Overheard on CNN.com: America may not be perfect, but we love it anyway
The idea that Americans are a "chosen" people has shaped history in big ways, from the American Revolution to Election 2012.
July 2nd, 2012
07:45 PM ET

Overheard on CNN.com: America may not be perfect, but we love it anyway

Editor's note: This post is part of the Overheard on CNN.com series, a regular feature that examines interesting comments and thought-provoking conversations posted by the community.

This week, CNN is featuring a series exploring the concept of American exceptionalism. Readers debated whether the United States is No. 1, and whether it matters. There were no easy answers; many said there are good and bad things about America, so perhaps we rank well in some things, but not others.

We're No. 1! We're No. 1! We're ... uh ... not?

This reader was very proud of the country.

lacertosus: "One thing this beloved country does very well where no other country comes even close is the sense of community and citizenship. As a migrant, it amazes me how American I feel. This is the only country that makes you feel that you are an essential part of it upon receiving one's citizenship. No other country provides that! Even though America is not No. 1 in many areas compared to other countries, this is BY FAR the only place I'd rather be."

Does the United States think globally enough?

MarineNick: "America is a fantastic nation but America needs to join the global community and realise that greatness is only achieved through cooperation and education. We can learn from others' successes and failures and through that we will become a truly great planet."

RSG12345: "Talk to India, China, Malaysia and Russia. Europe is a spittoon. They can't even get their budgets in order, or have you not been paying attention. And CNN is promoting this crap?"

Another said politics is too polarized.

Alex Klatsky: "Politics is the reason we are falling behind in many of these areas. Every single issue in America has to become a political debate. Part of the problem is the media reporting every single issue as a political debate, part of it is politicians who are unwilling to put aside rhetoric and party lines in order to make changes, part of it is American citizens who are unwilling to elect some out of the box politicians for fear of losing an electoral majority. We do so much fingerpointing and try to blame someone or another for the reason things have gotten this way. It's the rich, or the poor, or immigrants, or liberals, or conservatives, or OWS, or tea party. There are so many positive changes that can be made in this country and that both parties agree on but never happen anymore because everyone wants to know 'Whats in it for me?' We have let politics take us so far away from what it meant to be America. When I was a kid I wanted to be a politician. These days I think I'd rather scrub toilets at the local high school."

No. 1 can mean a lot of different things.

mikeyray1411:
"Relax people, we're STILL # 1 at:
-being obese
-shopping above our means
-school shootings
-serial killings (no contest here)
-stupid reality shows, of which I must confess a kind of fascinated obsession with 'Bridezillas.' Have you ever watched that? A must!"

Many said excellence begins with children and education.

learnusa77: "Invest in education USA and you will be on top once again. Tighten the belt on welfare across the board all except aid to children and Medicaid. Get the parents in some form of training. Place the children in a room in the welfare office for child care paid for by us. While the parents learn how to be responsible adults or get the education needed to locate employment. If the parents are already educated, then help them find employment by giving access to the Internet on site, not by handing them a free phone for Christ's sakes. Everything else tighten the belt and invest in EDUCATION. I don't care if 30% of my income goes to the tax. I want this country to invest in their children. It's been said again and AGAIN.  They are our future. Look at the drones and Twitter fanatics you see walking around. ..."

hannah1994: "The reason we're not ranked so highly in education in America is because we continue to test kids until they're finished with school, while in many other countries (including 'high-performing' ones like South Korea), if a student isn't academically successful at a young age, they are weeded out of the system. We give everybody an EQUAL OPPORTUNITY here. It's reasons like this we are 'No. 1,' not our test scores!"

A few people said to watch out for China.

FrostyWheele: "You better teach your kids Chinese, because they are the next superpower."

Does it matter if the United States is No. 1?

BD70: "Been reading these comments off and on all day. USA ... not perfect but it is my home. I hope we all work together to make it better."

GriffeyfreakCollapse: "I could give you 10 million statistics on how America is No. 1. I could also give you 10 million statistics on how America is far from No. 1. It's all about what you want to see."

