Obama defends American faith amid GOP critique

By Ken Thomas

Associated Press

Published: Monday, Dec. 5 2011 12:00 a.m. MST

During a 2009 news conference, Obama was asked whether he subscribed to the concept of American exceptionalism. He said he believed in American exceptionalism, "just as I suspect that the Brits believe in British exceptionalism and the Greeks believe in Greek exceptionalism."

The president said he was "enormously proud of my country" and highlighted the nation's "core set of values enshrined in our Constitution" that ensure democracy, free speech and equality. Words that voters are likely to hear more of during the next year.

A Gallup poll in December 2010 found that 80 percent of Americans thought the U.S. had a unique character that made it the greatest country in the world. The survey found that 91 percent of Republicans agreed with the statement.

In the same poll, 34 percent of Republicans said Obama believed the U.S. was the greatest country in the world, while 83 percent of Democrats said he did.

The American exceptionalism argument has traditionally signaled U.S. strength overseas and the promotion of American values such as freedom of speech and religion. But with Obama's rise, it has taken on a new meaning.

At a time of economic discord, it builds on the notion that America's weakened economy could hurt its standing across the globe. It offers a critique of Obama's foreign policy credentials, even as troops begin heading home from Iraq and the U.S. role in Afghanistan is transitioning.

It also represents a subtle way to question Obama's patriotism, the seeds of which reside in the "birther" movement that questioned the legitimacy of Obama's presidency. Suspicions over Obama's citizenship eventually prompted the White House to produce the president's long-form birth certificate showing he was born in Hawaii.

Yet Democrats don't see this as a debilitating issue for the president, but more a matter of fodder in the Republican primary. Obama, they say, can draw upon it to show optimism in the country.

"Obama is powerful proof of American exceptionalism, that this country has certain set of ideals," said Democratic consultant Bob Shrum. "His election and his presidency is a testament to the character of the country."

Obama has been assertive in recent weeks about America's unique role in the world as it shifts away from conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. During his nine-day Asian trip last month, the president reiterated the U.S.'s growing role in the region and stressed that "American leadership is still welcome."

Follow Ken Thomas on Twitter at http://twitter.com/AP_Ken_Thomas

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