Faces of freedom

September 20, 2012

I often tell people that I am passionate about OCPA’s mission because it reflects the values on which I was raised. As a farm boy from southwest Oklahoma, I spent summer on the combine, fall on the tractor, and winter on the cotton picker, and I learned important lessons about what it takes to succeed in agriculture. Incidentally, it is the same thing it takes to succeed in any industry: hard work. Through those experiences, I learned the values that make us uniquely Oklahoman and what makes Oklahoma uniquely conservative.

The stories that weave our state’s history are filled with examples of people with a pioneer spirit. Our state’s founders were tough men and women who built a life for themselves because they had vision and because they preferred success to the alternative: starvation. These were men and women with dreams who were willing to risk it all to make a life for themselves. Their stories have been repeated over and over on wheat farms, in the oil patch, and on main streets all across our state. The entrepreneurial spirit – the frontier spirit – that founded our state produces a feeling amongst most of us that we would much rather be allowed to determine our own destiny than rely on the government to solve our problems. We are convinced that with the blessings of God and the sweat of our brows, we can provide a better life for our children, and they can do the same for theirs. Government certainly has its place today, just as it did in their time (public safety, infrastructure, and the like), but it is individual initiative that drives progress.

Simply put, this is why I am a conservative. This is why I believe in the free market. Because I have seen it work time and again, and because my upbringing reinforced these principles daily. I don’t profess these values or advance the cause of liberty because it is politically beneficial or because it makes me relevant in some way. I do it because failing to do so would be turning my back on my father and the lessons he taught me, the same lessons that have been passed down for generations in our family.

The people pictured above are members of the Bush family. The gentleman in the back row on the right wearing the hat is John James Bush, my grandfather’s father. His wife, Mary Ellen, is sitting near him holding the baby, and the four children nearest the two of them are my grandfather’s older siblings. My grandfather was not yet born at the time this picture was taken, but John James and Mary Ellen would eventually have a total of 11 children, and they would raise them on a farm in southwest Oklahoma – land my father still farms today alongside my brother. Land I have spent many hours of my life cultivating and harvesting. The other two men standing in the back row of the picture are John James’ brothers Joe (on the left) and Lafayette (in the middle). Joe’s wife and children are nearest him. Their mother (my grandfather’s grandmother) is the woman sitting in the middle with the dark shirt and white skirt, and she was first cousin to Francis Scott Key. Maybe that is where I get my patriotic streak.

I must say that I do not know the political persuasion of John James, Fayette, Joe, or even their mother. Frankly, it doesn’t matter. My guess is they were simply members of the Survivor Party. But what I do know is that they dreamed of being free to pursue happiness, they came to Oklahoma to stake their claim and realize those dreams, and they raised a family who never forgot the sacrifices and successes that came along with those dreams.

My guess is that our story sounds a lot like yours. Whether your family’s heritage is agriculture, energy, healthcare, banking, or otherwise, you understand the values of which I speak. You know that rather than rely on government programs, entrepreneurs (Oklahomans) innovate and communities (Oklahomans) take care of each other because it is what’s right and not because of the political party they may choose to join.

It gives me great pride to see Governor Fallin, Lt. Governor Lamb, and other state leaders travelling the country (and even the world) touting the strength of Oklahoma's economy, the resourcefulness of our leaders, and the work ethic of our people. But I am even more proud of my father and my brother who are the reason our state leaders can share those messages because they still work the land entrusted to us by our ancestors.

My father taught me why freedom matters, and those lessons have shaped who I am today. He has done it not with political theory textbooks but with how he lives his life and how he chases his dreams. I thank God every day that I am an Oklahoman and that I was eventually born into the family you see pictured above. I can think of no greater honor than to tell their story, and I can think of no simpler way to explain why I believe in limited government, free enterprise, and individual initiative.