 weeks ago

MontanaMuleGal, I know this isn't a real democracy anymore. I'm the last person you'd need to convince of that! And I'm not denying both parties are bought & sold. But congressional voting records are what I'm talking about here, and far as I'm concerned, that's gettin' down to the ole nitty gritty. They prove empirically that, despite Citizens United, lobbyists, ad nauseam, those two parties are not identical. Chuck (aka "chuckle8") has submitted example after example to substantiate this.

It is the Republican Party that has our voting rights on the chopping block. And those goddam voting machines have got to go. How I wish all fifty states let their citizens vote the way we do in Oregon! We get paper ballots in the mail, filled out in the comfort and privacy of home, dropped off at the post office or the local library… so convenient and EASY! It's the only way to vote, in my opinion.

Despite this apparent disparity in our assessments, MuleGal, I believe we are basically on the same page. I'm not terribly enthusiastic about the Democrats, overall. Positions taken by centrist, "blue dog" and corporatist Dems on various issues have often angered and disillusioned me. (I'd like to bitch-slap Senator Wyden, our Democratic Oregon senator, for being in favor of the liquified natural gas export facility proposed for Coos Country where I live! Grrrr...) If I had my druthers, we'd scrap the two-party system, which clearly isn't cutting it anymore. Not for us "ordinary" citizens anyhow.

You've plenty of reason to be disgusted and fed up. Believe me, I'm with you on that. But no matter how discouraging it gets, I'll never skip an election, and you should't either. I look at it this way: if our votes didn't count, Repugs wouldn't be going to such lengths to attack our voting rights, passing all these abusive laws making it more difficult to vote; especially for poor folks, the elderly and minorities, three demographics they've every reason to fear.

I'm not that concerned about how votes are counted where I live. It's the folks residing in states that use voting machines who have reason to worry. I'd love to see those people mobilize and do away with the damn things. - Aliceinwonderland

DAnneMarc's picture
DAnneMarc 8 years 43 weeks ago
Quote Loren Bliss:"American Exceptionalism" is nothing more than the U.S. version of the Nazi "Master Race."

Loren Bliss ~ Truer words were never spoken. Well said! I agree!

DAnneMarc's picture
DAnneMarc 8 years 43 weeks ago
Quote MontanaMuleGal:As both Princeton and Jimmy Carter have recently confirmed, we no longer live in a democracy, we live in a neoliberal oligarcy adminstered as "inverted totalitariansim." (see Chris Hedges)

MontanaMuleGal ~ I agree with almost everything you said except "neoliberal"? Granted labels just don't apply anymore and certainly 'conservatives' and 'liberals' just aren't what they used to be. However, how do you justify labeling the current Cabal as 'neoliberal'? To me, if anything, it is a fascist oligarchy--neocon in nature. Do you have the link to that Chris Hedges article?

Aliceinwonderland's picture
Aliceinwonderland 8 years 43 weeks ago

Marc, I hear you make the same assertions over and over about labels, how you hate labels, what dumb ditto heads those who use them are, how they can't think for themselves and blah-blah-blah. But aren't "neoliberal", "neocon" and "oligarch" all labels?

So here's the point, my friend. Labels have their place. Like anything, they can be overused and misused. But from my perspective, labels are simply a communication tool, long as they're not overdone or of malicious intent.

I happen to despise the "neoliberal" label, myselfl; have never been quite sure what it meant, altho it has such a negative ring to it. However one thing I am sure of; iI don't like how people are using the word "liberal" these days. I prefer the Oxford Dictionary version, myself: (1) "open to new behavior or opinions and willing to discard traditional values: they have more liberal views toward marriage and divorce than some people"; (2) "favorable to or respectful of individual rights and freedoms: liberal citizenship laws"; " (in a political context) favoring maximum individual liberty in political and social reform: a liberal democratic state"... Hey, works for me! Sounds great. But somehow I doubt "neoliberal" means or refers to anything remotely related to any of that. - AIW

ChicagoMatt 8 years 42 weeks ago
favorable to or respectful of individual rights and freedoms: liberal citizenship laws"; " (in a political context) favoring maximum individual liberty in political and social reform: a liberal democratic state"

That seems antithetical to things like the ACA, forced-union states, anti-gun laws, etc... Those all seem to take away freedoms, not respect them.

Maybe that's why labels don't really work.

Thom usually defines a liberal as someone who gives willingly and happily of their money and time.

