RSN Fundraising Banner
FB Share
Email This Page
add comment

Shane begins: "Imagine a presidential candidate who spoke with blunt honesty about American problems, dwelling on measures by which the United States lags its economic peers."

Mitt Romney's address notes at a campaign stop in Port Saint Lucie, Florida, 10/07/12. (photo: AFP/Getty Images)
Mitt Romney's address notes at a campaign stop in Port Saint Lucie, Florida, 10/07/12. (photo: AFP/Getty Images)

The Opiate of Exceptionalism

By Scott Shane, The New York Times

21 October 12


magine a presidential candidate who spoke with blunt honesty about American problems, dwelling on measures by which the United States lags its economic peers.

What might this mythical candidate talk about on the stump? He might vow to turn around the dismal statistics on child poverty, declaring it an outrage that of the 35 most economically advanced countries, the United States ranks 34th, edging out only Romania. He might take on educational achievement, noting that this country comes in only 28th in the percentage of 4-year-olds enrolled in preschool, and at the other end of the scale, 14th in the percentage of 25-to-34-year-olds with a higher education. He might hammer on infant mortality, where the United States ranks worse than 48 other countries and territories, or point out that, contrary to fervent popular belief, the United States trails most of Europe, Australia and Canada in social mobility.

The candidate might try to stir up his audience by flipping a familiar campaign trope: America is indeed No. 1, he might declare - in locking its citizens up, with an incarceration rate far higher than that of the likes of Russia, Cuba, Iran or China; in obesity, easily outweighing second-place Mexico and with nearly 10 times the rate of Japan; in energy use per person, with double the consumption of prosperous Germany.

How far would this truth-telling candidate get? Nowhere fast. Such a candidate is, in fact, all but unimaginable in our political culture. Of their serious presidential candidates, and even of their presidents, Americans demand constant reassurance that their country, their achievements and their values are extraordinary.

Candidates and presidents generally oblige them, Barack Obama and Mitt Romney included. It is permissible, in the political major leagues, for candidates to talk about big national problems - but only if they promise solutions in the next sentence: Unemployment is too high, so I will create millions of jobs. It is impermissible to dwell on chronic, painful problems, or on statistics that challenge the notion that the United States leads the world - a point made memorably in a tirade by the dyspeptic anchorman played by Jeff Daniels in the HBO drama "The Newsroom."

"People in this country want the president to be a cheerleader, an optimist, the herald of better times ahead," says Robert Dallek, the presidential historian. "It's almost built into our DNA."

This national characteristic, often labeled American exceptionalism, may inspire some people and politicians to perform heroically, rising to the level of our self-image. But during a presidential campaign, it can be deeply dysfunctional, ensuring that many major issues are barely discussed. Problems that cannot be candidly described and vigorously debated are unlikely to be addressed seriously. In a country where citizens think of themselves as practical problem-solvers and realists, this aversion to bad news is a surprising feature of the democratic process.

"I think there's more of a tendency now than in the past to avoid discussion of serious problems," says Allan J. Lichtman, a political historian at American University. "It has a pernicious effect on our politics and on governing, because to govern, you need a mandate. And you don't get a mandate if you don't say what you're going to do."

American exceptionalism has recently been championed by conservatives, who accuse President Obama of paying the notion insufficient respect. But the self-censorship it produces in politicians is bipartisan, even if it is more pronounced on the left for some issues and the right for others.

For instance, Democrats are more loath than Republicans to look squarely at the government debt crisis indisputably looming with the aging of baby boomers and the ballooning cost of Medicare. Republicans are more reluctant than Democrats to acknowledge the rise of global temperatures and its causes and consequences. But both parties, it is fair to say, prefer not to consider either trend too deeply.

Both parties would rather avert their eyes from such difficult challenges - because we, the people, would rather avert our eyes. Talk to any political pro about this phenomenon and one name inevitably comes up: Jimmy Carter, who has become a sort of memento mori for American politicians, like the skulls in Renaissance paintings that reminded viewers of their mortality.

Mr. Carter, they will say, disastrously spoke of a national "crisis of confidence" and failed to project the optimism that Americans demand of their presidents. He lost his re-election bid to sunny Ronald Reagan, who promised "morning in America" and left an indelible lesson for candidates of both parties: that voters can be vindictive toward anyone who dares criticize the country and, implicitly, the people.

This is a peculiarly American brand of nationalism. "European politicians exercise much greater freedom to address bluntly the uglier social problems," says Deborah Lea Madsen, professor of American studies at the University of Geneva. An American politician who speaks too candidly about the country's faults, she went on to say, risks being labeled with that most devastating of epithets: un-American.

The roots of this American trait are often traced to the famous shipboard sermon the Puritan lawyer John Winthrop preached on his way to help found the Massachusetts Bay Colony nearly five centuries ago.

"We must consider," he said, "that we shall be as a city upon a hill - the eyes of all people are upon us." Winthrop's metaphor has had a long life in American speechifying, prominently quoted by both President John F. Kennedy and Reagan. But if, for Winthrop, the image was something the colony should aspire to, for modern politicians it is often a boast of supposed accomplishment, a way of combating pessimists and asserting American greatness, whatever the facts.

