The idea of “American exceptionalism” has become a litmus test for patriotism in the last year or so. Politicians from both parties have realized that it resonates with American citizens and have hastened to add it to their list of buzz words. However, it is used often without explanation, which allows people to share it while intending vastly different meanings.

Begrudgingly, liberals will admit that America is “exceptional”—but only in the way that every country is special. In his maiden speech on the Senate floor yesterday, Senator Marco Rubio (R–FL) strongly refuted this argument. He asserted that America has something unique to offer the rest of the world as a nation dedicated to the universal idea of liberty. “America never wanted to be the only shining city on the hill,” he said. “We wanted our example to inspire the people of the earth to build one of their own. You see, these nations, these new emerging nations, these new shining cities, we hope they will join us, but they can never replace us. Because their light is but a reflection of our own.” This is not hubris but rather acceptance of the solemn duty America has as a guardian of liberty.

Rubio concluded by acknowledging the fear that “America’s century” was the 20th century and that someone else might lead the next. But this, he argues, would be entirely a failure of the American government. Our government is bankrupt and seems unwilling to fix itself. But the American people are not broken. They retain the same capabilities and desires to succeed that their ancestors did. Rubio exhorted his fellow Senators that:

If we give America a government that could live within its means, the American economy will give us a government of considerable means. A government that can afford to pay for the things government should be doing, because it does not waste money on the things government should not be doing.  If we can deliver on a few simple but important things, we have the chance to do something that’s difficult to imagine is even possible: an America whose future will be greater than her past.

That would be an exceptional America, indeed.