American exceptionalism: an old idea and a new political battle

the idea that the United States is inherently superior to the world’s other nations has become the battle cry from a new front in the ongoing culture wars. Lately, it seems to be on the lips of just about every Republican who is giving any thought to running for president in 2012.

Some, however, wonder whether Obama’s conservative critics are sounding an alarm about the United States’ place in the world – or making an insidious suggestion about the president himself.

With a more intellectual sheen than the false assertions that Obama is secretly a Muslim or that he was born in Kenya, an argument over American exceptionalism “is a respectable way of raising the question of whether Obama is one of us,” said William Galston.

Democrats have become more squeamish about the idea of exceptionalism in the wake of the George W. Bush years, when spreading American values was used as a justification for unilateral action on the world stage.

the concept of exceptionalism also speaks to Americans’ beliefs about the size, role and scope of their own government.

A recent survey by the Public Religion Research Institute and the Brookings Institution found that 58 percent of Americans agreed with the statement: “God has granted America a special role in human history.”

Gingrich says Obama fails to understand that “American exceptionalism refers directly to the grant of rights asserted in the Declaration of Independence,” and that it is a term “which relates directly to our unique assertion of an unprecedented set of rights granted by God.”

The GOP contenders know that this kind of argument – with its suggestion that Obama is undermining American values – was “a huge piece of what Sarah Palin did in 2008,” Pfeiffer said. “They want a little bit of Sarah Palin magic, because she has a lot of enthusiasm and support among the base.”

via American exceptionalism: an old idea and a new political battle.


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