“We must consider that we shall be as a city upon a hill. The eyes of all people are upon us.” – John Winthrop
As the United States presidential campaign draws to a close Democratic candidate President Barack Obama and his Republican challenger Governor Mitt Romney will not only spar over policies that will create jobs and secure national borders, but also to restore the vision of American exceptionalism.
American exceptionalism is the belief that the United States of America should spread its democratic values throughout the world. This belief, akin to the national Manifest Destiny doctrine that expanded the United States’ boundaries westward at the expense of Native American lives and similar to the Monroe Doctrine’s imperialist manifesto that hailed it the watchdog of the Americas, remains at the core the U.S.’s mission to lead and guide the world politically, economically, and militarily.
But this perception of American dominance is waning at home and abroad. Domestically, rates of poverty and infant mortality rise steadily and the United States continues to lag behind other developed nations in education, healthcare, and other indicators of development. In a revealing look at the concept of exceptionalism, the New York Times released the opinion piece The Opiate of Exceptionalism.
Yet the opiate of American exceptionalism proves not to be the opiate of the global masses in the 21st century.
Although each candidate will, in their final presidential debate tonight, assert the prevailing might of American ideology worldwide, the reality is that the United States’ exceptional self-perception is in dire need of a new lens. Despite the hard-fisted approach candidate Romney claims he will enact as president and the diplomatic but drone laden strategy President Obama has implemented over the last four years, the foundation of U.S. foreign policy remains rooted in the conviction that our nation is the most exceptional.
This exceptionality created the Cold War, the U.S.-Cuban embargo, numerous invasions, and the support of cruel dictatorships from Latin America to the Middle East to Asia in the name of ideology. As President Obama and Governor Romney spar on U.S. foreign policy strategies in a third debate that may prove as lively as the second, we must remember to separate rhetoric from reality – U.S. foreign policy (regardless of party) rarely changes.