Peter Ferrara

At the Heritage Foundation last week, House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan demonstrated why he doesn't need to be running for President to be framing the debate for 2012. He delivered there on October 26 a breathtakingly beautiful speech on Saving the American Idea, which defines the Spirit of 2012.

He began, "The mission of the Heritage Foundation is to promote the principles of free enterprise, limited government, individual freedom, traditional American values, and a strong national defense. These are the principles that define the American idea. And this mission has never been timelier, because these principles are very much under threat from policies here in Washington."

Ryan, a disciple of and former staffer for the late Jack Kemp, then explained, "What makes America exceptional -- what gives life to the American Idea -- is our dedication to the self- evident truth that we are all created equal, giving us equal rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. And that means opportunity."

Since the early 1700s, America has been the land of opportunity, offering world leading prosperity, stemming from world leading freedom. And millions and millions of the dispossessed, the homeless tempest tossed, and their progeny now totaling hundreds of millions altogether, have voted for that American Dream with their feet, crossing oceans, deserts, rivers, and mountain ranges to get here. As I discuss in my recent book, America's Ticking Bankruptcy Bomb:

Which leaves the question, why did they come? And why do they still come?.... Well, it's not for the Food Stamps, or the public housing, or even Social Security and Medicare. America's world leading prosperity dates all the way back to the early 18th century. The roots of that prosperity can be seen in the Declaration of Independence, which recognizes the God-given right of each man and woman to the pursuit of happiness. [T]hat is why they came. They came because America has always been the land of freedom and prosperity and opportunity. They came because of the American Dream, that in this nation every man and woman enjoys the freedom and opportunity to rise to achieve their dreams, regardless of family background, class, race, or religion.

Ryan frames the question now facing us in 2012: "Have those periods of unprecedented prosperity in America's past been the product of our Founding principles? Or, as some would argue, have we made it this far only in spite of our outdated values? Are we still an exceptional nation? Should we even seek to be unique? Or should we become more like the rest of the world -- more bureaucratic, less hopeful, and less free?"

Peter Ferrara

Peter Ferrara is a senior fellow at the National Center for Policy Analysis and a Senior Fellow at the Heartland Institute.