Despite what some see as MSNBC's leftward tilt, the network's First Read team usually tries hard to stay above the fray. This week, though, a debate over American exceptionalism proved too tempting for First Read's Mark Murray
Conservatives Richard Lowry and Ramesh Ponnuru began it all with a National Review cover story
. Building on the familiar idea that the U.S. is "freer, more individualistic, more democratic, and more open and dynamic than any other nation on earth," they argue that Obama's problem is that he doesn't share a belief in American exceptionalism. They see America as a country that, unlike European nations, has a healthy "national spirit" and no "disaffected proletariat." Yet Obama, they argue, is uncomfortable with American exceptionalism. He keeps wondering: "Why couldn't we be more like them
--like the French, like the Swedes, like the Danes? Like any people
with a larger and busier government overawing the private sector and
civil society?" That's where his ideas on foreign policy and health care come from.
Mark Murray doesn't buy it
. He notes that Obama specifically said he believed in American exceptionalism when he was asked about it at the NATO summit. The real issue, he argues, is that the left and right have different views of it: "the conservative definition of American exceptionalism--particularly
in the National Review article--is aimed at Obama's efforts to reform
the nation's health-care system, enact cap-and-trade (which,
ironically, is based on market principles), etc." By contrast, looking at Obama's speeches, "you see a president with a different idea of American
exceptionalism: America's unique ability to evolve and become a more
Murray explains that historians have an different, narrower conception: they "typically regard American exceptionalism as why the U.S. didn't have
socialist revolutions or strong working-class movements like most of
Europe did in the 19th and early 20th centuries."
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