Could a presidential candidate today survive if he promised to wage a war on poverty, as President Lyndon B. Johnson did in 1964? It seems unlikely, and one reason may be that Johnson's effort fell short, revealing the agonizing difficulty and huge cost of trying to change the lives of the poor.

Indeed, in the current fiscal environment, promising an ambitious effort to reduce poverty or counter global warming might imply big new spending, which is practically and politically anathema. And given the increasing professionalization of politics, any candidate troubled by how the United States lags its peers in health or education has plenty of advisers and consultants to warn him never to mention it on the stump.

"Nobody wants to be the one who proposed taking the position that got the candidate in trouble," says Martha Joynt Kumar, a political scientist at Towson University who studies presidential communications.

Of course, the reason talking directly about serious American problems is risky is that most voters don't like it. Mark Rice, who teaches American studies at St. John Fisher College in Rochester, N.Y., said students often arrived at his classes steeped in the notion that the United States excelled at everything. He started a blog, Ranking America, to challenge their assumptions with a wild assortment of country comparisons, some sober (the United States is No. 1 in small arms ownership) and others less so (the United States is tied for 24th with Nigeria in frequency of sex).

"Sure, we're No. 1 in gross domestic product and military expenditures," Mr. Rice says. "But on a lot of measures of quality of life, the U.S. ranking is far lower. I try to be as accurate as I can and I avoid editorializing. I try to complicate their thinking." your social media marketing partner


A note of caution regarding our comment sections:

For months a stream of media reports have warned of coordinated propaganda efforts targeting political websites based in the U.S., particularly in the run-up to the 2016 presidential election.

We too were alarmed at the patterns we were, and still are, seeing. It is clear that the provocateurs are far more savvy, disciplined, and purposeful than anything we have ever experienced before.

It is also clear that we still have elements of the same activity in our article discussion forums at this time.

We have hosted and encouraged reader expression since the turn of the century. The comments of our readers are the most vibrant, best-used interactive feature at Reader Supported News. Accordingly, we are strongly resistant to interrupting those services.

It is, however, important to note that in all likelihood hardened operatives are attempting to shape the dialog our community seeks to engage in.

Adapt and overcome.

Marc Ash
Founder, Reader Supported News

+63 # fredboy 2012-10-21 15:47
Successfully teaching problem solving for more than 25 years, I always encourage open, honest discussion. First identify the problem--most wail about the symptoms of the problem and wrongly identify the symptoms as the problem. That's America--still playing anemic, flat-footed intellectual basketball.

Without honest, thorough problem finding, identification, and thorough analysis, one has no hope of best addressing or solving the problem or problem set (yes, there is often a problem cluster, not one simple problem). This is for the most part impossible in a knee-jerk, simple, prejudiced, assumptive society framed in polar thinking and other fallacies of logic.
+46 # Nominae 2012-10-21 19:16
@ fredboy

Thank you for the courage of your comment.

America *is* No. 1 in collective "simple, prejudiced ...... polar thinking and other fallacies of logic."

The "Ostrich" approach to solving problems is spectacularly *NOT* working for us. It has never worked for anyone, including the Ostrich.

And people steeped in this background frequently fall into fear / anger when someone, anyone, attempts to wake them from slumber.

Most people quite aggressively do not *want* to think for themselves. They are not about to research their own facts (since we no longer enjoy a functioning Fourth Estate). It's so much easier to simply memorize the talking points than to take a class in Formal Logic.
+27 # Dion Giles 2012-10-21 21:52
The slogan Ignorance is Strength was the most perceptive in George Orwell's brilliant classic "1984".
+9 # dovelane1 2012-10-22 15:55
@ Nominae - In one of his many articles, Sydney Harris wrote that people don't want a leader, they want a messiah.

they want someone to give them platitudes, so they don't have to feel uncomfortable, because feeling uncomfortable is always the precursor to change. Change is not comfortable for many people, especially those with issues they have yet to deal with.

So, instead of getting a leader who will tell us the hard truths, we get people like Romney and Ryan telling us "Just trust us and we'll make things all better.

Just like Reagan, Bush and Cheney did.
-15 # DakotaKid 2012-10-22 05:47
So now that you've pointed out that the real problem is that "America" is lousy at problem-solving and informed us that what needs to be done is "for the most part impossible" I guess you've given up on solving the problem, right? Nice going.
+2 # bingers 2012-10-23 09:37
Should the Republican party become a totally powerless party we could repair everything.

However, after a couple of decades the Democrats would become as corrupt as the Republicans. THEN would be the time for additional parties, possibly a more rational version of the GOP.
0 # RLF 2012-10-24 06:20
The GOP is starting to fracture. We may see several versions soon...the nazi party, the Darwinian party, the rich party...unfortu nately none of them much better. When this country will go right or left and now it is looking like right has the advantage...hei l Romney!
+9 # genierae 2012-10-22 08:47
Go deeper: (egoism- the ethical doctrine that morality is based on self-interest.) The ego is the only true problem that we have, fredboy, all others spring from it. Until we overcome egoism and transition into the spiritual, it will continue to bring chaos and disaster into our lives. We are a nation of egos competing with other egos, and this can only be remedied by a mass consciousness-r aising. I think this is happening now, it's just a matter of time before we reach critical mass.
+5 # dovelane1 2012-10-22 15:42
I'm not sure what you mean by overcoming ego. I think it's more realistic to think about incorporating the ego into the whole of a person. I believe the problems occur when the ego isgiven too prminent a role in the decision making process.

