- By Uri Friedman
Uri Friedman is deputy managing editor at Foreign Policy. Before joining FP, he reported for the Christian Science Monitor, worked on corporate strategy for Atlantic Media, helped launch the Atlantic Wire, and covered international affairs for the site. A proud native of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, he studied European history at the University of Pennsylvania and has lived in Barcelona, Spain and Geneva, Switzerland.
Much has been written about how American exceptionalism — and President Obama’s alleged lack of faith in it — has become a rallying cry for this year’s batch of Republican presidential candidates, even as the American public grow less convinced of the country’s superiority. As Mitt Romney declared during a debate earlier this month, "Our president thinks America’s in decline. It is if he’s president. It’s not if I’m president. This is going to be an American century."
But, as Politico points out this afternoon, Romney concedes now and then that other countries have some exceptional ideas of their own. In the past week, the Republican frontrunner has expressed interest in Switzerland’s coinsurance health care model and a value-added tax, which was first instituted in France. "There are many things, in addition to good food, that we can learn from our European friends," Romney explained, before adding that he opposed the high levels of government spending in many European countries.
And Romney isn’t the only GOP candidate to cast admiring eyes abroad. Newt Gingrich — like Herman Cain before him — has proposed overhauling Social Security along the lines of Chile’s retirement regime, in which citizens can either pay into a state-run social security system with a payroll tax or put that tax money into a private retirement account. "It dramatically solves Social Security without a payment cut and without having to hurt anybody," he marveled.
Others are impresed with China, though they certainly have misgivings about the country as well. Jon Huntsman, for example, has called for the United States to pursue free-trade agreements as aggressively as the Chinese. "China is in the game," he explained. "We are not." Michele Bachmann, coiner of the phrase "Hu’s your daddy" to describe America’s debt obligations to China, has expressed grudging admiration for the Chinese government’s decision to plough ahead without a social safety net. "If you look at China, they don’t have food stamps," she noted in November. "They save for their own retirement security … they don’t have the modern welfare state, and China’s growing."
In June, Bachmann suggested that America and Israel were equally exceptional, explaining in a video that Americans and Israelis "share the same exceptional mission: to be a light to the nations. After all, the image of America as the shining city on the hill is taken from the Book of Isaiah."
The GOP message, in other words, is that America is exceptional. With some exceptions.