“If it is to be, it is up to me.” Those ten two-letter words express one of the most powerful ideas you’ll ever hear, the black pastor said. They got him through time and again when his life was on the line in the civil rights struggles of the 1950s, he recalled.
As the old man told his story to a college audience that day in the ‘80s, lives were changed. I know mine was. His Christian faith was deep, but this declaration of self-determination wasn’t religious. It exemplified an ethic of personal responsibility that anyone can freely choose. What a keynote for 2009.
The new year finds our country in a tough recession and on tricky ground politically. Democrats’ control of the executive and legislative branches carries the danger of overreach and the risk of people relying too much on government. Republicans’ exclusion from power may tempt them to sulking and sour grapes. Expecting more from ourselves individually is the right resolution for all of us this January.
Few of us could name the president of India or the junior senator from Vermont. We don’t know because we don’t care. How much more does it really matter – be honest – that Obama will be US president the next four years, or that New York's next junior senator will be around for at least the next two? Politics is important, but it’s not the end-all. Thinking it is can paralyze us.
Is there fascination in short-term stories like the scramble to replace Sen. Hillary Clinton, Congress convening, and Barack Obama’s inauguration? Sure. But for perspective, we should also focus on longer-term goals. I’d urge fellow conservatives – and open-minded liberals – to set four goals for the coming four years, none of them dependent on electoral majorities.
By 2013, we can be an America that thinks differently about defense, learning, dignity, and decency. This would so alter the political playing field that both parties must change accordingly. New thinking could reveal new possibilities and raise up new leaders. Here’s a sketch.
One: A Churchillian defense alarm is needed. Neighbor to neighbor, the word must go out that radical Islam is no less a threat to our survival than Nazism and Soviet communism were. Patriot voices must warn of the aggressive aims of Russia and China. The choice is awakening or servitude.