What Does It Mean to Be A Republican? A Consideration of Political Idenity
“Ronald Reagan called America a ‘shining city on a hill.’" Thud. At this moment, my tub of Stephen Colbert’s ice cream, Americone Dream, fell to the floor. My jaw dropped as I rewound the live stream of the Democratic National Convention on my computer. I replayed that clip over and over. I kept rewatching President Barack Obama, a Democrat, quoting the Republican deity. Seeing the admiration for his country in his smile, the gleam in his eyes as he said how great America is, I looked to President Barack Obama with much pride.
I asked myself: But Ryan, he’s a De-mo-crat. What are you saying?
Well, for me, two of the more attractive aspects of the Republican Party had been its fierce defense of American exceptionalism and strong foreign policy. And ironically, these ideals, in our current election season, are less of a focal point of the Republican standard bearer than they are with our Democratic contender, Hillary Rodham Clinton.
As a third generation American on my mother’s side, the ideals of American exceptionalism resonate particularly loudly with me. From a very young age I would hear stories from my maternal grandparents as to what attracted their parents to this soil and the admiration that they had for the ability to pursue endless opportunities. My maternal grandmother, a Republican whose favorite president, ironically, was John F. Kennedy, would tell me stories of her life growing up and how proud and grateful she is to be an American. Her father served in the military, a fact of which she constantly reminds me. She recalls the days when children in school saluted the flag as they recited the Pledge of Allegiance—when the American flag was treated with respect—and the pride that was expressed when singing the National Anthem.
This idea of national pride and that America is great and always will be, is one of the more significant attributes/ideals that attracts me to the Republican Party. However, it is questionable whether this belief has survived within the GOP after the convention in Cleveland this summer. The Republicans acted as though the Four Horsemen had arrived in the forms of Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, Chuck Schumer, and Nancy Pelosi and that the end is nigh. In a family where Republicans supported President Kennedy and in some cases Democrats supported President Reagan, I always found myself in a state of limbo. So, in this election season in particular, with all its pageantry, do I identify as a Republican or a Democrat—especially when it comes to the two ideals that I hold in such high regard?
National pride. A strong, steadfast belief that we are a great nation. I am hearing these words recited endlessly, but much to my surprise, time and time again, I am hearing them come from the Democratic Party. Over Labor Day Weekend, Secretary Clinton addressed the American Legion. In this speech, she stated the “one core belief that has guided and inspired me every step of the way. . .is [that]. . .[t]he United States is an exceptional nation. I believe we are still Lincoln’s last, best hope of Earth. We’re still Reagan’s shining city on a hill.” There it was again. A month or so after President Obama said it at the DNC. A shining city on a hill. Within twenty seconds, she echoed the words of two Republican leaders and proudly stated that the United States is exceptional and that we need to keep it that way. Clearly we are not a perfect nation and much does need to be done to improve a vast array of domestic infrastructure issues and fiscal policies, but embracing the notion that we are nonetheless still a nation that is indeed extraordinary and one that fosters inclusiveness, are principles we would want to see held and consistently embraced by our current and next Commander In Chief.
However, these principles are only being espoused by Hillary Clinton, and not the Republican nominee.
A serious and sincere proclivity for strong and effective foreign policy is yet another attribute historically more closely associated with the Republican Party. However, there is no doubt that Secretary Clinton’s expertise is in foreign policy; perhaps being the most knowledgeable contender of any party candidate in generations. Her belief that “the calculated use of military power is vital to defending national interests” and “that American intervention does more good than harm” has been the stance of the Republican Party since President Reagan (Mark Landler, Alter Egos). And now the Democratic nominee has quoted and has adopted a similar worldview to this revered Republican leader. As the referred to hawk in President Obama’s cabinet, whether it was wanting to leave a large residual force in Iraq (more so than even the Republican Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel), her desire to take a firmer stance with the Russian Federation instead of a “reset” button, or her tentativeness of the Iran Nuclear Deal due to Tehran’s untrustworthiness, Secretary Clinton’s actions are more emblematic of traditional Republican stances. And very similar to revered Republican leaders that preceded her, Secretary Clinton is a “ready warrior and a cautious diplomat”, knowing that not every nation has global peace (Landler). If this is now the stance of the Democratic Party, is it that the Democratic Party is now embracing more Republican-like ideals? Am I therefore a Republican? Or have the two parties been reborn this election season, with the Democrats now laying claim to a strong foreign policy together with American exceptionalism, and the “typical Republican stances” are no longer such?
Am I a Republican or a Democrat? Perhaps I do not have to answer that just yet. What I do know is that I am an individual grounded in pro-American ideals, and Secretary Clinton has proven to me that she believes that America is and always will be exceptional and that she will defend our nation against all others. I am hopeful that on January 20, 2017, the world will watch as Chief Justice John Roberts says for the first time in history, “Congratulations, Madam President”.