Fascinating. President Obama mentioned our Constitution in the first paragraph of his inaugural address, but in the same paragraph quoted from the Declaration of Independence, noting that we "articulated in a declaration" the following words: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness."
Fascinating because he mentioned a document he did not quote from (Constitution), quoted from another he did not name and then focused his speech on equality, progressiveness, togetherness and collectivism rather than life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
He co-opted what worked for him and sprang off from there.
Conservatives, we have a lot to learn.
In pushing for collective action, he called on individual freedom: "But we have always understood that, when times change, so must we ... that preserving our individual freedoms ultimately requires collective action."
He wrapped a non-sequitur between two self-evident truths. "Being true to our founding documents does not require us to agree on every contour of life. It does not mean we all define liberty in exactly the same way or follow the same precise path to happiness. Progress does not compel us to settle centuries-long debates about the role of government for all time, but it does require us to act in our time."
It raises the question: If we define liberty differently for different people, how will we know if it's been taken away?
While Obama pushed his vision of America -- progressivism, togetherness and collective work -- we know from history that collective action often leads to stagnation, misappropriation of resources, a lack of imagination and no progress at all (Soviet Union).
Much of our progress in America has been made through innovation and imagination, from the ground up, from garages (Steve Jobs) and art studios (Walt Disney). No one in Washington could have created Mickey Mouse or the Apple computer. Yet together these companies are worth more than half a trillion dollars.
"Far from being under institutionalized," wrote New York Times Columnist David Brooks this week in his op-ed, "The Collective Turn," "we are bogged down with a bloated political system, a tangled tax code, a Byzantine legal code and a crushing debt."
He is right.
"One party that talks the language of government and one that talks the language of the market," Brooks continued, "no party that understands the ways government and the market can both crush and nurture community, no party with new ideas about how these things might blend together."
What we need is a juncture of market innovation and social awareness.
Republicans need to not only care about people; they need to show that they care. They need to do the right thing because it's right, not because of politics.
This past week, at a breakfast at the Arthur M. Blank Family Foundation, I heard Muhammad Yunus talk about social business, which he defines in his book, "Building Social Businesses" (Public Affairs, New York 2010), as a business dedicated to solving social, economic, environmental problems."
Yunus outlines seven characteristics of social businesses, including "attaining financial and economic sustainability" (self-supporting), where investors get back only their original investment, with profits used to expand and improve the business.
Social businesses are not a replacement for profit-making enterprises -- but an additional category that enables people to use business methods to reach social goals, allowing creativity and innovation at the grass-roots individual level rather than waiting for government to solve problems.
"Talking about the social business Grameen Bank that operates in Bangladesh, the goal Yunus mentioned was to create "job givers" not "job seekers."
Social businesses allow creative people, he wrote in his book, to "unlock the hidden potential that almost everyone has been given by God."
While liberals can cheer for the idea of zero profit and solving society's ills, conservatives can cheer for self-sustaining ventures that create jobs and unlock individualism without using tax dollars.
Republicans need to move rapidly and offer an alternative to Obama's big-government progressivism. All too often, we get tied up in theoretical ropes that hold us down, while the left moves rapidly and co-opts ideas to fit their agenda.
Now's the time for Republicans to embrace the ideas that we can and put into action bottom-up solutions that do not involve big government, but allow people to pursue happiness in their own manner. Is it a perfect idea? No -- but perfection is on hold until heaven, and we can't afford to wait that long.
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