| February 6, 2013

Why We Fight

With the cold winds of November came the re-election of Barack Obama, perhaps the most liberal-progressive leader in American history. America now must ride the same three horses—President Obama, Senate President Harry Reid, and House Speaker John Boehner—that led us to our current spot standing on the treacherous edge of a fiscal cliff. Many of us in the conservative movement wonder how we got here.

In the long-forgotten 1951 book The True Believer: Thoughts on the Nature of Mass Movements, Eric Hoffer provides a little light on our current plight. Hoffer wrote the book after World War II and the devastation wrought in that terrible fight between freedom and fascism. Regarding the rise of mass movements, Hoffer observed the following:

Those who would transform a nation or the world cannot do so by breeding and captaining discontent or by demonstrating the reasonableness and desirability of the intended changes or by coercing people into a new way of life. They must know how to kindle and fan an extravagant hope.

Hope: the fire that can transform a nation.

Hoffer warned us against those men who would use hope to get the change they wanted. He cautioned:

When hopes and dreams are loose in the streets, it is well for the timid to lock doors, shutter windows and lie low until the wrath has passed. For there is often a monstrous incongruity between the hopes, however noble and tender, and the action which follows them. It is as if ivied maidens and garlanded youths were to herald the four horsemen of the apocalypse.

After the promises of hope comes action. Trillions spent by the government on massive new government programs. The rise of unelected and unaccountable czars with new powers over us. The takeover of whole sectors of the economy without much thought given to the unintended and long-term consequences of those takeovers. The unfettered growth of dependency upon government fed by the demonization of the successful.

Our sin is not one of omission—we didn’t hide behind locked doors. We fought back. Our sin is that we fought back by throwing rocks at their vision without ever giving Americans our compelling vision of what we could become. Where was John Winthrop’s shining “City upon a Hill” or Ronald Reagan’s “banner of no pale pastels, but bold colors”?

As Hoffer noted: “In all ages men have fought most desperately for beautiful cities yet to be built and gardens yet to be planted.” Americans want a vision of a better tomorrow that they can see as if it were just around the corner. We gave them wonky white papers, dry data, and vapid clichés about the free market.

We must speak to the hearts and hopes of Americans. To do so, we must drastically improve how we tell stories about real people that show what our vision of America looks like. PowerPoint slide decks put people to sleep. Stories inspire and move people to act.

With the growing fiscal problems in Washington, D.C., we are rapidly approaching that point along Alexander Tytler’s cycle of democracy from which no country in the history of the world has been able to turn back. As I noted in the afterword of my first book, Homeland Security and Federalism: Protecting America from Outside the Beltway, Tytler observed:

A democracy is always temporary in nature; it simply cannot exist as a permanent form of government. A democracy will continue to exist up until the time that voters discover that they can vote themselves generous gifts from the public treasury. From that moment on, the majority always votes for the candidates who promise the most benefits from the public treasury, with the result that every democracy will finally collapse due to loose fiscal policy, which is always followed by a dictatorship.

The average age of the world’s greatest civilizations from the beginning of history has been about 200 years. During those 200 years, these nations always progressed through the following sequence: from bondage to spiritual faith; from spiritual faith to great courage; from courage to liberty; from liberty to abundance; from abundance to complacency; from complacency to apathy; from apathy to dependence; from dependence back into bondage.

Either we enter America’s long decline to being a country lost among countries, or we pull back from the edge and reinvigorate the idea of America as an exceptional nation among nations.

The path to a better Oklahoma and a better America does not begin in Washington, D.C.—it ends there. We must renew America from the grassroots by re-embracing the power of federalism to find the best solutions to America’s toughest challenges. By leveraging our 50 laboratories of competition, we will fix our states and, by doing so, fix America.

It is time to get over the regrets of the last election and get to work advancing freedom by giving Americans a vision of a beautiful city where our children and grandchildren are free to choose how to live their lives, with a government that truly is limited and is “of the people, by the people, for the people.” A vision where prosperity and peace of mind come from a hard day’s work, appealing to those unique human traits that drove our ancestors to set sail across a vast ocean of uncertainty; forge a new country by blood, sweat, and tears; explore the limits of space on sheer ingenuity and courage; and never stop striving to form that “more perfect union.”

Why do we fight? Because we must.

OCPA research fellow Matt Mayer (J.D., The Ohio State University) is a former senior official at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

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