Next week the Horatio Alger Association of Distinguished Americans will celebrate its 65th anniversary. I confess I did not know of its existence until I read their ad in an airline magazine. I am familiar with Horatio Alger, the man, who inspired generations of boys, and later girls, with stories of people overcoming difficult circumstances to succeed, but I was ignorant of the association that carries on his vision.
The association's focus recalls an era that preceded our entitlement, envy and greed generation. One of the goals stated in its "Success Factors Study," is to "...identify and assist scholars who exemplify resilience in the face of adversity -- a hallmark characteristic of Association members, themselves leaders who have journeyed from humble beginnings to achieve unprecedented success." Scholarship money goes to young people in need who have demonstrated the character qualities the society embodies and promotes.
The adults who are honored by the association are people who, when young, dug ditches, painted houses and worked at other menial jobs. Some came from what we once called "broken homes," others had alcoholic fathers, or absent mothers. Many escaped poverty. They tell their stories of a teacher who inspired them, or a mentor who encouraged them. The one common denominator in each of their backgrounds is the individual's embrace of this simple formula: inspiration followed by perspiration equals success.
While the Horatio Alger Association is nonpartisan, The Republican Party is missing a great opportunity to resurrect Horatio Alger and return him to the center of American society. Instead of allowing some liberal Democrats to own the issue of "compassion" and promote victimhood and class warfare among their constituents, Republicans should feature people on the campaign trail who tell their stories of achievement, encouraging others not to "settle," or become mired in difficult circumstances.
One of the honorees at last year's Horatio Alger Awards dinner, Fox News CEO Roger Ailes, said: "People who believe they're victims will become victims. People who believe they can win, eventually will win." Ailes grew up in humble surroundings, but refused to allow those surroundings to define him.
Instead of focusing on failure and poverty, why aren't Republicans telling stories of success and prosperity, or at least self-sufficiency and what it takes to improve a life?
Success is not a secret. It is as old as civilization itself. The late radio broadcaster Paul Harvey made a career out of telling stories about people who overcame hardship through perseverance and tenacity and by embracing virtues that have helped those who live by them to experience a better life.
Also appearing at the 2011 Alger dinner was actor Tom Selleck, who said, "There are no magic formulas, no single book, or even educational degrees that can generate the spirit of achievement through perseverance. Nothing creates and inspires resolve more than knowing achievement is possible for someone who came from circumstances like your own. When the hardships of life threaten to sever hope from you, there is no prosthetic for an amputated spirit, no therapy for the atrophy of a dream, no medication for the sickness that breaks the heart and withers the soul. There is the American Dream."
Republicans are known for wanting to reduce the power of government. That is more likely to occur when the power of the individual increases.
"You can do it!" parents cry as they take the training wheels off their kids' bikes and give them that last guiding push down the sidewalk.
Take the "training wheels" of government off those Americans who rely on government far too much. Convince these Americans that they can make something of themselves, if they would only try. These should be the objectives of Americans of every political stripe.
Horatio Alger got it. So can Republicans.
Cal Thomas is co-author (with Bob Beckel) of the book, "Common Ground: How to Stop the Partisan War That is Destroying America".
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