Bobby Jindal revived an old criticism about President Obama's penchant for multilateralism, but he went too far when he said Obama "won't proudly proclaim American exceptionalism."
At the U.S. Military Academy last year, Obama pronounced unequivocally: "I believe in American exceptionalism with every fiber of my being." That's just one of many examples.
The Louisiana governor, who is mulling a run for the presidency, made his comment during a Fox News interview with Sean Hannity about Obama's "Crusades" comment at the National Prayer Breakfast. Jindal, a Republican, said it pointed to a larger problem of "moral relativism" by the left.
We allow that politicians may have reasonable disagreements about the role of American leadership in world affairs, and Obama's commitment to multilateralism. And there may be large differences of opinion about what a belief in "American exceptionalism" means and how that should manifest itself. But Jindal's claim that Obama "won't proudly proclaim American exceptionalism" simply ignores Obama's own words on numerous occasions.
This debate over Obama's belief in "American exceptionalism" goes back to the early days of his presidency, when he was asked during an April 2009 press conference about his "enthusiasm for multilateral frameworks," such as the G20 Summit and NATO. His answer – "I believe in American exceptionalism, just as I suspect that the Brits believe in British exceptionalism and the Greeks believe in Greek exceptionalism" — did not satisfy many of his critics. Here's Obama's fuller answer:
At the time, some criticized Obama's response as a rebuke of American exceptionalism, because Obama said it was probably a universal feeling to believe in one's own country's exceptionalism. James Kirchick, then an assistant editor of the New Republic, for example, wrote that, "If all countries are 'exceptional,' then none are, and to claim otherwise robs the word, and the idea of American exceptionalism, of any meaning."
Two days after Obama made the comment, Fox News host Sean Hannity said Obama "marginalized his own country by saying our sense of exceptionalism is no different than that of the British and the Greeks."
The attack gained renewed prominence three years later when Mitt Romney, then seeking the Republican presidential nomination, said: "Our president doesn't have the same feelings about American exceptionalism that we do. And I think over the last three or four years, some people around the world have begun to question that. On this Tuesday, we have an opportunity — you have an opportunity — to vote, and take the next step in bringing back that special nature of being American."
Two days later, Obama dismissed Romney's statement as political nonsense.
In the years since, Obama has made a point of publicly proclaiming American exceptionalism.
From remarks at a U.S. Military Academy commencement ceremony:
And from a speech about the economy:
More recently, Obama said this in a speech praising health care workers who went to West Africa to combat Ebola:
In a story on Dec. 4, 2014, Byron Tau of the Wall Street Journal noted that, "Twice in the last week, President Barack Obama has loudly trumpeted the idea of American exceptionalism."
As an example, Tau cited Obama's remarks at the Business Roundtable in December.
Also cited were Obama's remarks a day earlier at the National Institutes of Health, praising American medical research:
Again, one can debate the role of U.S. leadership in the world, but Jindal's claim that Obama "won't proudly proclaim American exceptionalism" is quickly and easily belied by a search through Obama's public speeches.
– Robert Farley
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