The end of dangerous illusions
Some commentators have puzzled over what they saw as a shift in tone between Ann Romney and Chris Christie’s speeches at the Republican National Convention last night. Mrs. Romney talked about love and compassion; Christie emphasized the importance of earning respect, and being honest with voters about difficult choices. He concluded with a literal command for Americans to stand up on their own two feet. Wasn’t that a bit like Mom telling you how much she loves you, followed by Dad ordering you to move out of the attic and get a job?
Iowa mayor Ed Malloy summed up the contrast in the headline to his Fox News op-ed, which was primarily about the New Jersey governor’s speech: “Chris Christie’s thoughts on love differ from Ann Romney’s in tough, unwavering speech.” He said he was “jolted” by the contrast.
But really, there was no jarring contrast between Ann Romney and Governor Christie, and they were both perfectly in line with the overall theme of the evening, which I suspect will endure through the rest of the Republican National Convention. The point emphasized repeatedly throughout the night – most effectively, I thought, by Utah mayor and House candidate Mia Love – was a rebuke to President Obama’s infamous dismissal of personal initiative and entrepreneurial risk: “You didn’t build that.”
Each speaker found a different way to say, Oh, yes we did! Love said it beautifully with her entire speech, which neatly connected her opening and closing lines. She began with, “Let me tell you about the America I know. My parents immigrated to this country with $10 in their pockets and the hope that the America they heard about really did exist…” and ended with “This is the America we know because we built it!”
But the true theme of the 2012 election, which Ann Romney and Chris Christie expressed equally well in different ways, is about the end of dangerous illusions. “You didn’t build that” is one of them, but there are others, and they’re all killing us.
Obama’s ode to collective ownership wasn’t just an insult to hard-working small business owners. It’s a lie. Infrastructure is not built by gremlins released from buried government vaults. Independent businesses literally do build those roads and bridges, and they are paid with revenue skimmed from the rest of the private sector. The government has nothing it did not take from its citizens. The notion promoted by Obama, and before him most famously by Massachusetts Senate candidate Elizabeth Warren, that government has an unlimited claim on the wealth of the people, because some of us got rich by “unfairly” using public resources, is a deadly falsehood that leads into a death spiral of poverty, dependence, and ultimately strife. It also presumes a degree of competence, honesty, and superior morality on the part of bloated government agencies that practical experience does not support in any way.
Ann Romney spoke at length about love, marriage, and children, but her message will prove most dangerous to Democrats when it rests in the ears of single women. That’s one of the demographics political strategists say Republicans have the most trouble reaching. That’s because single women have proven particularly vulnerable to the empty promises and illusions peddled by the Left. They were the target audience for Obama’s bizarre “Life of Julia” web video, which presented an imaginary woman whose entire life was lived in the shadow of government dependency. Nothing of consequence “Julia” did – from childhood through her adult career and the raising of her own son, without a single mention of the hypothetical boy’s father – happened without assistance from a Big Government program… all of which, the reader was assured, heartless Republicans couldn’t wait to cut.
But Republicans aren’t going to cut those programs; reality is. It’s telling that Obama had to invent an imaginary woman to tell his little fable. “Julia” was born in 2012, and every promise of Big Government assistance Obama made beyond her teenage years was an utter lie. On the course he has set, there won’t be money for any of those things. Before Julia enters the workforce, the entire federal budget would be consumed by entitlement spending and debt service. None of those entitlements could possibly survive long enough for Julia to take advantage of them in her old age.
Ann Romney addressed this in one of the most widely-quoted passages from her speech:
“I’m not sure if men really understand this, but I don’t think there’s a woman in America who really expects her life to be easy. In our own ways, we all know better!
“And that’s fine. We don’t want easy. But these last few years have been harder than they needed to be. It’s all the little things – that price at the pump you just can’t believe, the grocery bills that just get bigger; all those things that used to be free, like school sports, are now one more bill to pay. It’s all the little things that pile up to become big things. And the big things – the good jobs, the chance at college, that home you want to buy, just get harder. Everything has become harder.
“We’re too smart to know there aren’t easy answers. But we’re not dumb enough to accept that there aren’t better answers.”
The notion that men and women don’t need each other – that a healthy society and economy can thrive without strong family relationships – is another deadly illusion that must be discarded. Uncle Sam cannot afford to fill the role of either Mother or Father any more, and really, he was never a proper substitute for either. The virtues Ann Romney extolled in her husband – competence, modesty, and a commitment to personal charity that he rarely discusses in public, because he’s not doing it to win applause – are vastly preferable to a flashy boyfriend who makes a lot of big promises, then vanishes in a cloud of overdue credit card bills. Our voluntary union in marriage, friendship, partnership, and corporate endeavor is vastly superior to involuntary dependence and servitude, both morally and practically.
Governor Christie shattered the illusions that our fiscal problems are intractable, and we’re already helplessly mired in sloth and dependency. “We are the great grandchildren of men and women who broke their backs in the name of American ingenuity; the grandchildren of the Greatest Generation; the sons and daughters of immigrants; the brothers and sisters of everyday heroes; the neighbors of entrepreneurs and firefighters, teachers and farmers, veterans and factory workers and everyone in-between who shows up not just on the big days or the good days, but on the bad days and on the hard days,” he reminded the audience.
Christie offered the antidote to Obama’s endless whining that nothing important can be accomplished by the private sector, and many things should not even be attempted. The belief that government must expand – and the private sector must, necessarily, contract – is a vote of no confidence in the American people. In contrast, Christie’s confidence, like Ann Romney’s, burst from every line of his speech. “We believe in telling hard working families the truth about our country’s fiscal realities. Telling them what they already know – the math of federal spending doesn’t add up,” said Christie. “With $5 trillion in debt added over the last four years, we have no other option but to make the hard choices, cut federal spending and fundamentally reduce the size of government. They believe that the American people don’t want to hear the truth about the extent of our fiscal difficulties and need to be coddled by big government. They believe the American people are content to live the lie with them.”
There was no dissolution of love between the speeches given by Mrs. Romney and Governor Christie. You don’t leave someone you love to rot, by telling them lies they want to hear, or making promises you can’t keep. You don’t show love and respect to the next generation by telling them it was necessary to mortgage their futures, in order to pay for today’s indulgences. Christie talked at length about the relationship between respect and love. The most fundamental act of disrespect you can show someone is stripping them of responsibility, and teaching them obedience is superior to initiative. Making irresponsible promises isn’t very respectful, either.
Obama’s notion of “hope” was always unfit for Americans, who are not a nation of passive victims awaiting rescue. Too many of us have forgotten that, but our temporary belief in dangerous illusions has not changed the underlying reality of who we truly are. The idea that we cannot solve the problems four years of Obama have left us, or the problems he constantly complains about inheriting, is a lie. The command that we shouldn’t even try must be refused.