Americans have always cherished the private sphere, the place of small and simple acts and milestones (weddings, birthdays, and anniversaries, for example) that mark our lives, nurture our spirits, and create ties that make us want the best for our fellow human beings. Out of this ordinary humanity grew the countless civic and charitable associations that de Tocqueville lauded as being important for a free society.
Right now there is a tug of war between the old American notion of lives as usual and the newer, governmental ideal of lives of struggle and sacrifice on behalf of state or faction. One sees the newer attitude in the administration’s attempt to force Catholic employers to violate their consciences, in the belief that bureaucrats can make our most intimate medical decisions, and in a president’s asking for your wedding presents. It might just be worth noting here that Julia, the fictional character in the Obama’s “Life of Julia,” an Obama campaign ad, seems to have no human ties and no sense of self-sufficiency. She seems to live in world without family or friends, only the government. No wedding presents, as far as I can tell, for Julia.
Much of this election is about whether the Obama view of an all-encompassing state or what might be called the de Tocqueville usual lives view prevails. Early citizens of the U.S. had very little contact with the federal government. We go to the polls in November to decide how much of our lives we want to keep for ourselves.
On the subject of wedding presents, I just watched a friend’s daughter opening some: it was a joyful and important moment, and I couldn’t but reflect that forty years hence the bride will be telling somebody, grand children most likely, who sent what and why this object in particular means so much and is a tie to a past and people loved in that past.
So, brides, take the gravy bowl. Whether it’s from Target or Tiffany’s, years from now, it will evoke fonder memories than a campaign contribution.