What makes America exceptional?

What makes America exceptional?
: In the comments to my post below on change and fear and the campaign, someone calling himself Franky challenges us: “Name the exceptional things about America that make it great…”

OK, we’ll bite.

Go into the comments, dear readers, and name the exceptional things about America that make it great.

Sure, I could start another thread on what needs improvement — our health insurance, our education, our race relations, our tax structure, all the things I’d like our presidential candidates to be addressing instead of George Bush himself. But that’s not Franky’s challenge. And though I never was a flag-waver and a nationalist and a parade-day patriot, ina time when we are under attack, it is only right to answer back and recognize what it is we’re protecting. I don’t want to change all this. I want to improve on it. I want to protect it.

So I’ll step up and start the bidding. Here’s my starting list:

1. Freedom of speech. We protect that single freedom, our greatest freedom, more dearly than any nation you can name.

2. Freedom of religion. We don’t ban headscarves and yarmulkes, we fight to protect our citizens and immigrants’ right to worship as they please.

3. An economy that powers the world with courage and capital and ingenuity and imagination.

4. A creative class that is unparalleled — otherwise, why would the rest of the world pay so much to see our movies and hear our music and read our books and watch our TV?

5. An entrepreneurial class that has created, in just recent memory, Amazon, Google, eBay, Starbucks, Microsoft, Cisco, Apple, CNN…

6. A respect for technology that has given birth to the Internet and the transistor and cures of no end of diseases.

7. A standard of living that is the envy of the world and, no, I don’t feel guilty about that.

8. A work ethic that beats the pants off of, say, Germany’s and France’s and earns that standard of living.

9. A political process that, though flawed as any human enterprise, has stood up to every stress and strain and continued to uphold the principles of a free nation.

10. Your turn…


  1. angell says:

    Sorry, I don’t have the link–I saved this after 911.
    America: The Good Neighbor
    The following excerpts, from a Canadian newspaper, is worth sharing…”America: The Good Neighbor”. Widespread but only partial news coverage was given to a remarkable editorial broadcast from Toronto by *Gordon Sinclair, a Canadian television commentator. Although presented on his radio show in 1973, Mr. Sinclair’s message most certainly touches the hearts and lives of many Americans and their allies today, after the senseless loss of innocent victims on Sept. 11, 2001.
    This Canadian thinks it is time to speak up for the Americans as the most generous and possibly the least appreciated people on all the earth. Germany, Japan and, to a lesser extent, Britain and Italy were lifted out of the debris of war by the Americans who poured in billions of dollars and forgave other billions in debts. None of these countries is today paying even the interest on its remaining debts to the United States.
    When the franc was in danger of collapsing in 1956,

  2. Brian Perry says:

    Great opportunity in exchange for hard work.
    Optimism, as a nation.
    A tough but fair system that acknolwledges and rewards excellence, innovation and efficiency.
    A certain unfussy, get-the-job-done right attitude that pervades our culture and lets amazing things happen.
    At least some understanding that if taxes are too high, no one will stick their neck out and work harder. As long as work and individual risk are repaid by fair and handsome rewards, innovation and the economy stay strong.
    Good topic, Jeff.

  3. I realize you’re probably sick of me poking you in the eye over your blogposts, but I feel compelled to mention two things about this one.
    First of all, it would have been far better if you could have named things without taking shots at other nations as you did in #2.
    Secondly, it would have been better if you had of said things that were grounded in reality. For example, take this point;
    “4. A creative class that is unparalleled — otherwise, why would the rest of the world pay so much to see our movies and hear our music and read our books and watch our TV?”
    Your “creative class” is composed of people from all over the world. Just take Hollywood for example. There are hundreds, maybe even thousands of Canadians who work there. Are they part of America’s “creative class” or Canada’s creative class? I would say the latter.
    I could go on since most of your other points are just as absurd as that one. I mean, I’m certainly not envious of your standard of living and I doubt very many other Canadians, Brits, Frenchmen, Germans, etc. are either.

  4. Robert Swaim says:

    The fact that in general you will be judged by what you do or don’t do, not by Who you are or are not.

  5. Robert says:

    What’s great about America?
    How bout;
    We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all Men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certian unalienable right…
    No man is good enough to govern another man without that other’s consent.
    Better to die free than to live slaves.
    To quote a poet:
    “America is a dream
    The poet says it was promises.
    The people say it is promises – that will come true
    The people do not always say things out loud,
    Nor write them down on paper.
    The people often hold
    Great thoughts in their deepest hearts
    And sometimes only blunderingly express them,
    Haltingly and stumbling say them.
    And faultily put them into practice.
    The people do not always understand each other.
    But there is, somewhere there,
    Always the trying to understand,
    And the trying to say,
    “You are a man. Together we are buliging our land.”
    just a start…

  6. anne.elk says:

    Our respect and defense of free speech, even for the little guys, even the anonymous ones.
    Our general disgust with pundits that rely on the negative.

  7. angell says:

    The best reason is that Robert doesn’t live here. Thank God.

  8. angell says:

    Robert McClelland, that is.

  9. Catherine says:

    Opportunities to change your life and be an entrepreneur.
    Robert – You have a small point on the creative class in the U.S., but you miss the big one that covers more than the arts. THE OPPORTUNITIES TO PURSUE YOUR GOALS in the arts.
    Those artists, Robert, came to America because there are more opportunities to pursue a living in their art in the America. Less government involvement which allows for more creativity which people at the NEA don’t seem to understand.
    There are also more opportunities for academics – the best in the world come here which is why we have the top universities in the world.
    The same is true for Scientists. They have more freedom to pursue research careers in medicine because most of our scientists are privately funded by endowments and pharmaceutical companies who don’t encumber their pursuit of science with government regulations. I saw this close up at the Rockefeller University.

  10. Scott says:

    A sense of community in which neighbors help their neighbors in time of need rather than wait for someone else to help.
    A nation based not on land or blood or property or lineage or culture or history, but on an ideal of freedom. A first-generation American is every bit as American as the most blue-blooded WASP.

  11. Mike says:


  12. anne.elk says:

    Angell, you keep using “Thank God”. I do not think it means what you think it means.

  13. Ann says:

    A system of education which recognizes the need for excellence, through scholarships, magnet schools, advance courses, private academies, etc. At the same time, the system never gives up on anyone. There is always a school that will take the people who want to try again, whether they are 16 or 61. There are remidial high schools, community colleges, technical schools, internet-based schools, correspondence schools, colleges which offer night and weekend degrees, etc. There’s something for everyone with the desire to learn and improve themselves.

  14. gmroper says:

    America, The United States of America, is the most generous nation on earth. It gives of it’s self, it’s wealth, the lives of it’s citizens for freedom, in time of need, in charity, in disasters. It strives to be right, even when it’s difficult to do so. It changes it’s laws regularly to meet the needs of the little guy. It is the land that more immmigrants want to come to than any other. It’s citizens from foreign lands have voted with their feet to be free.
    Nuff Said!

  15. william says:

    -Hippies -Jenna Jameson
    -Coors Light -Primus
    -Baseball -Six Flags amusement parks
    -Miami -Howard Stern
    -New Orleans -The Yankees and them
    -San Fransicso sucking
    -Boston -The Simpsons
    -Emily Dickinson

  16. John says:

    “Your “creative class” is composed of people from all over the world. Just take Hollywood for example. There are hundreds, maybe even thousands of Canadians who work there. Are they part of America’s “creative class” or Canada’s creative class? I would say the latter.”
    And they chose to live and work in Hollywood rather than Toronto/Vancouver. Even though in Canada they would be subsidized and protected. Robert, I think you made Jeff’s point for him…

  17. gmroper says:

    Robert McClelland writes: “First of all, it would have been far better if you could have named things without taking shots at other nations as you did in #2.
    As much as I disdain vulgarity in general, in this case I’ll make an exception. ….BULLSHIT ROBERT…. JJ didn’t disdain other countries, other countries referred to by JJ disdain the rights of their citizens to worship as they please, a right in this country fiercely protected, even to the extent of allowing radical muslims more freedom than they have at home!!!
    Robert McClellend writes: “I mean, I’m certainly not envious of your standard of living and I doubt very many other Canadians, Brits, Frenchmen, Germans, etc. are either.”
    Again ….BULLSHIT ROBERT…. The number one destination for French, German, British and Canadian professionals is the …wait for it….the…wait….USA! Don’t you realize that all those expats living and working and creating in Hollywood are here for a reason… It’s because they can do here what they can’t do in their own damn countries….
    Wake up man, you think…. ahhhh NUTS… You don’t think… that is the problem son, you DON’t THINK.

  18. Othello says:

    Ditto all the things you listed, Jeff. I would add:
    … Our diversity. And I don’t mean that in a PC way. Look around: we are unlike any other nation in the world. You can’t type an American by his or her race, religion, or ethnicity. Your family doesn’t have to live here for five generations before being accepted as American, and then only grudgingly, and with myriad limitations on your civil rights. No, what binds us together as Americans is allegiance to a common set of ideals as expressed in our Constitution. Imagine that: a nation built not on ancestry or creed or landholding status, but on ideas. I’m afraid over the centuries we have lost a great deal of our appreciation for this distinguishing characteristic of America … but go back to the time of our Founding Fathers and see how unique and radical this idea was. And marvel at how powerful it still is.
    … I won’t crow about our K-12 public education system in comparison with other countries, but in higher education, esp. in the fields of technology, science, and medicine, our universities are the first choice for vast numbers of foreign students from all around the world.
    … Our military has the best technology and weapons systems of any country in history – but that’s not what’s most remarkable about it. What makes the United States’ military remarkable is the way in which it is being used. Get this: The American military is the greatest practical force for good in the world today. (I can hear leftists all over choking on their corn flakes at this, but I will go to the mat on it.) Not coincidentally, we also happen to be blessed with an all-volunteer armed forces filled with bright, conscientious, dedicated professionals — capable of waging awful and efficient warfare when called upon to do so, but also capable of the most amazing acts of friendship, generosity, and sacrifice towards people in foreign lands.
    … The anti-authoritarian (or, if you will, pro-egalitarian) streak in the American character. We don’t take anyone too seriously, including ourselves. This is a healthy trait, because if you can be self-critical and self-satirizing, you can also be self-correcting. And Americans have a long history of constructive self-correction.
    … There are very, very, very few nations on earth where a Martin Luther King, Jr. could have succeeded. America is a rare example in that respect. Conscientious objection won’t work against a thoroughly corrupted, violently repressive government or immoral majority populace. But King appealed to the conscience of the majority and, not unimportantly, to those very ideals of freedom, equality and justice at the heart of Americanism. (Which is why he would get my vote for greatest American of the last century — he most visibly and effectively grasped the majesty of the American idea and dedicated his life to bringing this country back to these fundamental truths.) Greatly decent individuals can arise in any nation, of course, even the most depraved (Dietrich Bonhoffer in Nazi Germany, for example) … but only in greatly decent nations can greatly decent individuals succeed in changing history for the better. America, I would submit, is just such a nation.
    … The (all-American) Simpsons!

  19. Brad says:

    Bravo Robert, with your typical attempt at negativity you prove Jeff

  20. Walter Wallis says:

    Who gets dibs on the next statehood, Canada or Mexico?
    My preference is England and Isreal.

  21. Walter: we have enough territory. We don’t need anymore. Oh look — something else that makes us great.

  22. gmroper says:

    Andrea… GREAT post.

  23. Joe Peden says:

    We defend freedom.

  24. Phil says:

    As a nation we are a better friend than enemy. We have sacrificed much blood and treasure for the freedom of others. In most of our wars we could have safely made a separate peace and ignored the plight of our allies. Instead we have liberated more people from tyranny than all the other countries in history combined.

  25. goldsmith says:

    Rock and roll music, baby. Rock and roll.

  26. AST says:

    When we win wars against countries who attacked us first, we rebuild them and turn over the government to their people. Some imperialists we are.

