State of the Union: an alternative view
When I think about the State of the Union, I don’t view it as a commercial for selling a policy agenda, or a launch pad to set up rhetoric for coming political battles. I just think about the state of the union I see before me.
That union is strong, but not as strong as it could be. The strength of the people has been diluted by efforts to divide and control them. Disagreement doesn’t have to weaken a union. On the contrary, it is a vital component of liberty. A free nation is one in which people may strongly, and yet peacefully, disagree about a great many things. In the efforts of each citizen to prove himself right, and seek out those of like mind to develop opportunities and overcome challenges, we find a boundless treasure of creativity and innovation.
We are often told that free people should not be slaves to the past. This is advanced as an argument against fealty to old traditions. But isn’t it also an argument against massive government programs that supposedly can’t ever be rolled back or terminated? We live today beneath the scuffed boots of many failed “solutions” from decades gone by. The Constitution is said to be a “living document” by people who have buried us beneath trillions of dollars in dead weight.
I see a union inevitably divided by the infusion of coercive power, which is the most divisive force known to man. Even the harshest rhetoric does not produce as much strife as the offer that cannot be refused, the “investment” we are compelled to make, the government stamp of “deserving” placed on some, or “greedy” stamped upon others. The opponents of righteous government power must be demonized as profane, in order for the political class to maintain its power. Within the boundaries of a shriveled private sector, we become enemies rather than competitors, fighting for the favor of the State instead of building, failing, and building again. The judgments we render through the marketplace are overruled by subsidies and bailouts. Purchase and persuasion are replaced by the demands of political coalitions. Of course it’s ugly… especially since the “losers” are told they should stay beaten forever.
A great union requires fellowship, not unity. Unity of purpose among free people is rare, and best reserved for a few crucial areas. The demand for artificially high levels of unity instead threatens to shatter our fellowship. We are left with few methods of escaping the central State’s demands, and no practical means to express dissent. We can only nurse our grudges and hope good candidates come along to champion our interests in a few years. This institutionalizes bitterness and resentment.
Our union faces great threats, and struggles through difficult times, but of course it retains the human and natural resources it needs to overcome these challenges. The solutions are scattered far and wide across the nation, hidden within the ideas and ambitions of countless ordinary people. Why should we rely on a few thousand pairs of eyes in Washington to discover those solutions, when we could have a hundred million people looking instead? When did we ever convince ourselves to be satisfied with the feeble output of central planners? When did we start believing we deserve nothing better, because we cannot be trusted with the freedom to reach for more?
President Obama’s State of the Union is filled with little applause lines that he means to feed his favored constituencies. They also serve to set up the straw men he would stand against as a crusading hero. But they have the side effect of condemning the benighted nation he wants to save from itself. For example: “It is our unfinished task to restore the basic bargain that built this country – the idea that if you work hard and meet your responsibilities, you can get ahead, no matter where you come from, what you look like, or who you love.”
I look upon my union, and I do not see a nation of predators, racists, sexists, bigots, xenophobes, and gun thugs. No wonder Obama can’t deliver anything better for a nation he presumes guilty of so many offenses. I remember the “basic bargain that built this country” very well. It involved a vow to defend the inalienable rights of its citizens, not decide which must be sacrificed so the government can enact some “noble” agenda. It was a bargain made between a limited State, an unlimited people, and a boundless future. It did not empower the State to decide what we should be, or tell us what we are allowed to be. It did not hold the people collectively guilty, leaving the State to dispense innocence as it pleases. That bargain left the American people with a sacred ability to say “no” – to each other, and to the government. It gave them a precious citizenship that included heavy responsibilities, not just expensive benefits. It was a very simple bargain… leaving us to make all the complex bargains between one another.
The state of that union remains awesomely strong, if we can but find it again.