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Article Slamming Obama on 'American Exceptionalism' Relies on Exceptionally Misleading Quotation

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Matthew Rothschild has a post titled "Obama Bows to American Exceptionalism" (also featured in Monday's Roundup) that slams the president's recent West Point speech on foreign policy (which I've written about in more detail here).

Rothschild wrote: "And [Obama] genuflected on the altar of American arrogance. "I believe in American exceptionalism with every fiber of my being," he said. He also repeated the haughty phrase that was popular both in the Clinton and George W. Bush administrations. Said Obama: "The United States is and remains the one indispensable nation. ... Such rhetoric only aggravates the American superiority complex."

Here's the problem. Rothschild gutted what Obama actually said. Why, according to Obama, is the U.S. "indispensible"? Let's look at the transcript: Oh, he said it's because of our alliance systems, our economic strength, our push for energy independence, our attractiveness to immigrants, and the fact that "when a typhoon hits the Philippines, or schoolgirls are kidnapped in Nigeria, or masked men occupy a building in Ukraine, it is America that the world looks to for help." That sure sounds a lot like a Bushian superiority complex, doesn't it?

The title of Rothschild's piece highlighted American exceptionalism, on which he misquoted the President's speech even more egregiously. The full quotation reads: "I believe in American exceptionalism with every fiber of my being. But what makes us exceptional is not our ability to flout international norms and the rule of law; it is our willingness to affirm them through our actions." Again, he used those words to contrast his vision from the unilateralist militarism of the Bush-Cheney years.

Just because right wingers use the words "American exceptionalism" in a jingoistic way--in a way that proclaims American superiority--doesn't mean that anyone who uses those words automatically means the same thing. That's why right wingers went nuts criticizing exactly the same Obama quotation Rothschild did, but from the opposite direction, because it is not triumphalist.

The full quotation makes clear that Obama means the opposite of what the Sarah Palins and Mitt Romneys of the world mean when they've used those words--largely as a cudgel against Barack Obama, it's worth noting. The president has done this a number of times, as I wrote here:

Obama, like his opponents, embraces American exceptionalism and sees America as having a unique role to play in the world. The difference is that the president's American exceptionalism isn't about chest-thumping and cheerleading. His centers on our ability to show the world that a population of many faiths, cultures, and races can see itself as a single people, diverse yet united.

When it comes to President Obama, let's try to leave the out of context quoting to the right wing, shall we?