What I'm reading: Frank Rich on American Exceptionalism


Frank Rich’s long column was always the first thing I turned to in the Sunday New York Times, so I was dismayed when he left the Times, citing long years of weekly deadline pressure.

He’s found a terrific home, though, at New York Magazine, where he’s writing less frequently but at greater length, and with the same thoughtful analysis.

This week’s essay, teased on the cover with the headline “Is America Dead,” takes off from the death of Andy Griffith and the American nostalgia about Griffith’s television show. But the subject is, as usual, a timely political one: our longing for a past that never existed, and the conviction of so many Americans that this country is superior to all others.

The belief in American exceptionalism is — dare I say it? —simply childish. We could ignore it, except that it is becoming a recurring theme in the presidential campaign, with Obama’s critics insisting that Obama is un-American because he doesn’t believe strongly enough in American exceptionalism.

Increasingly, Rich notes, politicians and analysts — including some moderates and progressives — are worrying that America is losing (or has lost) its greatness, and they look to periods like the heyday of Griffith’s show as an example of what we should try to reclaim.

Reclaim it? The Andy Griffith Show, like the other popular shows of its time, featured a white family living in an all-white town. That, Rich suggests, explains a lot about the exceptionalism infatuation.

As usual, it’s a thought-provoking piece, yet another topic worth discussing as the presidential election campaign heads toward fall.