It is awareness of an issue that allows one to deal with it. Denial or ignorance are the two responses that keep people stuck.

Again, I believe this country's priorities have been based on addictive principles, and the two symptoms that keep addictive principles in place are denial and blame.

First, a person denies there is a problem, and, if they admit that there is a problem, they look for others to blame.

Hitler blamed the Jews, the unions, and so on. Romney blames Obama, ignoring everything the W. Bush administration di to get us to where we are now.

And he cycle of dysfunctional behaviors continues.
+34 # D12345 2012-10-21 15:56
A masterpiece of false equivalency....

Consider the following paragraph

"For instance, Democrats are more loath than Republicans to look squarely at the government debt crisis indisputably looming with the aging of baby boomers and the ballooning cost of Medicare.
Republicans are more reluctant than Democrats to acknowledge the rise of global temperatures and its causes and consequences."

I could not believe this when I saw it in the NY Times and I can't believe RSN thought it was worth reprinting.

I don't think RSN readers need me to walk this through, but just in case:

The Republicans have run up deficits under Reagan and of course the whopper under Bush the lesser who started with a surplus. They have also vowed to create further tax cuts, increase military spending and have all pledged never to raise a cent in taxes even for a thousand dollars of spending cuts.

The so-called Ryan Budget does nothing to reduce the deficit.

All the Right wants to do is use the excuse of the deficit to
cut every social program they can find.

There was no dissent when the wars were run with payment left for later. Cheney said, "Deficits don't matter.' Ryan voted with them.

Where does this garbage come from? and why is RSN reprinting it as something sound?
+33 # ithinktoomuch 2012-10-21 18:21
Since 1946, Democratic presidents increased the national debt an average of only 3.2% per year. The Republican presidents increased the national debt by an average of 9.7% per year. Republican presidents out-borrowed and out-spent Democratic presidents by a three-to-one ratio. Putting that in very real terms, for every dollar a Democratic president has raised the national debt in the past 59 years, Republican presidents have raised the debt by $2.99.
-41 # MidwestTom 2012-10-21 18:39
"For instance, Democrats are more loath than Republicans to look squarely at the government debt crisis indisputably looming with the aging of baby boomers and the ballooning cost of Medicare.
Republicans are more reluctant than Democrats to acknowledge the rise of global temperatures and its causes and consequences."

According to new data from the Climate Research Unit at the University of East Anglia, there has been no Global Warming for the past 16 years. Report is available at the following:
+22 # David Heizer 2012-10-22 07:18
Quoting MidwestTom:
According to new data from the Climate Research Unit at the University of East Anglia, there has been no Global Warming for the past 16 years. Report is available at the following:

Really?? The Daily Mail?!? ROFL!
Sensationalistic, misleading tabloid fluff.

The Met Office and the researcher quoted in that piece repudiate the article here (as well as lots of other debunking information):

In short, a brief pause does not eliminate a long-term warming trend. Only someone deeply misinformed would swallow that spurious argument.
+14 # Granny Weatherwax 2012-10-22 08:21
Someone deeply misinformed or willfully biased.
+1 # independentmind 2012-10-23 20:31
This always happens when people confuse the weather with climate.
+2 # RLF 2012-10-24 06:22
This is the attitude of disbelief caused by fake science. This is the moron that believes fake science because it supports what he wants to believe. more than one study and then get rid of the
+1 # RLF 2012-10-24 06:28
The aging of baby boomers could be helped a lot if they got rid of the $110,000.00 cap and the rich had to pay the same percentage for this service to the country that I have to pay. I think it is easier for them to afford!
+19 # MidwestDick 2012-10-21 19:05
Thanks for pointing this out. I must admit, I kind of just glossed over it while reading, so accustomed have I become to hearing this Standard Operational BS.
And come to think of it, the President actually does mentions the growth in Medical costs as the main driver of the long term deficit problem and has taken action to reduce it.
+11 # KittatinyHawk 2012-10-21 19:14
I think we should see the story but we do not have to agree with it. His point of view but I have seen similar disparaging stories in Times, knowing they are GOP is not new.
+7 # BradFromSalem 2012-10-22 08:07

I don't think the deficit issue is the crux of this article. Not everything you read by commentators or published in RSN is going to conform to a single view of the world.

I agree that the deficit is a phony issue, but the article is about the phoniness of a larger issue in terms of scope and historical impact.

