As the GOP struggles with questions of how to adapt its message to appeal to young people, women, and new immigrants, and Republican consultants wrestle with how far to compromise in order to reach out to the political middle, no one seems willing to ask the harder questions.
What does it mean that freedom has become a hard sell in the land of the free? And how much longer can self-government last in America if liberty has to be sugar-coated in order to get the electorate to swallow it?
The founders warned us that self-government would be hard to keep, that our liberty would last until people found that they could vote themselves benefits from the treasury. They cautioned future generations that our constitutional republic was fit for a moral and religious people, and that it would be wholly inadequate for the government of people who abandoned those moral foundations. These are common remembrances at Patriot gatherings these days.
But today’s Blue State America is a different country. Liberals belittle our founders as dead white men of European descent whose quaint ideas have come and gone. Moral relativism reigns over the Judeo-Christian worldview wherever leftists are in power. Leftists have for years argued that the Constitution is a living document in order to further their agenda; now they are emboldened enough to openly question its continuing relevance.
Meanwhile Red State America still defends our Judeo-Christian heritage as the moral foundation of our liberty. The Patriot movement struggles to warn the rest of the country that we cannot tax, spend, and borrow our way out of an economic crisis born of excessive taxing, spending, and borrowing.
[sharequote align="center"]What does it mean that freedom has become a hard sell in the land of the free?[/sharequote]
Red State America questions the constitutionality of Obamacare and Blue State America demands free contraceptives. Red State America sees excessive government as the source of our social and economic problems. Blue State America sees government as a vending machine and complains that Red State America isn’t doing enough to keep the machine stocked.
Civil political discourse cannot resolve those differences, because civil discourse assumes appeal to shared standards, and the common standards no longer exist. There are two Americas, and the only thing they have in common is that Red State America wants to keep more of what it has earned, and Blue State America also wants to keep more of what Red State America has earned.
An extreme hypothetical case will illustrate the depths of the divide and the impossibility of civil debate. Imagine that Obama, Reid, and Pelosi promoted a new Maternal Visitation Act that would impose an individual mandate that each American should visit his or her mother on Mother’s Day. How would the debate about the proposed act proceed in today’s divided America?
The Democrats would begin with a rhetorical campaign arguing that mothers have a positive right to be visited by their children on Mother’s Day. A few Republicans – Ted Cruz and Rand Paul come to mind – would argue that there is no such right in the Constitution and that such visitations are a matter of individual choice. These Republicans would quickly be accused by Democrats of being opposed to people visiting their mothers on Mother’s Day, and the left would probably go so far as to accuse opponents of waging a War on Mothers.
The liberal media would pick up the Democrats’ theme; polls would follow indicating that the GOP risked losing mothers across the country. Then other Republicans – John McCain and Chris Christie come to mind – would suggest that compromise is the only viable option. The GOP would then work to fix the practical problems with the new bill, such has exemptions for people whose mothers had died. The Democrats would demand a federal fund for people who cannot afford to travel on Mother’s Day; the Republicans would suggest tax breaks as an alternative. The ruling class would “work together to get things done.”
When the bill created chaos on the next Mother’s Day, Obama would blame the Republicans for questioning the bill in the first place, and GOP consultants would recommend earlier surrender in the future in order to keep the GOP viable at the polls.
Though the example may seem absurd on the surface, the underlying pattern is all too real. America has lost the ability to debate proposals based on the constitutionality of the proposal. The only relevant question for Blue State America is whether an idea seems good on the surface, not whether the government should have a role in it.
Rhetorical flourish and practical considerations trump the deeper appreciation for the necessity to limit the role of government. But the ability to discern the difference between those things that are desirable and those things that are within the legitimate limits of government is a pre-requisite for self-government. In the absence of a shared understanding of those limits, power accrues to those who are best at pandering.
And as the internal differences push America further apart, increasing the power at the top will be the only way to force it together. It is sobering to imagine the rough beast that is slouching toward the Beltway after Obama.
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