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Ayn Rand or Jesus Christ? Conservatives Can't Have It Both Ways

Many conservatives swear on a stack of Bibles that they worship Jesus Christ when they really bow down to the philosophy of Ayn Rand.

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If that doesn't sound much like Rand's philosophy, it is because it is pretty much the exact opposite of it.  

American exceptionalism: the reality-based version

I do share one thing with conservatives: I too believe in an American exceptionalism, that we should be a shining city on a hill. I don't think we are specially blessed or looked after by God -- if there is a God, we would have lost any special blessing privileges because of the genocide of Native Americans and allowing slavery and Jim Crow to last almost 350 years.

But I do believe our history as a diverse nation of immigrants from every part of the world, and our legitimate claim to rebirthing the idea of democracy after its spark went out in ancient Greece and Rome, gives us a special place on the world stage. But to be a shining city on the hill, to be a country that the people of the world admire and want to emulate, we need to set a good example for what a country should be, not a bad one.

We cannot be that city on a hill if we torture people, or ignore our own sacred Bill of Rights to spy on or arrest our own citizens without due process. We cannot be that city if all we care about is the wealthiest among us, and if our own economy begins to look like the economies of the third world in terms of inequality of wealth. We cannot be that city if the way we compete with other countries in a desperate race to the bottom, with wages and benefits in a never-ending spiral downward. We cannot be that city if a few major corporations so dominate our political system and economy that they are too big to fail and too big to prosecute when they commit crimes. We can't be that city when we allow our overgrown banks to crash the entire world's economy with their wanton recklessness.

To be an example for the world, we have to be a nation of morality, a nation where all our citizens are valued and given an equal opportunity to have a good life- a nation where we, in Winthrop's words, "delight in each other, make others' conditions our own, rejoice together, mourn together, labor and suffer together". If we are so afraid we torture the people we fear, and so greedy we drop all value of community so that we can live in wealth while our fellow citizens are in desperate need, then we are nothing special.

There are many countries, now and throughout history, who have acted like that. But if we create a country that treats everyone with fairness, that invests in all of our citizens, and that is governed "of the people, by the people, and for the people,” we really will be a city on a hill that the people of the world look up to, respect, and want to be like.

Mike Lux is a partner in Progressive Strategies LLC, and a founding blogger of OpenLeft.