  27. Eric Deamer says:

    The USA has a level of opportunity for anyone and of social mobility that is unparalleled.
    We still have a relatively incredibly low level of government regulation in terms of buying property or starting a business, which encourages enterpreneurship in a way that no other country does.
    It’s theoretically possible for anyone in the world, regardless of race, ethnicity, country of origin, religion etc. to legally become a citizen here where they can take advantages of the two qualities I mentioned above.
    These immigrants can hold on to all of their traditions as long as they don’t break our laws but can also enjoy all of the advantages of America and are very quickly accepted as “real Americans” by all but a few loony types.
    In the 20th century America originated the Western, Jazz, the musical, blues, rock n’ roll, and hip hop, that is to say, almost all of the most vital forms of world popular culture.
    At the end of World War 2 America was in possession of huge swaths of terroritory all over the world, and we gave it all back.
    Robert McClelland doesn’t live here.

  28. Everyone says:

    America sucks ass?

  29. doug says:

    we have the nyts m. dowd!

  30. In ‘N Out Burger… need I say more?

  31. Dustin says:

    People such as that “everyone” post exhibit exist with all of the rights that normal people have.
    America isn’t perfect, and a great many are jealous and threatened by our freedoms and progress and power.
    We have a long way to go, but we will go there.
    I know gay rights and an end to college discrimination will be seen in our wonderful nation. I know that eventually the hatred in the rest of the world will subside as America drags their standards of decency upwards… again
    America is one of the oldest countries on the face of the planet. Most do not realize this. We arent only a few decades old like the oldest of Europe. We are a Centuries old Democracy.
    We are the spirit that drives the ambitious and bold in places not like America.
    It is sad and sweet that their dreams are true here, but not there.

  32. Sandy P. says:

    What has made us exceptional?
    We are the only country which has never been under either monarchy or what I call “mutated monarchy.”
    We had slaves, we never had peasants. We have a different mentality. AND the longest republic.
    The great unwashed and religious fanatics chose to leave their educated, sophisticated betters, face an arduous journey, hostile lands, Indians, bear, cougar, coyote, and the great unknown rather than go back to their oh-so-sophisticated, cultured, civilized and morally-better relatives across the pond.
    And because of the vision of a bunch of old, slave-owning, educated white men, we surpassed our betters’ standard of living by 1900, barely 125 years after we sprung forth in blood, guts, and luck.
    Now our betters want us to give up that 18th century document and our inalienable and ennumerated rights for the good of the world, to get along. This individualism, free will, self-determination and capitalism, it’s so passe, old, you understand. Collective must triumph in the end and, of course, we have had much more experience than you, we know best and have always done so.
    Over my dead body.

  33. tony says:

    some people might say that a lot of the things that america will be proud about has to do with the fact that we’re rich.
    then what about this:
    our black people are better than their black people
    mlk, tiger woods, michael jordan, james brown, jimi hendrix, the williams sisters, jackie robinson, hank aaron, charlie pride, benjamin banneker, george washington carver, dr. dre, ice cube, jay-z, beyonce, oprah, daniel hale williams, magic johnson, walter payton, richard pryor, bill cosby, chris rock, eddie murphy, miles davis, thelonious monk, billie holiday, snoop dogg, thurgood marshall, etc.
    hell, even our black fallen idols are better than theirs: oj, michael jackson, janet jackson, colin powell, diana ross, candy rice…

  34. Horst Graben says:

    What makes this country great, besides all of the things previously mentioned, is our inefficient form of government.
    Overlapping responsibility, overlapping power, some democracy, some replublic, some dictatorship, some anarchy.
    This seems to keep the blue side up.

  35. ic says:

    Tony, what did Powell, and Condi Rice do to become your fallen idols. I think they are two of the greatest human beings alive. I hope we have more “fallen idols” like them in this world. By the way, they exemplify what is great about America i.e. Americans, regardless of what status their ancestors were, can rise up to the top by being the best.

  36. ic says:

    Horst, Hitler’s Germany was efficient. “At least they kept the trains on time.”

  37. Sarah e.g. says:

    A retail industry that doesn’t treat all customers as petty thieves waiting to happen.
    Lots of wide open space, big cars, and cheap gas.
    A respect for honest labour and humble origins. My grandpa was a Marine and a plasterer. Cool. How about yours?

  38. Yehudit says:

    Our volunteerism. Our voluntary associations. Americans don’t wait for the government to fix things, we dig into our own pockets and show up for meetings and make it happen.
    De Tocqueville noticed this 200 years ago. A BBC reporter just noticed it a few weeks ago.
    We take this for granted. We think all societies do this, but they don’t.

  39. Abner Ravenwood says:

    I think what makes America great is Pvt. Smalltown getting his kneecaps blown off trying to defend Jane Fonda’s right to bloviate.

  40. Jeff,
    Thanks for starting this amazing list of things that are worth protecting in our nation.
    In supporting my friends in finally having their partnership legally recognized this weekend, I am especially grateful for our freedom of speech. The acts of civil disobedience at San Francisco City Hall which began on Thursday remind me that while there are still many things to fight for and improve upon in this country, we are relatively safe and protected from persecution to freely protest the government.
    Scores have been massacred for doing/saying/thinking far less “controversial” things in other places.

  41. HA says:

    America is the first nation defined by ideas rather than race, ethnicity or religion.
    In America, the people have inalienable God-given rights and give the government enough power to defend them. Everywhere else, the government has power and may or may not grant people rights.

  42. Pele says:

    Arms sales.
    The death penalty.

  43. hen says:

    isn’t pele from Brazil? nuff said.

  44. Gabriel Gonzalez says:

    Racial and ethnic tolerance. No country in the world (with the possible exception of the Anglosphere: UK, Canada, Australia, New Zealand) comes close to the U.S. in its acceptance of people regardless of race or ethnicity throughout the social, economic and political spheres. This should be obvious by looking at the racial and ethnic makeup of people in politics, media, schools, corporations, law firms, banks – the faces you see on television, in government, in management, in the arts, in the business world. This is not to say that that racial intolerance and discrimination are non-existent. But consider any other country in the world and ask whether their treatment and integration of racial minorities and immigrants comes even close under any of these criteria: Japan? China? France? Spain? Mexico? Germany? Saudi Arabia? Scandinavia?

  45. Anonymous says:

    One of the best words about this belongs to Norman Geras (http://normblog.typepad.com/normblog/), as you probably know he’s a Zimbabwe-born British professor of Government at Manchester U.
    He’s no rightist, far from it (he’s a specialist in Marxism and socialism), but has been supporting the liberation of Iraq and he wrote this for the 2nd anniversary of 9-11 (the link goes to his old blog):
    In Insta-speak: Read the whole thing.

  46. Chan S. says:

    For giving its people (Americans and, perhaps especially, would-be Americans) the hope and vision of being able to transform one’s self as an individual (Alger) and as a country (Lincoln). (And double-double what Roger said.)

  47. Andrew says:

    The fundamental American ideal that you have a right to start over… again and again and again. There’s nothing America likes better than a man who has failed miserably, but turned it around and rallied back.
    I’ve always taken “the pursuit of happiness” to include the right to “get your shit together” — and everywhere else in the world, the more rigid education, economic and social culture make that much harder.
    Whoever it was who said “there are no second acts in American life” didn’t understand America.
    This was in the Financial Times the other day:
    Something in US president George W. Bush, and the America he represents, is very attractive to Berlusconi. According to the Corriere’s Venturini, “Berlusconi thinks: ‘They will understand me… That is the country of the self-made man. Here in Italy, people will tell me I used to play piano on cruise ships. In America, they don’t care. They even like that. In Italy, they tell me I’m not a real politician. In America, they distrust real politicians.'”

  48. Paul Gaddis says:

    Arm Sales? Oh, thats right. ALL over the WORLD every living terrorist is holding up his M-16.
    Polution? Oh, thats right: only in the US do we see polution. And we export most of it! Just look at Russia. How did we ever manage to get them to dump all our old nuc sub reactors in the arctic ocean?
    The Death Penalty. Yes it’s true. We went over to Iraq and taught Saddam how to feed people into plastic shreaders.Not to mention the spectical of dragging the King and Queen of France out of their Palace and MADE the people watch as we CHOPPED OFF THEIR HEADS!!! Then, as amazing as it sounds, the USA actually sent people back into time to teach the Romans how to NAIL PEOPLE TO TREES!!
    The National Rife Association? Yes we did invent the idea of people standing up to their goverment. If only the NRA had been so strong in Germany around 1933, we might not have had to waste all those boys on the beaches of Omaha, Normany, Anzio. Those bastards at the NRA; telling us we can defend ourselves in our own homes. The nerve!
    McDonalds? You mean the store that sells food very cheaply. So cheaply that poor people in this country are getting fat? I can imagine a few people in around the world would just LOVE the chance to munch a BigMac instead of their allotment of grass for the day!
    And you NEVER see a McD’s in ANY OTHER COUNTRY!! The rest of the world just won’t buy them. I heard on NPR the other day that the wife of the founder died penniless and is buried in a potters field somewhere.

  49. miguel says:

    yeah, “one nation under god”, bring it on!
    you are laughable funny people here (having only read a couple of the forum posts, but I really cannot read more of that)! very US-centric points of view. ever thought that a lot of the important contributors to the countries culture are not US natives? esp. ad 4: ever heard of that modern art was introduced to the US (e.g. by alfred stieglitz, offspring of German imigrants btw) and not “invented” here?
    basically why so many people come to the US is that there’s is a different attitude towards money. that is largley due to your puritan heritage, which is actually one of many other European traditions.
    Ever thought that there is not such a thing of an ever existing American spirit?
    have some of you ever read (a short introduction to) or heard of cultural studies, which should enable you to go beyond those essentialist points of view?
    start thinking, and not just about the last 100 years!

  50. Patrick Brown says:

    As a Canadian who is not blinded by jealousy of American success, I agree with your 9 points Jeff, and all of the other positive ones that have been offered in the comments. But I think there is a more basic good thing about America, one that explains all of the others: Respect for the ordinary person.
    I don’t mean legal rights or any sort of administrative procedures. I mean, the deep-seated, ingrained belief in the value of ordinary people. Ordinary people are strong, intelligent, creative, industrious, and generous, and those are the words I would choose to describe America. These virtues are what has always drawn people to risk great dangers to get to America.
    It is because America has been built by the efforts and judgment of ordinary people that it is exceptional, and that is a wonderful irony.

  51. Andrea says:

    Following up on Andrew’s comment: Reverse snobbery in general is one of the great American virtues.
    Of course we would think it’s fine that Berlusconi used to play piano on a cruise ship. Why not? It’s an honest dollar (or lira, as the case may be), and it shows that he got where he is without having everything handed to him.
    Most Americans can tell you stories about the scut jobs they did when they were young and hungry. Better to do something unpleasant while you’re developing your career than to sit at home because you’re too proud to get your hands dirty.(My worst job was sterilizing mouse cages for $5 an hour, and I also worked as a seamstress. I’m a biologist now.)

  52. Mark says:

    . . .A culture and an economy that values immigrants, enabling millions to come here with nothing and live safe, stable, and prosperous lives. Also a culture of accountability, that is able to address and correct its faults.

  53. Jeff,
    Great list. I want to add the foundation of America and the ideas of the Founding Fathers. The United States of America is the only country based on the principle of Individual Rights. The American system of a Constitutional Republic is protecting the individual’s right to his own life and the fruits of his labor. USA is the place if you want to really strive for the pursuit of happiness – it is the Land of Opportunity.
    Personally, I am fascinated by the sense-of-life in America. Today is a great day to celebrate America! Have a great Presidents’ Day! I recommend you to read John Ridpath’s article, America Needs a Leader Like George Washington.
    I look forward to the day when I can return to greatest place on earth! I am planning my American tour for next year.
    All the Best,
    Martin Lindeskog – American in Spirit.
    Gothenburg, Sweden (a.k.a. the socialist “paradise”).

  54. Kerry Dupont says:

    This is one of the most effective tools on both sides of the political and ideological aisle that enables us to seek facts and opinions to further debate, discussion, and ultimately, FREEDOM.

