E Pluribus . . .?
EUROPEANS TEND to think of America's exceptionalism in terms of the limited role of government in the economy and society, dwelling on (for example) the absence of comprehensive health care in the United States. For Americans, exceptionalism is more likely to imply the story of a land that has brought together peoples from all over the world to make a successful, vibrant society.
The stories that nations like to tell about themselves are revealing to a degree that goes beyond the facts involved. In 1996 the New York Times reported that a problem had arisen in implementing a new requirement that city taxicabs play a prerecorded message to passengers at the end of a journey reminding them to take all their belongings with them: there was no agreement on which of the many accents heard around New York should be used in the recording. 1 The story made the front page probably not because this was a crushingly important problem but because it reflected something--diversity--that Americans celebrate as an aspect of their society. In the mid-1990s, the American Jewish Committee ran advertisements in newspapers such as the New York Times featuring an image of the Statue of Liberty and a large headline, "It takes all kinds." 2 The advertisement continued: "The tired. The poor. The huddled masses yearning to breathe free. From every corner of the world, from every race, faith, culture and creed we have come or been brought to America. Separately and together, we have dreamed of freedom. And, in America as nowhere else on earth, we have made the dream of freedom real."