MyOpinion05: "I give up. Europeans are just like us and hate us anyway and lie to themselves to create reasons we suck. Republicans and Democrats will hate each other perpetually. It's not changing anytime soon. I wish people were smarter. I wish the world was unified rather than nationalist. I wish stupid bigots would shut up. We're all the same. The world isn't ending anytime soon."

Are we being too hard on our country?

Chips_Handon: "Maybe Ann Coulter wasn't being facetious when she said that liberals secretly loathe America."

For some it's a matter of personal responsibility.

Jimmyjack123: "We are not No. 1 because we make so many excuses for the people who don't do well or will not work. In other countries school is for learning, and you better learn, we are held accountable for nothing. And we try to give to everyone that pulls us down and the spirit of America is leaving us. And education does not make you intellegent. I have two friends that graduated MIT, and both of them are lucky they don't have scars on their faces from jabbing themselves with a fork when they eat. Widsom comes from trying, failing and trying again. But you have to try. How many kids now days have a degree and have never worked a job in their lives? All they know is what comes out of a book. Well, good luck with that. That's why so many people from other countries are getting our jobs. They have hands on experience of solving problems. Our schools ..."

Maybe the government is catering to the wrong people?

BroncosFan22: "This country will never be No. 1 at anything going forward due to our government's lack of focus. The government is supposed to work for the people, but instead works for the lobbyists who bribe them. The media is used as a political insult forum more than a place to talk about new policies. Until that changes, we are doomed, plain and simple."

Yes, we are No. 1!

sjenner: "The U.S. is No. 1 in all the counts that matter, and especially legally, economically and militarily. Leopold identifies some troubling indicators that could negatively affect the U.S.'s pre-eminent status, and yes, flaws that could use some critical thinking. That's the issue. Not what (writer Todd) Leopold states flatly, and wrongly, as 'We're not No. 1.' "

Health care is complicated, said this reader.

nickcaul: "It's a good, thought-provoking article, but the author falls into the trap of linking life expectancy to quality of health care. The U.S. doesn't have relatively low life expectancy because quality of health care is poor or because access is limited. We have a murder rate that’s four to 12 times higher than most other industrialized nations, and our auto death rate is roughly two to four times higher. If you adjusted for just these factors, neither of which is a product of our health care system, the U.S. would have the highest life expectancy in the world. Considering all the other unhealthy behaviors that Americans disproportionately engage in, that’s a testament to the quality of our health care system, no matter what its flaws may be."

Pay those taxes.

jaggar45: "The problem is that we are a country of give, give, give. Give to the lazy, give to other countries, give to everyone. Yet only 48% of us are supporting this country. We have to change the tax code and go to a fair tax. Fair tax means everyone who purchases pays into the system. It is only fair. The rich will pay more taxes because they make larger purchases and the lower-income will think twice about their cell phones, cigarettes and cable TV. The illegals will be contributing as well. We have to stop borrowing from Peter to pay Paul. No more handouts to Africa because they will never change."

Does a sense of community help a country?

Sakura2000: "Interesting that two of the article's prime examples, Japan and Finland, are nearly homogenous cultures. Having lived in Japan and having Finnish relatives, I think those nations have a stronger sense of community. They more willingly share the costs of caring for the less fortunate (while never taking something unneeded) and they probably all agree on what should be taught in school. In short, they do not have the differences in religion, ethnicity, race, economic status, language, history, creed, geography, etc. that so strongly foster the American's ideal of the individual that has led to great success for the nation as a whole. Which way is better?"

Why worry?

Erichx101x: "These bogus assessments of America are nothing new. They've been trying to convince us that we are no longer No. 1 for the last 50 years. But somehow us stupid, lazy Americans landed on the moon, landed rovers on Mars, put satellites in orbit, introduced the world to computers and the Internet, led the world in medical technology as well as military technology. ... We still never cease to amaze the world time and time again with our resourcefulness and ingenuity. We have made the world a much better place.