  55. Mike Crane says:

    American Strengths?
    1) The most dynamic and diverse creative ferment on the planet. America has no culture? Thank God. People come here because ALL culture is here. It throbs and heaves and sparks and inspires. Others wish to protect “their culture” from America. Fine. Make your citizens stop buying it. But America is giddy, glorious culture. Look at music, one of our greatest “strengths”; a smorgasbord from raves to ring cycles with courses of blues, zydeco, jazz, salsa, gospel, cajun, bluegrass, opera, country&western, calypso, banda, rock and latin part of the feast.
    2) America is self-selected. People coming here were escaping something restricting, demeaning, or deadly. They came with hope and a desire to make a better life for themselves – granted, to some a tired saying, but still, most certainly true.
    3) Self reliance. America was too big. Each person had to be independent and capable to survive. Or they died. We had to organize ourselves into communities to do that which we could not do individually. Police forces, universities, libraries, hospitals, labor unions, co-operatives; all of our civic accomplishments started AT THE COMMUNITY LEVEL. Nothing was imposed from above by the “elite”. We learned to respect each other, to think each of us capable, and each of us worthy of respect.
    4) We Govern ourselves. We are not governed. See 3 above. From the bottom up, not the top down.
    5) Equality of opportunity and our “can do” attitude. “What can I do today?”. “Tomorrow is another day”. Forward looking; keeping the best, tossing the rest.
    6) Belief in ourselves. Our successes reinforce this. Our defeats, embarrassments and tragedies, only further our resolve to fix it, and not let it happen again. And this is the secret to our success. We fix things.

  56. pollyanna says:

    We are not as weighted down by place
    We are not as weighted down by past
    We are not as weighted down by social class
    While this may not apply to many Americans, as a whole we are more dexterous with our mobility and willingness to embrace change.

  57. Ben says:

    There are so many things here worth agreeing with. To me what makes America great and worthy is that we have managed to survive the last 200+ years with essentially the same goverment we started with. (Longest continuous world goverment today) We accept people from all around the world as our own if they want to come here. The sentiment embodied by the phrase “I disagree with what you say, but I will fight with my life for your right to say it.” For the proud place that immigrants have in our history. We celebrate the fact that we almost all came from somewhere else and are unafraid to acknowledge it.
    I celebrate America and being American for what happened on the beaches of France in WWII and for our right to protest what happened in Vietnam. For the people I know who have come from formerly communist countries in Eastern Europe and would now gladly fight for and give thier lives for America.
    I celebrate America for the fact that we are not perfect, we know there are problems here at home, but we still try to do what is right around the world. We don’t use our internal problems as an excuse to ignore the rest of the world. For our willingness to back up what we say in protecting the freedom of other people. And I celebrate America becuase even with all its problems I can go outside today, walk with my head high and work hard to achieve my dreams.

  58. Joe Peden says:

    Gee, Miguel, I guess you are right. People do have to come from somewhere, unless they are planted, which does not even stop plants. I never thought about that. Thank you for helping make America great, even if you are not an American.
    There has to be a “compared to what” somewhere, too, a sick for the healthy. Thanks. [actually your sickness is healthy, and I thank you for your input]

  59. robert says:

    Yes, let’s think a little further back. Europeans did not invent themselves. Neither did any other culture. Every culture is the result of contribution and loss by former cultures. Miguel is Spanish for Michael, no? If this is your heritage, let’s talk about how Spain achieved its ability to produce Pablo Picasso.
    Our world is evolving toward civility, and this must be kept on course. Are you going to contribute to this? Or just complain about others who do?

  60. Greg says:

    To those who make the snarky comments…you didn’t read the assignment. Maybe Jeff can put a post up next to challenge you to post the worst things about America, and you can type until your fingers fall off. Or maybe you can list the country from where you’re writing, and give me – an American – a shot at bashing what’s wrong with your country. At least be a good sport about being a jerk…
    Here’s what I love about America – we decided to put a man on the moon, simply because we were challenged to do so, and we wanted to. Name a country where sheer will, ingenuity, and cleverness had such profound impacts on economy and pride – none exist. The other tenants in my building are from all over the world, and we live in peace – always a hello here and there…holding a door open..
    People die trying to get into our country. And when they do, their children can go to school, they can some health care, they can get a job – whatever nation you happen to be from, odds someone from there lives within our borders.
    And you can judge from afar, but our economic engine is the greatest the world has ever known. Our fighting forces are the simultaneously the most humane and destructive military that has ever existed – they could take whatever they wanted, and don’t.
    There are some things I would love to change about America…it has some ugly parts. But the fact that I could change it, if I wanted to, makes all the difference.

  61. Franky says:

    That’s an interesting list Jeff put up, and although I would quibble with some of them (freedom of religion is a practice in most first-world countries, so not particularly specific to US) on the whole it’s given me a lot to think about.
    I would also argue with number 4. I just don’t see much greatness in the world of culture these days, but that’s just personal opinion.
    Undoubtedly one of the greatest things about America is its unique defence of “freedom of speech”. No other country in the world to my knowledge has that principal so embedded in its culture and so stringently protected.
    Thanks Jeff for taking up the challenge and responding with an interesting list.

  62. Jeff Jarvis says:

    And thanks, Franky, for the comment and the challenge. It has yielded a nice discussion. [Insert blog gushing here.]

  63. Mark says:

    I have taught many international students and in their eyes what was so exceptional about America is that any time in just about any place you can get an education. This is what they say amazed them the most. As a teacher my greatest challenge is to show my American students what these international students already know.

  64. Anonymous says:

    OK, here’s a couple:
    > 1. The protection of private property – the right of
    > the average citizen to retain the fruits of his own
    > labor….
    > 2. The right of dissent-maybe not perfect, but I
    > don’t see anyone being thrown in the gulag or Devil’s
    > Island for calling Bush bad names….
    > 3. Freedom of religion, starting 250 years ago when
    > our more enlightened European critics were either
    > throwing Jews out of their countries, denying them the
    > right of worship (or simply killing them outright)
    > 4. Freedom FROM religion – the lack of an official
    > State church
    > 5. A political system, clearly with flaws, that is
    > not greatly changed since the founding of this country
    > 6. A founding, after independence, remarkably free of
    > blood (Compare to the French, Russian revolutions;
    > compare to modern China, India/Pakistan)
    > Etc….
    > =====
    > Paul A. Manner, MD FRCSC
    > Assistant Professor of Orthopaedic Surgery
    > The George Washington University

  65. Charlie (Colorado) says:

    Here’s what’s great about America: me.
    No, I’m not being an egotist, because I mean me as an example. I’m a 75 inch 280 pound bald-headed (I shave my head thank you very much) guy; I’m part Cherokee, part Choctaw, part Hungarian and the rest isn’t obvious because they’ve been here since Oglethorpe kicked them off the boat. I’ve been a Buddhist since I was eleven; my mother, the Cherokee/Choctaw side of the family, has been a Jew since I was about 30. If I want to, on Friday I can attend a mosque, on Saturday a Reform Jewish Temple or a thoroughly orthodox synagogue, and on Sunday if I don’t go my Buddhist Temple I can attend a Catholic Church, a Baptist service, or Presbyterian, or Disciples of Christ, or any of about a hundred other denominations including Science of Mind and Religious Science churches and a Russian-speaking Jews of Jesus group. Oh, and I can go to a Serbian Orthodox church festival and eat roast kid and listen to tambouritza music played by the Croatian Catholic childrens’ tambouritza group.
    If I’m hungry, I can have a British breakfast 24 hours a day, I can get creole food, Mexican food, Tex-Mex food, hamburgers, chinese food (Mandarin, Szuchuan, Hunan, and Fukien), Japanese food, Ethiopian, Moroccan, French (many kinds), German, Schwaebish, British pub grub, Russian, Indian, Nepali, and I’m just mentioning some of my favorite resturants.
    I can find groups speaking German, French, Spanish, Amharic, Swahili, Russian, Chinese (several dialects), Japanese, and I don’t know what else. But I can drive thousands of miles in any direction and be under the same laws, speak to anyone, and be a “native” and not a “foreigner”, something 50 years of “European union” can’t manage. Hell, something that 1000 years of Swiss Confederation hasn’t quite got working in a span of a couple hundred miles.

  66. Charlie (Colorado) says:

    What’s more:
    It’s a country in which people will walk across miles of desert and float across open ocean to get in.
    It’s a country which sustains a massive attack on innocents on its mainland, but responds militarily with the lowest proportion of civilian casualties in history.
    It’s a country which has as its primary allies countries which it conquered 60 years ago; and in which its major commercial competitors grew out of financial assistance that we gave to those conquered countries. It’s a country which conquers a continent — and gives it back, clean and new and with its fascist governments replaced with functioning democracies.
    It’s a country in which fabulously wealthy actor “activists” can go to the National Press Club to speak on government financed TV about how their freedom of speech is being repressed.

  67. Howard Owens says:

    The U.S. Constitution is a unique, or at least rare, document in human history — It is law that rather than check the power of the people, checks the power of the government and empowers people. That, in itself, is the single most exceptional thing about America, and makes all else — creative energy, entreprenurial spirit, individualism — possible.

  68. MCWagner says:

    Scientific advancement. If I remember the statistic correctly, over 70% of all scientific papers published in all the journals of the world are written on work done in the US.

  69. doug says:

    We polluted our country, killed our eagles and deer, and within a very few years, recognized the fact and dealt with it. Today, there are eagles, and ospreys and bluebirds, and turkeys and we will continue to grow as we value the environment. We don’t need international agreements, we just do it.

  70. stubby says:

    The fact that the people who scream about their right to dissent being crushed are the very people we see and hear most often. I think Americans are among the most self-critical – hell, self-flagellating – people on earth. I can’t think of another Western country right now who has as many academics, artists and intellectuals who profess (self)righteous contempt(sometimes diguised as anger or sorrow) for all their country’s sins and frequently their countrymen personally, yet wouldn’t freaking dream of leaving.
    Which leads to another great thing about this country – you’re perfectly free to leave whenever you want – no tunnelling, floating, bribing or hiding required.

  71. Rick Tengdin says:

    What makes America exceptional?
    1801 – the Federalist party *voluntarily* *hands* *over* *power* to the Opposition. (Democratic-Republican party)
    Think about it. No war. No revolution. No purges.
    And in 1829, we did it again (D-R to Democrat).
    And again (1841 D to Whig).
    And again.

  72. edpi says:

    What is unique about the US?
    The foundational principle our rights are logically prior to our government. The Constitution does not grant rights; it exists to secure them, and so derives its legitimacy.

  73. Charlie (Colorado) says:

    Which leads to another great thing about this country – you’re perfectly free to leave whenever you want – no tunnelling, floating, bribing or hiding required.

    Damn I wish I’d have said that.

  74. Great, great topic and thread.
    I’ll toss in one thing: America is the first place in the world where the lives of the masses matter as much as the lives of the elites. That’s not to suggest there’s no inequality; there is (and it’s sadly growing). But in no other country in the world (possible exception: Canada) is the notion that the average citizen is ‘just as good’ as the politician, the wealthy, the celebrity EVEN PRESENT.
    Our elites don;t live that much better than elites in Europe or anywhere (or anywhen) else. But our plumbers do…

  75. Sandy P. says:

    Miguel, what makes you think we only pay attention to the past 100 years?
    The world’s history is there for all to see and learn from.
    And that’s why we’re different. Since I’ve been alive, the rest of the world has not pulled its weight.
    It is content that we do so, complain all you want, but if you want to play, you have to pay.
    Clean up your government/politics and you might be surprised what could happen.

  76. Stadium seating in the newer movie theaters, and a free market systems that allows for competing ludicrously rich playback standards such as THX and Sony’s SDDS.
    In a Communist state, there’s just be one state-defined digital sound standard that would be substandard to those in Capitalist movie theaters.

  77. The Comedian says:

    The idea that wealth can be created, leading to a non-zero-sum equation whereby we advance not at the cost of others but to the benefit of all.

