Are we fit to be free? That’s the big question for Americans to decide in election year 2010. Above the chatter of daily headlines, beyond the jockeying of parties, two opposing visions of human nature vie for expression in the political choices we will make.
One vision sees mankind as endowed with liberty and equality by our Creator, individually capable of self-determination in most areas of our lives, and inherently (if imperfectly) responsible in choosing for ourselves and taking the consequences.
The other vision denies that human nature is trustworthy or even fixed. It regards the person as socially constructed, not divinely created – evolving under an irresistible progressive force called History. It relies on the more-evolved elite to direct the less-enlightened masses, for our own good, toward a utopian destiny unseen by most.
This is no mere philosophy seminar. It plays out fatefully on issues that will affect our lives for decades to come. In every race in every state this year, we’re offered very different policy solutions by candidates on the conservative side, who believe we ARE fit to be free, in contrast to those on the liberal side who doubt we are. (They never admit this, of course, but their actions scream it.)
Take my state of Colorado for example. In Michael Bennet or Andrew Romanoff, the Democratic contenders, Coloradans would have a senator committed to Obamacare with its patronizing assumption that government should make our health decisions and pay our health costs. Whereas either of the Republicans, Ken Buck or Jane Norton, would vote in the Senate for freedom and responsibility in health care.
If Denver's Democratic mayor, John Hickenlooper, wins his bid for governor, the New Energy Economy – code for the notion that politicians know better about how to keep the lights on and the wheels turning than all of us choosing freely in the marketplace – would continue its coercive makeover of our lifestyles and its gradual brownout of our living standards. Whereas with Dan Maes or Scott McInnis, the GOP gubernatorial hopefuls, we’d have a recognition that energy and liberty are inseparable, and that both should be abundant and unfettered. Take your pick.
“Do you believe we are fit to be free?” Far from an idle speculation, this is the money question we should be asking candidates all summer. Anybody who wants your vote should earn it with a straight answer on the freedom question, and no “buts.” Go to townhalls – for those officeholders brave enough to hold them – and ask the question there, insisting on specifics. Make’em squirm.
This question explains the maddening disconnect over issues like secure borders or calling jihad by its right name. Liberals who coddle Islamists and demonize Arizona, in defiance of massive polling to the contrary, are saying the rest of us don’t know up from down; we’re unfit. This also illuminates some of the current squabbles in my state (your state has similar ones) such as the alleged impropriety of voting judges off the bench -- which Colorado's constitution provides for -- or the supposed overuse of ballot initiatives. Free citizens are again treated as children and told not to speak till spoken to.
It’s true that freedom is costly, and responsibility is its price. Great thinkers from Tocqueville with his warning about soft despotism, to Dostoevsky with his fable of the Grand Inquisitor, to Lincoln with his 1838 Lyceum speech, have warned of our temptation to throw freedom away. But that’s different from pronouncing us unfit for autonomy at all, indeed better off in perpetual childhood.
For me, one word sums up all of the opportunity and obligation that comes with our fitness to be free. That word is “backbone,” a longtime theme for Coloradans on the right It was amusing to see Andrew Romanoff, the lefty running for Senate here, recently touting HIS campaign's backbone. He and other liberals tend to view us as dependent invertebrates, not self-governors with spine. It seems politicos across the spectrum can’t resist such whoppers. They forget how hard a free man is to fool.