The successful Republican candidate for president will have to be many things: fearless fighter, relentless advocate for conservative principles, articulate spokesperson for the forgotten middle class, a likable charismatic personality, expert on the complicated dynamics of foreign policy and national security strategy.
But above all, he or she will have to speak of American exceptionalism from the heart, because he or she has lived it. This matters.
It matters for two reasons: 1) When a candidate embodies the American dream, voters feel a greater emotional connection to him or her, and 2) President Obama and the left have so crushed the reality of American exceptionalism that most voters are desperate for a leader who will revive it.
This week, Sen. Marco Rubio announced his candidacy for the Republican nomination for president. During his beautifully crafted speech, Mr. Rubio spoke movingly of his family’s journey from poverty in communist Cuba to unimaginable opportunity in the United States. His family’s story — his story — could only happen in America.
“For almost all of human history, power and wealth belonged only to a select few,” he said. “Most people who have ever lived were trapped by the circumstances of their birth, destined to live the life their parents had. But America is different. Here, we are the children and grandchildren of people who refused to accept this.”
Two weeks ago, in his own announcement speech, Sen. Ted Cruz also spoke eloquently about American exceptionalism:
“What is the promise of America?” he asked. “The idea that — the revolutionary idea that this country was founded upon, that our rights — they don’t come from man. They come from God Almighty, and that the purpose of the Constitution that as Thomas Jefferson put it, is to serve as chains to bind the mischief of government. The incredible opportunity of the American dream, what has enabled millions of people from all over the world to come to America with nothing, and to achieve anything. And then the American exceptionalism that has made this nation a clarion voice for freedom in the world … that’s the promise of America. That’s what makes this nation, an indispensable nation, a unique nation in the history of the world.”
Both Mr. Rubio and Mr. Cruz tapped into one of human history’s most powerful narratives: that in America, all things are possible. Or were possible, until Mr. Obama and his fellow leftists drove a stake through the things that made the country exceptional: limited government, strong national security and economic freedom.
Sure, Mr. Obama talked a good game. He often referred to his biracial background and itinerant childhood, saying, “In no other country on Earth is my story even possible.”
But through his policies of economic radical redistributionism, military retreat and strategic global retrenchment, Mr. Obama has deliberately turned American exceptionalism into American ordinariness.
Early in his presidency, he was asked if he believed in it. He replied, “I believe in American exceptionalism, just as I suspect that the Brits believe in British exceptionalism, and the Greeks believe in Greek exceptionalism.”
Not exactly the way President Reagan would have answered.
American exceptionalism is grounded in the founding of the United States upon an idea, rather than upon the ambitions of men. Indeed, it was designed to be a nation of laws, built on the concept of individual liberty and equal justice, with freedoms and rights ranging from speech and worship to gun ownership and assembly.
The Framers institutionalized these freedoms so we would be safe from the overweening burdens and capricious claims of a too-powerful state. These freedoms would allow individuals to do as they pleased within the confines of the law and to achieve, in ways big and small, to the benefit of the country as a whole.
The result? The greatest republic in the world, the most productive engine of economic growth, the most influential culture and the most far-reaching effects of innovation.
Mr. Obama’s reference to British or Greek exceptionalism suggests a belief that the United States doesn’t stand alone with a particular greatness but that every nation is great in its own way.
This kind of multicultural gobbledygook is the basis for his Vesuvian explosion of big government and worldwide withdrawal. It also explains his irrepressible urge to apologize for past perceived American injustices and ill-conceived foreign “meddling.” In Mr. Obama’s kaleidoscopic left-wing view, no nation is better than any other, no country can tell another country not to have nuclear weapons, and we’re all socialists now.
In other words, American exceptionalism was so last century.
Reversing that destructive trend and setting America back on its exceptional path will be job No. 1 for the next president. Mr. Rubio and Mr. Cruz have each lived the American dream. They have experienced what is possible when government gets out of the way: People can achieve great things because of the promise of great rewards.
Only by returning to the vision of the Founders, enshrined in the Constitution, will we ensure that we remain the only country on Earth where stories like theirs are still possible. They know it, they’ve lived it, which is why they can speak of it with passion and care.
The truth about the beauty of America: What a truly exceptional campaign message.
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