You’re a Conservative
By Paul Gottfried
Last night at the CPAC conference when Sean Hannity interviewed presidential hopeful Jeb Bush on his „conservative“ bona fides, one question the Fox-news star immediately threw at the interviewee is whether he „believes in American exceptionalism.” This now has become the supreme acid test of who is or is not a “conservative,” and rarely can one turn on to Fox or read an article in the Murdoch press without encountering the new, pervasive touchstone of conservative right-think. The recent brouhaha created when former New York City mayor Rudolph Giuliani stated that President Obama did not “love America” the way he did, was simply a reformulation of the same acid test.
And so was a contest devised last week by Hannity between Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindall and California congressman Darrell Issa, when Hannity asked the two GOP stars to respond to Giuliani’s effusions. This gave rise to a competition between the politicians over who could be more over the top in oozing “love” for what America meant to their families. Their forebears, as we were quickly told, came as immigrants (in Issa’s case about one hundred years ago) to this “incredible land.” A glowing defense of the same enthusiasm in the New York Post last Sunday, by Kyle Smith, indicates that the vast majority of Americans who now consider themselves “conservative,” place huge emphasis on believing that “America is exceptional.” Indeed they would demand such a confession of faith from anyone they would think of voting for.
“Conservative” in the US, however, now means something very specific, namely being attached to the Murdoch media, as a brain support system, 24/7. The fact such a self-selected group believes what is poured into their heads continuously has no more informative value than discovering that someone who read The Daily Worker around 1950 thought that Uncle Joe was a great guy. I would not expect any other results in either case. More interesting is why the source of enlightenment on which American “conservatives” depend tells them what it does. I am of course taking into account what Obama correctly said, and for which the GOP is still hammering him, that Americans think they’re exceptional the way those living in the British or Roman empire thought they were exceptional. It is only natural for the citizens or subjects of a world empire (which is what the US is today) to feel good about their political association. I would not expect anything else.
I am also factoring in the view of the establishment (both left-liberal and neoconservative) of America as a “country of immigrants,” held together by some kind of civic creed. Presumably believing in something like “universal equality” makes us different from and better than those nations (e.g., Israel?) that stress ethnic identity as a national link. If propositional nationhood happens to be the unifying card one is holding, then why not show it around?
And there are of course other more substantial reasons to value an association with the US. Unlike the increasingly repressive “liberal democracies” in Western Europe, we do have residual First Amendment liberties to say politically incorrect things without facing criminal charges, as now happens to right-wing dissenters in antifascist Germany, France and Holland. And we still do have the opportunity in this country to make piles of money, if we are resourceful enough and can avoid being hammered by the IRS. Just speak to professionals from other countries and they’ll tell you how much easier it is for them to enrich themselves here (and to get hold of netflick) than it was from wherever they came from.
What I am assuming is an ulterior motive for why the Murdoch media are pushing the America exceptionalist card at this particular time. Although neocons, Straussians and other usual suspects have belabored this card since time out of memory, unless I’m mistaken, exceptionalism is now being pushed with special fury. All the GOP presidential candidates at the CPAC conference (with the exception of Rand Paul) were spitting out exceptionalist rhetoric, usually in combination with calls for American intervention somewhere. Dare I to suggest that the two are integrally related? The rote recitation of American uniqueness as the essence of a manufactured “conservatism” is only the other face of foreign policy belligerence.
Sabre-rattling and doing something or other about Obamacare seem to be the only issues that presently interest the Republicans. They’ve given up entirely on social issues and don’t care if federal judges are overriding state referenda banning gay marriage. Hell, Republican as well as Democratic federal judges, as in my home state of Pennsylvania where Bush-appointee John Jones has taken the lead, are happily striking down bans on gay marriage as inconsistent with their peculiar gloss on the Fourteenth Amendment. And the GOP is putting distance between itself and other issues. Anyone but a Fox-news junkie knows the Republican Congress would never deny amnesty to illegal residents in the US. Instead party leaders in Congress and presidential candidates are looking for “paths to citizenship” for those who jumped the border and are staying her against the law. So what the GOP continues to provide the voters with is more gas about exceptionalism, together with calls to make lesser breeds elsewhere fear us.
As an addendum I should mention that I am not arguing against American intervention anywhere at any time. Although in the present circumstances, namely with what passes for the kind of foreign policy expertise that American leaders are receiving from media-approved experts, I may sound like an absolute isolationist that is not quite my position–yet. It may take John Bolton as secretary-of-state to push me all the way in that direction. What is worrisome at the present time is the appeal to an American ideological crusade, couched in the bombast of American exceptionalism and stressing the interventionist right of the “one indispensable nation.” The latest GOP-FOX-inspired noise about our being exceptional is either an attempt to win elections with empty boasting or else a preparation for going to war somewhere— perhaps everywhere. This nonsense may also be intended to serve both ends.