  78. Sandy P. says:

    AL – have you seen this article? Posted on Bros. Judd (LA Times):
    …Living along a rutted dirt road outside this Arkansas boomtown, the Carranzas are the new face of decades of Latino immigration: no longer in poverty, no longer renting, and no longer in California.
    It is a story illustrated in the latest census data. USC urban planner Dowell Myers, in a study to be released Tuesday, said that foreign-born Latinos are experiencing a degree of upward mobility not previously detected by demographers. “They’re turning the corner

  79. megapotamus says:

    In this country, politics is as unimportant as it is prudent to make it.

  80. Greg says:

    Fresh blood.
    We are a nation of immigrants and — while we’ll grumble about the ‘foreigners takin’ our jobs’ — we admire anyone who would take on the burden of dreaming the American dream.

  81. timks says:

    The best music on the planet: jazz!
    The right to make a damn fool of oneself.
    The right to be left alone (this one needs some work!)
    The codification of the things that make us human: the Bill of Rights.

  82. Gaucho says:

    And to add to Stubby’s point: we pay an army of critics (academicians, journalists, editorial writers) for doing nothing else but criticizing America. Imagine, an entire class (and a well paid class at that) whose only job is to dis the country paying them. Compare Europe where the academics and press are firmly in the pocket of whatever party is in charge.
    This is why we confuse the shit out of everybody else on earth: they just don’t get it.

  83. Bart says:

    I’m living in this country by choice (I have UK and Canadian citizenship), for many of the reasons posted above. Many countries have constitutions modeled on the US one, but I don’t think anybody does a better job of actually adhereing to the principles contained therewithin (even with the drastic over-reach of federal power.)
    But I really could do without the bombastic self-righteousness. Circle-jerks are much better held in private.

  84. Max M says:

    Its modesty ;)

  85. Eric in Denver says:

    The beauty of America is that you can literally be whatever you want to be. Do you want to be a ski instructor? Head to Colorado, world class resorts there. Bush pilot? North to Alaska for you my friend. Scuba instructor? Head to sunny Florida. Wheat farmer? Special Forces? Research Scientist? Movie Star? Director? Playwright? Commander in Chief of the most powerful force in human history? Firefighter? Computer programmer????
    Whatever you want to be, you can do it in the United States. It may take hard work, some luck, but if you work hard enough the possibilities are endless. That is another trait that makes America Exceptional.

  86. helen says:

    10. Freedom to do, to think, to be. FREEEEEEDOM!!!!!

  87. David A. Smith says:

    America is the only nation consciously buitl around a set of values, and hungrily absorbs immigrants who embrace those values, the only nation whose ‘face’ has become ever more polyglot.
    “Earth isn’t a place; it’s an idea.” — James Blish, Earthman Come Home, writing about space but speaking about America.

  88. Ricky Vandal says:

    I traveled once all through America with the Greyhound bus. It’s a great country. It’s a tollerant country. But it’s also a country of humans. Some good, some bad. But what makes America the greatest nation on earth is the Constitution and all the rights it bestows on the citizens. There is nothing that has formed the American psychy more than the Constitution. Not religion, not nationalism, not any other phylosophy. The united States is the Constitution.

  89. Gabriel Gonzalez says:

    Additional items:
    – Behavioural freedom: You can say, think, wear, listen to, eat, live, as you like without the constraints of excessive conformity or official thought.
    – Optimism: Americans are ever hopeful. Nowhere is this more evident than in the outlook of young people and their expectations for the future. (Contrast Europe, where the young tend to be gloomy about their future.)
    Great post, Jeff!

  90. D. Woolwine says:

    Rule of law – Everyone is accountable to the law
    Presumption of innocence
    Lack of significant corrupotion and punishment when found. Everyone expects a fair shake.
    Unityaccross a land of great contrasts and significant diversity. Fiath in God and desire to follow the golden rule.
    All these are getting worse, but are still part of the core bedrock that the people belive in and trust.

  91. Johnathan Pearce says:

    Things that are great about the USA:
    The bill of rights
    the Constitution
    its sheer dogged, entrepreneurial spirit
    the fact that Americans don’t understand the concept of giving in
    That America saved my country, Britain, and their military were prepared to drink our tea.
    Ronald Reagan
    The novels of Robert Heinlein and Ayn Rand
    Dave Barry and PJ O’Rourke
    And finally:
    Buffy the Vampire Slayer, blogging, and Jazz.

  92. Jane says:

    Jeff, I agree with most of your ten points. BUT, our entrepreneurial class has not come up with the kind of stable, non-service, non-information-technology jobs that every nation needs. In other words, their feats of business creation have left many of us high and dry. We’ll never get back to the days of high-paying smokestack industry jobs and widespread agricultural employment that we once had, but I will reserve my accolades for entrepreneurs (and governments who assist them) that provide a better employment base for the non-college-educated.

  93. Brown Line says:

    What makes America great? The revolutionary truths that lie at the root of our nation: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.”
    Though some other nations have come to embrace these truths, no other nation is founded on them. They make us great. And they day we abandon them, we will be great no longer.

  94. To Miguel: Of course, non-natives are responsible for America’s greatness. America is a nation of immigrants. The rest of us just live here.
    One look at the effect of being a nation of immigrants.

  95. MD says:

    Americans dream and then see how they can make that dream come true.
    Thank you for welcoming me and my family into this country.

  96. Joe says:

    Read Seymour Martin Lipset’s American Exceptionalism. That should help answer most questions.

  97. Insufficiently Sensitive says:

    Hey Jane – and all other armchair commissars who Really Know what businesses should do –
    Please don’t waste one more minute before you quit armchair-quarterbacking and go start up and run exactly the sort of “stable, non-service, non-information-technology jobs that every nation needs”. We need your superior knowledge at the helm, not as self-appointed spectator and critic, but as risk-taking entrepreneur. Your well-paid, comfortable, secure under-educated employees will bless you.
    Changing topics: Another great American virtue is an exaggerated sense of ‘fair play’, which bent over backwards in University hiring so far as to allow seizure of every humanities department in the country by the political left, to the exclusion of diverse viewpoints from conservatives. Yet the country still works despite this monocultural cancer.

  98. Veng says:

    I would say it is that in the USA sovereignty flows from the citizenry to the government. We are citizens, not subjects.

  99. scott orrell says:


  100. superfly says:

    The right to defend yourself in your home.
    We have not been at war with any of our neighbors for 150 years.
    Generals have run our country before, but they were elected to the presidency in fair elections.
    We have never had any royalty.

  101. TX Vet says:

    WE Fight for our RIGHT to PARTY
    which party is of no concern
    slow to anger
    un-stoppable in unity

  102. We are not, and have no desire to be, utopians. That’s as fundamental a statement as I can write. It means that we comprehend human nature and work with it, not against it, and we sure don’t try to change it.

  103. Kim du Toit says:

    “What makes America great?”
    As no one else has said it:
    It’s what keeps tyranny in check. No other country has that guarantee.

  104. TV says:

    JFK said:
    “Let every nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill, that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe to assure the survival and the success of liberty.”
    Not just a committment to liberty, but a willingness to sacrifice to protect and extend it.

  105. Ron says:

    When all is said and done, I think, what makes America so wonderful is all the freedoms we have, not the least of these being freedom of speech, where it is safe to say any of the things that have been put forth in these comments. Freedom, to me, is at the core of, and the basis for, all the other things that make this country so great.

  106. michael says:

    How about our nonprofit sector. In many other countries when a problem arises, the citizens push the government or private companies to do something. Here in America, people frequently organize and do it themselves.

  107. pianoman says:

    – South Park
    – McDonald’s Sausage McMuffins
    – Quentin Tarantino
    – John Wayne
    – Yankees & Red Sox
    – Detroit Red Wings
    – Muscle Cars
    – Weblogs
    – Google
    – WWW
    – Warcraft/Starcraft/Diablo
    – FreeVo
    – Looney Tunes
    – Disneyland
    – In ‘N Out Burger
    – Tommy’s Chiliburgers
    – Pink’s Hot Dog Stand
    – Elvis
    – Rollerskating Carhops
    – Diet Coca Cola
    – Saturday Night Live
    – Bill of Rights
    – Miranda Statement
    – Creedence Clearwater Revival
    – Stanley Kubrick
    – Harry Truman
    – Ronald Reagan
    – National Anthem that ends in a question
    – Philip Glass
    – UNIX
    – Van Halen
    – The Bible Belt
    – American Flag flying on the Moon
    – Panama Canal

  108. Alan Kellogg says:

    Suburban deer.
    Seriously, suburban deer. We have the resources necessary to build almost anywhere, and to do so in a manner that is actually inviting to wildlife. So you get deer, bear, cougars, hawks, etc. moving in.
    Now all we need to do is learn how to live with all them critters munching on our shrubbery, without getting all bent out of shape about it.
    Hint: If you don’t want Bambi eating your rhododendrons, don’t plant your rhododendrons where Bambi can reach them.

  109. Chuck Pelto says:

    TO: Jeff Jarvis
    RE: More Reasons
    The Right to Bear Arms

  110. Phil says:

    What makes America great?
    That we really do root for each other. For instance, the time I was walking with 2 friends (one very right-wing, hardcore Republican and one very left-wing, registered Democrat, but voted for Nader and adores Michael Moore). We walked past a homeless person one day and the right-wing friend gives him a dollar. As we’re walking away, the left-wing friend says, “What are you doing?!?” The right wing friend is shocked, but the left wing friend (who worked at a homeless shelter previously) continues, “Giving him money will just keep him on the streets, continually begging for money since he’ll have no need to check into a shelter and get himself back on his own feet. Once he gets to a shelter, they’ll help him find a job.”
    Both were obviously trying to help the man get back on his own feet, and yet it was the left-wing friend who took the harsher stance. The irony was noted, but nonetheless, they were both trying to help him out.

  111. Jane says:

    To Insufficiently Sensitive: I didn’t say it was or would be easy. All I said was, our country would be healthier if the entire lower half of the economic spectrum wasn’t so economically insecure. And, I have many relatives who are entrepreneurs. And they agree with me.

  112. ushie says:

    Back when I was a college professor, the 2000 elections were coming up and one of my classes wanted to discuss it. The foreign students were stunned when I mentioned that the requirements for the presidency of the US were the candidate has to be 35 and a native-born citizen, and that was it.
    They couldn’t believe it. What? No more than an arbitrary age? You mean, if I stay here and marry and have children here, one of my children would be eligible to run for President? President of the United States?
    I remember those looks of dawning awareness and the recognition that they truly were in a brave new world…

  113. Chuck Pelto says:

    TO: Jeff Jarvis
    RE: Right to Bear Arms (Reprise)
    Additionally, my understanding of why the Montana Freement did not wind up as so-many pieces of over-cooked meat, a la Branch Davidians, is that they are reported to have had anti-tank weapons, or knew how to fabricate them.
    Good defenses make for a good government, or at least a better one.
    [God, (Anti-Tank)Guns and Guts.]

  114. David Oboyski says:

    Class mobility
    A military that respects civilian authority
    Citizen soldiers
    Ellis Island
    Baseball/Little League
    My immigrant great grandmother’s 85-year-old store and the middle-class life it brought an entrepreneurial peasant and her family
    The Star Spangled Banner
    “The Shining City on the Hill”
    Economic liberty
    The Smithsonian

  115. Dave says:

    America is made great by one thing. Americans. For over two hundred years America has been a place where those people who dreamed dreams, who wanted more, who were restless with the way things were have come.
    Americans today are the heirs of these people (and those who even now come here.) Their dreams, their culture, and their bravery have made a nation unlike any other that has ever existed.
    America is great because Americans are the distillate of so many of the greatest people from all the rest of the world

  116. Tim says:

    We are the shining city on the hill – and our immigration and emigration patterns prove it.

  117. seafarious says:

    I went to see the movie “Miracle” this weekend. The one about the 1980 US Olympic Hockey team.(I loved it, great story, great ending, go see it, etc.) The thing that struck me as I watched the climactic game was that the Americans were playing to make their moms, dads, & country proud. The Soviets were playing to keep their moms & dads out of the gulag. ‘Nuff said.

