Sarah Palin -- The Opportunist
Just as the former Alaska Governor and 2008 Republican Vice Presidential Nominee keeps popping into the Republican nominating contest without officially entering the ring, Palin tries to have it both ways on exceptionalism and realism.
The U.S. has "a unique responsibility: to show the world the meaning and the rewards of freedom"
During the 2008 campaign and much of its aftermath, Palin was seen as a reliable exceptionalist, parrotting Reagan's 1970s criticism of Kissinger by mocking Obama's decision to "bow and kowtow" to American enemies and by comparing Obama's nuclear negotiations with Russia to those of Kissinger's dreaded détente. But Palin has since abandoned her neoconservative advisers and come to project a more realist tone, arguing, "We can't fight every war, we can't undo every injustice in the world."
This may sound like an evolution to some observers, political savvy to others, or a flip-flop to partisans, but it reflects the same intellectual untidiness and political opportunism of Palin's memoir Going Rogue. Throughout the chapter "The Way Forward," Palin sounds like a practical realist in one sentence and a hyper- exceptionalist in the next. Thus she can argue the nation should not "force our ideals" on other countries but also that the nation has "been given a unique responsibility: to show the world the meaning and the rewards of freedom."
Trying to be both a realist and an exceptionalist at the same time may work in her memoirs or on Facebook, but it remains to be seen whether this opportunism could survive the cross-examination should Palin officially join the campaign.
Newt Gingrich -- Exceptionalist's Exceptionalist
The former House speaker and beleaguered presidential candidate recently starred in a movie that news reports described as "a documentary-style film on 'American exceptionalism'" He served on the Bush Administration's Defense Policy Board and was an early, public advocate for the Iraq War: he argued in October 2001, "If we don't use this as the moment to replace Saddam after we replace the Taliban, we are setting the stage for disaster."
Unchastened by the debacle in Iraq or the enormous growth of the nation's military industrial complex after September 11, Gingrich proposed in his latest book To Save America, a "bigger national security system with a bigger budget and a more robust capacity to deal with multiple threats simultaneously." While this fits his past exceptionalist foreign policy approach, it may be out of step with some of those concerned with the nation's fiscal health, such as the Tea Party activists Gingrich has worked so hard to court.
It is not the only instance of his missteps in managing the conflicting realist and exceptionalist forces in the Republican contest. His early calls for a no-fly zone in Libya -- because, as he put it, the United States "doesn't need anybody's permission" -- were true to his exceptionalist roots, but wrong for a public leery of another expensive misadventure. He later flip-flopped, saying, "I would not have intervened."