I continue to believe that authentic conservatism is bridge building not polarizing. For centuries the United States has served as the world’s melting pot—a place where differences have been welcomed and often celebrated. A desire to be a part of America was the first and most important step in becoming an American. “E Pluribus Unum” it says on our money: “Out of many, one.” What slogan better embodies the American experience, whether first experienced in your family by your great, great, great grandparents, or by you personally?
The many and varied life experiences of our citizens produce a wide range of opinions on how we ought to conduct ourselves and how we and our government ought to relate to each other. But regardless of how we define our differences, I believe that there is an underlying authentically conservative similarity in most Americans—we cherish our families, we love our country, we are inherently charitable and kind, we value our nation’s holidays and traditions and we are proud of who we are and where we came from.
The truth of this belief is most easily seen in our behavior when tough times befall our great nation. In the aftermath of 9/11, we were able to see beyond our individual differences and address our collective health. When we are tested, we bond together and see ourselves as a one nation.
But good times will, as surely as bad times, test our mettle. I suspect it is human nature, but when times are good our individual behavior is considerably more Libertarian than Conservative. We begin to focus more on ourselves than on our communities. We lose sight of a compelling reason to get involved because we don’t feel threatened. What’s the point of committing time and energy when the status quo is sufficient?
I read Laura Ingraham’s new book, POWER TO THE PEOPLE, last week. I enjoyed it for many reasons, not the least of which was the consistent expression of authentically conservative values. Yet her essential point is that the power’ which rightly rests with the people, must be returned to the people. And herein lies my complaint: the people never lost the power. Nothing needs to be returned. What the people lost was the will to exercise the power.
Decades of relative ease (not withstanding the occasional terrorist attack) have brought out our libertarian behavior and we have become complacent about our participation in our democracy. Not exercising power has left us feeling like we don’t have the power. But we have always had more power than we’ve cared to exercise. In a market driven economy, we have complete control. If we don’t like the way airlines treat us, we shouldn’t fly. If we think athletes are spoiled and make too much money, we should stop going to the games. If we think the language is too raunchy on television, we should write letters and stop watching. If we fear Chinese economic expansion, we should stop shopping at Wal-Mart. The loss of market share and money speaks volumes and these actions will bring about change.
But, we are addicts to our entertainment and ease. We are complacent and take our freedoms for granted. We feel powerless and we are focused primarily on what we want rather than on what is best for society. That’s not a finger pointed at you; it’s a finger pointed at us, me included.
I spoke with Ms. Ingraham recently about her book and in answer to this comment she said, that many people are down on America but that she doesn’t believe we are too selfish to begin exercising power. While I respect her opinion, I disagree. It’s not an issue of being “down on America,” but rather a matter of realistically assessing where we are as a nation, what’s important to us and what we are genuinely interested enough in to invest our time and money.
The American Family is stretched financially and has too few hours in the day. There is little time left to participate in democracy the way Ms. Ingraham advocates. I, too, wish we would—wish I would. But we are focused on our families, our jobs, our hobbies. At the end of the day, when the kids have been bathed and put to bed, when the email is checked and the bills paid, we choose to escape with an hour of Sports Center, The Deadliest Catch, American Idol, a book or a magazine. We’re not inclined to re-motivate and head out to the community meeting at the Library.
The people already have the power. Returning it to us isn’t the trick. The trick is to convince us that the costs involved in exercising that power are investments that will pay dividends to our kids and our communities and which are worthwhile expenditures of our time.
The good news is that when the chips are down, never bet against America. We will always do the right thing when we are truly called upon. For this reason, I will be forever hopeful about America’s future.
After reading her book I vowed that I would go to the homeowner’s association meeting last night. But I spent the day with my family planning a Halloween party and grocery shopping at Wal Mart. When the meeting started, I was on the sofa watching the season premiere of Grey’s Anatomy. I’ll go to the next meeting.