  118. JD says:

    Jazz, and the culture that was able to give birth to it.
    I just purchased a CD of the vibraphonist Cal Tjader, described in the liner noes as an “indisputable master of Latin jazz.” Th real kicker, Cal was born to Swedish-American immigrants. Where else can you hear a Swede getting it on musically with Tito Puente?

  119. From a British-born Canadian who got his high-school education in the US (Far Rockaway). Have to agree with Pollyanna who says:
    “We are not as weighted down by place
    We are not as weighted down by past
    We are not as weighted down by social class ”
    Yes yes and yes.
    Americans are mobile, will move anywhere for more satisfaction. Or just keep moving for satisfaction alone. Europeans are stuck on the family turf forever. There’s only poverty and boredom in paralysis. Americans move.
    Americans do have the most important history in the world, but they carry it lightly, in person. (But not in political oratory and the media).
    Social class? When you come to the States you “go native” almost at once, as my father noted many decades ago. Strangers meet on a plane or in an elevator, they ask “where you from?”, become friends almost immediately.
    Allan Bloom pointed out that as soon as you arrive in the States you become an American. On the other hand, people not native born in France may live there whole lifetimes and never gain acceptance.
    American culture does melt down and form a new alloy from old peoples. So it should. Even the hardest islamicists will melt, given time and a soupcon of brute force.

  120. James says:

    In this and another post, the venerable Jeff Jarvis has written: “In addition, many of us are reluctant to wave flags in normal times”, and “…I never was a flag-waver and a nationalist and a parade-day patriot…”.
    What the hell? Will someone please explain to me why such a man as Jeff Jarvis, who is obviously aware of – and grateful for – what a great country America is (this very post proves it), would sometimes try to hide that sentiment?
    Jeff, I’m a long-time reader. I like much of what you write, and I believe that you love this great country. I’m not in the least questioning your patriotism. Nor am I being sarcastic or critical.
    I sincerely want to understand why some occasionally find overt, public expressions of patriotism distasteful. Because you’re articulate, I’m hoping that you’ll be able to explain it to me.

  121. Val Prieto says:

    What makes America great is that she represents the ideal of human co-existence. Open any telephone directory in any city and you will find names of people from every corner of the world, all thriving and working to better themselves and their country.

  122. Yehudit says:

    “BUT, our entrepreneurial class has not come up with the kind of stable, non-service, non-information-technology jobs that every nation needs. In other words, their feats of business creation have left many of us high and dry. We’ll never get back to the days of high-paying smokestack industry jobs and widespread agricultural employment that we once had, but I will reserve my accolades for entrepreneurs (and governments who assist them) that provide a better employment base for the non-college-educated.”
    Then get up off your butt and create a business that will create those jobs – what are you waiting for?

  123. dougger says:

    1. Freedom.
    2. Our Constitution, which does not grant us any rights, but guarantees our inaleinable rights.
    3. Our federal system of government with States rights and enumerated federal powers, and the Tenth Amendment. These constitutional provisions have been violated since the 1930’s, but as long as the Constitution exists there is still hope of returning the balance of power.
    4. A people (mostly in “Red America”) who are willing and able to defend our freedoms and constitution.
    5. The American Spirit.

  124. Steve Bragg says:

    Martin our Swedish friend wrote:
    >The United States of America is the only country
    > based on the principle of Individual Rights.
    Hmm, well, we might could add two more:
    1. The Transitional Islamic State of Afghanistan (with their teary-eyed-beautiful shiny new Constitution–modeled after, ahem, the USA’s)
    2. The (forthcoming) Islamic Republic of Iraq
    But, wait, what country was it that led the liberation of these two countries? Why the USA!
    Another great thing about the USA. We plant, water, and cultivate individual freedoms like the ones we value.

  125. Steve says:

    The melting pot. Summed up in two of my favorite foods:
    Indian Pizza
    Chinese Burritos

  126. RC Power says:

    In a nutshell, the 1st amendment which recognizes our freedom of speech, more important it recognizes our freedom AFTER speech.

  127. Jesse J says:

    Just a couple things that make America great…
    Plan Columbia!
    The Patriot Act!
    Just kidding on those folks, I love America. I just wish that there wasn’t so much wrong with it. But I guess that’s part of why it’s America. With the freedom we have comes responsibility, and when people lose sight of that they make mistakes. Which at least we have the freedom to do.

  128. John Bigenwald says:

    I love America. I just wish that there wasn’t so much wrong with it.
    All part of the quest for a “more perfect union”. As opposed to those “people’s paradises” which promise a perfect union, which can only be achieved by breaking a few eggs.

  129. Ginny says:

    I’ve been to other parts of the world a few times and what I love about America is soft toilet paper and ICE!
    Seriously, one great thing about the USA is you can look on any map and not find any place called the US Territory of Japan or The State of Germany. Yes we are empire builders, we build the empires of our former enemies!

  130. jagcap says:

    I wish I had something clever to add, but reading these comments just cements my sense of solidarity with all of you, my sisters and brothers. America is a family where love rules! Our love for each other doesn’t win every fight… sometimes we bicker and we’re mean to each other… but just as in my family of 8 kids, the bottom line is that we CARE for one another, we RESPECT one another, and we do our goddam best to UNDERSTAND one another. Hate us if you want to, but we’ll drive you crazy by loving you back, because love is what is in OUR hearts!

  131. David Govett says:

    America is unique in that it is a superset of the world’s cultures, or the world in microcosm, if y ou prefer. Humanities future is developing here.

  132. Vox says:

    Personal Responsibility!
    (ok, there are those who are trying to convince people that they don’t need to be accountable – but I don’t think they are winning)
    Inalienable Rights – like no where else on the planet.
    In agreement with so many others here: Jazz.
    and Country, bluegrass, blues…..

  133. Dean Douthat says:

    An exceptionalism is US foreign policy:
    1. We don’t piss off easily but once you piss us off, you are toast.
    2. After you are toast, we will fix you up again.
    3. After we fix you up again, we’ll leave
    4. After we leave, you’ll be far better off than before and you’ll be our friends.

  134. Insufficiently Sensitive says:

    Quoting Jane: “All I said was, our country would be healthier if the entire lower half of the economic spectrum wasn’t so economically insecure.”
    And indeed that’s all you said. Not a word suggesting how that lower half was to find or create or be helped to find some nebulous security. Some intellectual.
    One example this country has set for the world is how much opportunity that ‘lower half’ (boloney, actually, HALF THE POPULATION is nowhere near destitute) has enjoyed over the last couple hundred years to improve its circumstances by diligent mental and physical exertion. And to the great disgust of collectivists domestic and foreign it still does have that opportunity.
    No country on earth can meaningfully contrive a Bill of Rights that entitles every citizen to economic ‘security’. The best any government can do is encourage entrepreneurship, by not sucking the successful ones dry to support the failures.

  135. Rich says:

    After we leave, you’ll be far better off than before and you’ll be our friends.

    Come on Dean, you mean we have to invade France and Germany Again? Third time’s the charm, eh?

    Perhaps an addendum: “you’ll be our friends, but only for fifty years.

  136. There is so much wrong in America simply because tere is so much going on in America. If you choose to sport your dung-colored glasses all the time, there will always be plenty to find fault with. On the other hand, if you will even make half an effort to balance the good and the bad, then America is still a great place.

  137. dani says:

    regarding US exceptionlism, in a word it’s our rambunctiousness. this is a loud, gaudy democracy full of people who are quite adept at flexing (many of) their rights. while we may be called optimistic in some big-picture sense (some call it faith, a divisive word), we exhibit a healthy skepticism of authority and even one another. this rambunctionessness, or cacophony, is not a desire for chaos or even a tolerance for it, as it’s sometimes characterized by our sophisticated allies and neighbors. we prefer rambunctiosness to authoritarian order, either because we’re imbued with the values of our history, because we’ve escaped authoritarianism gone wrong or just because of whatever they put in the water on this side of the atlantic. this noise–which is often change and progress–and our willingness to live with it and even embrace it, is one of the greatest greatness promoting cultural exceptions we’ve got.

  138. K-Mart says:

    What makes America great is exemplified in most of the comments you all made above; such a richness of perspectives and thought. Sorry to gush, but you reinforce my pride in being an American.

  139. Ebb Tide says:

    It took a long time to read all these posts, I started at 10 am and it is now 6:30 pm, I read whenever I had a break… great thoughts here.
    My two cents about what makes the country great.
    * E Pluribus Unum. That’s a great idea.
    * Protecting rights and granting new rights all the time, the constitution is a living document and we interpret it afresh… giving women the right to vote and all that.
    * Letting people reinvent themselves every chance they get, in other words if you don’t like being a baker or a banker, become a ballerina.
    * Free libraries… open source software, stuff like that.
    * Being able to drive across the country (obeying the speed limit) and not having to show any papers to go into another state, county, time zone. If you do break the speed limit, you do have to show your papers. :^)

  140. Armin says:

    “#3. an economy that powers the world with … capital …”
    Huh? So why do you have such a huge deficit? Why is your economy dependent on capital from other countries to survive? In particular (currently) various Asian economies?
    No, your economy doesn’t power the world, the world is financing your decadence and debts. For now.
    “#6. A respect for technology … birth to the internet…”
    Well, I give you the internet. But I assume you know that the inventor of the www is a Brit? And that he was working in Geneva when he invented it?
    And you are aware that the person who kicked off the Linux craze is Finnish? And that a lot of the key contributors are non-American?
    Oh, before I forget it, aren’t most of the leading entertainment technology companies Japanese? The leading mobile phone (cell phone for you Americans) companies European (Nokia, Sony-Ericsson) or Asian (Sony-Ericsson, Samsung)?
    And don’t most people still think German and Italian cars are the best in the world? Porsche, BMW, Ferrari, just to name a few?
    And you are aware that several key parts of the Mars Rovers are made in, yes, Germany? Those with the dodgy work ethic. Because they were able to build something Americans weren’t.
    Sorry, not good enough. Try again. America is a great country. Just not as great as you’re trying to make it. We Europeans are proud of Europe as well and can stand up to most of your claims.

  141. Armin says:

    here in Europe it is even possible to travel between certain countries without having to show any papers. That’s what’s possible in the countries within the Schengen Agreement.
    And we don’t ask our visitors to be fingerprinted and photographed as if they are all potential criminals.
    So how you can claim that America is exceptional/great because you can travel freely between states within a country is beyond me…

  142. Harry says:

    Interesting post and comments.
    Surely one of the things that really is *exceptional* is that so many Americans are utterly convinced that their country and almost everything about it really is great.
    I don’t think you will find another country that same attitude.

  143. Anonymous says:

    The different nations/cultures of the world are like the disparate instruments in an orchestra. The French Horns argue for supremacy over the Tubas, who in turn argue for supremacy over the Cymbals, who in turn argue for supremacy over the oboes, who in turn argue for supremacy over the violins, who argue for supremacy over the French horns. All the different instruments argue and try to protect the “pure” sound that is unique to themselves.
    But America is different. In America, and ONLY in America, we take the first chair instruments of every variety and kind, every discipline and culture, and blend them into a beautiful symphony of Humanity. All the other nations look at us and disdain us for our lack of purity, but the US alone makes the beautiful music of Humanity because the USA alone understands that all instruments sound the best when combined and playing in harmony with one another.
    The other countries of the world see only chaos, and lack of purpose. But we exult in the symphony of Humanity because we give the best and brightest, and the most courageous of all nations the opportunity to play together with us in the great work of art call the USA.

  144. A Fish says:

    Our framework of competition.
    Our thirst for challenge.
    Our reverence for ordinary champions.
    Our innate curiousity in ideas and people.
    Our innocent generosity.
    Our insipid vanity!

  145. Joy says:

    An optimism and belief in the future that’s bred in the bone. Americans don’t passively accept “the way it is.” If they don’t like it, they change it!
    I’m currently living in Central America, and more than anything, I miss the American sense of hope and possibility.

