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Stilts or Ladders?

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of
Editor's Note: This column was coauthored by Bob Morrison.

Ben is a young friend of ours who was an intern in our Washington office. This summer, Ben is working on yard crews and in restaurants prior to going into the military. This recent college grad is getting quite an education working with the working poor.

Ben challenges us: What can you say to young men and women who are working at minimum wage, who are not concerned about social issues like abortion and marriage, who are unchurched and uninterested in the threats we see to religious liberty? These young Americans are just trying to keep their heads above water. There are millions of younger people in America who are working at such entry level jobs. They don’t have health care coverage.

These young workers are not dumb and they should not be patronized. They know that things are not working out for them. They fear a dead-end on the road they’re traveling.

When President Obama offers health care coverage, when he touts community college and training opportunities, when he speaks of raising the minimum wage and expanding college student loans, this has to sound good to Ben’s co-workers.

What should I say to them, Ben asks? It’s a very good question. How about offering your co-workers a choice between stilts and ladders? Most construction workers are familiar with stilts. They’re used on a lot job sites. You strap them on and they can help a worker reach places previously inaccessible. They are useful tools—for the problems of here and now.

Mr. Obama’s program is offering stilts. We need to be honest with young workers. They will have access to things they could not reach before. They may see an increase in their immediate take-home pay. They will gain something from his administration.

But stilts will only get you so far and no further. Stilts are forever limited and so will your future be limited.

What young workers need instead of stilts is ladders. Ladders can provide upward mobility. They can enable you to reach heights previously unattainable.

You may be on the lowest rung of the ladder now. But you can with effort and persistence rise. You may not reach the highest rung on that ladder. Very few of us will attain the heights of college dropouts like Bill Gates and Steve Jobs. But you can rise. With ladders of opportunity, you can improve your lot.

If you doubt this, just check out the Cuban-Americans, the Vietnamese- Americans and a host of other immigrants who came to these shores with barely the clothes on their backs, but who have worked their way up.

Abraham Lincoln was proud of having been a manual laborer. He was a rail splitter, a barge man, a farm hand. That’s what gave him his great physical strength. But he also understood the right to rise. That’s what he was all about. One of the reasons he so staunchly opposed slavery is because it taught the masters—and many others in society—to despise honest work, to regard it as fit only for slaves.

Barack Obama’s socialist outlook respects work, too. But it sees everyone fixed in his or her class. It promises to “spread the wealth around,” instead of understanding how wealth is created in the first place.

Winston Churchill was right to say that capitalism is the unequal sharing of blessings, while socialism is the equal sharing of misery. We are seeing that equal sharing of misery in America today. No one is doing better in America after 3 ½ years of Barack Obama’s policies—no one, that is, except government bureaucrats. The “tsars” at the top are supported by thousands of petty tsars whose business it is to lord it over the rest of us.

We are not sure all of Ben’s young co-workers will believe in stilts and ladders. That’s perhaps the cruelest disappointment of the Age of Obama—the shattering of hopes. Not only have the seas not ceased to rise, as Obama promised, but his policies have turned them into oceans of red ink. And this red tide threatens to swamp all our futures in a tsunami of indebtedness.

So, to all who will unstrap those stilts, place their feet firmly on that rung of the ladder, and prepare to step up, we offer a hand. That’s all we can offer. Climb as high as you can. It will take effort, but it is real hope for real change.

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