“A government big enough to give you everything you need, is a government big enough to take away everything that you have….”
This quote is often mistakenly attributed to Thomas Jefferson. In fact it was uttered on the floor of Congress by Gerald Ford in an address to a joint session of Congress on August 12, 1974, 3 days after he had assumed the Presidency following Richard Nixon’s resignation.
In the previous thread, Jeremiah posted this marvelous quote from Ronald Reagan:
I hope we have once again reminded people that man is not free unless government is limited. There’s a clear cause and effect here that is as neat and predictable as a law of physics: as government expands, liberty contracts.
The same bit of research that revealed the Gerald Ford quote also revealed that Reagan’s words did, indeed, paraphrase a famous quote from Thomas Jefferson:
Contrary to the portrait his critics attempt to paint, Reagan was a wise and intelligent man, the closest thing America has seen to a visionary in the mold of the Founders in my lifetime, and anyone who doubts that should read his personal journals. I would add to what he said that prosperity and liberty go hand in hand. Since America is made up of immigrants from numerous other countries, none of which is as prosperous as we are, it can only be that our system of government allows a level of individual freedom that promotes a prosperous economy more than any other country. Now, right before our eyes, we’re seeing one man and a small oligarchy of radical Leftist cronies attempt to “fundamentally transform” that successful model into just another country. As long as we have the freedom to vote, such men will never stay in power long.
There’s a good chance that none of us on this blog has ever suffered under the tyranny of a dictatorship or totalitarian government. If any have, I’d love for them to come forward and describe what it was like. In his GOP convention speech, Marco Rubio noted, in reference to the policies of the current administration, “these are tired and old big government ideas. Ideas that people come to America to get away from. Ideas that threaten to make America more like the rest of the world, instead of helping the world become more like America.”
The freedom that we have and for which we’ve expended great quantities of blood and treasure for others to have around the world is, historically speaking, not the norm. It’s why the founding of this country has often been described as The Great American Experiment. Not since Rome had a country attempted to embark on a course that would allow ordinary citizens to govern themselves.
Now some are going so far as to suggest that the current occupant of the White House is the one who wants to continue that experiment, to expand liberty to new horizons:
America’s story is one of constantly tackling the big—the biggest—problems, ahead of everyone else, with very little to guide us but those founding principles that nag at our conscience. And each time we’ve made progress, extending civil rights to more and more people, it’s been because that old spirit of taking a gamble, of performing the ultimate experiment, took over and led us to the right decision.
As we think today about what divides Americans, I think it boils down to the fact that some Americans no longer want to experiment. They want to close the lab down. We’ve gone far enough into the unknown, making it known, they say; now let’s stop—let’s even go backward. We were wrong to conduct some of our experiments in liberty, and that’s the source of all our problems. Gay people shouldn’t be treated equally. Black people shouldn’t run the country. Women shouldn’t hold high office. Muslims shouldn’t be granted habeas corpus.
Whenever one of those Americans talks about the problem with our country today, they talk about how we should be like we once were, back when white people who defined marriage as one man-one woman and were Protestant veterans built this nation. They feel they are losing their birthright, their legacy.
But those Americans are wrong. What their ancestors really were was scientists. Experimenters. Radicals who always considered the impossible possible. To define those ancestral Americans as merely white or straight or Christian strips them of their most stunning feature, their near-supernatural qualities of optimism and defiance and willingness to go into the unknown and make it their home, to make the amazing the norm. They defied the status quo. That’s how they built America.
Americans who want to end the experiment are few, but boisterous. They clamor at the national microphone. But Americans who know that there is no America without the experiment will keep at it, and they will persevere. Barack Obama is such an American, and his election is proof that the lab is still open, and that America in general will always be at the drawing board, expanding its concept of liberty and justice and equality until we finally fulfill the founding principles that created this nation so long ago.
I have to confess, when I read this essay, my first reaction was, clearly I and the vast majority of Conservatives have missed something if this is true. Perhaps we’re wrong, and this writer is correct. Perhaps one or more of our resident Progressives can make a case for Obama being the great experimenter in expanding liberty.