This Romney Fixation Has a Weak Ring: 'You Better Believe We're Exceptional!'

Monday, March 28, 2011

Mitt Romney is deep into the undeclared phase of his second presidential campaign. That means we should view his almost daily criticism of Barack Obama as the thoughtful conclusions of a statesman. Last week, it was the alleged weakness of the Obama presidency that had Romney worked up about the status of our country. Obama is a weak president, Romney asserted during an interview with a conservative radio host, because of "his fundamental disbelief in American exceptionalism." One of the dictionary definitions of exceptional is "unusual;" another is "well above average." That America is both an unusual country and a well-above-average country in the long parade of history is not hard to accept.

But I do not see the connection between believing that and automatically being a strong president. In fact, I can see the opposite if a president were to lord our exceptionalism over friends and foes alike. We live in a small world and we need all the friends we can get. We live in a dangerous world; the fewer enemies we make the better. In these respects, nations are not unlike individuals. Who wants a fathead for a friend? And who doesn't like to see a fathead taken down a peg or two? Another thing: have you ever known a truly strong and good person who went around talking about her strength and goodness? So, I could see President Romney hurting our relationships with allies by always acting as if we are better than they are, know more than they do, and have the right to do what we want because our "exceptionalness" puts us beyond the norms that hold back their smaller, average countries. And I could see President Romney inflaming and aggravating the hatred of our enemies, who would see his conviction of exceptionalism as unbearable smugness, a proud delusion deserving of a fiery end.

Under either scenario, America winds up weaker, not stronger. The belief that Obama is weak because he doesn't believe America is exceptional is in line with the views Romney expounded upon in his latest book, "No Apology: The Case for American Greatness." (Only average countries apologize when they make a mistake, I guess.) I was thinking of picking up a copy of "No Apology," published just one year ago, so I went on Amazon. There were more than a hundred used copies for sale, starting at 43 cents a copy, a sign that demand is weak.

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