The entire concept of American exceptionalism must be turned back to an aspiration, not a done deal. The author's view of the deficit is a symptom of America's issues, not the cause. The author has pointed out a critical cause, that needs to be talked about.
+26 # theshift33 2012-10-21 16:00
What a great article.
I came across this quote that has great meaning in these times.
"Very few Americans love the truth or even regard facts deeply enough to let either one upset their picture of the U.S." (or the world for that matter). Is it self-serving or self-preservati on? Either way Americans have much work to do.
+7 # Linwood 2012-10-21 19:16
Self-righteousn ess.
+3 # dovelane1 2012-10-22 15:49
Shift - I think it's more of a "comfort zone" issue. The main problem is an internal conflict that many peopl do not know how to resolve.

We have two drives in life - one for truth, the other for comfort, and it is difficult to yoke the two together, as comfort insulates us from the truth, and truth often makes us uncomfortable.

What most people end up wanting is for things to stay the same but get better, which generally deosn't happen.

And if a person has an ego problem with being "wrong," it impacts on their comfort zone to admit that they might be wrong. Therein lies the difficulty.

All change begins with the ability to admit one might be wrong.
+6 # luvdoc 2012-10-21 16:01
Please delete the above article. It's both upsetting and, our leaders deny. As bushie boy said after 9/11, spend, folks spend...all will be well. the jester
+26 # Jaycie 2012-10-21 16:25
Some time back I saw a chart, I think on Rachel Maddow's show, showing how, despite their claim to fiscal conservatism, Republicans have been responsible for raising our national debt again and agin over the decades. I bagan to wonder under Bush if the Republicans don't actually want to bankrupt our country as a means of getting rid of Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, Public education, etc.- all programs which benefit American taxpayers and which Republicans despise. Is it any wonder that we rank lower and lower on a global scale in the metrics that actully matter and for which our tax dollars are necessary in order for us to rise again?
+9 # Eldon J. Bloedorn 2012-10-21 20:30
One idea that the Social Security "demolition derby" does not talk about. Suppose Social Security were repealed as we know it. Would employers have to contribute, would they be required to make employee contributions? Maybe this is the real reason the Plutocrats want to demolish Social Security as we know it? The lack of employer contributions, the math, has to be massive in amount. Suppose the employers did not make employee contributions-h ow the hell could those who support the military industrial complex take money out of the social Security fund, which they do, and leave an IOU, which they now do?
+5 # Granny Weatherwax 2012-10-22 08:24
Or as Norquist said "I don't want to get rid of the government, I want to shrink it to the point where I can drag it to the bathroom and drown it in the bathtub".

There is a name for that: they call it starve the beast.
+2 # X Dane 2012-10-22 16:26

There's no doubt in my mind, that Obama UNDERSTANDS what you stated.....BUT. ....IF he voiced it he would surely be labeled an un American looser, and chased out of god's own country.
Very few Americans can handle the truth.
0 # bingers 2012-10-23 09:41
BTW, the word is loser, not looser. Looser is what my pants become when I lose weight.
+1 # RLF 2012-10-24 06:26
That is a huge assumption! The assumption I make is that he always went to conventional wisdom schools and probably thinks very conventionally. a good rich Harvard boy. He is living in the town that didn't see the housing bubble happening...nuf f said!
+3 # X Dane 2012-10-22 16:49
I think you have it totally right. The right wing DOES want to bankrupt the country. When we are totally broke, they will say that we HAVE to eliminate all the programs you mentioned, because there is NO money.......

Which is of course is why they WILL NOT raise taxes, for that would begin to solve problems, since that is what WE NEED TO DO.

They will come in and "SAVE" the country..... To hell with all the people who will surely die from lack of health care. That is not their concern. They will not work seriously to help the people in need. But they have NO QUALMS borrowing money for wars. They never saw a war they didn't like.

An interesting remark from the worst example of hypocrite, Donald Trump, who I have lost all respect for, He is so despicable, and incredibly stupid. Some years ago he said, that although he was a republican, his business always did better during a democratic administration.
0 # bingers 2012-10-23 09:40
+25 # VoiceofReason613 2012-10-21 16:25
Excellent analysis.

The world is rapidly approaching a climate catastrophe, severe food, water, and energy scarcities, and other environmental disasters, but this is off the country's radar screen, and the main presidential candidates are not even discussing these treats
+6 # KittatinyHawk 2012-10-21 19:16
People do not buy the climate or any other environmental problems and I know for a fact. I have fought for over 40 years and most turn their back on us.
Jobs are too important. Economy would be fixed if the Companies that took our jobs were thrown out, and merchandise not allowed in....Want Chinese, than buy Chinese not Phony American
+5 # dkonstruction 2012-10-22 14:42
Quoting KittatinyHawk:
People do not buy the climate or any other environmental problems and I know for a fact. I have fought for over 40 years and most turn their back on us.
Jobs are too important. Economy would be fixed if the Companies that took our jobs were thrown out, and merchandise not allowed in....Want Chinese, than buy Chinese not Phony American

Actually, the latest poll shows that 70% of Americans believe that climate change is real.

