Earlier this month, New York Times op-ed columnist Roger Cohen talked with Spain's prime minister, José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero. The article is here: http://www.nytimes.com/2008/10/09/opinion/09Cohen.html Among other interesting comments, Zapatero said that the United States was a "diverse, creative, dynamic" country, but "it does not need to have a mission."
Cohen strongly disagreed, and so do I. Moreover, I think that if you asked Biden, Palen, McCain or Obama if the United States has a mission, each one would not hesitate to say yes and could easily and sincerely explain what they think that mission is.
That's hard to explain to people overseas: America has a purpose beyond merely continuing to exist, and if we lose sight of that mission, if we are false to our ideals, we stop being America. And this makes our politics, at times, not just a question of who wins, but what wins — what vision, what mission. The United States is not a historical people, it is a living idea.