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OPINION - Who will speak of patriotism?

by Chris Conley

NEWS BLOG (WSAU) People in their 30s and younger know Ronald Reagan only through the history books. That's unfortunate, because he'll probably be a once-in-a-lifetime political figure. We won't see his kind again.

Yes, Reagan was a cold-war President. He's given credit for "winning" the cold war, even though the Berlin Wall fell after he was out of office and the Soviet Union collapsed two years in George Bush's presidency. Reagan gets too much credit as a steward of the economy. He cut taxes... yet he also raised some taxes and increased government fees. And while the overall direction of the economy was upward during the Reagan 80s, he also weathered two small recessions while he was in office.

Reagan is a political giant because he was able to communicate simple ideas and rally the nation around them. "Government doesn't solve problems, Government is the problem." "Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall ." "It's morning in America."

What's most forgotten about Reagan is his unapologetic patriotism. Surely all Presidents are patriots, although we may disagree with their visions for the country. But no one surpassed Reagan in saying it ... and getting others to believe it. He campaigned in 1979 and 1980 at a time when interest rates were at 17-percent, unemployment was 14-percent, when we could only buy gasoline on alternating days, and while a militant foreign government was holding our embassy workers and guards hostage. And here was a man who dared to say American is still the greatest nation on earth, and would be again. Long before President Obama, Reagan had a monopoly on audacity of hope.

Consider his campaign ad "Morning in America". What other candidate could run that ad and not be laughed off the political stage? The ideas and themes are still powerful and true today. But they only have credibility in the political arena if a candidate espouses those things in person. That ad can't exist in a vacuum. Those were the things Reagan believed in. He talked about the constantly.

Barack Obama doesn't see America that way. He's stated that we are a great nation amongst other great nations. His America is, perhaps, a somewhat louder voice in a world chorus. Bill Clinton had charisma, but the passions that his two campaigns generated were about his magnetic personality -- not about the nation. Mitt Romney was not a 'Morning in America' candidate; he pitched himself as a more-competent administrator, not a Yankee-Doodle-Dandy. Candidates John McCain John Kerry generated very little passion about themselves and even less about our national greatness. Even Scott Walker, should he choose to run, is far more comfortable talking about his achievements as governor than about patriotic themes. Walker will stir up more emotion among his opponents than his supporters. He can talk about budgets, jobs, the economy, and Act 10. I don't think I've ever heard him talk about the broader topic of patriotism.

That's what's missing on this Independence Day. There is no one on our national stage who speaks of the exceptionalism of America. Who will boldly proclaim that our great national experiment sets this nation above all others? What person within our political arena can articulate a clear and convincing answer to ' this is what makes America great '? Not only isn't there a response... the question isn't even asked.

How will our children learn about patriotism if we don't even talk about it? On this Independence Day I invite you to start a conversation about America what makes a great nation. That the answers don't come easily show up how far we've gone astray.

Chris Conley

Image: Ronald Reagan (file photo) REUTERS