Republican Senate hopeful Ben Sasse speaks in Lincoln, Neb., Tuesday, May 13, 2014, after winning his party's primary election. A crowd of Republican candidates jockeyed to succeed Nebraska's outgoing governor and senior U.S. senator in a busy primary election where voters also were set to select nominees for three other vacant offices. (AP Photo)

Ben Sasse is Correct on the Purpose of Politics and the Real Meaning of American Exceptionalism

e”Our goal is not to attack strawmen — but to strengthen and clarify meaningful contests of ideas. Representative government requires civic reengagement. Our people need to know that we in this body are up to the task of leading during this time of nearly universal angst about whether this nation is on a path of decline. I think we can do better — and I want to labor with all who want to figure out how.” – Senator Ben Sasse

Last week at a gathering of Christian pastors at the Gospel Coalition National Conference, Senator Ben Sasse spoke about American exceptionalism and the meaning of humble politics and the root of power. If you have 30 minutes, watch or listen to the video above. It is worth it.

One of many comments that stood out were these, “American exceptionalism was never a claim about ethnicity. American exceptionalism was never a claim about Americans’ unique anthropology. American exceptionalism was an understanding about the historical moment in which the American founding flipped on its head the relationship between rights and government,” said Sasse. “The American founding is a claim that God gives us rights, not government, and government is our secular-shared project to secure those rights. That’s all American exceptionalism means. That’s what Washington used to mean.”

I have previously written about my admiration for Sasse. The Nebraska Republican embodies everything you could hope for in a public servant. A turnaround expert by trade, Sasse is not a typical cookie-cutter politician. He is a rare mixture of high credentials (former college president, Ph.D., from Yale) and common sense. One minute you may hear Sasse go into an in-depth conversation in which he quotes Alexis de Tocqueville or the Federalist Papers and the next moment is speaking about his daughter’s experience working on a Nebraska cattle farm or his weekly family commute.

He has humor (, speaks on the life lessons of sports, and is never one to shy away about his real dream job (no not POTUS, but instead as the offensive coordinator for the Nebraska Cornhuskers). In this order, he is a Christ follower, husband, father, and finally a U.S. Senator.

In an age of pre-given talking points and partisan rhetoric, Sasse often speaks of realism and reality. He is one of the few politicians speaking about how automation will play a large role within the next decade. That matters, not only in Nebraska, and in rural Tennessee where I live, but in blue-collar cities around America. He is a conservative that puts people before politics.

As stated in his first address on the Senate floor, “we should be bored by lazy “politician speech,” bored by knee-jerk partisan certainties on every small issue. We should primarily be doing the harder work of trying to understand competing positions on larger issues. Good teachers don’t shut down debate; they try to model Socratic seriousness by putting the best possible construction on arguments, even — and especially — if one doesn’t hold those positions.”

In a fallen world, too many times we turn to politics or tribalism for answers instead of what truly matters, faith, family, and community. Sasse understands this. Or as he states in the speech above, “politics have necessary purposes, but not ultimate purposes. Something as mundane as politics is not why weep or why we hope. The answer is because our God (Christ) is coming quickly, and he is a liberating king, and he is the ruler of the city that has foundations, the hope of the nations.”

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Clayton Felts

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