Can you believe in both “American exceptionalism” and limited government?

If there was one theme that was found throughout the Republican convention last week, it was this: America is awesome and everything would be great if only our guys were in power.  Now, this is certainly not a new idea.  It is common for partisans to see their opposition as the source of all our societal ills.  But in the Republicans’ case, this is amplified into the concept of “American exceptionalism,” the idea that America is not only a great nation, but one that is uniquely blessed and, thus, obligated to spread freedom throughout the globe.

Now, this would be one thing if it were just a bunch of overblown nationalism.  Pride in one’s country is perfectly fine, of course, but the concept of American exceptionalism takes that to an even further extreme, arguing that the normal rules don’t apply to the US and we have a special role unique in history.  It is an attitude that causes one to overlook America’s numerous failings and sins, and to excuse actions that, if undertaken by another nation, we could rightly condemn.  It is a worldview that calls anyone who questions it unpatriotic and part of the “blame America first” crowd.

And furthermore, it runs plainly counter to the other main concept that the GOP is supposed to stand for - limited government.  It strikes me that your average Republican doesn’t understand this conflict, because they don’t fully understand WHY limited government is important to liberty.  Limited government isn’t just a nice slogan for those who genuinely believe in it.  It is an acknowledgement of a fundamental fact, that government not kept within a small box tends to violate liberty and take over our lives.  Many Republicans believe in this in domestic matters, but when it comes to foreign policy, the government can do no wrong.  If America is exceptional, after all, why shouldn’t it have free reign to “liberate” oppressed people?  Why should it have to obey any of the standard rules?

This is shown clearly when Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan defend military spending against any cuts, and even suggest it needs to be INCREASED.  They will often suggest this in the very same speech in which they call for a return to the Constitution and limited government.  They seemingly do not see the incredible conflict in these positions.  After all, government spending does not suddenly become stimulative when it is spent on guns and tanks instead of roads and bridges.  It is remarkable to see Republicans use the same kind of economic theories that they mocked when they were used to justify Obama’s “stimulus” bill.

If big government is bad when it runs our lives at home, then surely it is at least as bad, if not worse, when trying to run the affairs of nations foreign to us.  All one needs to do is look at our situations in Iraq and Afghanistan to show that America cannot run other nations, even if our intentions are good.  We failed to understand the internal politics and culture of both nations and it cost us dearly.  Yet what did we hear from Republicans like Condoleezza Rice and Marco Rubio last week?  That we need to play a MORE active role in the world, intervene in more places.

You simply can’t have it both ways.  Either government should be small, or it should not.  If it is a “necessary evil” at home, then why should it be trusted abroad? The purpose of the military must be kept to defending the homeland not much else beyond that.  This isn’t pacifism or isolationism, this is simply applying the idea of limited government to all areas, not just one.  America may be a remarkable place, but the rules of human nature still apply, and government, when told it can do what it pleases, is always bad for freedom.

 


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