And, China is not the cause of America's economic problems (despite the China bashing Propaganda nowadays which seems to have replaced the Japan bashing not so long ago) so stop scapegoating them (inlcuding the chinese workers who are and should be seen as the allies of American workers since both are being screwed by their capitalist continue to believe that the Chinese economy is anyting but capitalist -- albeit a different variety than we have is simply to not understand what makes an economy "capitalist" vs. "socialist").
+8 # Helen 2012-10-21 19:58
You are right and I find it quite irresponsible for the candidates to avoid this important matter. Nor are they talking about our fast growing economic disparities of wealth. What good is it to have debates if these issues are not addressed?
+4 # Granny Weatherwax 2012-10-22 08:29
Well, they are now pandering to the undecided centrist and they are not going to wow them with these subjects. Romney even tried top tar the pipeline issue with saving 25 birds - obviously a ploy to antagonize the centrists.

At this point of the game (for there is not much more to that) the players just try to get elected even if that means restricting the subjects they discuss to those that are palatable to the target audience.

Sad, but a fact of life at this point.
+5 # X Dane 2012-10-22 17:16
It is sad but true, Helen, the our largely uninformed American voters do not want to hear the TRUTH, they want to be told, that we are GREAT, and frankly, when I hear people say, that Obama has no program for the next 4 years. It is because THEY WANT TO HEAR something GRAND,
as when Kennedy announced that within 10 years we would go to the moon.

We are deeply in debt and there is NO WAY we can tackle giant projects, and THAT ticks off many of the uninformed.
Like the Romans, They want BREAD AND GAMES. To hell with the cost.

If Obama said that within 10 years we would be using 30--50% renewable energy, I think the right wing would tar and feather him, for that SHOULD BE A GOAL.. .......but many would understand that WILL cost money initially,

So obviously he can not SAY it. But he has already DONE a lot in regard to renewable energy. Next year I believe construction will begin on cars built of carbon fiber, which is MUCH lighter than steel and very strong so cars will get much better mileage.

That and other things done to use less gasoline is VERY important, but it doesn't SOUND impressive (or sexy) We must move with determination and intelligence to save the planet.
0 # independentmind 2012-10-23 20:35
Part of the reason may be that the US will not be as adversely affected by climate change as some other areas, however that does not take into account the social upheavals that will inevitably affect everyone. We got a taste of it on 9/11.
+9 # MichaelArchAngel 2012-10-21 17:01
This is exactly what attracts me to a candidate. I thought Jimmy Carter might break the mold but it was not to be.
+11 # KittatinyHawk 2012-10-21 19:17
He was exceptional, and that was why he was so easy to set up and then dispose of
+3 # Granny Weatherwax 2012-10-22 08:29
I agree with you and KittatinyHawk
+24 # bon1042 2012-10-21 17:08
Oh!!! this is wonderful. Thank you for writing this column, Scott Shane. I ruminate on all this all the time, as a life long Democrat who could never vote Republican simply bec of the revulsion I've felt the past 40 yrs over right wing evangelical take over of that party using Nixon's (by way of George Wallace) "Southern Strategy". But the Democrats "turned Right" after Reagan's '84 landslide, created the , sold out to Wall Streetand lost their spine. Remember, it was Clinton at urging of Robert Rubin who signed repeal of Glass-Steagall. He's just as responsible as the rest of them for the tragedy that has beome the U.S. of A.
-21 # perkinsej 2012-10-21 17:11
Not all that you have written is factually true. Americans are best educated population in the world at age 30. Except for universities in Canada, UK, Ireland, and Sweden, none overseas can match the quality of hundreds, yes hundreds, of our major universties. Even the small colleges in the USA offer superior undergraduate training. When assessing the quality of all educational programs here and abroad, you need to start with the end product and work backward. The USA is like Zenyatta, the late running filly who won the Breeders Cup Classic a few years ago; we do not catch the back of the pack until we reach the top of the stretch -- and then blow past them to the finish line. Ed Perkins, emeritus, ecnomic history, Univ. of So. Calif.
+14 # MidwestDick 2012-10-21 19:08
This is a tough metric to formulate, but I think your numbers are about ten or twenty years old.
+10 # futhark 2012-10-21 22:24
So much more is known now about how children's brains and intelligence develop neurologically than was known 40 years ago, but our educational methods and processes seem to remain mired in the 19th century. If we really want our kids to be smarter, they must have more opportunities for stimulation and exploration before age 5. I'm not talking about pushing 5 year olds to learn algebra, but giving them the toys and stories they need to create their own mental landscapes and algorithms.

I'm a professional educator who raised two high school valedictorians, now with university degrees in, respectively, mathematics and computer science. Raising smart kids was a lot more fun than raising knuckleheads.
+5 # Kumari 2012-10-22 01:08
Says who? this is complete bollox.

And even if were true, how much longer is anyone going to be able to afford to go?

