The Audacity of American Exceptionalism

Last night I finished reading Governor Palin’s newest book, America by Heart. It was a wonderful, encouraging, challenging read. In fact, I fear I read it too quickly and didn’t let everything sink in–kind of like when you regret eating a piece of dark chocolate too quickly. I will be re-reading it soon.

I found the book almost to be like an American took a theoretical journey similar to that of Alexis de Tocqueville when he traveled throughout all of America in the early 19th century observing American culture, politics, and Founding documents. In a sense, that’s what Governor Palin did when she wrote this book. She viewed America’s Founding documents, speeches by Presidents like Reagan, Kennedy, and Coolidge. She spoke of American work ethic and how great joy comes through the effort of hard work, not entitlement. She wrote of issues of race and feminism. She wrote of her personal experiences with family– the birth of her children and her relationship with her husband. She wrote of her faith–how it is both deeply personal, but also very public.

Many politicians and political leaders write about such things, but there is something different about how Governor Palin presents the message. I think it has something to do with the title–America by Heart. It wasn’t America by Mind or Thoughts on American Exceptionalism; it was America by Heart. The thoughts that she put down on paper were heart-felt. They were genuine. She didn’t present a long dissertation on feminism or economics, but she did present well-reasoned, heart felt thoughts on those topics. You knew that she meant every word she wrote. Her words weren’t focused group tested or written for the sake of political expediency; they were written because she meant them.

During the 2008 campaign, in the nascent days of my political awareness, I decided to read Obama’s book, the Audacity of Hope, and McCain’s book, Faith of my Fathers, prior to election day, hoping to get a first person perspective of the two men running for president. Prior to the 2008 campaign, I’d only really seen the term,”hope”, as a religious term. Particularly, I always thought of hope as described by the writer of Hebrews in the New Testament: “Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see”. We hope for things in the future, and things not of this world, but of eternity. Without getting too theological, suffice it to say, hope to me, was looking ahead to something, rather than viewing things in light of the present or the past.

When Obama’s campaign mantra was “hope and change”, what I thought about was a forward focused hope in what the country could be changed to. This is what Obama said, even a fundamental transformation of America. What America is currently is not good. There is no American exceptionalism–at least exclusively. He was “bold” enough to hope though that America could and would be transformed to something “better”. This is what separates President Obama and Governor Palin both in terms of their books and their ideology. Governor Palin’s book outlines American Exceptionalism as America was in its founding and what it still is today. There isn’t a hoping for a better America. That exceptional America is already here, if we choose to recognize who we are as a nation and what our Founders intended for America to be. This is why Governor Palin said at the Restoring Honor rally that we need to “fundamentally restore America”.

Governor Palin sees that a great America is nothing to be hoped for because it is already here, if we choose to live like that is the truth–the audacity of American Exceptionalism.

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