Well yes, France has comparable military and economy per capita. Let's look at some other statistics. According to Freedom House, the United States ranks as the 7th most free and France as the 26th most free for civil and political freedom. The only major Western countries that are listed as less free are Germany and Spain, and Spain at least is still recovering from a nasty dictatorship. I will grant that this data is from 2000-2001, and much has changed since then. When you turn to economic freedom, according to The Heritage Foundation, the divide gets even wider, with the US coming in at #6 while France comes in next to last in the West at #42. (Only Greece does worse at #56).
In short, France is the least free country of what used to be called the West. If the American Exceptionalism is about anything, it is about freedom, both political and economic.
The more important aspect of Dale's claim about France is historical, and of a longer historical period than Mike seems to be taking into account. From the 14th through the 18th century, France was the most important country politically, culturally, and militarily in what France regarded as the civilized world. (It does not matter that France's view of its power was false. The fact that Imperial China was bigger, and by most standards more civilized had no impact on France. They believed that it was so, and that is what matters in this argument.) Since the 18th century France had been surpassed by Great Britain, Germany, Russia, and the United States. And that's just listing the powers that France saw as in its world in its heyday. This, I believe, still grates on the French soul. They are not content with being one of the G7 or a permanent member of the security council. They were number one damn it. They matter. Really. Nothing sums up the French position like the statement "Today's lingua franca is English."
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