Steve Benen flags Chris Christie making the following statements in a speech he gave over the weekend flirting with, denying completely, or keeping the door open (depending on who’s interpreting his statement) for a presidential run:
A lot is being said in this election season about American exceptionalism. Implicit in such statements is that we are different and, yes, better, in the sense that our democracy, our economy and our people have delivered. But for American exceptionalism to truly deliver hope and a sterling example to the rest of the world, it must be demonstrated, not just asserted….
Benen quite reasonably asks if the suggestion that America isn’t automatically an exceptional country isn’t some sort of Republican apostasy. But what strikes me about these statements is that they seem a perfect example of the type of argle-bargle that politicians are so adept at spewing that rely on the audience to provide any meaning to them at all.
I’ll admit, when I first read Christie’s statement I thought he might be saying something with which I personally have agreed for some time. The truth is, I think the United States does have a history of doing some exceptional and extraordinary things, but I certainly do not believe – as the Right seems to – that this somehow means everything the country does is thereby alright simply because the country does it. Using a pack of lies to justify invading another country that posed no threat to us or to others, torturing people, breaking the law and spying on its own citizens – pretty heinous things, not redeemed because the United States government was the one acting so heinously.
But, of course, Christie never specified what it is he meant when he made these fundamentally vapid statements. He left it up to the audience to decide precisely what it is America should be doing in order to maintain its much-vaunted “exceptionalism.” And given that he was speaking before a Republican audience, to the extent people were nodding along with him those people were probably thinking along the lines of, “Yeah, that’s right. We need to eliminate corporate taxes, the estate tax and capital gains tax and let the uber-wealthy keep more money. We need to cut out unemployment benefits, food stamps, and assistance to the poor. Then America can take its rightful place as leader of the world again.” They were, in short, nodding along to a speech very different than the one I completed in my head.
I see this all the time, politicians making speeches that are long on exhortation and short on specifics. If you pay attention you realize that they are effective because the speaker only points the audience toward something vague like, say, “excellence,” and then leaves it to the audience to fill in the blanks. It’s highly effective, and allows the speaker to be all things to all people without actually committing to being anything to anyone.