‘There’s a greater problem here. This is a president who won’t proudly proclaim American exceptionalism, maybe the first president ever who truly doesn’t believe in that … Look at his foreign policy. Doesn’t believe [in] America as a force for good, it doesn’t seem. Seems like instead, he believes in multilateralism as a goal, not a tactic. He allows foreign capitals to have veto power over our foreign policy.’
So claimed Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal in February this year, criticising President Barack Obama. This is a sentiment expressed often by Jindal’s fellow Republicans, a talking point on Fox News. Never mind that the president has declared his belief in the exceptional place of America in the world on many occasions. Obama has failed to state that the United States is a nation unlike any other in history. Exceptionalism becomes a proxy for patriotism, a way of implying that Obama is not sufficiently American.
In one sense, Jindal is right: Obama is sceptical that the United States has a special purpose and mission in the world. Though proud of the United States, Obama recognises that other nations might equally celebrate their values. This fails the Republican test, itself an expression of a deep current in American thinking.