Regan and the American Exceptionalism

The Presidential Campaign in 1980

Seminar Paper, 2013

12 Pages, Grade: 1,7


Table of Content


Main part

Concept of “American exceptionalism”

Reagan´s Campaign

Reagan´s campaign and the “American exceptionalism”




In the course “Elections and Inaugurations” we talked about the current presidency and about past presidencies. During that I came across Ronald Reagan´s landslide election of 489 votes to 49.

Reagan was born in 1911 and during college he majored in economics. After college he became an actor. He started his political career in 1962 when he joint the Republican Party and got elected governor of California in 1966. Ronald Reagan stayed in office for 8 years until 1974, when he announced that he would not run again for governor, for he wanted to become the presidential candidate in 1976 for the Republicans. Unfortunately he lost the primaries to Gerald Ford, who went on to lose the election against Jimmy Carter. Four Years later in 1980 Reagan became the candidate for the Republicans and later on became the 40th president of the United States. At this point of time ( 1970s) the American situation was not so well. America faced economic problems, inflation, unemployment, the on-going `Cold War´ and a hostage situation in Iran, where the American embassy were being held hostage during the presidential campaigns between Carter and Reagan.

In this term paper I will look at the Reagan campaign and I will try to show that his campaign is deeply connected with the concept of ´American exceptionalism´. My thesis is that Reagan based his campaign on this concept and he connected his promises and solutions to this concept. In order to prove my thesis, I will firstly explain the concept of ´American exceptionalism in the first chapter and then I will summarize Reagan´s campaign in chapter two. After that I will try to show and to prove my thesis, that Reagan connected his campaign with the concept of ´American exceptionalism´ with regards to content and linguistically. In the conclusion my findings will be summarized and my thesis will be confirmed or rejected.

Main part

Concept of “American exceptionalism”

The expression ´American exceptionalism´ refers to the belief “that the United States differ qualitatively from other developed nations, because of its unique origins, national credo, historic evolution, and distinctive political and religious institutions” (qtd. in Thimm). It is a nation´s ideology and a set of ideas at whose core is the vision that America is a unique place. These ideas can be summarized by five words: liberty, egalitarianism, individualism, populism and laissez-faire ( And because of these attributes and ideas the Americans believe that their country, America has a special destiny among the nations. Connected with this concept is the strong believe in equality and equal opportunity for all to rise economically and socially. Therefore the Americans believe in meritocracy and that income represents one’s ability and talent. This belief in meritocracy also leads to an emphasis of the values of an open society, which is open to talent, open to the most efficient and to the most competent. Because of this emphasis, Americans believe in rationality, hard work and possess a strong achievement drive. These Attributes lead Americans to be proud of their country and gives them a great sense of patriotism and the belief that their country is superior to all others. However this thought of superiority was not meant in the first use of the term ´American exceptionalism´, but was added through interpretations by politicians and adopted by the American people. Also connected with this concept and these understandings of it, is the fact that America is a country that stresses success above all.

“America is the promised land. God has led his people to establish a new sort of social order that shall be a light unto all nations” (Lipset 64).

This quote brings another idea into the concept of ´American exceptionalism´, the idea of being god´s nation. As Seymour Martin Lipset points out in figures, 94% of the Americans express faith in god and are “utopian moralists” (64) who want to destroy evil people and eliminate wicked institutions. But Americans see moralism not as anti-war activity, but think that sometimes support for war is moral and that the war must be fought to the unconditional surrender, if it is fought for moral reason. For Americans see war never as merely defending national interests, most of them see it as ´good vs. evil´.

In their view America´s side is always the good side; even Stalin was presented in positive terms as long as he fought with the United States against the Nazis. Additionally this opinion connects with the belief of being superior, which is very deeply rooted in the American people as Seymour Martin Lipset proves with the figures that 72% belief that “as Americans we can always find a way to solve our problems and get what we want” ( 287).

To sum up, the first concept of ´American exceptionalism´ just said that America is different because of their unique origins and their belief in liberty, egalitarianism, individualism, populism and laissez-faire. But later these differences were interpreted by politicians as being superior and those interpretations where adopted by the American people.

Reagan´s Campaign

In this chapter I will only give an account of Reagan´s campaign program and explain what he wanted to change and want he promised he would do better than the current president Jimmy Carter.

A fundamental concept of his campaign was that welfare state in America became dangerously centralized and bureaucratic and that local and state government were losing jurisdiction in areas of education, health care, welfare and criminal law. Ronald Reagan demanded a reversal of the national government towards more state welfarism. Therefore his solution was a transfer of resources and authority to the states in respect to welfare, education, housing and health care. He argued that because of their close proximity to particular problem areas and their different social and economic conditions, state governments could decide more sophisticated which programs and measures were to be taken than the national government (White 51). With his promises to reduce ´Big Government´ he also associated the problem of corruption in political offices and the need to bring back traditional and moral values, not only to the government but also to the society.

His view on gun control was quite opposite. Reagan wanted to reintroduce law and order on a national level. He supported the reinstatement of capital punishment and a mandatory prison sentence of 5 to 15 years for crimes involving firearms, but he opposed a firearm registration, for in his opinion this would only be another “costly and intrusive bureaucracy”( qtd. in White 55) and it would interfere with the basics rights of the American people of keeping arms.

In order to help the economy Reagan promised that his solution would be easy and good for everybody, because he thought that the inflation was only a result of the unbalanced governmental budget and so he promised not only to balance the budget but also to reduce taxes, so that the people would have more money left over that they could spend and so help the economy to start growing again ( White 58). He also promised that when the economy would start growing again, it would create jobs and as a result the unemployment rate would drop significantly.

Another issue of major importance in Reagan´s campaign was the foreign policy especially his anti-communism view shaped Reagan´s foreign policy. Therefore Regan supported an increase in military expenditures and had a different opinion of Cuba than his predecessor who tried to re-establish cultural and diplomatic relations. Reagan said that as president he would demand several mutual return in future negotiations with that country ( e.g. free movement between the two nations, written guarantees by Castro that he would not attempt to export his revolutionary tactics to other Western hemisphere nations) ( White 63).

In summary Reagan promised during his campaign to change a lot and to make it better than President Carter. He promised to cut taxes but also to balance the budget which in his belief was the reason for the inflation. He promised to improve education, health care and welfare by decentralising it and to strengthen the US military in order to bring back and keep the United States in the exceptional position they were in after WWII.

Reagan´s campaign and the “American exceptionalism”

In this chapter I will show how Ronald Reagan linked his campaign with the concept of ´American exceptionalism with regards to content and also linguistically. In general I will show how Reagan tried to show that every problem could be solved if they adhered to the traditional values and that Carter did not believe in those values or America.


Excerpt out of 12 pages


Regan and the American Exceptionalism
The Presidential Campaign in 1980
University of Paderborn  (Institut für Angelistik und Amerikanistik)
Elections and Inaugurations
Catalog Number
ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
File size
379 KB
Reagan, Exceptionalism, Presidential Campaign 1980
Quote paper
Niels Schreiber (Author), 2013, Regan and the American Exceptionalism, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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