Happy Birthday Ronald Reagan: Reflecting on ‘American Exceptionalism’
SAN JOSE, February 6, 2014 – Today is the birthday of former President Ronald Wilson Reagan, one of the most important leaders of the Republican Party in the last 50 years. Born on February 6, 1911 in Tampico, Illinois, Ronald Reagan grew up in the Midwest and was raised on simple, down-to-earth, common-sense values.
Reagan essentially transformed the United States with his simple values: his sincere belief in the value of America, the value of the American people, and the value of the vision of government that the Founding Fathers had established at the birth of the Republic.
Yet, when one brings up his presidency, Reagan remains controversial long after he has passed away. Conservatives still love him as an icon of the Conservative arm of the Republican Party. Many major Republicans simply tolerate his memory. Leftists and Liberals tend to hate him.
Despite the criticism and the personal attacks against him and the dissent over his policies, while president, Ronald Reagan kept a sincere faith in what an exceptional country America was and the uniqueness of the Constitution. He would be viewed as a heretic today and so politically un-correct that there would be no hope for any future in politics.
During the presidential election of 1980, one of Reagan’s famous lines was that the people should elect him to help “get the government off of people’s backs,” echoing the Founding Father’s belief in limited government.
In his first inaugural address, which Reagan wrote himself, he reiterated this position made famous during the campaign. He targeted the economic malaise of the nation stating: “In this present crisis, government is not the solution to our problems; government is the problem.” How insightful when compared with how much the U.S. government has mushroomed in growth since Reagan.
Although he was a Democrat earlier in his life, Reagan grew more conservative as he grew older. Finally, in 1962, Ronald Reagan become a Republican. Two years later, in the 1964 presidential campaign, Reagan delivered a rousing speech at the Republican National Convention in support of of Conservative Barry Goldwater’s nomination.
At that time, as now, the Republican Party was controlled by strict traditional or “Establishment Republicans,” and for out-of-step Conservatives, it normally was an uphill battle for respect from within the ranks of that mainstream political party.
Reagan not only gained the respect of the Republican Party of the day, he fundamentally altered his party through a Conservative revolution which became appropriately termed the “Reagan Revolution.”
It took quite a while to build. Although he tried, Reagan was not able to win his party’s nomination for president in 1968, nor in 1976. Not until the 1980 presidential election was he successful in his fight, and finally orchestrated a victory over “Establishment Republicans” when he won his party’s nomination for President.
In the 1980 presidential election, Reagan was also able to charm the American public to select him over the incumbent, Jimmy Carter, as he won by a landslide. He carried 44 states with 489 electoral votes to 49 electoral votes for Carter, with over 50% of the popular vote while Carter got 41%. He won his second term by an even greater landslide victory by winning all but one state.
When Reagan took office, the U.S. Congress was divided with a Democrat-controlled House of Representatives and a Republican controlled Senate. It proved to be an extreme challenge for his leadership, but he was able to achieve the passage of his bold legislative programs. It may have helped that Ronald Reagan was the first former leader of a labor union to be elected President of the United States, as he had been twice served as leader of the Screen Actors Guild.
As he took up residence in the White House, Reagan was not afraid to promote the conservative agenda, and he fought to shrink the size of the federal government and to reduce the extensive intrusion of government into American’s daily lives. While in office, he quickly moved to impact the rampant recession by lowering taxes and the number of federal regulations in order to stimulate the economy and get Americans back to work.
Reagan was an economic conservative and was not shy when it came to explaining his views. He pursued the theories of supply-side economics which were later to become known as “Reaganomics.” But over the course of his two terms, Reagan’s economic policies were capable of holding down inflation and proved capable of creating sixteen million new jobs by the end of his second term.
President Reagan managed to solve some of America’s most serious economic problems, as well as to restore the country’s prestige around the world as he stood up for America’s founding principles. In his first inaugural address, he spoke strongly and confidently of America: “As we renew ourselves here in our own land we will be seen as having greater strength throughout the world. We will again be the exemplar of freedom and a beacon of hope for those who do not now have freedom…”
At his core, Reagan believed that America was “exceptional” as he believed that there was something special about America that set the nation apart from the other nations in the world. He continually made deliberate attempts to help Americans re-discover the greatness of the nation by sharing what he believed made America an “exceptional” and a great nation.
Today, the concept is known as “American Exceptionalism,” which Leftists, or Marxists, or Communists will falsely point out as originally a concept brought up by Communist dictator, Joseph Stalin. However, in addressing the issue, Stalin severely criticized the members of the American Communist Party because of their belief that America did not fall under the Marxist laws of human historical development. However, Stalin’s words actually decried “the heresy of American exceptionalism.”
Actually, Stalin was wrong – America does not fall under Marxist laws of historical development. Reagan was right, in so many ways. The concept of “American Exceptionalism,” despite the limited perception of Leftists or Marxists, needs to be put within the context of a more complete examination of American history.
In reality, “American Exceptionalism,” can originally be traced to Alexis de Tocqueville as he described the U.S. as “exceptional” because of the founding principles of freedom and liberty, rugged individualism, and free enterprise. This is more of what Reagan was trying to convey.
The concept raises the scales on the backs of the Left-leaning individuals because they have a problem with America being viewed as superior to the rest of the world. Unfortunately, this distorts the perspective that America is not superior, but unique because it is the Land of the Free, which is what Reagan understood. In 1976, Reagan pointed out that “Our Constitution is a document that protects the people from government.”
While endorsing conservative contender Barry Goldwater during the 1964 presidential race, Reagan stressed his own ideological convictions in a famed speech which later became known as “The Speech,” in which he stated: “The Founding Fathers knew a government can’t control the economy without controlling people. And they knew when a government sets out to do that, it must use force and coercion to achieve its purpose. So we have come to a time for choosing.” This speech, delivered on October 27, 1964, demonstrated his firm commitment to the principles of freedom.
Despite a dangerous and turbulent world, Reagan demonstrated an incredible optimism in the American way, and despite being sixty-nine years of age, a majority of the American public responded favorably to such optimism as they elected Ronald W. Reagan to two terms as president. In fact, he is still the record holder as the oldest American to be elected President of the United States, and, as well as being re-elected at age seventy-three!
Despite an assassin’s attempt on his life, despite a devastating horse-riding accident, despite cancer, and despite brain surgery, all occurring after he turned seventy years of age, Ronald Reagan served as a strong president in the midst of such a dangerous and turbulent world.
In reflecting on him, one may realize that Ronald Wilson Reagan was pretty exceptional as well. Happy Birthday President Reagan!