Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Obama on American Exceptionalism

I picked this up from James Fallows, writer for The Atlantic.

At the NATO Press conference last week, Obama was asked this question by Edward Luce, reporter for the Financial Times

[Do] you subscribe, as many of your predecessors have, to the school of American exceptionalism that sees America as uniquely qualified to lead the world, or do you have a slightly different philosophy? And if so, would you be able to elaborate on it?

That is quite a question, don't you think? It's huge. If you don't toot America's horn, sing "God Bless America" and clearly keep your hand over your heart during the pledge of allegiance, half of this country seems to rise up and react with horror at the lack of patriotism to our country.

On the other hand, the friends that I grew up with that are not Americans really, genuinely struggle with America's arrogance, even in speeches by our Presidents. What we see as patriotism often offends our friends. So - how does Obama answer this tough question? It's a fine line for him to walk, and he has to answer off the cuff.

I believe in American exceptionalism, just as I suspect that the Brits believe in British exceptionalism and the Greeks believe in Greek exceptionalism. I’m enormously proud of my country and its role and history in the world. If you think about the site of this summit and what it means, I don’t think America should be embarrassed to see evidence of the sacrifices of our troops, the enormous amount of resources that were put into Europe postwar, and our leadership in crafting an Alliance that ultimately led to the unification of Europe. We should take great pride in that.

And if you think of our current situation, the United States remains the largest economy in the world. We have unmatched military capability. And I think that we have a core set of values that are enshrined in our Constitution, in our body of law, in our democratic practices, in our belief in free speech and equality, that, though imperfect, are exceptional.

Now, the fact that I am very proud of my country and I think that we’ve got a whole lot to offer the world does not lessen my interest in recognizing the value and wonderful qualities of other countries, or recognizing that we’re not always going to be right, or that other people may have good ideas, or that in order for us to work collectively, all parties have to compromise and that includes us.

And so I see no contradiction between believing that America has a continued extraordinary role in leading the world towards peace and prosperity and recognizing that that leadership is incumbent, depends on, our ability to create partnerships because we create partnerships because we can’t solve these problems alone.

I love Obama's answer. His mentality towards this question was a major draw for me during the campaigning period. As Fallows said,

The thoughts may seem banal, but I challenge anyone to come up with a clearer explanation of American exceptionalism to an international audience in the same number of words -- not to mention doing so on live TV with maybe five seconds to figure out what your answer will be. In a world where evidence mattered, these few minutes would put an end to the "can't talk without a teleprompter" madness. More important, they're a way of explaining to Americans the potential and limits of our international role.

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