When one finishes reading Dave Lake's CNN opinion piece "Is America exceptional? Liberals, conservatives agree -- and disagree," one is tempted to look around for the Tin Woodsman and the Cowardly Lion. In less than 1,000 words, Lake's flying rhetorical monkeys have decimated the domestic-government-hating, foreign-policy-government-loving conservative straw man. He writes that in the conservatives' eyes, "Economic or social policy at home may be distorted and even captured by 'special interests,' but foreign policy remains pure and reflects the high morals of the American people." Does Lake seriously believe conservatives are that unsophisticated? Lake does not even limit this fanciful view to when the president shares the conservatives' ideology. Does he really think conservatives are unwavering, enthusiastic proponents of the Obama administration's foreign policy?
Conservatives' views on the role of government, which Lake ostensibly contrasts with the views of liberals, are what determine their attitudes towards the actions of any administration, liberal or conservative, Republican or Democratic. As the preamble to the Constitution eloquently says, our present form of government was formed to "...establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity..." While both sides generally agree on the justice system and law and order as fundamental functions of government, liberals have elevated the least action-oriented statement in the Preamble, "promote the general Welfare," to government's primary (and certainly most expensive) function. Conservatives, on the other hand, believe that words matter, and that the Founders chose their words carefully. Consequently, "provide for the common defense" and "secure the Blessings of Liberty," which manifest themselves largely through foreign policy, should consume a greater proportion of the government's attention and resources. "Provide" and "secure" clearly call for more direct action than "promote." But even given the justifiable preference conservatives give to the foreign policy role of government, the suggestion that conservatives blindly cheer foreign policy however it is implemented is baseless.
Lake chooses to close out his essay by reprising his earlier sentiment: "How [conservatives] can believe that the will of the people is always distorted at home but flawlessly translated into policy abroad is, well, exceptional." Rather than give conservative views a fair hearing, Lake resorts to caricature with words like "pure," "always distorted," and "flawlessly." Using such distortion of the views of conservatives to bolster liberal arguments sadly is not exceptional, but a recycled tactic pressed into service once again, this time (surprise!) to promote liberalism as the true reason for American exceptionalism.