Kathryn Lopez

When I met with Cardinal Joseph Zen, the Shanghai-born bishop emeritus of Hong Kong, in Washington, D.C. earlier this year, his message was simply: "Help." He highlighted some of the rhetoric coming from China, much of it sounding straight off a page of Orwell: "Religious freedom" is really remaking a church into a government institution. If the Chinese government is not arresting Christians, they are consecrating Catholic bishops, but only bishops who toe the line. "Obedience" is the mandated word -- not to Rome but to Beijing. It has pernicious implications for what can be preached and taught and said.

McCotter, a Catholic, is helping, however humbly. And his campaign is about more than China. As McCotter put it at the straw poll: "You are the masters of your fate, and you are the custodians of the legacy of liberty that we have been bequeathed throughout the generations. And now, in a difficult time, you are asked to transcend the challenges that we face."

How we respond has implications the world over.

On the streets of Tiananmen Square in 1989 there was a student protester named Chai Ling, who would be subsequently nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. She's married and lives in Massachusetts now, and runs a group called All Girls Allowed, seeking to stop the one-child policy and help support families in China where the gender imbalance is greatest.

In the future, will we still be the country that dissidents like Chai Ling look to, as a model and for inspiration, support and sanctuary -- where the huddled masses come, yearning to be free?

Well, I satisfactorily figured out why McCotter is running for president. And I thought you might want to know, too: because individuals matter. And societies that recognize this fact can make all the difference.

Kathryn Lopez

Kathryn Jean Lopez, editor of National Review Online, writes a weekly column of conservative political and social commentary for Newspaper Enterprise Association.