+4 # Granny Weatherwax 2012-10-22 08:36
It depends in what department.
In economics history maybe.
In business, (US) law and medicine too, as brilliant people flock to where you can make big buck - a sign of the times.
In History, don't make me laugh - Americans know only of Americans.
In sciences, in maths and in other technological areas needed for innovation the US are drowning compared to Asia and even old Europe.
0 # independentmind 2012-10-23 20:57
Medicine is already hurting - it is too expensive here, so we import people from countries where it is cheaper to study medicine. They are not saddled with all that debt. Not one of the candidates was asked the question: Of all the grads that cannot find jobs - what did they study? Even here in the small towns of middle America companies cannot find enough engineers of all persuasions to fill the vacancies, and I am sure that those with degrees in science and technology have no problems finding employment.
We also need good apprenticeship programs for kids that are not academic but technically inclined. To be competitive we need to make university educations free or at least very low cost, and at the same time raise the standards to get in, we need much higher standards in High Schools, so that the motivated and smart kids can get a university education no matter how much or little money their parents have.
+10 # tahoevalleylines 2012-10-21 17:19
The Republican body politic has chosen to go for an LDS/GOP corporate model. Their great white hope is a proven bully, prevaricator and no supporter of homeland manufacturing or investment. Preferred business methodology of the GOP candidate is well expressed in Senator Frank J. Cannon's book: "Under The Prophet In Utah".

American exceptionalism was left behind about the time the economic model could not sustain itself on domestic energy production. Importing a percentage of motor fuel seemed sensible enough, until massive military overhead was grafted onto a so-called peacetime defense budgets. If America really wanted to get back to an exceptional position in the western world, we would need to abstain from needing to buy motor fuel on borrowed/printe d money...

Military and political leadership bent on forever maintaining bellicose presence in the Muslim oil patch should read, slowly, several times for comprehension; George Grant's illumination of Muhammadanism's mission & methods "The Blood Of The Moon".

These titles mentioned have never ever turned up in conversation with contemporary GOP supporters and for good reason... Maybe a little fiction? Zane Grey's "Riders Of The Purple Sage" might be a way to ease into the dialogue-
+14 # maddave 2012-10-21 17:31
Segments of a recent letter to a Moslem friend in Kuwait:

". . . based on the intangibles, neither of us is any better or worse than the other - only different, and I celebrate those differences in my most cherished conviction ... one that I share with others: one that I choose to live by: "Regardless our differences, People of Good Will get along just fine until politicians and preachers get involved."

"Lately I have been reading the works of Elbert Hubbard who, along with his wife, when down on the RMS Lusitania in 1915. In reading his philosophy, it's as if like he were sending me a letter - personally - from more than a century past. One example which I replay mentally on a daily basis is: 'Only fools and fanatics are certain. Wise men have doubts.'

"This profound snippet helps me keep my sanity in a world of mad certainty: one in which my worst dreams are materializing and my depression & doubts deepen.

"So, last Spring when I was already at odds with our politics and our economy, a new TV show titled 'Broadcast News' premiered. The link below was the opening scene. It did nothing to relieve my growing anxiety over the state of this country's frayed, deteriorating underling fabric. I see some bad shit coming over the on horizon, Musa, but what's to be done?"
+19 # reiverpacific 2012-10-21 17:39
A good start would be for the owner-media to publish a LOT more articles like this.
The British had their share of imperialist jingoism ("Land of Hope and Glory"; "Britannia Rules the Waves") but people at the grassroots became tired of dying for the Crown and it's capitalist attachés and revolted with a true Labor movement. In other words, the spoilt kid grew up and faced it's shit squarely, consigning the Royals to a soap opera beloved of the tabloids, the Tories, the clingers to the 'ancienne regime' noblesse oblige and it's social climbers good for little else, finally forced to pay taxes.
Other European countries and their old major colonies all had their Imperial death throes and have progressed beyond them and the two world wars they destroyed so much by. Hell even ol'' Winston Churchill, hardly a raving lefty, recognized and supported the dire need for a National, Universal Healthcare plan and other Social Safety nets in the devastated aftermath of WW11, instigated in 1948.
But it looks like the good ol' Land of the free (for some) and home of the brave (if somebody else is doing the fighting) won't grow up.
That's why I'm going back in due course, which will be accelerated if Twit is selected; it'll put the country back 100 years and I don't want to grow old in an enhanced Corporate State already far behind much of the rest of the world in so many quality of life factors.
It's very sad, as I really care about this misguided nation.
+14 # MainStreetMentor 2012-10-21 17:47
It's all true. The political "machines" of the GOP and Dems are identical in function and process - (same circus, different clowns). Both groups scream for donation money - and get it. The rest of us are in financial doldrums, some have NO idea how they are going to eat tomorrow, or where they'll sleep tonight. It's hard to accept their words of a bright future under those conditions, and that acceptence is made more difficult when watching the multi-millions of dollars spent for nothing more that campaign advertising.
0 # bingers 2012-10-23 09:48
Process, yes, because they have to be, but function, a huge NO! In general Democrats work for us, Republicans against us.
+29 # Kumari 2012-10-21 17:49
US is not no 1 in GDP! Another myth. Oh but here's another no1 - medical bankruptcy.
Americans are so ignorant about the rest of the world. They think its the best at everything and it's complete horsesh*t - the rest of the world knows this but Americans just don't get it. They spend their whole lives being brainwashed about what a great country it is they don't realize that most of the rest of us don't envy you, we pity you.
Wake up and learn something from the rest of the planet before the nation crumbles completely.
+21 # Eldon J. Bloedorn 2012-10-21 18:07
I travel to China several times a year. Wuhan city is my temporary home. Wuhan city is somewhat China central and a bit to the East. Ocassionally, I am seated in the aircraft adjacent to someone of another country. I have the good opportunity to speak to people who see the United States in a different light as I do. Would a comment surprise you that the United States is usually more often than not looked at as a very progressive country by the older generation of another country? Why? This generation remembers the truly great strides we made in the space program, computers, the internet. I ask them if they remember Werhner Von Braun or the name? Some say, "yes, I seem to remember that name" and others do not remember the name. We, the U.S. "harvested" Werhner from Germany as a spoils of World War Two. I ask them if they know how the U.S. ranks internationally in health care, math and science scores, happiness, net worth, social mobility. (The Canadian median net worth per household now exceeds that of the U.S.) The usual reply is, "I do not know, but I think your country ranks quite high in all those areas." It is not my job to put down the U.S. as I do know how we rank as a country, internationally and I do not speak on the subject unless I am asked. During a conversation, a man from the Netherlands once said, "if you ain't Dutch, you ain't much." I smiled with him. He suggested that the Washington Monument was symbolic of the U.S. military industrial complex-a huge penis.
+9 # Eldon J. Bloedorn 2012-10-21 18:57
Something I over looked in my above missive. For those of you who are interested in the U.S. space program, you may know W. Von Braun was the chief brains of the "let's get to the moon program."
Yes, I'm proud of what we accomplished. Tho, I would have been more excited about a Universal Health Care program instead of going to the moon, especially how many times? The U.S. simply did not have the technical engineering competence to get to the moon without German engineering excellence. And the Sputnik? Chief engineering brains, German scientist "harvested" from Germany after WW11.
0 # bingers 2012-10-23 09:53
"Something I over looked in my above missive. For those of you who are interested in the U.S. space program, you may know W. Von Braun was the chief brains of the "let's get to the moon program."

