‘That’s what makes us exceptional’

Earlier this year, probably aware of one of the right’s favorite smears, President Obama began emphasizing the principles of “American exceptionalism” rather explicitly, a fact more than a few observers acknowledged, even on the right.

But some conservatives still weren’t quite satisfied. Kathleen Parker argued at the time that unless Obama uses the word “exceptionalism” literally and repeatedly, the president’s motivations deserve to be held suspect. Conservatives, she said, “long to hear” the word, not just the principles behind the word. Obama, Parker added, “studiously avoided using the word” and asks, “So why won’t Obama just deliver the one word that would prompt arias from his doubters?”

As it turns out, Obama is the only president in American history to publicly use the magical phrase “American exceptionalism.” And as the AP noted, the president referenced the “e” word again this week.

The president of the United States is defending his faith in America, confronting GOP efforts to undercut his leadership and raise questions about his patriotism as he seeks re-election.

In the battle over “American exceptionalism,” Obama used a recent trip to Asia to highlight America’s role as the strongest and most influential nation on earth.

At an event in New York this week, the president reflected on his trip and said Asian-Pacific people are “looking to us for leadership. They know that America is great not just because we’re powerful, but also because we have a set of values that the world admires; that we don’t just think about what’s good for us, but we’re also thinking about what’s good for the world. That’s what makes us special. That’s what makes us exceptional.”

It’s hard to overstate how much Republicans have invested in this ugly attack. Mitt Romney, in particular, has based much of his presidential campaign on the notion that Obama sees the country as “just another nation.” It’s wrong and it’s cheap, but it’s an extension of the far-right’s belief that Obama’s patriotism deserves to be attacked.

I don’t imagine the president’s use of the rhetoric the right wants to hear will make a difference — is that crowd ever swayed by facts or reality? — but don’t be too surprised if Obama, eager to knock down the conservative nonsense, begins using the word more often.