Aliceinwonderland's picture
Aliceinwonderland 8 years 42 weeks ago

According to ChicagoMatt, the Affordable Care Act is antithetical to "liberalness" (or "freedom", in that context?!) as defined by the Oxford Dictionary. Really! Not for me and my husband it ain't, no sir. Thanks to the ACA, we're on medicaid now! Before we had nothing, and could afford nothing. Now healthcare is within our reach. We're signed up at this cool clinic in North Bend, with a nurse practitioner we really like. We're much better off now, no doubt; and what a huge relief! Sorry if you don't like it. (Not...) - AIW

chuckle8's picture
chuckle8 8 years 42 weeks ago

AIW -- Thanks for helping to avoid printing the dem voting record again. Only 17% of the people know that the repugs run the house. That is scary. I wonder how many of that 17% know that the house dems represent 1.5 million more voters.

chuckle8's picture
chuckle8 8 years 42 weeks ago

Kend -- When Bush was in office we were losing 700,000 jobs a month and increasing number each month. dubya was spending a trillion a year also, but he kept the war spending off the books. Obama put the war spending back on the books and started creating 200,000 jobs a month.

Quote Kend:Dianhow, no one said anything when Bush was spending money because the economy was booming.

That statement might have some believability if it were not for Jude Winnewski. Jude published the repug plan in the NY Times in the 1970's. The plan said when repugs are in office spend as fast as you can and lower taxes. When a dem comes into office, starting bitching about the debt. raygun came into office and tripled the national debt. Repugs were responsible for 84% of the debt when Obama came into office. Since most of the repug policies are what we are currently operating under, the debt continues to increase during Obama's terms. Incidentally, the Jude plan is called the 2 Santa Claus Theory (it should be called one Santa Claus with two unpaid for gifts -- tax cuts and wild spending (e.g. star wars))

ChicagoMatt 8 years 42 weeks ago

The only thing I don't like about the ACA is the same thing most people complain about with it - the individual mandate. That's also people's chief complaint about unions - being forced into them. It's hard to find anyone who likes being forced to do anything. Even if it benefits them in the long run. It's like trying to feed vegetables to a child - yes, it's good for them. But the fact that they are being forced to do it just makes them hate it more.

There is actually a great opportunity for compromise that both sides are missing here: Single-payer healthcare in exchange for single-payer K-12 tuition. Go to any hospital you want, public or private, and the government pays. Go to any school you want, public or private, and the government pays. Everyone gets something they wanted, and two of the biggest issues facing our nation are made better.

ChicagoMatt 8 years 42 weeks ago
Only 17% of the people know that the repugs run the house. That is scary.

That's why I'm not too worried about a populist uprising or Progressive or Socialist revolution or anything like that anytime soon. The status quo will be maintained, because the majority of people either don't care or aren't educated enough to pay attention anymore.

For a lot of Thom's proposals to happen, like the Move to Amend, you would need large amounts of Americans who: 1. Understand the issue, 2. Are on his side with the issue, and 3. Have the time and energy to do something about it.

Quite a mountain to climb in today's America.

Aliceinwonderland's picture
Aliceinwonderland 8 years 42 weeks ago

Matt, I don't like the ACA's individual mandate either. But comparing that to "forced" union membership is ridiculous. So-called health insurance is a for-profit bogus racket; unions are non-profit organizations existing solely to protect worker rights. Big difference! - AIW

DAnneMarc's picture
DAnneMarc 8 years 42 weeks ago
Quote Aliceinwonderland: Marc, I hear you make the same assertions over and over about labels, how you hate labels, what dumb ditto heads those who use them are, how they can't think for themselves and blah-blah-blah. But aren't "neoliberal", "neocon" and "oligarch" all labels?

Aliceinwonderland ~ Yes, they are! IHowever, if you look at the dictionary definition of all these 'labels' you will love them all. Liberal and Conservative all look great on paper. it is the way they are misused that tears us apart. Because it tears us apart I don't like any of them.

In order to preserver over all this discord that is being spewed our way we need to rise above this petty nonsense. That is precisely why I favor discarding all these petty labels in favor of the greater good. Until we as a people do this, we will never be able to rise above our petty differences. We will never be able to see the forest for the trees. We will be forever doomed to accept the will of our overseers.

DAnneMarc's picture
DAnneMarc 8 years 42 weeks ago

Of course, Oligarch is not a label. it is by definition a category of leadership. When we define our words it is imperative that we define them well. Poor definition of words is one of the things that is leading to our demise.

Aliceinwonderland's picture
Aliceinwonderland 8 years 42 weeks ago

Marc, once you get down to "categories" versus "labels" you're splitting hairs, in my opinion. What do you think labels are supposed to distinguish?

