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American exceptionalism, and other key lines in the GOP platform

House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) may not think highly of party platforms, but a new Pew Research Center poll released Monday suggests that the American public is, in fact, more interested in the GOP platform than in presumptive nominee Mitt Romney’s convention speech. When the document, which will contain many familiar talking points on foreign ...

Richard Ellis/Getty Images
Richard Ellis/Getty Images

House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) may not think highly of party platforms, but a new Pew Research Center poll released Monday suggests that the American public is, in fact, more interested in the GOP platform than in presumptive nominee Mitt Romney’s convention speech. When the document, which will contain many familiar talking points on foreign policy, is released this afternoon, what might garner the most attention?

As I noted last week, the platform is likely to champion a guest-worker program and “Internet freedom” for the first time. But a draft accidentally posted to the Republican National Committee’s website on Friday suggests another milestone as well: the first reference in either a Democratic or Republican platform to the term “American exceptionalism.”

At the beginning of its foreign-policy section, entitled, “American Exceptionalism,” the platform declares that the party believes not only in Ronald Reagan’s vision of “peace through strength” but also in “American exceptionalism — the conviction that our country holds a unique place and role in human history.”

House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) may not think highly of party platforms, but a new Pew Research Center poll released Monday suggests that the American public is, in fact, more interested in the GOP platform than in presumptive nominee Mitt Romney’s convention speech. When the document, which will contain many familiar talking points on foreign policy, is released this afternoon, what might garner the most attention?

As I noted last week, the platform is likely to champion a guest-worker program and “Internet freedom” for the first time. But a draft accidentally posted to the Republican National Committee’s website on Friday suggests another milestone as well: the first reference in either a Democratic or Republican platform to the term “American exceptionalism.”

At the beginning of its foreign-policy section, entitled, “American Exceptionalism,” the platform declares that the party believes not only in Ronald Reagan’s vision of “peace through strength” but also in “American exceptionalism — the conviction that our country holds a unique place and role in human history.”

Party platforms, of course, have long extolled America’s special character and mission in global affairs. But, according to a search of past party manifestos, this appears to be the first time that “American exceptionalism” has been used to describe that sentiment. The term has gradually insinuated itself into political discourse over the past decade; in 2009, Barack Obama became the first sitting U.S. president to use the phrase. “I believe in American exceptionalism, just as I suspect that the Brits believe in British exceptionalism and the Greeks believe in Greek exceptionalism,” he said, in a line that Republicans have repeatedly criticized (Obama has since emphasized his belief in the concept).

Mitt Romney in particular has embraced this theme. He’s the author of No Apology: The Case for American Greatness, and he argues on the campaign trail that Obama doesn’t agree with the thesis of his book. “Our president doesn’t have the same feelings about American exceptionalism that we do,” he declared in March. The big question, of course, is what exactly the phrase signifies in the context of the campaign. Is it simply a slogan? Or is it a worldview that speaks to how Romney would exercise U.S. leadership?

Here are some other surprising lines in the draft platform that you’ll want to look out for as you pore over the final version of the text today:

  • South China Sea policy: The draft platform appears to break with U.S. policy on territorial disputes in the South China Sea, condemning China’s “destabilizing claims” in the region even though the United States, while increasingly speaking out against China’s role in the boundary disputes, officially maintains a policy of neutrality. The language is unlikely to be received well in China, where Romney has already received less than favorable coverage for his tough rhetoric on U.S.-Chinese relations.
  • Gaffe reference: The document may include the first mention of a “hot mic” moment in a party platform. “In an embarrassing open microphone discussion with former Russian President Medvedev,” the section on missile defense explains, “the current president made clear that, if he wins a second term, he intends to exercise ‘more flexibility’ to appease Russia, which means further undermining our missile defense capabilities.”
  • European debt crisis: The platform hardly mentions one of the biggest foreign-policy issues of the day, noting only that Europe’s “endurance cannot be taken for granted, especially in light of the continent’s economic upheaval and demographic changes.”
  • Russia: Romney raised eyebrows on the campaign trail by describing Russia as America’s “No. 1 geopolitical foe,” but the platform doesn’t go that far. After enumerating common goals, the platform urges Russian leaders to “reconsider the path they have been following: suppression of opposition parties, the press, and institutions of civil society; unprovoked invasion of the Republic of Georgia, alignment with tyrants in the Middle East; and bullying their neighbors while protecting the last Stalinist regime in Belarus.”
  • Fact-checking material: As with the release of any political document, there’s fodder for fact-checkers. Already, some observers have taken issue with claims that the United States has not been modernizing its nuclear stockpile, estimates about the blow that reducing defense spending will inflict on the military, and the assertion that the Venezuelan government has issued “Venezuelan passports or visas to thousands of Middle Eastern terrorists offering safe haven to Hezbollah trainers, operatives, recruiters and fundraisers.” As for the last claim, the wording is nearly identical to language used by Roger Noriega, a former assistant secretary of state for Western Hemisphere affairs under George W. Bush, in a Washingtom Times column earlier this month.

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. Twitter: @UriLF

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