7: Video excerpt, Ronald Reagan’s acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention, 1980.
When then-Governor Ronald Reagan accepted the Republican presidential nomination in 1980, his speech focused on his conservative vision for the country. At the end of the speech, Reagan went off-script, attributed the greatness of America to God, and hesitatingly asked the audience: "Can we begin our crusade, joined together in a moment of silent prayer?" After the moment of silence, Reagan ends the speech by uttering a phrase that today seems almost baked into political speeches, but that then was uncommon: "God bless America." This was the first time the phrase was used by a major U.S. politician in a public speech, and it may have contributed to the song's association with the political right.
Suggested Activity: Watch the video with students and ask them to reflect on what stands out to them in terms of Reagan's words, tone, manner, and delivery. Why might Reagan have hesitated to add the final part of his speech, and to call for a silent prayer? What does it mean that he's closing his speech with a number of religious references: God, Jews, Christians, and crusades? At one point he appears to get choked up as he is speaking? Why might that be? Do you find his emotion in this moment to be genuine or is it just a political tactic?
Ask students to write about the following question: What, in particular, makes the phrase "God bless America" compelling? Would a different phrase serve just as well: “God bless the whole world” or “thank God for America” or “I love America”? What does this particular phrase convey that seems to work so well for so many different political and emotional contexts?
Source: "Republican National Convention Gov Reagan's Acceptance Speech." YouTube video. May 8, 2015. Accessed February 8, 2019. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8G5QYt4PUHc&feature=youtu.be&t=44m10s.