There are two basic world views and belief systems that have divided this country, to a large degree, for as long as I can remember. Those on the conservative side are more self-oriented, of the so-called "strict father" mindset. They tend to be skeptical and distrustful of others, particularly those who differ from themselves in certain key ways and areas. They have an authoritarian, patriarchal world view and value system. They think we shouldn't have a commons or a safety net, or a government to protect it. They hate government and would shrink it down to nothing if they could get away with it. They value competition over cooperation. Empathy is not their strong point. They think we should each just be "on our own", fending for ourselves… you know, sink or swim, the "law of the jungle…" They vote for candidates like Raygun, Bush Junior, McCain and Romney. They feel entitled to cheap labor and low taxes.

Okay maybe this is a stereotype. But conservatives tend to have many if not all these attitudes and opinions. They're "me" oriented. They want to live in a "me" society where self interest is everyone's exclusive aim. They are in favor of privatizing things like healthcare, education, the post office, fire department and the media. These people would like to take us all back to a socioeconomic system that kept propertied white males at the top of the heap.

On the other side of that fence are those of us who'd rather have a "we" society; one that's more inclusive, more open, with a safety net and a commons shared by all. We believe in the importance of social mobility, opportunity for all who wish to better their lives. We value cooperation over competition. We're anti-authoritarian and don't live in fear.

As long as this ideological divide persists in American society, I will continue using labels like "liberal", "progressive", "conservative", "neocon" and so on. Saves me the trouble of elaborating like I've done in these preceding paragraphs. Just a little communication device; no big deal. I realize certain people disapprove of labels, but I'll use them as long as they work for me. When I decide they no longer work for me, then I will stop using them.

I've mentioned numerous times how it bugs me that we persist in defining ourselves and each other by how much wealth we possess or lack; i.e. our "worth"; our "ordinariness" or "extraordinariness" according to what we have, not who we are. It grates on me how we are said to "earn" whatever we are paid, no matter how much or how little, as if a CEO "earns" $9000 bucks an hour or fifty million a year. All that is offensive to me and I wish people would frame it differently.

Oh well. I can't make others comply with my rules either, Marc! Life goes on. - Aliceinwonderland

DAnneMarc's picture
DAnneMarc 8 years 42 weeks ago
Quote Aliceinwonderland: I realize certain people disapprove of labels, but I'll use them as long as they work for me. When I decide they no longer work for me, then I will stop using them.

Aliceinwonderland ~ That works for me. If fact, I don't disagree with one word you said. I just think we need to be careful with labels.

Scientists were once puzzled by how a planet can form out of dust in space. They learned how when an astronaut in orbit pulled out a bag in a weightless environment and started to see the contents coalesce. Apparently in a free environment neighboring particles attract each other into clumps. Mystery solved.

I've noticed the same phenomenon with people. When they are gathered together they tend to form groups. Those groups tend to label themselves for distinction and identity. The force behind the cohesiveness is more of a natural need to bond than one of shared philosophy. It is important that we always remember that the groups associated with the label are still composed of separate entities. Personally, I believe that the bonding of the group outweighs the philosophy of the group. People will say and do thing that they don't necessarily believe in simply because the need to belong outweighs the need to be right.

I'm the opposite. My need to be right outweighs my need to belong. That is why I don't label myself or belong to any groups. I can't see putting myself in a box and letting others do my thinking for me. I like to give myself lots of wiggle room.

The characteristics you associate with "conservativism" is correct--now. Thirty years ago it wasn't. A hundred years before that they were the exact opposite characteristics that they are now. In fact, you only have to go back 8 years to see a massive difference. Back then, this party that wanted to shrink government expanded it exponentially with the DHS and the NSA. 20 years before that this party that wants government to stay out of our lives started the War on Drugs and an all out effort to ban abortion.

My point is that when hypocrisy is rampant and certain definitions simply are not consistent, labels can be very misleading and self defeating.

As long as you don't mislabel youself feel free to use labels as you wish. After all, words are only tools. As long as you use them; and, they don't USE YOU!

Aliceinwonderland's picture
Aliceinwonderland 8 years 42 weeks ago

Peace, brother... and have a great week! - AIW

DAnneMarc's picture
DAnneMarc 8 years 42 weeks ago

AIW ~ You too!

illinidave's picture
illinidave 8 years 42 weeks ago

I have to wonder if my Grandparents, who imigrated to this country for a better life, think that this country is any better than what they left behind. If the right wing, repubs or teabaggers, ever grasp control of the the government ? As I see it, we are headed to an Oligarchy run by the Koch cabal that will take generations to wrest back.. Oh, by the way my Maternal Grandparents imigrated from Germany and Switzerland and Dad's Father came from Finland. How ironic ? ... Maybe It's time to move back to my roots ?

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