Conservatives constantly allege that President Obama does not believe in American exceptionalism, a charge independent fact-checkers have repeatedly debunked. Obama gave his definition of American exceptionalism when asked at a 2009 press conference in France if he subscribed to the notion. He said yes -- that America is exceptional in its unmatched military capability, the size of its economy, and "a core set of values," including free speech and equality, that are enshrined in its Constitution, laws and democratic practices. He also said America has a "continued extraordinary role in leading the world."
Fact-checkers also have repeatedly shot down conservative charges that Obama goes around apologizing for America. The Washington Post Fact-Checker even called him on the carpet for "unsubstantiated boosterism," citing his frequent assertions that America has the best workers, finest universities and freest markets.
Conservatives nevertheless are on a tear to save American exceptionalism, or at least their view of it, from the likes of Obama. And Gingrich has been in the forefront. In June he published a book called "A Nation Like No Other: Why American Exceptionalism Matters." He and his wife, Callista, produced and co-star in a 2011 documentary called "A City Upon a Hill: The Spirit of American Exceptionalism."
A trailer for the film describes exceptionalism as the idea that America is "more open, more vigorous, more optimistic than other nations." Gingrich's own personal definition has more to do with God and small government, which happen to be lodestars for conservatives. His starting point is the Declaration of Independence, which says the creator has endowed "all men" with "certain unalienable rights," including life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. "What makes American exceptionalism different is that we are the only people I know of in history to say power comes directly from God to each one of you. You are personally sovereign. So you're always a citizen, never a subject," Gingrich said at a South Carolina forum in September. That means, he added, that "no politician, no bureaucrat, no judge" can take those rights away.
One could argue forever, and we will, about the texts of our founding documents and the intent of those who wrote them; about the role of government and the tension between individual rights and the government's duty, as per the Constitution, to "promote the general welfare." And it is well within campaign bounds for Gingrich, Mitt Romney and the rest of the GOP field to vigorously challenge Obama's views on exceptionalism, freedom and the common good.
But when it comes to diplomacy and national security, self-congratulation and hubris don't seem like a recipe for success. In France, Obama prefaced his answer on American exceptionalism by saying that he suspected "the Brits believe in British exceptionalism and the Greeks believe in Greek exceptionalism." Gingrich and others have skewered him for this statement and usually fail to include the rest of what he said. Yet it seemed clear that Obama was using a little joke about human nature to take the edge off what he went on to say -- that other countries have wonderful qualities and good ideas, but really, the United States is the biggest and the best.