At the Intersection of Faith and Culture

At the Intersection of Faith and Culture

Mitt Romney and American Exceptionalism

Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney just addressed the 113th gathering of the Veterans of Foreign Wars.

The former governor of Massachusetts endeavored mightily to draw a sharp contrast between himself and his rival, Barack Obama.

Establishing an inextricable link between the economy and national defense, Romney contended that the President’s poor handling of the former has been coupled with a weakening of the latter.

“The President’s policies have made it harder to recover from the deepest recession in seventy years,” Romney said. As a result, he has “exposed the military to cuts that no one can justify [.]” 

What is worst of all, according to Romney, is that Obama has “given trust where it is not earned, insult where it is not deserved, and apology where it is not due.”  Translation: Obama has not embraced the doctrine of “American Exceptionalism” (AE).


Of course, exactly what Obama or anyone else is expected to affirm—or deny—when they endorse AE is anything but axiomatic.  However, to listen carefully to its self-avowed champions—like Governor Romney himself—is to become at least a little clearer as to what AE is intended to signify.

Let us attend to Romney’s words.

For starters, Romney identifies himself as “an unapologetic believer in the greatness of this country.” 

Ah. Taken alone, this remark is not only uncontroversial; it is virtually meaningless.  What could it mean to be “an unapologetic believer in the greatness of this country?” Does such a person mean to deny that other countries are “great?”  What does it mean to say that any country is “great?”  Would Romney ever think to deny that Americans are susceptible to the same imperfections that have plagued the human race from time immemorial? 


It is only when we look at this comment within the context of Romney’s speech, though, that it begins to assume meaning.

Immediately following Romney’s self-identification as an unabashed defender of AE, he says:

“I am not ashamed of American power.  I take pride that throughout our history our power has brought justice where there was tyranny, peace where there was conflict, and hope where there was affliction and despair” [emphasis added].

Now we are getting somewhere.

You see, AE is the doctrine that Americashould seek to deploy its military forces—its power—to remake the world in its own image. It is the doctrine that America is and should always be “the leader of the free world.” 


If there are any doubts about this, Romney proceeds to dispel them. He is unequivocal:

“I do not view Americaas just one more point on the strategic map, one more power to be balanced. I believe our country is the greatest force for good the world has ever known and that our influence is needed as much now as ever” [emphases added].

Romney claims that he is “guided by one overwhelming conviction and passion: This century must be an American Century” [emphasis added].

Romney’s insinuations to the contrary notwithstanding, one who rejects the doctrine of AE need not, like our beloved President, regard America as a nation in need of redemption.  In other words, the only other alternative to the notion that America is uniquely great is not the idea that she is uniquely wicked.


There are plenty of us—most of us, I suspect—who will readily acknowledge the greatness of our country while just as readily rejecting Romney’s concept of AE.  The reason for this should be clear enough: we look upon our country in terms, not of “the power” of our government, but the goodness of its people and its institutions.

Republicans and other proponents of AE seem to either forget or ignore the fact that the United States military is a part of the United States—i.e. the federal—government.  Hence, demands for an ever larger military—a military with the capability to “fundamentally transform” the planet into a bastion of “justice,” “peace,” and “hope,” as Romney says in his speech—are nothing more or less than demands for a national government more expansive and powerful than any that the world has ever seen.


The logic of this reasoning is inescapable: the bigger the military, the bigger the government.

What this in turn means is that calls for “limited government” are incompatible—radically incompatible—with calls for a military of the sort for which the advocates of AE wish.

There is another consideration against AE.

Some of us reject AE precisely because we love our country so.

The interminable enterprise of deploying American military personnel to lands around the globe to imperil their lives for the ostensible well being of nonAmericans is neither virtuous nor, at least in spirit, constitutional.  Think about this for a moment: American public servants confiscate the hard earned resources of American taxpayers so that they can send American soldiers to fight and die for non-Americans.

This is what the doctrine of American Exceptionalism entails.  This is supposed to arouse our enthusiasm and fuel our most patriotic of feelings.

No thanks.  





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