The White House takes exception to Vladimir Putin’s remark about U.S. exceptionalism.
“Russia offers a stark contrast that demonstrates why America is exceptional,” White House press secretary Jay Carney said today when asked for the administration’s reaction to Putin’s op-ed essay in the New York Times.
In that column signed by the Russian leader, he said he had “carefully studied” President Barack Obama’s nationally televised address on Sept. 10 making the case for military action against Syria for its use of chemical weapons.
“America is not the world’s policeman,” Obama said at the close of that 16-minute address from the East Room. “Terrible things happen across the globe, and it is beyond our means to right every wrong. But 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. With humility, but with resolve, let us never lose sight of that essential truth.”
“I carefully studied his address to the nation on Tuesday,” Putin wrote in the essay published in today‘s Times editions. “And I would rather disagree with a case he made on American exceptionalism, stating that the United States’ policy is “what makes America different. It’s what makes us exceptional.” It is extremely dangerous to encourage people to see themselves as exceptional, whatever the motivation. There are big countries and small countries, rich and poor, those with long democratic traditions and those still finding their way to democracy. Their policies differ, too. We are all different, but when we ask for the Lord’s blessings, we must not forget that God created us equal.”
Putin’s government has restricted political opposition and enacted legislation targeting gay citizens.
“Unlike Russia,” Carney said, the U.S. stands up for democratic values and human rights around the world. “There’s a great irony,” he said, in Putin’s placement of the essay in a U.S. newspaper “because it reflects the truly exceptional tradition in this country of freedom of expression.”
Sen. Robert Menendez, a New Jersey Democrat and chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said on MSNBC that the Russian leader’s observations on U.S. exceptionalism “turned my stomach.” House Speaker John Boehner, an Ohio Republican, said at a news conference that he was “insulted” by Putin’s words.
The notion of American exceptionalism — the idea that the U.S. plays a unique and elevated role internationally because of the freedoms at its foundation — was a theme that ran through the 2012 presidential election.
Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney questioned whether Obama viewed the U.S. as exceptional. Obama, in an April 2012 joint news conference with the president of Mexico and the Canadian prime minister, defended his views. “It’s worth noting that I first arrived on the national stage with a speech at the Democratic convention that was entirely about American exceptionalism, and that my entire career has been a testimony to American exceptionalism,” Obama said then.
Carney used the term “exceptional” three times during his daily briefing today in comparing the U.S. with Russia. “Unlike Russia,” Carney said, “the United States stands up for democratic values and human rights in our own country and around the world.”
And a historical note here, from The Atantic: This exceptionalism talk started with the Russians:
“In 1929, Communist leader Jay Lovestone informed Stalin in Moscow that the American proletariat wasn’t interested in revolution. Stalin responded by demanding that he end this “heresy of American exceptionalism.” And just like that, this expression was born. What Lovestone meant, and how Stalin understood it, however, isn’t how Gingrich and Romney (or even Obama) frame it. Neither Lovestone or Stalin felt that the United States was superior to other nations — actually, the opposite. Stalin “ridiculed” America for its abnormalities, which he cast under the banner of “exceptionalism,” Daniel Rodgers, a professor of history at Princeton, said in an interview.”
“Stalin, to say the least, wasn’t happy with Lovestone’s news. “Who do you think you are?” he shouted, according to Ted Morgan’s biography of Lovestone. “(Leon) Trotsky defied me. Where is he? (Grigory) Zinoviev defied me. Where is he? (Nikolai) Bukharin defied me. Where is he? And you! Who are you? Yes, you will go back to America. But when you get back there, nobody will know you except your wives.””