By Jill Dougherty reporting from Valdai, Russia
Even as news was breaking of a shooting at Navy headquarters in Washington, a Russian lawmaker and talk-show host jumped on it to take a swipe at "American exceptionalism."
"A new shootout at Navy headquarters in Washington – a lone gunman and 7 corpses," Alexey Pushkov, head of the International Affairs Committee of the Russian Duma, Tweeted. "Nobody's even surprised anymore. A clear confirmation of American exceptionalism."
President Barack Obama mentioned the concept in his address to the nation on Syria last week.
"When, with modest effort and risk, we can stop children from being gassed to death, and thereby make our own children safer over the long run, I believe we should act. That's what makes America different. That's what makes us exceptional," Obama said.
Russian President Vladimir Putin quickly took issue with that in his op-ed piece in the New York Times.
"It is extremely dangerous to encourage people to see themselves as exceptional, whatever the motivation," he wrote. "There are big countries and small countries, rich and poor, those with long democratic traditions and those still finding their way to democracy. Their policies differ, too. We are all different, but when we ask for the Lord's blessings, we must not forget that God created us equal."
It turns out, however, the quintessentially American expression, the phrase that's become the avatar of American neo-conservatives, actually began in Russia. The person who coined it was none other than Soviet ruler Joseph Stalin.
Monday, at a conference of Russian experts in Russia, Toby Gati, former special assistant to President Bill Clinton, recounted the Soviet origins of the phrase to participants in the Valdai Discussion Club.
The term, Gati explained, was first used in 1929 "as American Marxists were trying to explain to the Soviet leadership why the United States would not go through a socialist stage and would not develop a Marxist society but would develop a system based on its own institutions and other principles."
Jay Lovestone, who became the general secretary of the U.S. Communist Party, wrote an essay in June of 1929 saying the nature of American capitalism was different and there would be no Communist Revolution.
Two years later, Stalin replied.
"He said did not agree with Jay Lovestone and he talked about the 'heresy of American exceptionalism,'" Gati said.
"And that, my friends, was the first time the phrase 'American exceptionalism' was used. It's the first time - but not the last time - that the phrase had to be explained to foreign leaders."