What happens when a free people decides it was never free to begin with? What happens when a nation decides that individual liberty is a myth, that the endless vicissitudes of life form an impenetrable wall to success, that we are all controlled by outside forces?
We despair. We turn to the power of the masses.
This is where almost half of America currently stands. It came out this week that Mitt Romney made this claim back in May, and he was exactly right. That doesn't mean that every American who doesn't pay federal income tax -- veterans, recipients of Social Security -- has given up the American dream. But it does mean that the vast majority of Americans who, on net, receive government benefits and beg government for more, have given up on that dream.
Traditionally, Americans have thought of themselves as John Wayne types -- hardy Westerners forging out with their families, exploring the great unknown, bending nature to their will. Lone guns. Individuals. We have scorned the communalism of other nations, scoffed at the forced homogeneity of fascism and socialism. We have always relied on our neighbors and ourselves.
But now, almost half of us are convinced that we have the lost the ability to forge out on our own. Perhaps it's because we no longer believe that there are worlds left to conquer -- perhaps when we filled out the land from sea to sea, when we penetrated space only to find her cold and uninviting, we lost our will to explore. Where before, we saw individual success as benefitting the community -- pioneers made the land safe for future settlers -- now we see individual success as taking away from the community. We used to see the world as an ever-expanding pie; now that pie is shrinking. We used to dream of a place beyond the horizon of our vision; now we know that that place already belongs to someone else.
And so we feel helpless. We feel that our success diminishes others, and that their success diminishes us.
So what are we to do? We're supposed to leave our individuality behind, and instead join together. As President Obama says, we're "stronger together." As Obama said in his nomination acceptance speech, "America is not about what can be done for us. It's about what can be done by us, together."
But for us to come together, we need a leader. A great, big, powerful leader, who will help unify us. Somebody who, by his very presence, can demand our attention and symbolize our common goals.
Now, if this whole scenario sounds scary -- if it sounds scary to jettison the individualism of American values in favor of a helpless collectivism in search of a Great Leader -- it should. It's fundamentally at war with what the founders sought to establish: a nation of individual responsibility, personal responsibility. A nation of non-victims. And while President Obama cynically claims that his supporters aren't victims, his entire campaign has been based on turning them into victims -- victims of Wall Street, of luck, of chance, of fate. Were they not victims, they would not need an all-powerful government to rectify their victimhood.
So we must decide. Are we a nation of victims? Or are we a nation of free men and women, striving against all odds to succeed thanks to our initiative? Are we only powerful when made part of that great collective, or are we more powerful when we pursue our individual aspirations with the gusto of the dreamers?
This election isn't about hope and change. It's about hope versus change. More specifically, it's about individual hope versus collectivist change. And the outcome is very much in doubt.