American Exceptionalism

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I found an article that examines the results of a word search of the U.S. presidents' use of the phrase "American exceptionalism." I thought it fit well with out past discussions regarding American exceptionalism and out upcoming one about the presidents' State of the Union addresses and their word choices.

The article, posted below, states "Only one sitting president in the last 82 years has publicly uttered the magical phrase 'American exceptionalism'--" and that was President Obama. It then goes on to describe how he was criticized by Katheleen Parker, a columnist, for the word being absent in his State of the Union address despite being the only President in the last eight decades to use the phrase at all.

Kathleen Parker questioned why Obama omitted the word when it would put some American's worries about his patriotism at rest stating, "On the right, the word exceptional--or exceptionalism--lately has become a litmus test for patriotism. It's the new flag lapel pin, the one-word pocket edition of the U.S. Constitution. ... So why won't Obama just deliver the one word that would prompt arias from his doubters?"

The article points out that presidents have used the word exceptional on many occasions with regard to people, but not the country. Why do you think the phrase "American exceptionalism" appears to be avoided by presidents, yet, the word exceptional is broadly attached to other subjects? Also, why do you think there is a sudden refocus on "American exceptionalism?" Parker believes it's the new proof of patriotism that Obama is lacking. How did this seemingly forgotten about phrase, that no other president in the last 82 years has used, suddenly become "The new flag lapel pin?"


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After reading this post, I couldn't help but think of Teddy Roosevelt, who was perhaps the president with the most fervent belief of America and the concept of American Exceptionalism.

In his 1905 inaugural address, President Roosevelt said, "We are the heirs of the ages, and yet we have had to pay few of the penalties which in old countries are exacted by the dead hand of a bygone civilization. Much has been given us, and much will rightfully be expected from us. We have duties to others and duties to ourselves; and we can shirk neither. If we fail, the cause of free self-government throughout the world will rock to its foundations, and therefore our responsibility is heavy, to ourselves, to the world as it is to-day, and to the generations yet unborn."

Here Teddy touches on America's isolated geography as a means to its exceptionalism and invokes the "city on a hill" rhetoric to explain America's role in the world.

Teddy also wrote (from his personal diary/memoirs), "I wish to stress the necessity for a feeling of broad, radical, and intense Americanism. I believe, and I feel most people who live here do and ought to believe, that America is, on the whole, a notch higher in the scale than any other country. The man in whom intense love of country is wanting is a very despicable creature."

I think this quote resonates with the article Jen posted on the current debate of connecting a strong belief in American Exceptionalism to patriotism. Although Teddy doesn't use the word "exceptional" or any of its derivatives, he is clearly speaking to the spirit of the concept.

And just for fun, I thought I'd include a couple of Teddy's MANY anti-Europe thoughts, "A man who becomes Europeanized, who loses his power of doing good work on this side of the water, and who loses his love of his native land, is not a traitor, but he is silly and an undesirable citizen. He is an emphatically noxious element in our body politic. Being a healthy man with a brain and tastes that any manly man should have, I of course would not wish to stay in Europe too long."

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This page contains a single entry by sherl024 published on February 6, 2011 3:59 PM.

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