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The greatest nation on Earth?

  • Story Highlights
  • "U.S.A. the special" is a staple of political rhetoric
  • Authors find citizens are proud but not evangelistic about the country
  • View is similar to citizens of other countries but it's magnified by U.S. power
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Is the United States the "greatest country on earth"? You hear that a lot, or phrases like that, during this presidential campaign. Candidates may attack other candidates, or the sitting president, but they never attack the idea that America is special, a "city upon a hill." "The last, best hope of Earth."

It's part of America's ideology and its tradition of political rhetoric.

To many Americans' ears, it sounds normal. But to citizens of other countries it's sometimes jarring, as if Americans put their country ahead of any other, as if the United States thinks it has the right to tell the rest of the world what to do.

We went to the Jefferson Memorial in Washington, D.C. and asked visitors if they agree America "knows best" and the United States has an obligation to spread its values around the world.

Almost everyone we talked with did not agree.

Rachel Army, a teacher with a Washington, D.C. non-governmental organization, said: "I have a lot of pride in our government however, at the same time, it is ours and I don't think that it is right to force it on other people."

Jermane Bonilla, from Los Angeles, said he thinks the United States is a special country, "the most powerful nation on earth and the most beautiful country on earth, in my mind." But, he told us "it might not be the same model that everybody should be using."

They're not the exception, it turns out. In their book, "America Against the World," Pew Research Center President Andrew Kohut and journalist Bruce Stokes say it's more often U.S. leaders who want to impose American values in other countries -- not the American people.

The authors analyzed international surveys of people around the globe going back to the 1980's as well as more than 100,000 interviews in 60 countries.

Their conclusion? "Contrary to widespread misconceptions, Americans' pride in their country is not evangelistic. The American people, as opposed to some of their leaders, seek no converts to their ideology."


Citizens of many other countries, too, may think their national way of life is the best but, these authors say, "they don't dominate the globe."

Americans may not be that different from others but the differences that do exist are magnified, fueling resentment around the world. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

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