As we draw ever nearer to one of the most crucial elections in this nation's history, I find myself pondering how we came to such an enormous divide among our citizens, with accusations and almost irrational contentiousness between fellow Americans who each care deeply about our national dilemmas – and our future.
I've seen the divide to be deeper than just the expressed aims of the opposing political parties. It seems to me that the great gulf is between two different ideologies, two distinctly different concepts of government. Each concept has its merits and springs from well-couched ideas about how to form and maintain an ideal society.
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One sees a highly motivated, virtually all-powerful government that provides all its citizens with basic needs, security, employment and simple prosperity. This government, in practice, has the authority and power to take "excessive" and "unfair" wealth from those who somehow have amassed it, and distribute it to those who haven't been as fortunate. You can see how this concept has appealed to many for so long. It seeks to balance the "haves" and the "have-nots," and so to produce equality. Of course, only an all-powerful government, under the control of strong and determined officials, can make this happen – because it's against human nature.
The other concept, fashioned by America's founders, sees a republic, a strong and majority-approved structure in which the citizens collectively decide by democratic, majority vote what their government should – and shouldn't – do. In this concept, all elected officials are meant to represent and implement the will of the citizens who elect them and give them temporary authority to make decisions on their behalf. This concept takes into account that there are, and will likely always be, some inequity in material wealth, depending on the opportunities and industry and even happenstance affecting groups and individuals, but it assumes that good people will come to the aid and support of neighbors … voluntarily, and not by constraint or decree.
These are two deeply different concepts, and it is that difference that is seething and manifesting in the campaigns leading to this next election. It's the "liberal" or "progressive" view of benevolent Big Brother government, solving all citizen problems through heavily tax-funded bureaucracy – versus the "conservative" view of less governmental involvement and authority, more responsibility vested in state and local governments, and ultimately in the voluntary actions and moral responses of the citizens themselves.
So, as we approach Election Day, may I suggest we take a few deep breaths, a few quiet and reflective moments and consider some quotes from men who have steered our Ship of State in various ways and times, and decide – for ourselves, individually – which concept should influence our votes?
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"To achieve a better future, Americans have to be emancipated from their past."
– Herbert Croly, founder of The New Republic, a pre-eminent journal of modern liberalism
"We have been the recipients of the choicest bounties of Heaven. We have been preserved these many years in peace and prosperity. We have grown in numbers, wealth and power as no other nation has ever grown. But we have forgotten God. We have forgotten the gracious Hand which preserved us in peace, and multiplied and enriched and strengthened us; and we have vainly imagined, in the deceitfulness of our hearts, that all these blessings were produced by some superior wisdom and virtue of our own."
– Abraham Lincoln, 1863
"Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other."
– President John Adams
"The Constitution is a flawed document."
– Harvard Law graduate Barack Obama
"For my own part, I sincerely esteem it [the Constitution] a system which without the finger of God, never could have been suggested and agreed upon by such a diversity of interests."
– Alexander Hamilton, 1787
"I used to say, when I was young, that truth was the majority vote of the nation that could lick all others. And I think that the statement was correct in so far as it implied that our test of truth is a reference to either a present or an imagined future majority in favor of our view."
– Oliver Wendell Holmes, liberal Supreme Court justice, 1918
"And you shall know the truth, and the truth will set you free."
–Jesus, Gospel of John 8:32
"… [T]wo of my favorite political philosophers, Mao Zedong and Mother Teresa … two people that I turn to most to [make the point] … you're going to figure out how to do things that have never been done before."
– Anita Dunn, White House communications director, June 2009
"Our law is open to reconsideration upon a slight change in the habit of the public mind. No concrete proposition is self-evident."
– Justice Holmes, influential "progressive" jurist, 1897
"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal. That they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness."
– Thomas Jefferson, the Declaration of Independence
"Providence has given to our people the choice of their rulers … and it is the duty, as well as the privilege and interest of our Christian nation, to select and prefer Christians for their rulers."
– John Jay, first chief justice of the Supreme Court
"Whatever we once were, we are no longer a Christian nation."
– Barack Obama, 2006
"No purpose or action against religion can be imputed to any legislation, state or national, because this is a religious people ... this is a Christian nation."
– Supreme Court, 1892
"We do not consider ourselves a Christian nation."
– President Obama, in a speech in Egypt, 2009
"The inherent vice of capitalism is the unequal sharing of the blessings. The inherent blessings of socialism is the equal sharing of the misery."
– Winston Churchill
"We are five days away from fundamentally transforming the United States of America!"
– Barack Obama, October 2008
"We have to pass the [2,200-page health-care] bill, so that you can find out what is in it."
– Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi
"A government big enough to give you everything you want, is strong enough to take everything you have."
– Thomas Jefferson
[Italics emphasis added in all cases.]
Friend, these succinct quotes illustrate vividly the nature of the divide in our nation. Some reflect the relativistic, humanistic liberal view. The others stem from a conservative Judeo-Christian view that reveres the Constitution and individual liberty.
This coming election will decide, perhaps irrevocably, which way our country goes.