Anyone who picks up the U.S. edition of former British Prime Minister Tony Blair’s brand new political autobiography, A Journey: My Political Life, will understand why Americans came to admire and trust Blair as a leader and an ally during the tough early years of the war in Iraq. It is also clear why Blair became so controversial at home, and this is not just because he staunchly supported a military engagement that came to be unpopular with many Britons.
While some of Blair’s countrymen have ambivalent views about the United States, Tony Blair really gets it when it comes to Americans. In the stirring introduction to the U.S. edition of his book, he explains why the United States is exceptional among the countries of the world. He provides an extraordinary testimonial to the American character. And, no, the intro does not appear in the British edition of the book.
“I love America,” Blair writes, a feeling that matured after he left office and had the chance to meet Americans of every stripe outside the Washington circle of power. Interestingly for a Labor politician, of the three U.S. Presidents he worked with—Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barrack Obama—he gives the Republican his strongest endorsement. While Clinton and Obama are praised for their intellectual capacities, Blair admires George Bush’s directness, his “strength and integrity,” and sense of right and wrong. That strength is also what Blair finds characteristic about the American national character. He writes:
American is great for a reason. It is looked up to, despite all the criticism, for a reason. There is a nobility in the American character that has been developed over the centuries, derived in part no doubt from the frontier spirit, from the waves of immigration that form the stock, from the circumstances of independence, from the civil war, from a myriad of historical facts and coincidences. But there it is. . .
That nobility isn’t about being nicer, better or more successful than anyone else. It is a feeling about the country. It is a devotion to the American ideal that at a certain point transcends class, race, religion or upbringing. That ideal is about values; freedom, the rule of law, democracy. It is also about the way you achieve, by your own efforts and hard work. But it is, most of all, that in striving for and protecting the ideal, you as an individual take second place to the interests of the nation as a whole.
Ralph Waldo Emerson could hardly have said it better. It is doubly refreshing to read Blair’s statement at a time when the President of the United States is falling so desperately short on appeals to the national ideal. While Tony Blair clearly believes the United States is exceptional, President Obama appears not to share this view. Routinely apologizing for American actions, he reflects in his statements that American national values and ideals are not transcendent. Not so long ago, President Obama expressed the view that all nations probably consider themselves exceptional—which essentially means that none really is.
America is an exceptional nation, but not because of what it has achieved or accomplished. America is exceptional because, unlike any other nation, it is dedicated to the principles of human liberty, grounded on the truths that all men are created equal and endowed with equal rights. These permanent truths are ‘applicable to all men and all times,’ as Abraham Lincoln once said.
Let’s hope that someone in the White House leaves a copy of Tony Blair’s book on President Obama’s desk in the Oval Office. Maybe he will accept the argument that America really is exceptional when such testimonial comes from abroad.