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What is America?

For as long as I’ve been around, and much longer, America has meant something special in the world.  Unlike the great majority of other nations, it always seemed to me that America was more than a land mass identified by its borders.  America to me stood for a set of ideals, most powerfully “Freedom.”  The social mobility that has always been so unique to America, and has been the envy around the world, is directly related to the freedoms that Americans enjoy, including freedom of speech, freedom to elect its leaders, and freedom to dream and to pursue those dreams.  None dreamed any more eloquently than Martin Luther King, who we remember today.

I believe that it is the unique passion for freedom that is built into the fabric of America that has caused her to ascend so quickly to become a global power.  I also believe that this is what has made America so relevant to people all over the world.  My wife is from Venezuela and Chile, and I can tell you that while other nations like France or Germany, or Japan, or Canada are all lovely places with many lovely people no one in Venezuela or Chile has much of an opinion about those places, nor are they part of the regular dialogue.  EVERYONE seems to have an opinion about the U.S.A.  Everyone cares.  Even when those sentiments are negative, I believe that they often reflect a disappointment that America is not living up to the ideals that the world has come to expect from, and to identify with her.

We Americans need to always remember our uniqueness, protect it fiercely, and insist upon leadership that understands and is passionate about this.  In 2008 we elected a leader who, during his first campaign, when asked about American exceptionalism responded that all nations are exceptional.  I believe that his comments reflected a fundamental and unfortunate misunderstanding.  And, I believe that under his leadership we are losing our faith in our nation’s greatness.  It is surely true that Americans are people, just like all people.  No different.  America, however, is a nation unlike others.  It is one that has stood for amazing things like freedom and opportunity.  It is this difference that has inspired people throughout the world to take risks and to dream, regardless of their birth nationality.  These qualities are what make it possible for people born anywhere in the world and still feel American in their hearts – to feel a love for America and to feel disappointment when America fails to live up to its promise.

It has been these qualities that inspired so many born elsewhere to move to America, bringing with them their passions, talents and energies which have contributed mightily to America’s achievements.  One quarter of all American Nobel Prize winners were born elsewhere.  A third of all scientists and engineers working in Silicon Valley are foreign born, as are 40% of all PH.D. scientists working in America.  And many tens of millions have moved here to make a better life for themselves and their families, and their hard work has contributed mightily to America.  There is no other nation that people have chosen to uproot their lives to become a part of.

 God bless America.  I say that not as a jingoist with some misguided pride about my good fortune to be born here, but as a lover of what it is that America has stood for.  I say that in the hope that America can regain her greatness, or better stated perhaps, that Americans can connect once again with the qualities that differentiated America.  I say that on behalf of both those born on American soil as well as those who are Americans at heart and who have love what it is that America has historically stood for when she stands erect on her founding principles.

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