From the moment Barack Obama appeared on the national stage, conservatives have been searching for the best way to describe the danger he poses to America's traditional way of life. Secularism? Check. Socialism? Sure. A tendency to apologize for America's greatness overseas? That, too. But how to tie them all together?
Gradually, a unifying theme took hold. "At the heart of the debate over Obama's program," declared Rich Lowry and Ramesh Ponnuru in an influential 2010 National Review cover story, is "the survival of American exceptionalism." Finally, a term broad and historically resonant enough to capture the magnitude of the threat. A year later, Newt Gingrich published A Nation Like No Other: Why American Exceptionalism Matters, in which he warned that "our government has strayed alarmingly" from the principles that made America special. Mitt Romney deployed the phrase frequently in his 2012 campaign, asserting that President Obama "doesn't have the same feelings about American exceptionalism that we do." The term, which according to Factiva appeared in global English-language publications fewer than 3,000 times during the Bush Administration, has already appeared more than 10,000 times since Obama became president.
To liberals, the charge that Obama threatens American exceptionalism is daft. He is, after all, fond of declaring, "In no other country on Earth is my story even possible." For some progressive pundits, things hit rock bottom when conservative Washington Post columnist Kathleen Parker flayed Obama for not using the words "American exceptionalism" in his 2011 State of the Union speech, even though he had called America a "light to the world" and "the greatest nation on Earth." The entire discussion, declared liberal Post blogger Greg Sargent, had become "absurd," "self-parodic," and an exercise in "nonstop idiocy."