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A Time to Give Thanks to Ronald Reagan and American Exceptionalism

11/24/2010 02:35 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Thanksgiving is a time for the nation to take a step back and reflect.

To illuminate this moment of national introspection, watch these last six minutes of President Ronald Reagan's Farewell Address on January 11, 1989.

Although uttered over 20 years ago, President Reagan's words are like a soothing balm, calling for a national healing and unification over some basic American values and principles, which we've dangerously seemed to have abandoned today as our divided nation continues a rancorous fight for the soul of the country.

Whether the issue is health care, the economy, or immigration (to name just a few), and whether you are a tea-partyer, a Democrat, Republican or Independent, the only common ground seems to be that we all believe that the nation has lost its way.

President Reagan's grandfatherly and folksy wisdom, though decades old, can be our blazing lantern in these dark times.

President Reagan speech embodies his basic philosophy and was delivered as a warning that America, as strong as it may be, is also very fragile and could easily veer off course if the American people forget the basic values the country was founded upon.

He reminds us that national pride is good, but that it amounts to nothing if it is not "informed patriotism." This "New Patriotism," as he called it, requires a deep knowledge and constant reminders on the values that built and nurtures this country.

He challenges us to remember why the Pilgrims first came to America.

He prods us into to appreciating that America is special, that America uniquely stands for freedom -- "freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom of enterprise, and that freedom is special" in the history of the world.

He inspires us with his reflections on the "Shining City on the Hill," a confident, wind-swept, God-blessed city, that becomes stronger by welcoming immigrants from around the world. He says that if we must have a wall around our borders, then that wall must have a door, and the door must be open to anyone with the "heart to get here."

Today, American politics has long abandoned the rallying and unifying cry of American exceptionalism, of a self-confident nation build on the bedrock of freedom and welcome to immigrants.

Unlike the style of Ronald Reagan, today's American leadership is defined less on the ability to emotionally connect with the majority of the American people and lead the country towards a common goal. Instead, political leadership is judged by its ability to divide, conquer, and destroy -- not inspire, unite, and accomplish great things.

The American people seemed not so bothered by this, chalking it up perhaps to "politics as usual." We can, and should, demand more. America is far from usual, as we should demand the extraordinary from our leaders, and from ourselves.

President Reagan reminds us that we must constantly nurture this delicate flame of American patriotism, that it must be based on our founding principles and knowledge of history, and that informed patriotic culture must be cultivated first a and foremost at the dinner tables -- but also in our schools, media and entertainment.

If heeded today, his words would help to bridge the divisiveness in American politics, help tone down the rhetoric and hostility, and unite a country.

Let's give thanks for the great gift of America.

We inherited this treasure, and let's pray that we will find a way to re-animate the soul of this great nation by coming together under the flag of American exceptionalism.

Reflecting on the hard work, sacrifice and values that created and continue to nurture America, Reagan ends his farewell with the words, "all in all, not bad... not bad at all."

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Richard Herman is an Ohio-based immigration attorney and co-author of "Immigrant, Inc. -- Why Immigrant Entrepreneurs Are Driving the New Economy (and how they will save the American worker)" (Wiley, 2009).