It's after midnight in China, but I wanted to mention in real time an oratorical performance that deserves a second look. It's from Barack Obama's NATO press conference that just wrapped up, and the part worth studying is the two or three minutes that followed a question by Edward Luce of the Financial Times.
I have nothing against Luce, who wrote a very good recent book about India, but here he asked in what can only be called plummy tones whether Obama still clung to the idea of "American exceptionalism." The general phrasing of the question held that idea out at arm's length as a kind of yahoo colonial oddity.
"I believe in American exceptionalism," Obama said after one beat for thought. "Just as the Brits believe in British exceptionalism, and the Greeks in Greek exceptionalism..." I don't have a transcript here, but what was impressive was how rapidly he seemed to have figured out the full shape of his answer; how effortlessly the term "the Brits" (and the instant pairing with "the Greeks") offset the seeming Oxbridge hauteur* of the question; and how he went on to give so balanced a response that no one, Yank or otherwise, could fail to be satisfied.
Of course he was proud of his country, Obama said. But it was also objectively exceptional in several ways: it still had the world's largest economy; its military power was unmatched; and -- with emphasis here -- its Constitutional principles enshrined values and ideals that truly were exceptional. Therefore it should be proud of its role in the world, and embrace its responsibilities.