When I was stationed at Redstone Arsenal I almost got shot when we drove up to a gate near a huge building and was told to turn around. We did so by driving through the gate and making a U turn instead of backing up to do so. Suddenly there were a number of heavily armed MPs aiming grease guns at us. Turned out the building was where Von Braun and the other rocket scientists did their job.
+8 # TomThumb 2012-10-21 20:36
Right On!!! The US government operates by crisis. They don't do anything until there is one. It did not use to be this way or certainly not this bad.

It doesn't occur to people that there might be a crisis, like global warming, that by the time it is a real problem, then it is too late. Tommy Rimes
+6 # Rain17 2012-10-21 21:39
The bottom line is that "America sucks" or implying that "America sucks" is not a winning message that will attract voters. Most voters, even many liberals, don't respond well to such a message.

Rather I think liberals would be better off showing how their solutions would make life better for people. What made Presidents Bush, Clinton, and Reagan so so successful is that they spoke of America in optimistic terms.
0 # bingers 2012-10-23 09:55
Reminds me of the old adage, "My country, may she always be right, but my country right or wrong."
0 # saigoncowboy 2012-10-23 12:02
Quoting bingers:
Reminds me of the old adage, "My country, may she always be right, but my country right or wrong."

The complete quotation is "Our country, right or wrong. When right, to be kept right; when wrong to be put right." Carl Schurz, speech in U.S. Senate, Jan. 17, 1982. Quite a different meaning than the fragmented version.
+6 # natalierosen 2012-10-21 21:41
In many ways the American quasi republic is exceptional but in so many ways it is not. It is simply another nation trying to maintain its hegemony on the stage of world power, its military might and its vast wealth. All nations try to do this.

The problem I have with American so called exceptionalism is the same that Howard Zinn had and that is one forgets the very UNACCEPTABLE things the nation has done in our name. The US has become a target because it invades, puts boots on the ground in nations that do NOT want its boots. This nation has killed a TON of people though horrendous foreign policy errors creating LOTS of what is called now "collateral damage" that is innocent people getting killed; moreover the US is responsible for defoliating forests, using Agent Orange a known killer and god only knows what the country has used in the Arab world. When an Iraqi family is lost in exile or worst killed, when an Afghanistani innocents are mowed down and much is kept under wraps we are an exceptional killing machine perpetuating constant war.

