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American Exceptionalism: Ronald Reagan and the Bully Pulpit

I recently found a new book on Ronald Reagan called: The Bully Pulpit: The Presidential Leadership of Ronald Reagan and it got me thinking of why president Reagan was such a fantastic president. Certainly he had a great philosophy of limited government and tax cuts, but his reach for the past decades goes beyond that.

My friend John Moore once said that the reason Ronald Reagan was a great president was because he vowed to use the “bully pulpit” of the office of the presidency to remind America of how great it is.

I can’t find that as a direct quote from Reagan, but his speeches and his actions certainly give credence that was his philosophy.

“The greatness of America doesn’t begin in Washington; it begins with each of you—in the mighty spirit of free people under God, in the bedrock values you live by each day in your families, neighborhoods, and work-places. Each of you is an individual worthy of respect, unique and important to the success of America. And only by trusting you, giving you opportunities to climb high and reach for the stars, can we preserve the golden dream of America as the champion of peace and freedom among the nations of the world.” – Ronald Reagan

Ronald Reagan American Exceptionalism

There are many more quotes and I’ve added some to the bottom of this post, but this the message that made Reagan great. It is the message that makes America and conservative values great.

The real problem with liberalism isn’t just that is steals from the the work of others, promotes a lack mentality, or simply always fails in the end. The real problem is that it creates excuses and victims of circumstance. It tells people that their situation isn’t at all their responsibility and they can be cared for by others. It teaches that there isn’t real opportunity that is your’s for the taking if you simply strive to achieve. It builds into people that we are all in competition and only certain people can ever succeed and well you’re probably not the kind of person that can.

Is this on the message and doctrine of a liberal? No, many would probably deny they even believe this, but if we seek the core of their philosophy and look at their actions it is what comes to the surface. It creates an us vs. them mindset that is destructive rather than uplifting.

This is the great difference in the conservative position. Conservative thought is that there is free and open opportunity for all. We may not all be born with the same family wealth or circumstances, but each one of us can make the decision to build ourselves up and change. We are not merely victims of our circumstances, but rather we can be victorious and rise above them. We are individuals and communities. We help one another out. We lift one another up. We achieve and cross the finish line of our goals and go back and bring others along. We shouldn’t forced to give to others through government programs, but we long to give and assist our friends and neighbors and event strangers that seek to better themselves.

Conservatives believe in ownership and responsibilities. The great part about believing that we caused many of our own problems is that we are then empowered to find a way out of them. It isn’t about just going it alone, but it is about each of us taking control of our own lives as part of a community.

There is a clip from the HBO show Newsroom where someone asks Jeff Daniels character “Why is America the Greatest Country on Earth?” Daniels’ character then goes on to give an explanation of why we aren’t. (Warning: Language)

That is great dialogue, but I believe we still are the greatest country on earth. Why? Because we still have the ability to change at any point and fix all of our mistakes. We have a dark history in many ways from The Trail of Tears, to slavery, to Japanese Internment, to modern day abortion. Yet, outside of the holocaust of abortion we have changed all of these. We have repented and moved forward. And I personally believe that one day we will see the end of abortion as well.

That is why we can still be the greatest country on earth. It isn’t our military, or our economy, or our system of government. It is the American people. The people who can see their mistakes and change them. The people who can move forward and be different than those who came before them.

No matter the struggle you’ve faced or the abilities you have it can all change. If you can’t do it alone then there are millions of people out there that are willing to help you.

Why is the news always negative? Because those are the exceptions to America’s exceptionalism. They are the outcast and the edges of a great society. We see them not because they are standard, but because they substandard.

God has poured out such immense common grace on this country and we so often let ourselves be blinded by it. Open your eyes and see it.

Jason Vaughn

The Twisted Conservative

“You can call it mysticism if you want to, but I have always believed that there was some divine plan that placed this great continent between two oceans to be sought out by those who were possessed of an abiding love of freedom and a special kind of courage.”

“Standing on the tiny deck of the Arabella in 1630 off the Massachusetts coast, John Winthrop said, ‘We will be as a city upon a hill. The eyes of all people are upon us, so that if we deal falsely with our God in this work we have undertaken and so cause Him to withdraw His present help from us, we shall be made a story and a byword throughout the world.’ Well, we have not dealt falsely with our God, even if He is temporarily suspended from the classroom.”

“Well, America has not been a story or a byword. That small community of Pilgrims prospered and, driven by the dreams and, yes, by the ideas of the Founding Fathers, went on to become a beacon to all the oppressed and poor of the world.”

“In speaking tonight of America’s traditional values and philosophy of government, we must remember the most distinctive mark of all in the American experience: To a tired and disillusioned world, we’ve always been a New World and, yes, a shining city on a hill where all things are possible.

Our alliances, the strength of our democratic system, the resolve of free people-all are beginning to hold sway in the world. We’ve helped nourish an enthusiasm that grows each day, a burning spirit that will not be denied: Mankind was born to be free. The tide of the future is a freedom tide.

This, then, is our historic task—it always has been—to present to the world an America that is not just strong and secure, but an America that has a cause and a vision of a future where all peoples can experience the warmth and hope of individual liberty.

Today America travels again the road of increased self-government and personal freedom.”

“And that’s about all I have to say tonight. Except for one thing. The past few days when I’ve been at that window upstairs, I’ve thought a bit of the ‘shining city upon a hill.’ The phrase comes from John Winthrop, who wrote it to describe the America he imagined. What he imagined was important because he was an early Pilgrim, an early freedom man. He journeyed here on what today we’d call a little wooden boat; and like the other Pilgrims, he was looking for a home that would be free.

I’ve spoken of the shining city all my political life, but I don’t know if I ever quite communicated what I saw when I said it. But in my mind it was a tall proud city built on rocks stronger than oceans, wind-swept, God-blessed, and teeming with people of all kinds living in harmony and peace, a city with free ports that hummed with commerce and creativity, and if there had to be city walls, the walls had doors and the doors were open to anyone with the will and the heart to get here. That’s how I saw it and see it still.

And how stands the city on this winter night? More prosperous, more secure, and happier than it was eight years ago. But more than that; after 200 years, two centuries, she still stands strong and true on the granite ridge, and her glow has held steady no matter what storm. And she’s still a beacon, still a magnet for all who must have freedom, for all the pilgrims from all the lost places who are hurtling through the darkness, toward home.”

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About Jason Vaughn

I'm a conservative Christian blogger and filmmaker.

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