‘Exceptionalism’ made America the greatest nation

I listened to the speakers at the recent Republican National Convention in Tampa who seek to reclaim our nation and protect “American Exceptionalism.” I am not sure whom they are reclaiming or protecting America from, but I think they want to reclaim it from me, or those like me.

I am the grandson of immigrants who came here to avoid war-torn Europe and seek the promise of freedom and better days for their children. My parents grew up in the Great Depression – bed sheets hanging throughout the apartment so that the borders in their small quarters had some semblance of privacy. My dad spent five years in WWII – his barracks taught him that no man is better or worse than another.

He became a prosecutor – defending the rule of law. My mother became a public school teacher who believed unleashing the potential of a child was the greatest gift of all. They raised children who became prosecutors and teachers and embraced their example of public service as a calling.

But somehow we have become the enemy to members of a loud and angry mob who hold rallies purporting to reclaim our nation and maintain that “American Exceptionalism” is imperiled. They scream from the top of their hill that we worry too much about those that have fallen behind. They disguise their smallmindedness with grandiose political theories and doctored statistics.

Theirs is a flawed political theology tragically hijacked by a powerful and elite political establishment intent on obtaining or preserving their political power and money. They are only now worried about America’s finances, blaming and demonizing a president who inherited policies that they created, supported and embraced. So many in their great hall – including the elite of Florida’s political establishment – supported and used the stimulus dollars they now deride to balance our state budgets and keep teachers and firefighters on the job.

They don’t want people to have a free ride, but despise a health care reform that requires everyone to insure their own health so that others won’t have to pay.

They want free markets and no regulation, but seem to forget the excesses that exploited the lack of regulation to create our economic maladies. They abhor taxes, but refuse to consider that it is tax money from everyone that funds special-interest giveaways for a select few.

And worst of all, their political philosophy has become a self-serving rationalization for their own self-advancement. Give the “job-producers” more money and they will create more jobs. Like its forbearer – trickle down economics – it is a failed, tired old excuse, more a public relations gimmick than an economic theory.

It is not that American Exceptionalism is being lost, it’s that they have lost sight of what has made America exceptional. It has not been our wealth that makes us exceptional – rather it has been our charity and our commitment to raising all the boats in the harbor and building a middle-class. It has not been our intellectual capacity that elevates us among nations. Rather, it has been that so much of that innovation has ushered in improvements of the human condition. It has not been our military – the most powerful in the history of the world — that sets us apart, but that we have used that force to protect freedom and fight tyranny.

Capitalism alone isn’t what makes America special – rather it is the freedom that is intrinsic to a capitalistic system that is exceptional. Our nation is special not because God made us special, but because we exercised the free will he gave us to become a moral beacon in the community of nations. Once we relinquish that mantle we lose our “exceptionalism.” We lose what has made us the greatest nation in the history of the world.

The truth is so much of the noise that came from the RNC is no more than the clamoring of partisans seeking to exploit true challenges for political gain. What has made America exceptional, however, is that whenever that does happen, Americans ultimately see through it and track a course consistent with the greatness and higher purpose that has defined our nation.

Here’s hoping we stay exceptional.

Dan Gelber is a former state senator and house Democrat leader from Miami. This column first appeared in Florida Voices. For more information, go to www.floridavoices.com

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