  146. Vinniethevendor says:

    Read the comments and here’s a couple more things great about America:
    BBQ can be either a noun or a verb; people are perfectly free to misuse the apostrophe.

  147. Charlie (Colorado) says:

    So how you can claim that America is exceptional/great because you can travel freely between states within a country is beyond me…
    That’s right… you can travel for a couple of hundred miles in any direction in Europe and not have to stop for a border check.
    If you pick your starting point in the right place.
    And you have the right license plate and nationality oval. (Hint: if I’ve got a USA oval, I’ll still have to stop).
    As long as you did it in the last 20 years or so.

  148. John S. says:

    Are you talking about our Federal Budget Deficit, or our trade deficit? Because if it

  149. Kimberly says:

    Social mobility and lack of classism. Not just a tolerance for those who rise through the ranks, but a respect and appreciation of those who do so.
    I came from a family in dirt-poor South Carolina. My mother didn’t live in a house with indoor plumbing until she was 16 years old (this was in the late 1950’s). She worked for the same company for 39 years, working her way up into the white collar world with just a high school diploma. I had the smarts to earn a Ph.D. and become a scientist, and I did. No barriers. No reason to feel ashamed of my background. No reason to feel that because I was female, Southern, Christian, and from a poor family, that I should settle for anything less than what I really wanted.
    And heck, if I ever ran for office (especially in SC), I’d be *bragging* about my humble origins, because the distance between my social situation now and my family’s then is a testament to brains, ambition, hard work, and an abiding faith in family and education. All of whice are much more valued here than being to the manor born.
    And speaking of bragging, the few naysayers on here who can’t stand this “circle jerk” of appreciation have put their finger on another great aspect of this country. We don’t consider appreciating our good qualities to be a shameful, immature, or “unsophisticated” thing to do. Patriotism isn’t a dirty word, and we don’t feel like we have to hide our lights under a bushel just because we’re not 100% perfect.
    If you done it, it ain’t bragging, and if it’s doable, over here, someone’s done it.

  150. Catherine says:

    So are you saying Armin that there are no border checks in Europe? You do need fingerprints and passports if you are not part of the EU.
    Armin, you have absolutely no understanding of economics do you? Our economy is not dependant on capital (wealth) from other countries. We create capital as of course, as a lot of first world countries do. We are not India (although we were when our country started) who needs a lot of outside ivestment in their infrastructure. We have enough wealth and capital here to invest in our own businesses.
    We are not dependant on Asia. Again, you have that backwards, American companies and banks invested their CAPITAL (wealth) in Asia, so when the Nikkei took a dive, a lot of banks lost INVESTMENTS. The same thing goes in South America. When those countries opened their doors, American banks and companies invested there. Some of those investments were over optimistic (Russia; Indonesia) America is the world’s dominant venture capitalist. I even had some of my from my 401k retirement money in these agressive funds too and did well for a long while.
    The US economy has grown 3% each year the last two years to Europe’s 1% and that is when the U.S. economy is “bad.” Not that I give a crap, but I just thought I would point this out to you since you seem to think Europe is are carrying the U.S. economy.
    The US deficit is a debt to ourselves. The government is spending more than it is taking in from taxpayers (we have lowered taxes when we are spending billions rebuilding Iraq and Afghanistan to name two reasons). It’s pretty simple. We haven’t borrowed any money from Europe or Asia! What are you smoking?
    Armin, try taking some economics classes, stop believing what you read on Indymedia, and hey, I will even throw in a year subscription to the Economist. OK? Really.
    WAIT A MINUTE! AL Gore invented the internet! (kidding).
    Sorry your sensitive feathers have been ruffled Armin.

  151. Joe Peden says:

    Good work, John S, with Armin. I was simply going to say Armin is “jealous”, but hoped someone else would take Armin on instead more particularly. Even the budget deficit/debt is not really a problem of the magnitude alleged. [It has positives, lo and behold, just as does “global warming”.]
    One point which might be mentioned that includes Armin’s way of thought, is that we do not rest on our laurels, wherever they are derived from. This is also the difference between living and not continuing to live as individuals with minds. We know and refer to the past, but we do not live in the past.

  152. Ben says:

    Here is an article I received after Sept 11. I can’t vouch for its authenticity, but it touched me at the time to read people overseas were so moved by the way America rallied to come together. Please bear with the length:
    Editorial from a Romanian newspaper
    Why are Americans so united? They don’t resemble one another even if you paint them! They speak all the languages of the world and form an astonishing mixture of civilizations. Some of them are nearly extinct, others are incompatible with one another, and in matters of religious beliefs, not even God can count how many they are. Still, the American tragedy turned three hundred million people into a hand put on the heart. Nobody rushed to accuse the White House, the army, the secret services that they are only a bunch of losers. Nobody rushed to empty their bank accounts. Nobody rushed on the streets nearby to gape about. The Americans volunteered to donate blood and to give a helping hand. After the first moments of panic, they raised the flag on the smoking ruins, putting on T-shirts, caps and ties in the colours of the national flag. They placed flags on buildings and cars as if in every place and on every car a minister or the president was passing. On every occasion they started singing their traditional song: “God Bless America!”.
    Silent as a rock, I watched the charity concert broadcast on Saturday once, twice, three times, on different tv channels. There were Clint Eastwood, Willie Nelson, Robert de Niro, Julia Roberts, Cassius Clay, Jack Nicholson, Bruce Springsteen, Silvester Stalone, James Wood, and many others whom no film or producers could ever bring together. The American’s solidarity spirit turned them into a choir. Actually, choir is not the word. What you could hear was the heavy artillery of the American soul. What neither George W. Bush, nor Bill Clinton, nor Colin Powell could say without facing the risk of stumbling over words and sounds, was being heard in a great and unmistakable way in this charity concert. I don’t know how it happened that all this obsessive singing of America didn’t sound croaky, nationalist, or ostentatious! It made you green with envy because you weren’t able to sing for your country without running the risk of being considered chauvinist, ridiculous, or suspected of who-knows-what mean interests. I watched the live broadcast and the rerun of its rerun for hours listening to the story of the guy who went down one hundred floors with a woman in a wheelchair without knowing who she was, or of the Californian hockey player, who fought with the terrorists and prevented the plane from hitting a target that would have killed other hundreds of thousands of people. How on earth were they able to bow before a fellow human? Imperceptibly, with every word and musical note, the memory of some turned into a modern myth of tragic heroes. And with every phone call, millions and millions of dollars were put in a collection aimed at rewarding not a man or a family, but a spirit which nothing can buy.
    What on earth can unite the Americans in such a way? Their land? Their galloping history? Their economic power? Money? I tried for hours to find an answer, humming songs and murmuring phrases which risk of sounding like commonplaces. I thought things over, but I reached only one conclusion.
    Only freedom can work such miracles!

  153. Joe Peden says:

    Good work, John S, with Armin. I was simply going to say Armin is “jealous”, but hoped someone else would take Armin on instead more particularly. Even the budget deficit/debt is not really a problem of the magnitude alleged. [It has positives, lo and behold, just as does “global warming”.]
    One point which might be mentioned that “resolves yet includes” [b.s. alert] Armin’s way of thought, is that we do not rest on our laurels, wherever they are derived from. This is also the difference between living and not continuing to live as individuals with minds. We know and refer to the past, but we do not live in the past.

  154. P. Ingemi says:

    The fact that Calpundit and Hobbs online can co-exist.
    The fact that I can read Oliver Wills and shake my head but still enjoy reading him and like him.
    The fact that Andrew Sullivan and NRO can argue about gay marriage and still like each other in the end.
    The fact the Rush Limbaugh and Hillery Clinton can go after each other but still pose for a picture together at a wedding.

  155. Joe Peden says:

    I have no idea why I double posted. I guess I just couldn’t help it.

  156. Jose says:

    Several posts have previously pointed to the US Constitution as the basis of American greatness. Others have noted that many nations have virtually copied the US Constitution and still live in constant political turmoil. The difference is that Americans have internalized (almost to the point of being “hard wired”)the political habits which make our Constitution work. As an naturalized US citizen I continue to be amazed by two related “political” habits of Americans: 1) Confronted with a disagreement regarding what to do, or how best to proceed, Americans instinctively go for a vote when throughout much of history the question was resolved by force and/or violence. This preference for voting as a means to resolve disputes manifests itself not just in our local, state,and federal elections. It starts much earlier in life (in primary school when the issue may be what game to play at recess) and deeply permeates virtually all walks of US life from decisions made by the board of directors of mega multinationals to who wins the Oscars.
    But a preference for majority vote as a decision mechanism is not the most amazing part. What, to me,is truly mind-blowing its corollary: That is that after the vote those who lost the vote (i.e. the minority) accepts the decision of the majority as binding on itself! Again, throughtout much of history and in many parts of the contemporary world this acceptance would be regarded as a violation of the natural order of things.
    The combintion of these two “instincts” (in the sense that the overwhelming majority of Americans behave in this fashion without even thinking about it) is a key element making possible all the achievements listed by previous posts. It is not for nothing that Aristotle claimed that “Politics is the Queen of the Sciences”. If the politics of a country are screwed up, very few positive things are possible.

  157. m says:

    “National Anthem that ends in a question”
    New to me; I love this; what a wonderful rallying cry. Thanks.

  158. Ilkka Kokkarinen says:

    “4. A creative class that is unparalleled — otherwise, why would the rest of the world pay so much to see our movies and hear our music and read our books and watch our TV?”
    …all of which comes from the Blue America. As we all know, especially Hollywood and its products are heavily opposed and despised by the American conservatives.
    “5. An entrepreneurial class that has created, in just recent memory, Amazon, Google, eBay, Starbucks, Microsoft, Cisco, Apple, CNN…”
    …all of which, by an amazing coincidence, also sprung from the Blue America. (Well, not really a coincidence, since these companies were built on the rationality of those areas. None of the companies listed there could have ever started off in, say, Alabama.)
    The liberal Blue America is truly the greatest nation and the supreme culture on Earth. During the past few decades, practically *every* achievement that is generally identified as being “American” hails from there. One would do well to remember this the next time some conservative red-state remora starts lecturing you about the moral superiority of the Red America. We’ll see how this develops.

  159. ExEuroLander says:

    – Best grasp of important values of any society I’ve experienced.
    – Most open and classless society I’ve experienced.
    – Most meritiocratic society I’ve experienced.
    – Least snobby and pretentious society I’ve experienced.
    – Most can-do society I’ve experienced.

  160. G. Murry says:

    Brilliant comments all. That 160+ could turn out answers to this most basic yet elusive question is itself testament to the greatness of the US.
    I am a student who has worked most of his life to get where I am, at a top ranked law school, living in a comfortably lit and furnished studio apartment in West LA. As I lie in my bed at night, contemplating life, I recognize the absolute uniqueness of my position here, the utter impossibility of doing this in any other country. I recognize that it is due to all of the following: my family and the, yes, “puritanical” values they instilled in me (i.e., self-reliance, hard work, responsibility, honesty, etc.); my employers and work environments that allowed me to earn enough to support myself and also to go to school at nights; the community college system, which provided an (affordable, egalitarian) education to me for the first half of my undergraduate career; an economy that allowed me to enjoy an enviable standard of living during the lean years; training I received through employers that allowed me to work at jobs that paid me much more (the fruits of which labor I still enjoy) and even to live overseas for a year as a consultant.
    No class system. Social mobility. The Constitution. Our diversity. Our creative and motive energy.
    On a more intrinsic level, the sheer vastness of the states, from sea to shining sea, the resources of which we have put to good use.
    I love my country.

  161. Joe Peden says:

    Ilkka/Armin, 1]as you are insane, you 2] must be a Liberal, or 3] an Islamofascist. 4]These are the same things. 5] thus you must be all 3, which 6] multiplies to 5!, or 120 of them, and counting.

  162. Joe Peden says:

    Sorry for leaving you out, Bob.

