If there’s one thing that irks me about speeches by American presidents, it’s their tendency to overstate the case for their country being the first, finest or only example of freedom and democracy in the world.
The issue is summed up here in a thoughtful, and otherwise strongly recommended, piece by Clark Judge, a former Reagan speechwriter:
“Inaugural addresses invariably remind us of America’s historically unmatched commitment to popular sovereignty and individual liberty…”
It was also there in a famous anecdote used by Ronald Reagan in his address at the 1964 Republican Convention that launched him on to the national political stage (A time for choosing: Rendezvous with Destiny):
REAGAN: Not too long ago two friends of mine were talking to a Cuban refugee, a businessman who had escaped from Castro, and in the midst of his story one of my friends turned to the other and said, "We don't know how lucky we are." And the Cuban stopped and said, "How lucky you are! I had someplace to escape to." In that sentence he told us the entire story. If we lose freedom here, there is no place to escape to. This is the last stand on Earth..
My point is not to criticise the particular form of democracy and freedom that’s been developed in the USA.
Nor is it to claim that we in the UK (or any other European country) have a come up with an even better version of democracy.
But it is to register a complaint about this implicit criticism of other countries' democracy and freedom that’s so regularly trotted out by American politicians.
Reagan was as wrong in saying that there was no place to escape to as he was wrong in claiming that the USA was ‘the last stand on earth’.
From the point of view of those of us lucky enough live in other countries where elections also determine who governs and also result in a peaceful transfer of power, such overstated claims are at best tactless, and at worst quite offensive.
That’s why it’s a line I would never recommend to any of my clients with a vested interest in staying friends with their closest allies.