JPuck: "It's the intangible things that make the United States the No. 1 most desirable country to live in. True personal freedom and opportunity to accomplish anything you set your mind to."

Or, why care?

rwemd: "It's irrational to think the U.S. could be No. 1 by every measure. Obviously some countries will be 'better' by some standard. Being the 'best' at some things may be mutually exclusive with some others: A nation is not likely to have both the highest per capita GDP AND produce the lowest per capita amount of pollution, for example. Also it's not really reasonable to compare the U.S. on a per capita basis to the 'best' country by one single standard when that other country is providing that single benefit to a population 1% the U.S.'s size, especially if that country is behind us in numerous other ways. For all the supposedly great things about other nations, there seem to be an awful lot of people lining up the whole way around the globe to come here. *ON THE WHOLE* the U.S. is No. 1 in a great many ways, and the rest of the world knows that."

Independence Day is coming.

whyohwhy: "CNN: Why are you putting unpatriotic articles out right before the 4th? If you hate our country so much, which sometimes it seems like you do, then move to somewhere you might like better like Syria."

Would a disaster help?

GenXcynic: "We are too big and diverse to make large gains in any area unless a large-scale disaster brings us together. Whenever we have something really big to focus on, preferably something outside the U.S., we can get it together. Soon as it's over, the bickering and BS start up again. Kind of like a family, just much bigger. ... Unfortunately, since we've become so jaded by instant, sensationalized news coverage, it will take a really huge event to produce this sort of reaction. 9/11 started us in that direction, but look how quickly we returned to 'normal.' I shudder to think of the disaster it would take to get the U.S. focused on something long enough to actually jump to the head of the line again!"

In another post on Belief, readers went back in time to examine the idea that Americans were "chosen" by God to lead the world.

Despite fights about its merits, idea of American exceptionalism a powerful force through history

Readers tried to figure out if other countries are at all superior.

Chris: "This is crap! Others may be ahead of us in some areas, but only because of us. Europe would be a disaster if they didn't have the option of leaning on our security guarantees. The world enjoys relative peace and prosperity because we've secured open trade lines across the world. We've provided incredible assistance to many countries even when they downright disrespect us, and our humanitarian gestures are without equal."

Melissa: "Exceptionalism is in the eye of the beholder. Americans tend to think they are a lot more exceptional than they actually are. It's rather aggravating actually. If someone told you daily how great they always are, you'd eventually punch them in the face, but Americans think everyone else should just accept that Americans are the greatest, whether its true or not. Sorry, it doesn't work that way. Thinking you're exceptional is arrogant."

What's your take? Is America No. 1 or another number, and in what ways? Share your opinion in the comments area below and in the latest stories on CNN.com. Or sound off on video via CNN iReport.

Compiled by the CNN.com moderation staff. Some comments edited for length or clarity.

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Filed under: Overheard on CNN.com • U.S. • World
soundoff (42 Responses)
  1. English with Andy

    America is by far the greatest country on earth. I was born in Argentina but I've always felt American. I'm very proud to be an American citizen and to call myself American. There is no other place I'd rather be than here in the United States. I will always be grateful to the US and to all those who served and continue serving our country overseas. Freedom isn't just a simple word in America, it's a way of life. USA !! USA !!

    August 2, 2012 at 6:57 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  2. Narwagner

    There are two things non-Americans, especially Europeans, spend a lot more time thinking about than Americans do: "the American Dream is a myth" and "Americans are bad in this way, that way, anyway they can think of." Europeans seem to obsess about the U.S.. Meanwhile, Americans just carry on with their lives. We have more important things to think about.

    September 12, 2013 at 12:03 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  3. SDC in NS

    I know of no other country on the planet that would even debate such a thing – "Just how great are we, anyway?". Perhaps the arrogance of even asking the question speaks much louder than any answers?

    September 14, 2013 at 10:48 am | Report abuse | Reply
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