GOP candidates: American exceptionalists, most of the time

Much has been written about how American exceptionalism -- and President Obama's alleged lack of faith in it --  has become a rallying cry for this year's batch of Republican presidential candidates, even as the American public grow less convinced of the country's superiority. As Mitt Romney declared during a debate earlier this month, "Our president thinks America's in decline. It is if he's president. It's not if I'm president. This is going to be an American century."

But, as Politico points out this afternoon, Romney concedes now and then that other countries have some exceptional ideas of their own. In the past week, the Republican frontrunner has expressed interest in Switzerland's coinsurance health care model and a value-added tax, which was first instituted in France. "There are many things, in addition to good food, that we can learn from our European friends," Romney explained, before adding that he opposed the high levels of government spending in many European countries.

And Romney isn't the only GOP candidate to cast admiring eyes abroad. Newt Gingrich -- like Herman Cain before him --  has proposed overhauling Social Security along the lines of Chile's retirement regime, in which citizens can either pay into a state-run social security system with a payroll tax or put that tax money into a private retirement account. "It dramatically solves Social Security without a payment cut and without having to hurt anybody," he marveled.

Others are impresed with China, though they certainly have misgivings about the country as well. Jon Huntsman, for example, has called for the United States to pursue free-trade agreements as aggressively as the Chinese. "China is in the game," he explained. "We are not." Michele Bachmann, coiner of the phrase "Hu's your daddy" to describe America's debt obligations to China, has expressed grudging admiration for the Chinese government's decision to plough ahead without a social safety net. "If you look at China, they don't have food stamps," she noted in November. "They save for their own retirement security ... they don't have the modern welfare state, and China's growing."

In June, Bachmann suggested that America and Israel were equally exceptional, explaining in a video that Americans and Israelis "share the same exceptional mission: to be a light to the nations. After all, the image of America as the shining city on the hill is taken from the Book of Isaiah."

The GOP message, in other words, is that America is exceptional. With some exceptions. 

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Even in mourning, Lil' Kim imitates his father

In preparation for secretive Kim Jong Il's state funeral, planned for an unknown time today (we told you he was secretive!) we asked Tad Farrell (pseudonym) of NKNews, to explain the simularities between this procession and that of Kim's father.

Later today anyone who's anyone in Pyongyang will turn out for the funeral of Kim Jong Il. While Kim's death may have been unexpected, his mourning and burial process seems to be almost identical to that of his father sixteen years ago.

Both Kims underwent an initial mourning period of ten days at Kumsusan Memorial Palace.   Overseeing the mourning, like his father, Kim Jong Un has been wearing almost identical clothing to his own father at Kim Il Sung's funeral  - a dark grey Mao jacket.  Four days after Kim Jong Il's death, the Korean Central News Agency reported that North Korea's successor was distributing food and drink at mourning stations throughout the country, just as his father did sixteen years prior. And KCNA released almost matching coroner's reports within hours of reporting the deaths.  In 1994 and 2011, causes of death were similarly reported as "acute myocardial infarction", following "heavy mental strains" in Kim seniors' case, complemented by "a great ... physical strain" in Kim juniors' case.  The goal: to show the deaths had been brought on by the toil of working to bring about improvement for the North Korean people. 

Fast-forward a day or two past death, and reports in both cases emerged of natural wonders occurring throughout the country.  In Kim Il Sung's case, violent storms at North Korea's legendary Mount Paekdu and "rivers that were crying because of the sorrow".  For Kim Jong Il, news of similar "natural wonders" included a series of "blue flashes accompanied by thunder", unseasonal snowfall, and most recently, willows sprouting out of season in revolutionary sites.  Will the funeral of Kim Jong Il follow the same formula as that of Kim Il Sung, complete with glass coffin, motorcade, and the world's largest display of uncontrollable grief? Stay tuned.

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