My choice for a research topic originally evolved out of an interest in comparing the foreign policies of Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama. Over the summer, The New York Times ran a story detailing a “kill list” developed by the Obama Administration and the meetings held discussing who will be “nominated” to be killed or captured next (http://www.nytimes.com/2012/05/29/world/obamas-leadership-in-war-on-al-qaeda.html?_r=1&pagewanted=all). Before that, I had read about how U.S. drone strikes could be considered to be justified by the belief in “American exceptionalism.” I found myself comparing this to President Bush’s decisions regarding the Iraq War and how that war and the Bush Doctrine had been connected to American exceptionalism as well.
American exceptionalism has also been a topic in the 2012 Presidential Election and President Obama has departed from previous presidents by actually using the phrase in some of his speeches. At this point, I decided I wanted to do a comparison of Presidents Bush and Obama in terms of American exceptionalism. However, I was later encouraged by my thesis advisor, Professor Ron Schurin at the University of Connecticut, to expand my thinking.
I now propose to analyze presidents according to how their rhetoric and policies reflect the idea of American exceptionalism. Specifically, I propose to define different types of American exceptionalism and ellucidate them with examples of presidents fit into individual categories. To do this, I will examine presidential rhetoric and policies that reflect American exceptionalism. In terms of research, I expect that presidential speeches, memoirs, newspaper accounts, academic articles, and other written accounts of the presidencies will make up most of the material that I ultimately draw from in forming my conclusions.
There will likely be some challenges with this approach. One particular challenge will be how to make a determination when a president’s rhetoric differs significantly from some of the policies he pursued. In these circumstances, I will ultimately have to make an overall judgment of his presidency as it relates to what type of American exceptionalism that president demonstrated. Another challenge will likely involve determining what presidents and/or time periods to focus most on for this project. I am especially interested in presidents of the 20th/21st centuries.
I am excited about pursuing this research because I believe that I have found a unique angle to approach the study of presidents and American exceptionalism. Ultimately, I hope I can make some contribution to political science and this particular subject matter. American exceptionalism has been an influential idea throughout U.S. history, and I believe it is particularly important to study how much influence it has had on our nation’s presidents.