Only in America

Tom Lantos, upon announcing his retirement from congress, offers up this bit of boilerplate: "It is only in the United States that a penniless survivor of the Holocaust and a fighter in the anti-Nazi underground could have received an education, raised a family, and had the privilege of serving the last three decades of his life as a member of Congress." Jonathan Zasloff correctly notes that this isn't true: Leon Blum and Brun Kreisky survived the Holocaust and served as Prime Ministers of France and Austria respectively: "This reminds me of Joe Lieberman's self-congratulatory acceptance speech at the 2000 Democratic Convention, where he also said that his story could happen 'only in America.' That's just wrong."

There's something very strange about this particular brand of American exceptionalism that takes genuine, positive things about the United States (many opportunities for Jewish people!) and then falsely transmogrifies them into unique attributes of the United States. It's a strange tick, because it's clearly not really meant to be taken literally. At a minimum, I'm sure Lantos is aware that "Jewish refugee becomes politician" is something that could happen in Israel. And yet convention dictates that if one wants to refer to one's personal story as illustrating some good thing about the United States one must insist that only in America do these good things happen. Would it really kill us to acknowledge that good things happen elsewhere.