This past Saturday, President Obama spoke in Selma, Alabama, marking the 50th anniversary of "Bloody Sunday"—the assault by Alabama state troopers on marchers from Selma to Montgomery for equal voting rights for African Americans.
His speech is remarkable for many reasons, but one of the things I find really remarkable is that it ranks as a singular example of presidential exceptionalist rhetoric.
When President Obama argued for U.S. strikes on Syria, he used a familiar trope:
When, with modest effort and risk, we can stop children from being gassed to death and thereby make our own children safer over the long run, I believe we should act. That’s what makes America different. That’s what makes us exceptional.
Yet his proposed Syria policy put him in new political territory: against the views of a majority of African Americans.
In February 1941, Henry Luce, the formidable publisher of Time, Life and Fortune, published one of the most memorable op-eds in the history of American journalism. The article, titled “The American Century,” was aptly inserted in Life between a story on women’s shoe fashions and another on a celebrity heiress.
On the subject of CNN's epic fail yesterday—here's a great Photoshop illustration of the episode—Paul Waldman thinks CNN missed a great opportunity to anticipate the problem and promise to avoid it and focus on accuracy, not on being the fastest. "Maybe," says Waldman, "they would have gained a few viewers."
Maybe a few. But it's hard to imagine such a move being transformational.
For complex historical and religious reasons,Americans have found it easy to view the U.S. as the “new Israel,” the carrier of God’s mandates in the world. This view has led to an expansive notion of the nation’s “manifest destiny” and to all manner of initiatives under the general rubric of America’s exceptional character and mission.