In July, Marco Rubio announced a 23-point initiative that would become the slogan for his campaign for U.S. Senate. He called it "Ideas to Reclaim America," and it signaled that Rubio would remain on the far right of the GOP.
He issued a statement that showed he wanted no consensus with the left. "As Americans, we have reached a point in our history when we must decide if we are to continue on the free market, limited government path that has made us exceptional, or if we are prepared to follow the rest of the world down the road of government dependency," Rubio wrote in his statement. "It is
a clear choice between two very different futures, and I believe the American people are prepared to make the tough, but necessary, choices to ensure future generations enjoy unrivaled levels of job growth, freedom, security and prosperity."
The slogan he adopted is indicative of the unhealthy divide in politics. Both sides have used "reclaim America" as a call to victory -- a rallying cry that says two political parties cannot share power. If our side wins, it promises, we will wrestle away the government and its laws for one political ideology.
The ugly phrase appears to have been born here in South Florida. Out of the 19,000 references to "reclaim America" on Google, the first of them refers to the Center for Reclaiming America for Christ. The Rev. D. James Kennedy of Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church in Fort Lauderdale founded the center in 2000 as a mouthpiece for Christian conservatives. The center championed a hateful anti-gay and anti-abortion agenda and held rallies for thousands attended by the likes of Katherine Harris.
When Kennedy died in 2007, the center died with him. The slogan he may have invented lived on, and in the era of President George W. Bush, the far left adopted it.
In January 2008, U.S. Rep. Dennis Kucinich used the slogan in a frighteningly creepy TV ad. Titled "Reclaim America," it looked more like a plug for a cult. A scene in a classroom with a leaky roof featured a teacher who urged over horror-flick music: "Your country needs you to make a change."
With the Democrats back in power, the right has picked up the slogan again. The Hudson Institute featured a "Reclaim America" conference in January headlined by John Bolton. A Facebook group titled Reclaim America promising to "speak truth to the lies of the Obama agenda" has nearly 17,000 fans. Churches in Arkansas adopted the "Reclaiming America for Christ" mantra for a rally in July that attracted 2,500 attendees.
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Then Rubio's campaign, which didn't return phone calls for this story, jumped on board, adding it as his campaign slogan and using it to justify a five-day bus tour across Florida. Rubio's message was picked up by dozens of bloggers and conservative news pundits as a call to get out the conservative vote November 2.
But none of those pundits was as divisive as the Heritage Foundation, which published an editorial shortly after Rubio's announcement. The piece -- titled "Reclaiming America: Why We Honor the Tea Party Movement" -- urged conservatives to take back the country from "progressive liberalism." The article ends with this:
"Someday in the future, some historian will ask some individual, perhaps one of you, 'Why did you get involved in the Tea Parties? Was it the spending? Was it the bailouts? Was it health care?' 'No,' they will answer. It was very simple. We had always governed ourselves, we always intended to govern ourselves, and those liberals didn't think that we should."
The Heritage Foundation is right that there are liberals who don't think Republicans should govern this country. And the article proves that conservatives also don't want liberals in any office. But if we reject the argument of "reclaiming America," if we say that we're better off with representation from both sides, we accept something better -- the truly American ideal that a consensus government can govern all of us. Now that's a good way to reclaim America.