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To be an American is exactly to be a dreamer. To know with conviction what it is you dream of doing, then simply, joyously — doing it. Taking action. It doesn’t mean there will not be challenges or roadblocks along the way. That’s life. Yet dreams are the tell-tale cultural code of America that link the Founding Fathers to the pioneers and the astronauts, that connects Ben Franklin to Walt Disney and Disney to Steven Spielberg. It is the cultural DNA that can be traced in a straight line from the Wright Brothers to the space shuttle astronauts, that connects the dots from Lowell Thomas to Rush Limbaugh. It has nothing to do with being famous, either. American dreams have created everything from family farms to small businesses to entire military, legal or medical careers, all of them run with the deepest of satisfaction and pride well outside the spotlight of People magazine. Every day of his working life, Tim Russert’s Dad was not the guy whose son was on TV — he was just the garbage man. But he was a garbage man with dreams — of family, of work, of country. And he made those dreams come true.
There is a disconnect in this country between Americans as embodied by Tim Russert, and many in Washington who simply don’t understand the America with which Tim Russert never lost touch. There are far too many people on all sides in Washington who are gussied up in Washington’s transactional friendships. They care for others only in the sense of who’s in and who’s out, who holds which title and who no longer matters, campaigning on principles abandoned in the name of holding office, happier in white tie than white T-shirt. This is a Washington that not only has lost its understanding of the men and women who are the exceptional people of America — the garbage men, small business owners, family farmers, religious leaders and all the rest who were represented in Russert’s life by a Big Russ or his nun Sister Lucille — but looks down on them to boot.
Does anyone really think that if those in the nation’s capital who conduct themselves in this fashion should die tomorrow they would elicit even a fraction of the spontaneous outpouring across the country that greeted the news of Tim Russert’s death?
IT IS A CURIOUS thing to say, but sitting well outside of the Beltway these days, physically removed from the insider business, gives one a clarity of vision that is frequently lacking when living in Washington. There is no care whether one gets invited to this party or that, no sense that an invitation lacking somehow spells doom for one’s career, all of which is a considerable if invisible pressure on those who have made it a life to fight their way to the top of some imagined pecking order.
So too is it with Americans. They — we — simply go about our everyday business in our self-created culture, busily dreaming our dreams and making them come true. Paying no attention whatsoever to those who insist “it can’t be done.” A 55-year-old Englishman responded to a question from Dr. Rapaille asking how the British see Americans by remarking with irritation that Americans “seem like a bunch of bounding children.” After other condescending remarks along the same line, he puzzled out loud a question that he could not answer: “If they are beneath us, though, why have they accomplished so much? They seem to understand something we fail to understand.”
That “something” Americans understand is the power of dreams, dreams in our personal lives and most particularly in our life as a nation. Right from the start, generation after generation has believed that America is different from the rest of the world. It is why millions of people want to come to America, not leave America. It is why we get up in the morning and ride garbage trucks or sell insurance or raise crops or invent software or make movies or do any of the unlimited things humans are capable of when living in a society that understands the direct connection between freedom and the imagination.
This is what makes America “exceptional.” It is why Americans believe so deeply in “American exceptionalism,” and why they simply will dismiss those elites in both the media and Washington whose senses have been dulled to the power of dreams by the lure of insiderdom, or in the case of non-American elites, plain old-fashioned envy.
Tim Russert understood instinctively the power of dreams because he was a dreamer himself. He understood in his gut that the strength of America was not in Washington but in the dreams of Buffalo and all the Buffalo’s around America. In that very real sense, this is what made him a genuine American in Washington. He was decidedly incapable of becoming one of the media or political pooh-bahs who have long since surrendered their dreams for invitations to cocktail parties in the salons of Georgetown. He was that rare creature in Washington who understood the real meaning of his favorite phrase: “What a country!”
Jeffrey Lord is the creator, co-founder and CEO of QubeTV, a conservative online video site. A Reagan White House political director and author, he writes from Pennsylvania.
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