What is American exceptionalism? Barack Obama was clueless when asked about it early in his first term. Vladimir Putin, in his recent New York Times op-ed, shows no greater understanding of the term.

In less than one quarter of a millennium, America and Americans have piled up some remarkable achievements. We have also made some major blunders and allowed some shameful situations to exist. But none of this has anything to do with our national exceptionalism.

American exceptionalism has its roots in our founding documents - the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, which recognize that legitimate government derives it powers from the consent of the people and that rights are not given or granted by government. Rather we are all endowed with rights - call them natural or God-given or simply the result of the human condition.

The legitimate concern of government is the recognition and protection of those rights. The United States of America is exceptional as the only successful nation in history founded on a recognition of this principle.

It is a shame that the 20th century has seen a steady erosion of our understanding of what makes us the hope of mankind. Our current president regularly distorts or completely disregards the Constitution as we become less and less exceptional.

PHILIP BLANCH

Egg Harbor Township