Winning Message No. 3: American Exceptionalism

Third in a series on “The 7 Winning Messages of Democratic Politicians”

Americans are rightfully proud of their country’s unique position in the world. We never tire of hearing about why America is special. We love to be reminded about the idealism of American values: freedom, liberty, equality, the American dream, opportunity, and hard work. We are the greatest, richest, most powerful nation on earth, and we want to feel good about living in the world’s only superpower.

Liberal and Democratic politicians must remind voters of America’s exceptional position in the world at every opportunity. They must always connect Democratic policies to the belief in America’s greatness.

How can that be done?

Virtually every issue, from health care to immigration reform to climate change, can be addressed as a manifestation of America’s greatness, our love of freedom, and our special concern for justice and fair play. You can read two examples below.

At the same time, Democrats and liberals must also contrast our view of American exceptionalism with the pinched and parochial view of conservatives. Republicans seem to define American exceptionalism to mean: Because we’re a superpower, the rules that apply to other countries don’t apply to us. We don’t need to listen to other nation’s opinions. We’re the 800-pound gorilla that does whatever it wants, simply because we can.

To Democrats, by contrast, exceptionalism means that we’re a special country, but being the world’s only superpower means being the leader of the pack, not a lone wolf. While we may act unilaterally in rare cases, true leadership calls for listening to others, cooperation, leadership by example, and meeting your responsibilities not just to yourself but to others, to the world, and to humanity.

Here is how the language of exceptionalism can be applied to specific issues:

The one-minute TV speech on climate change:

“America is the world’s only superpower—and the world looks to us for leadership. Yet when it comes to climate change, almost every other industrialized nation on earth is already taking significant steps, while we lag behind because of conservative stubbornness. With greatness come great responsibilities. Acting on climate change is not only our duty to the world and to future generations, it is also an opportunity to do what we do best—to innovate, to embrace new ideas, to explore new technologies and new opportunities. Those opportunities are being squandered because conservatives are afraid of every new idea and resistant to every change. Republicans are refusing to accept the obvious, disrespecting science, and diminishing America’s leadership role. While countries like China, Germany, and others are rushing to fill the void and seize these new opportunities, conservatives refuse to accept the future. Great nations lead by example. America is a superpower—we must take our rightful place on this issue as the leader of the world.”

The one-minute TV speech on immigration reform:

“Americans are a compassionate and caring people, and we have deep roots in faith, which teaches us forgiveness and fairness. That’s part of what makes us a great nation. It’s true that every country, including America, has a right to control its borders, and we are spending $12 billion every year to do just that. And we can do more. But in a great nation, justice must always be balanced with mercy and understanding, or it’s no justice as all. Conservatives would mete out justice without mercy. They would break up families, separate mothers from children, send children who were raised here back to a country they don’t even remember. That’s not America. That’s not how great nations behave.

“I agree with the Pope, Catholic bishops, and religious leaders around the country in calling for immigrants to be treated with compassion and humanity. We can find a compromise that works for everyone and that shows the world that America is a country of laws, but also a country of generosity and understanding.”

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