WASHINGTON — It might as well be the national anthem: America the Exceptional.
From the days of the Revolution to the moon landing two centuries later, the idea that the United States is different from and better than anyplace else on Earth has rallied its citizens and propelled its aspirations. Eighty percent of Americans in a USA TODAY/Gallup Poll say they believe the country has a unique character and unrivaled standing — a higher degree of national unanimity than on any current policy issue.
Now that historic trope is being wielded as a modern political weapon. Republicans, including a string of prospective presidential contenders, have taken their objections to President Obama’s policies to a provocative and controversial level. Over White House objections, they’re accusing him of not embracing the concept of American exceptionalism, saying he is pursuing an agenda on health care, the economy and foreign affairs that is at odds with fundamentals that distinguish the United States.
Obama “has clarified and personified secular socialization and a European view,” says former House speaker Newt Gingrich, who is weighing a presidential bid in 2012. Obama, he says, made “disastrous” comments on the subject during his first trip overseas as president in an exchange that has become a cause celebre among conservatives.
Gingrich predicts the debate over protecting American exceptionalism will be “one of the two or three deciding issues of 2012.”