There is a tug-of-war going on in America today. Two different sides are pulling on the rope. The side that wins will determine what sort of country our children grow up in, and whether we continue to be the greatest country the world has ever seen.
Tugging on one side are those of us who believe that what made America great is what makes us great today: freedom and all the things that come with it—individualism, self-reliance, limited government, and personal responsibility. These are the sort of values I’m raising my children with. Pulling on the other end are those who see Americans as sheep, lost and helpless souls unable to find their way around our complex world without the enlightened guidance of what David Brooks of the New York Times calls “the educated class.” How can Americans get along without a much wiser elite to guide us? Our future, they say, lies in becoming more like Western Europe, with the government playing a larger role in our lives. We sheep, they tell us, can’t get along without sheepherders.
Now the debate is not exactly presented in that way. President Obama and those on the other side of the discussion don’t call us “sheep” or admit they want to take America the way of Europe. Instead, they beguile us with promises of safety. They promise government-run healthcare, automatic wage increases, environmental regulations, and expanded social welfare programs. They overflow with guilt about our unmet collective responsibilities and economic inequality, and promise to “spread the wealth around.” They cloak their arguments in compassion: If you care about the elderly, poor, disabled, disadvantaged, single moms, unemployed, middle-class, homeless, children, fill-in-the-blank—then you will of course support their agenda.
What our government can guarantee is our freedom, the liberty that is the miracle of America. That freedom, if we preserve it, is what guarantees both our prosperity and our safety. As many have noted, that liberty has allowed roughly 4 percent of the world’s people to create approximately 20 percent of the world’s wealth and prosperity. That liberty has allowed millions of Americans to create strong families, prosperous communities, and a powerful and generous country. It has allowed generations of Americans to roll up their sleeves and achieve their dreams. It has allowed us to build the miracle of America, the strongest, safest, and most successful country man has ever known.
My parents reminded me about this almost every day when I was growing up. They knew what living in a less free society was like. They knew what it was like to grow up in a society where the circumstances of one’s birth could easily outweigh the substance of one’s efforts and accomplishments in determining one’s fate. Today we need to hold on tight to that rope and pull. We might get tired, we might get rope burns, but we need to fight for freedom and protect it. The U.S. Constitution is a brilliant document—but it works only so long as we, the American people, want to be free. Freedom is rare in human history. We can’t assume it will come up with every sunrise. It won’t last, unless it lives within each of us and we each stand up to keep America strong.
The single greatest threat to our freedoms isn’t external. Islamic terrorists can’t rob us of our liberty. America is too big and powerful for them. No, the biggest threat to our freedom comes from within our borders, not beyond them. It comes when we are tempted to bargain away, little by little, the liberties other Americans have fought and died to place in our hands.
American culture is changing. There used to be a stigma about being dependent on the government. Increasingly we have a culture of entitlement, where individuals feel they are owed and forget that government does not create the benefits it bestows. Government simply takes from us with one hand and gives with another, wasting a portion in the process.
All too often the sales pitch for bargaining away our freedoms for security comes from intellectuals and people in the elite who have an ill-disguised contempt (or little respect) for the American people. They operate with a basic premise: Americans are just not smart enough to govern themselves. This has been the cry of those who lust for power throughout history. Both fascism and communism were developed and created by intellectuals who believed people were too dumb to take care of themselves.
I believe America should remain the greatest country in the world. When I was a kid, that was safe to say and aspire to. Not so today. There are many political leaders in America today who don’t like the sound of that. They cringe at the thought of American exceptionalism and superiority. It strikes them as unsophisticated, unrefined, kind of “cowboyish.” They think our aspirations of leadership are arrogant evidence of a fundamental intolerance of other nations and their cultures. They believe America should be content to settle into our place as just another country in the family of nations. They are ashamed we would seek to be the greatest country in the world.
I am not ashamed. I am proud that America is exceptional. Global leadership is not a responsibility America can discard. It is a responsibility we must cherish. America is the hope of free peoples everywhere. Without American leadership the world around us would be more dangerous and less prosperous. The stronger America is, the safer the world is. We have a moral responsibility to make our country stronger and unashamedly export our ideals of freedom, democracy, and self- determination to all who would fulfill the divinely inspired potential of every living soul on this planet.