‘Exceptionalism' Argument May Prove Potent for Republicans
By RICHARD W. STEVENSON
In the context of the 2012 campaign, however, it has taken on a much more partisan edge, invoked by Republicans as a way to define President Obama as weak, lacking in core American values and almost unpatriotic.
It is easy to dismiss as election-season jingoism, the political equivalent of a “We're No. 1” chant from the cheap seats. But the exceptionalism argument offers some voters a reassuring counternarrative to persistent joblessness, a long-term hollowing out of the middle class and a sense that the nation's best days are past. And it intensifies the pressure on Mr. Obama to avoid sounding defensive about the difficult challenges he has faced as president and to articulate a positive story for why he deserves another four years.
“We have a president right now who thinks America's just another nation,” Mitt Romney said last Saturday , at the most recent debate. “America is an exceptional nation. We have a president who thinks that the way to conduct foreign policy is through his personal effects on other people. I believe the way to conduct foreign policy is with American strength.”
At a Values Voter convention in October, Gov. Rick Perry of Texas said that “those in the White House today” do not believe in American exceptionalism and would rather emulate Europe.
“The answer to our troubles lies in a positive, optimistic vision, with policies rooted in American exceptionalism,” Mr. Perry said. “See, American exceptionalism is the product of unlimited freedom. And there is nothing troubling our nation today that cannot be solved by the rebirth of freedom — nothing.”
Conservatives have used the concept as part of a broader indictment of liberalism in the age of Obama. Writing in The Wall Street Journal in September, the author Shelby Steele suggested that Mr. Obama's upbringing in the 1960s shaped him into the embodiment of an anti-exceptionalism world view.