  163. Timothy Lang says:

    A wonderful topic, with (mostly) wonderful comments. After reading them all, one that really stuck was Patrick Brown’s:
    As a Canadian who is not blinded by jealousy of American success, I agree with your 9 points Jeff, and all of the other positive ones that have been offered in the comments. But I think there is a more basic good thing about America, one that explains all of the others: Respect for the ordinary person.
    I don’t mean legal rights or any sort of administrative procedures. I mean, the deep-seated, ingrained belief in the value of ordinary people. Ordinary people are strong, intelligent, creative, industrious, and generous, and those are the words I would choose to describe America. These virtues are what has always drawn people to risk great dangers to get to America.
    It is because America has been built by the efforts and judgment of ordinary people that it is exceptional, and that is a wonderful irony.
    Sometimes someone outside looking in sees things we take for granted, but which are essential. Thanks, Patrick.

  164. Armin says:

    @ Joe:
    Do you really expect me to reply to cheap polemic insults?
    @ John S.
    Yes, America is a great country. But so are others. And the way the post was written was very much a put down on those other countries. So I used my Freedom of Speech (which you claim to be so proud about) to highlight that other countries are as proud as you are. If you are publishing on the internet you are inviting comments from all over the world. If you don’t want to do that you might want to consider a phone in at a local radio station.
    @ Catherine
    If you don’t know what the Schengen agreement is you might want to read up on it. Yes, you need a passsport to get into Europe, but then you can travel freely within large parts of it. And you don’t need fingerprints.
    Thank you for your offer to pay my subscriptions, can I forward you the invoices for you to pay? Or just send me your copies, as you’re obviously not reading them. Otherwise you would know that a huge amount of your government bonds are owned by various other countries (in particular Asian at the moment). But then I obviously have no clue about economics and my economics courses must have been a waste. Same as Warren Buffett is clueless.
    And I’m not even going to comment on Al Gore. You might want to find out what Vint Cerf had to say about that.

  165. Well, Armin, like many America-haters, you use the line “there are other great countries.” But I put up a post challenging non-Americans to list what is great about their countries, since after all why should we be the only ones to crow? So far, no takers, not even the “our food, wine, and women are the best” ones. I hope it isn’t just some sort of false modesty: our bragging on ourselves seems to cause foreigners such intense psychological pain, I would have thought that you guys would like a chance to “turn the tables,” so to speak.

  166. Armin says:

    Well, Andrea, your logic is flawed. I don’t hate America, I quite like it. I lived in Redondo Beach for a while and loved it. I’ve got a lot of American friends and colleagues. But as I criticise European governments and countries I also critise America and in particular its current government. If that means being an “America-hater” then you don’t seem to be able to take criticism very well.
    May be Europeans are more humble, but I’ll take you up on your challenge. Expect either a comment in your blog or a post at my blog (or both) later today or tomorrow.

  167. Joe Peden says:

    Dear Armin, you did respond to something, that somethng being occasioned by your original nonsense, which, I admit, does stand on its own as nonsense, a characteristic of Liberal thought processes, which you should examine in detail by looking at your own thought processes, as you are the one who is intrinsically polemical, since you are unable to do anything else, that is, to think in a meaningful way, which is something we do here in America, resulting in us defending freedom, even yours, and even against your complaining and jealous will, which defines you,….
    Simply, we defend freedom, you complain.

  168. Ilkka Kokkarinen says:

    Joe Peden: Since it is OK to list reasons why America is superior to other countries, would it be similarly OK to list reasons why Blue America is superior to Red America? After all, we are not cultural relativists and claim that all cultures are equally good, but frankly admit that some cultures are better than others, with respect to certain objective and measurable criteria listed in e.g. “Human Accomplishment” by Charles Murray.
    For example, simply by checking where most scientific, technological, economic and cultural advances tend to come from, it is easy to recognize which culture is superior. (Other criteria such as “is more religious” or “has more guns” would of course make the red states look better, but these criteria are pretty worthless since they would make Taleban to be the highest culture.)
    Using the granularity of individual countries, USA excels. However, if we increase the magnification, objective differences between different areas of USA become apparent. Of course this fact breeds resentment in the ranks of the lower cultures, who complain about “elitists” etc.
    It’s simply fair to require that for some group to take the credit for some achievement, at the very least this group shouldn’t have historically been opposed to this achievement. For example, an American conservative would be a hypocrite to use the American movie and TV industry as evidence of American superiority, since at least for the last few decades, the conservatives have bitterly opposed this industry, and still do.
    The same goes for universities (“leftist indoctrination centers”), science (“eggheads”) etc.

  169. hen says:

    The Ramones, A&W root beer (off the tap), the Simpsons, BBQ, the Lincoln Memorial, city hall in Philadelphia, apple orchards of Washington, New Orleans, the 1980 Olympic Hockey team, baseball.
    Name another country where a millionaire marxist ass can get national coverage slandering/calling the sitting President a “deserter” knowing full well he will not be castigated, thrown in jail or followed, but cheered by the intellectuals of the upper West side.
    Name another country where an Austrian born bodybuilder can get paid to make muscles by a bunch of jewish Canadians, become a huge movie star and then the gov of one of our most important states?
    Name another country where a college drop out can become the richest man in the world and in doing so makes thousands others millionaires as well?

  170. miguel says:

    Harry, you got the point!
    Surely one of the things that really is *exceptional* is that so many Americans are utterly convinced that their country and almost everything about it really is great.
    I don’t think you will find another country that same attitude.

    I think that makes it pretty clear…!

  171. James Stephenson says:

    Ilkka, you are wrong. As a conservative I love the American Film and TV industry. I love our books and magazines.
    I feel they can write, direct or act anyway they want. What most people do not want is for those people who do this to preach to us. Who are they to have more say in the USA than a normal person. Should Sean Penn, Barbara, Madonna have anymore voice than I or my brother or my neighbor. Heck no. But they get up there and preach to us about this and that, turning some people off to them. Hurting their industry. Me I go see a movie about once a week, sometimes 2 a week. I buy books, one every 2 weeks or so and read it usually in 3 days.
    But for those supposedly blue state companies, for every one I could name a ton of red state accomplishments. Pepsi, and Coca-Cola are both southern products. Home Depot, Delta Airlines, Air-Tran, Wal-mart, Lowes, UPS, and many more. I would think any of these companies could stand toe-to-toe to their competitors and some with those companies mentioned.
    So please take this rhetoric of Blue America out of the equation.

  172. sholls says:

    I don

  173. Charlie (Colorado) says:

    Maybe getting a not unsympathetic write-up in the New York Times will stir Alpine into being less cloddish, and Sul Ross State University into improving its standards.

    Armin, you dolt, we criticize the USA all the time. But the point of this thread was to collect what people love about America. Intruding on that thread with your criticism is as impolite — and unwelcome — as talking about the bride’s colorful sexual history
    in a wedding reception toast.

  174. Dean Douthat says:

    Come on Dean, you mean we have to invade France and Germany Again? Third time’s the charm, eh?
    Perhaps an addendum: “you’ll be our friends, but only for fifty years.”
    OK, you’ll be our friends until you forget and piss us off again, then return to step 1).

  175. Charlie (Colorado) says:

    For example, simply by checking where most scientific, technological, economic and cultural advances tend to come from, it is easy to recognize which culture is superior. (Other criteria such as “is more religious” or “has more guns” would of course make the red states look better, but these criteria are pretty worthless since they would make Taleban to be the highest culture.)

    Ilkka, you’re making a mistake that I’ve noticed is common to Europeans, maybe because Europe really is a bunch of little different countries. (Which, by the way, reduces much of your point to bloviation, since the differences among states in the US is much less dramatic than the differences between, say, Greece and Finland.)
    But the particular mistake of which I speak is the assumption that because good things come from cities, it’s city people who are doing those good things. In fact, you’ll find that a lot of those people doing the good things in the blue states come from the red states. I was born in a red state (Colorado) in an area that spoke a minority language (Spanish) and with a population density less than Lappland. I’ve lived on both coasts, in the largest metro areas of either; I went to a top university (which, by the way, was in a red state.) And I’ve lived in Europe as well.
    Your whole argument presupposes that the people in red states don’t do that, and that the reason for those things is that people grow up in those cities, where in fact the effect you notice has a lot more to do with the fact that the cities are where people from all over the US go to do things.
    Cities are also where all the urban sprawl, the worst pollution, and the most crime are. Are those also advantages of being in a blue state?
    (By the way, the font makes it imposssible to make sure that I’ve spelled your name correctly, If I haven’t, please accept my apology.)

  176. Doug Purdie says:

    We don’t have no stinking King, Queen, Dictator or Emperor!!!

  177. Insufficiently Sensitive says:

    Or no steenking Politburo neither.

  178. tom beta 2 says:

    From Ilkka:

    Since it is OK to list reasons why America is superior to other countries, would it be similarly OK to list reasons why Blue America is superior to Red America?

    Actually, this thread isn’t about listing reasons why America is superior to other countries. It’s about ways America is exceptional that make it great. I could make a similar list of ways Japan is exceptional that make it a great country (and it is a great country), but this thread isn’t the place. Guess I’ll have to start my own blog. (Hint, hint.)

  179. Joe Peden says:

    Dear Illka, there is no such thing as “blue” america and “red” america, except in your fiction generating mind, or that of the ever brainless press, both of which have created them even as “areas of [the] USA”. Thus one cannot be superior to another. [There are statistical creations which say what voters have done, but a majority of one can determine what is blue and what red. So what?] My thought is not blue or red.
    But you certainly must concede that it is better that Bush is President, rather than Gore, who seems to have gone nuts, apparently catching the Mad Dean Disease.
    The question was “what makes America exceptional?”, I believe, not what makes it condescendingly or even proveably superior to any other country, which then also has nothing to do with the “most” exceptional or greatest, since being greatest or the most exceptional is, utimately, not proveable. Why waste time with such a useless task?
    But “great” or “exceptional” leaves open the potential to become greater or less great, even more “superior”, if only in terms of a country’s own history. We are certainly allowed to evaluate ourselves by our own standards. Saddam Hussein has different standards.
    The question was intended to raise ideas as to what we think is good about America and what might make it special. Those of other countries are certainly entitled to think they are special too. The fact that we might like ourselves should not be intrinsically threatening, any more than that we would care if Cubans like themselves, though they probably don’t. [Let’s hear it from the Cubans. Wait, they can’t even talk.]
    I object to your attempt to make an object of people as “blue” or “red”. Trying to turn this into a superior/inferior matter is even more an obsession of elitists and racists, and all those who think people are things and thus have colors as their essences, or whose thought can be described by a color.
    If you want to do this, go ahead, but you will fail to be able to apply your result to any particular person without talking to them extensively, so why bother with your first attempt, which is really only an attempt to be able to stigmatize people based on some superficial “indicator”, like where they live or whether they are Jewish.
    Nor, again, is there anything the matter with anyone listing what they think is good [exceptional] and basking in it for a moment. On the other hand any claim that no one else has these qualities is irrelevant, and false.
    But, if the shoe fits, wear it.
    In short, I take your attempt to villify geographical areas and assign colors to people as racist, elitist, and thus irrelevant. This is what we try to avoid in America, though elitists and racists keep trying to prove that we are them.
    Your argument about conservatives and the movie industry was ludicrous, and, BTW, bigoted: The movie industry is great, conservatives oppose the movie industry, thus how can conservatives be great, since they must be unfair or hypocritical? Or how can conservatives use the movie industry as an example of American greatness?
    Why would they want to? If they do at some time, then they can make their own arguments and we can evaluate them as to hypocrisy or fairness.
    It is likewise absurd to say that all conservatives oppose the movie industry. Mel Gibson, a “conservative” is just about to release a movie which will probably have the all time greatest opening in history, if we count the pickets. [I am not “religious”.] Is Gibson blue or red? I don’t know Gibson.

