In their big essay in National Review on American exceptionalism, Rich Lowry and Ramesh Ponnuru assert of America:
It is freer, more individualistic, more democratic, and more open and dynamic than any other nation on earth.
The Economist's Democracy in America blog takes a critical eye to that assessment and finds it wanting:
How would we truly rate democracies if we had point-by-point, careful comparisons? Well, it so happens that a Washington-based and government-funded NGO, Freedom House, rates every country on earth for "free" and "democratic" qualities. (Full disclosure; I'm an advisor to the group.) Specifically, it gives every country a rating from 1 to 7 on political rights (call that "democracy") and another on civil liberties ("freedom"). America, as a matter of fact, gets an overall 1-1 rating; so do many of the other democracies, mostly in Europe. But there are finer-grained measuresâ??subscores on questions like "electoral process", "rule of law" and "freedom of expression" that add up to the two topline measures. Not only does America not have perfect subscores; looking at the table for the most recent year with full data (2008), we see that right next to it in the table is Uruguay, which has higher scores in several categories and thus a higher overall score. Ranking all countries on these subscores, America comes in a multi-way tie for 30th place. So according to a respected NGO often considered to be on the centre-right (though the board is politically diverse), America is not the freest country in the world, or most democratic. It isn't second or third either. It's merely in the top tier.
None of this would even be that important if most of the louder advocates of "exceptionalism" were content that America should lead by dint of her glorious example. Unfortunately, arguments grounded in exceptionalism are usually on behalf of an aggressive policy, where America's exceptional status gives her license that other states in the international system do no possess.
And so the National Review authors assert:
This national spirit is reflected in our ambitious and vigorous foreign policy. We were basically still clinging to port cities on the eastern seaboard when we began thinking about settling the rest of the continent. There never was a time when we were an idyllically isolationist country. We wanted to make the continent ours partly as a matter of geopolitics: France, Spain, and Britain were wolves at the door. But throughout our history, we have sought not just to secure our interests abroad, but to export our model of liberty.
They go on to caution that this idealism must be tempered with prudence but nothing in the piece actually provides a useful template for how a party should balance those two imperatives, other than the obligatory reminder that Obama is dangerously incapable of striking the right balance. But are Republicans? Do they strike you as a party capable of balancing prudence with idealism when it comes to foreign policy?