Question is would other nations take our place if the American Empire falters? I do not know which is why I hesitate waxing critical because our so called enemy of fundamentalist religious tyrannies are in their own right KILLERS. I do not want them killers of us and our still so far free nation!
+6 # socrates2 2012-10-21 22:15
There goes Shane marching that old trope, "Talk to any political pro about this phenomenon and one name inevitably comes up: Jimmy Carter, who has become a sort of memento mori for American politicians, like the skulls in Renaissance paintings that reminded viewers of their mortality." It helps to give "honorable mention" to Henry Kissinger's buddy, Ted Koppel, his show "Nightline," and its cleverly framed nightly, abrasive reminder of how "weak" Carter was for "not having brought the Iran hostages home last night." This went on night after night for months on end. This daily, nationally televised political frame went unchallenged. It was the proto-Swift Boat of political acts. Any surprise as to why _any_ candidate running against Carter was a shoe-in?
By the way, in his book, _The Middle Mind_, writer Curtis White provides a coherent explanation why these very real and urgent issues find no place in the national political discourse.
+3 # D12345 2012-10-22 01:09
Thanks for that very good refresher, Socrates. I am more than a little disappointed in the number of RSN commenters who find this a "thoughtful" "important" article. Anyone who writes that Republicans are concerned about the deficit hasn't thought about politics seriously for a nanosecond. The Carter reference is similar.
The standard cliches trotted out once more. Thanks again..
+2 # Glen 2012-10-22 06:40
Yours is the perfect example of how the government and media work with ulterior motives. It isn't a new technique, as many Americans are thinking. Citizens have been manipulated for quite some time.

Most of us have heard the stereotypes and television opinions coming from the mouths of far too many people to trust they could ever work toward a more enlightened system.
+9 # DakotaKid 2012-10-22 05:50
"Imagine a presidential candidate who spoke with blunt honesty about American problems, dwelling on measures by which the United States lags its economic peers." Easy. Imagine Elizabeth Warren in the White House.
+3 # Rain17 2012-10-22 13:56
But here is the larger point: Rhetoric/messag ing that either says "America sucks" or implies "America sucks" is a nonstarter with a solid majority of the electorate, including many liberals and progressives. The voters aren't going to respond to a message that is down on America.

A better message would be one focusing on how to make America better and to demand the best. A better message would be one that demands the best of Americans and asks them to reach for higher goals.

But saying that "America sucks" or implying as much is a nonstarter with the electorate.
+8 # 2lilluc 2012-10-22 07:09
Somewhere in this article is the beginning of the conversation that we, as a nation, ought to be having. It is too easy to be a detractor because turning a blind eye is what got us here. Just as well, it is almost too easy to just nod our heads and say, yes! This is what we have come to, a nation that has been lethargic and fallen way behind. The seed was planted probably as far back as the fifties-believe in a shiny America, best of the best, top of the tops. While that sentiment remains at the core of our social mores, little by little our neglect has brought us to this point...lack of respect for education-the dumming down of America, ignoring the poverty right in front of us while we flex our muscles throughout the world, reminding everyone who's the boss. There has been this underlying message that believing in education is un-american. Only liberals, commies and bad Americans think being educated can raise you up, provide possibilities, change and opportunity. We even hear- beware of those people who want a more economically balanced society....they are all socialist, commies and un-american.
This argument can obviously keep going....The problems in our society, in our great America, has roots well and firmly planted. We are going to have to look at things honestly, say it out loud, before we can begin to change.
+4 # kalpal 2012-10-22 09:21
The day you feel the need to trumpet to the world, "I am exceptional," you provide proof that you are whistling in the dark and full of fearful dread.
+8 # Corvette-Bob 2012-10-22 10:48
Americans are delusional and live in a fantasy world. They believe in the tooth fairy and santa claus and they play happy music in movies when people are fighting each other. They will look on the bright side in the face of carnage. I still run into people who believe that the Viet Nam War was a good thing even though we went to a small country to help the people and killed 4 million people. The war's legacy is vast spending that caused the failure of the "war on poverty." Does anyone remember guns and butter? When I hear the idea of American Exceptionalism it makes me want to vomit. Everyone says who we help the world with foreign aid while ignoring the fact that most of our aid is military weapons to kill people around the world. But what the heck it helps the rich and powerful who live a life of ease and comfort. What do we look forward to is a President who as that genus Rick Perry, described as being a vulture capitalist. If Romney has his way we can strip away all of those pesky restrictions on the corporations (corp are People my friend) and really rape and pillage to their heart's content. Sorry for my rant.
0 # bingers 2012-10-23 09:59
It is instructive to note, arms or any other aid from us is just about the smallest of any first world country in % of GNP.
+4 # Activista 2012-10-22 16:14
Good article. Would change title from:
The Opiate of Exceptionalism
The Opiate of American Militarism.
There is a real problem, US (and maybe the World) can not survive with present level of American Militarism.
+3 # Activista 2012-10-22 19:54
17 million of children in the USA are without dental care.
How human it is for children to be in pain. Sick money culture.
0 # mh1224jst 2012-10-30 04:10
We don't understand economics and inequality. Why are we so far down the ladder on social and educational measures? Because we're also #1, by far, in the income gap between the rich and poor.
It's not just exceptionalism, it's ignorance. If we understood economics better, we would not be so quick to say Democrats want to avoid the debt issue; the debt issue should be understood as the top inequality issue.
It's Republican debt, mostly used to finance greater 1% wealth while the country slid toward recession. Our problem is the taxes at the top were reduced far too much, and the answer is to raise them back up.

THE NEW STREAMLINED RSN LOGIN PROCESS: Register once, then login and you are ready to comment. All you need is a Username and a Password of your choosing and you are free to comment whenever you like! Welcome to the Reader Supported News community.