  180. Ilkka Kokkarinen says:

    Charlie (Colorado): “But the particular mistake of which I speak is the assumption that because good things come from cities, it’s city people who are doing those good things. In fact, you’ll find that a lot of those people doing the good things in the blue states come from the red states.”
    Fair enough. But why do these good people tend to move to one direction more than to the other? Why do they move to the hedonism-infested cities to do the great things instead of simply staying in the Real America and doing those great things back home?
    (As for your last point, the name is correct, but that’s what copy-paste is invented for. :-) )
    Joe Peden: I have just one question for you. How much conservative commentary or blogosphere do you read?
    I can assure you that the red/blue division and the question of which side is morally superior is definitely not my invention. Conservatives originally started it and still happily continue to use it wherever they can. For example, consider the Club for Growth anti-Dean TV ad.
    Perhaps the blue-state liberals don’t feel like this “Real Americans” -buttfly is worth swatting, since I can’t really understand their inactivity any other way. After all, debunking the myth of “rugged individualist” Real Americans is easy. For example, point out which states pay more taxes than they receive, and which states pay less. There is a definite correlation to be seen here.

  181. Sandy P. says:

    –How long does he think the Europeans should kowtow to the US in gratitude for their reconstruction assistance? Fifty years isn

  182. Sandy P. says:

    Hey, Jesse, at least we don’t have Parmalat, the Oil-for-Palaces program, and the brusselsprouts. At least our leeches are elected.

  183. Sandy P. says:

    When the companies you listed from blue America began, were those states already blue?
    California wasn’t.

    Armin?? You wrote, “If you don’t know what the Schengen agreement is you might want to read up on it. Yes, you need a passsport to get into Europe, but then you can travel freely within large parts of it. And you don’t need fingerprints.”
    Then what are also those stamps I have in my passport from 20 years ago? I’m a vet of the 7-wk/20 countries/11K miles in a bus trip. Just because you don’t need papers NOW, doesn’t mean you didn’t.

  184. cauthon says:

    Ilkka, interesting comments and not entirely untrue. It is quite correct that Blue and Red America share different, and sometimes polar opposite, characteristics and strengths. The fallacy in your argument is the implication that Blue America is better and more important than Red America.
    R.A. is indispensible for its embedded distrust of government and regulation. Because a president must court this group of Americans, this distrust ensures the US does not become Canada.
    R.A. supplies the best soldiers in the world, and they do it proudly.
    The most integrated racial communities in the country are found in R.A. Don’t believe me? Contrast the effortless integration in Jackson, MS with the rigid segregation in NY, Chicago, and LA.
    But this is why America is so great. If one place doesn’t do it for you, you can move to a place that has the advantages and strengths you are looking for.
    As for the businesses, that is all changing. Not even counting homegrown businesses like Dell and Coke, other companies are beginning to notice the virtues of R.A. As companies look for greater profit margin, the less regulated R.A. is becoming much more attractive.
    An interesting argument could be had comparing the the Two Americas (John Edwards, call your office) based on economic and material advantage. However, it is quaintly anachronistic to denigrate one over the other.

  185. scot says:

    The best thing about America is Americans who can celebrate our exceptionalism without looking and talking down to non-Americans.

  186. Joe Peden says:

    Illka: Off The Thread Topic, but more to the point of the “one question” you asked me about, I read a lot of rabid and nonrabid Liberal blogs and sources. But it is fairly off-putting to have my input banned or the threat made just because of my idea not being agreeable to the dogmatists [Democratic Underground], or someone telling mommy on me, a falsity no less [Washington Post, “On Politics”][I have, on occasion, been validly banned.]
    Daniel Drezner, Calpundit, blogcritic, world socialist web site, marxist internet archive, National Review, normblog, joe conason, maureen dowd, the nation, david corn, the progressive, molly ivins, salon, slate, krugman, franken, moore, cornell west [“the smartest man in the world”], tavist smiley, NPR, dianne rheems, teri gross, NOW, raspberry, shields, juan williams…. Obviously, these are not all blogs, and I have given up on some [ some of which I don’t even recall], because they are intractably insane.
    I was a charter member of the Cousteau Society, have belonged to the Sierra Club, the Wilderness Society, the Union of Concerned Scientists, subscribed to The Progressive long before the internet [even before it published how to make a nuke], subscribed to the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, read Mother Jones frequently, etc.. I was a member of Planned Parenthood for a long time.[That should really do it!] My partner/neighbor/friend of 30 years at one time did the most abortions of anyone in the World, so far as I could tell. I have supported Naral.
    But now Liberal thought is dead, or pushed to an extreme in which it is oppressive and non-applicable[virtual communism, PBA, racism, sexism, thought controllism, nonscientificism]. All Liberals can do is make fools of themselves, or try to become conservative without being republican. Good Luck. I certainly don’t like radical Christians either, those who claim they can send me to Hell if I don’t do what they say. I like terrorists even less, and do not appreciate those who support terrorists, or try to thwart the Bush Doctrine. Liberals have abandoned reason in favor of me-ism and cowardice. I have abandoned them. I used to be a Liberal. Actually, they abandoned me.

  187. Greg says:

    Contrary to many Democratic candidate claims, America IS worth saving. We have faults, we do stumble, but I will never, NEVER forget what America has done for the world. To quote Samwise Gamgee, “There are some things worth saving”.
    This is why we need Patriotism. Without love for our own country, it is a lost cause.

  188. Deb says:

    As the previous commenters have noted, there are many things that make America great. What keeps America great is the patriotism that the last commenter mentioned. This love of country is what makes 19 year old young men join the armed services in place of going to college or finding a better paying job – and reenlist four years later because they know they made the right choice the first time. They believe that this country is worth protecting and defending and are willing to lay down their lives to do so. My son, USMC Lance Corporal Shane Conrad enlisted because of 9/11. He knows that we have something very special here and is willing to protect it, and us, with his life if necessary. That is not something to be taken lightly.

  189. CelticDragon says:

    The greatest thing about America is Americans. Old Americans, Young Americans, Native-Born Americans, Americans who got here as fast as they could. Northern Americans, Southern Americans, Mid-Western Americans, and even Left-Coast Americans. Citizen Soldier Americans, Concientious Objector Americans, Hard Working Entrepreneur Americans, Lazy Slob Americans, Working Class Americans, CEO Americans.

  190. Joe Peden says:

    Yes, Deb, yes. I will go with him, if necessary, though I would like to go with him now anyway. They will not take me now. I am too “old”.

  191. Paul Stinchfield says:

    I spoke with the Korean woman who runs the local drycleaners. She is incredulous that anybody could think so little of America. In her words, “America is blessed” and she feels very fortunate to be here where she enjoys such economic, political and religious freedom.

  192. Buffalo Bill says:

    America is great because it attracts Americans. Like the guys from Cuba who put their truck on 55-gallon drums, welded a propellor to the drive shaft, and drove the damn thing to America, separated as we are by water! Then when they got sent back, they tied a car to a raft, and did it again.
    Those guys are already Americans, so they have to end up here if they want. We wouldn’t let Castro take any of our folks, would we?

  193. Timothy Lang says:

    It’s been posted before, but I’ll post it again (Ilkka, are you listening?)
    One of the great things about America is we all are constantly moving around (I guess the real “great thing” about that is our freedom to do so). One of the first things you ask a new acquaintance is “where are you from?”
    “Oh, I’ve lived here all my life” is still pretty common, but more so “well, I was born just outside of San Diego, picked up my degree at Duke, was hired in Chicago, they shifted me to the Houston operation, then up to Great Lakes…man, this winter is killing me. Think I’ll head down to Arizona or something, I’m sure I could get a job down there. Soon as I make my pile I’m going to retire in Podunk.”
    We like to move. The result is not a divisive culture, nor a homogeneous culture, but a diverse, heterogeneous one.
    We’ve got fifty states, any of which could be compared in size to some European, Asian or African country. You can travel to, or move to, no questions asked, wherever you choose, and many do.
    How do I know when I’ve left Michigan and entered Indiana? No border patrol and passport checks, just a “Welcome to Indiana” sign (if I’m on a big enough road to rate such a sign). Okay, and an immediate feeling of ennui and torpor (just kidding, Indiana!)

  194. robtronik says:

    Hey Armin,
    The WWW was “invented” by a non-american ON A NEXT COMPUTER.
    Who created Next Computer?
    Steve Jobs.
    heh heh.
    Internet? The U.S. Government.
    Just wanted to clarify ya. I’m sure that non american fellow (tim berners-lee) is grateful to those americans that enabled his invention.
    I think the United States is great because we believe that tomorrow is the day when we make things better than today.

  195. tom beta 2 says:

    Optimism, the belief that an individual can (and should) make the world better, if only a tiny bit, and the freedom to make it happen.

  196. wanda says:


  197. Nye Nestman says:

    There is no peasant class in America.

  198. CAlden says:

    I think Henry Kissinger put it very well on a recent episode of Think Tank (I link to it here: http://www.r21online.com/archives/000487.html#000487):
    “No. There

  199. SherlockJr says:

    The fact that my Grandfather came from Mexio at the age of 7 in 1917 with literally less than a dollar in his pocket, and died a millionare. Only in America is there that much opportunity.

  200. DirkH says:

    Thought-provoking topic and comments. Thanks to all!
    Here are my top 5:
    1. The rule of law
    2. Respect for private property
    3. Opportunity to create your own success
    4. Examples of societal self-correction (women’s vote, civil rights) built into the fabric of our society, based on the foundation of core principles laid out by the Declaration of Independence and Constitution.
    5. Jazz

  201. Horst says:

    What makes the USA exceptional is exemplified in these comments: Americans will go to great lengths to defend their country and its leaders against any criticism: Go to any European country and criticise the government’s politics, and almost everybody will agree. Go to the USA and criticise the government, and almost everybody will defend it.
    What makes the USA exceptional is that people are willing to believe in a set of common, unifying myths (like Jeff’s 10 points), even if they are not or no longer true, and through their belief in these myths they will actually move the country forward, achieve progress, and perhaps even make these myths become reality.
    The weakness of the EU is that its citizens don’t really support it because they don’t believe in it; the strength of the US is that its citizens will support it no matter what, even if they don’t believe in it.
    This is quite exceptional, and I doubt if you can find anything like it in any other country of the world.
    @ Sandy P.: The Schengen treaty took effect in 1995, so it’s obvious you didn’t notice it 20 years ago. You really should read up on it. See http://tinyurl.com/2rkdu

  202. Jason -- USA says:

    wow…when you have over 200 comments explaining why the USA is great…this should be explanation enough

  203. denise says:

    “I sincerely want to understand why some occasionally find overt, public expressions of patriotism distasteful. Because you’re articulate, I’m hoping that you’ll be able to explain it to me.”
    Here’s my explanation. I used to think such expressions were bragging, and I think modesty is a common American trait. We tend to go just about our business rather than brag about our business.
    After 9/11, I started to see those public expressions differently. They aren’t generally about vanity or conceit. They are about gratitude.

  204. trish says:

    My mother’s parents immigrated from Ireland where they were so poor my grandmother couldn’t afford shoes for school. Neither of my grandparents were educated past the 5th grade. My grandmother worked as a maid and my grandfather in a paper mill. He would bring home books damaged at the mill, which were no good to sell in stores, so his children would could have books to read. My mother and all her siblings graduated from high school and 80% of my cousins (including myself) have at least a BS or BA, some have PhDs. That’s what I love about America. It’s not that my grandparents weren’t hard enough working to make it in Ireland, they just lacked the opportunity. America gave them opportunity and allowed them to raise generations of their descendents out of poverty.
    And ditto to all the other great comments made above. It’s not that other countries don’t have great things to offer the world, it’s that I am so damn proud of all the great things WR offer the world!

  205. trish says:

    Oops, I meant “great things WE offer the world”

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  208. JD says:

    I ran across this post when it was linked in another blog (http://hubris.typepad.com/). The comments about what people feel is great about our country are truly powerful. Those that have so eloquently posted their thoughts on here have given perfect examples of what is great about our country. I will not attempt to add to that which has been stately quite aptly previously, but rather, would like to thank those that have posted for reminding this American what most of us take for granted.

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