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Wisdom from a middle-school gymnasium.
“So, we have only 40 days to save the country.”
That’s what the random Volleyball Mom said to me last Thursday right after I had entered the gym to watch a game featuring my middle-school niece.
“I mean, you give Obama another four years and he’ll just rule more and more by those executive, you know, dictates, or whatever they’re called,” she said. (I think she meant executive orders.) “But he doesn’t love the same America we love. He wants to create a new America, and it’s not an America where freedom matters in the same way. I mean, I hope this makes sense, but he seems more interested in ordering us into what he thinks is a better world, rather than letting us decide for ourselves how to get there. How can people not see that’s what he’s doing?”
The great William Raspberry had his cabbie; my wisdom comes from a Volleyball Mom.* As I muttered a few words in agreement while looking around for my niece, Volleyball Mom pointed to the girls warming up for the game: “Look, there’s not a single one of them old enough to have been paying attention when the news had anything other than a failing American economy. If Obama gets his way, I don’t think they ever will. And those girls darn well don’t have the same sense we did in growing up that America is great, that we’re special, that we’re winners. I really think this: I think these are things they don’t learn from Obama. And we’ve got to give them a chance to learn it.”
Volleyball Mom was absolutely right, and I tried to let her know I agreed entirely — but I had to excuse myself because I saw my niece hobbling with an ankle brace, and I hurried over to find out that she was injured and wouldn’t be playing after all. So I didn’t stay around. But as I walked back to my car, it struck me that the mom wasn’t just expressing middle-class anxieties; she was yearning for, trying to find a way to rediscover, the middle-class hopes that historically have marked the American outlook. Her tone wasn’t angry, wasn’t as if she was motivated by a personal dislike of Obama; it was more a lament, as if she thought she saw the things she loves just slipping away, and she wants to grab them back and pass them on to her daughter.
And she’s right: Every available bit of evidence shows that Obama doesn’t understand why we love America, or what it is about America that we love. Obama not only doesn’t really admire the Constitution the way we do; he doesn’t even revere the Declaration. Instead, he feels common cause with what he called (in The Audacity of Hope) “the cranks, the zealots, the prophets, the agitators, and the unreasonable — in other words, the absolutists — that have fought for a new order.”
Most of us don’t want the “new order,” the order of Washington-centric, all-encompassing government, that Obama envisions. We love the America we grew up with — an America that evolves, slowly, to be sure, but through the free choices of millions of individuals, not via the force of a government that thinks it knows our best interests better than we know them ourselves.
We in America love the freedom to fail and fail and keep on trying until we succeed — and we love the amazing multiplicity of ways that we can indeed succeed in a country that doesn’t regulate us into straitjackets. And we love the chance to help others succeed, too — not through some sort of misplaced charitableness, but by enlisting them in common cause for those things we can achieve together as businessmen or community members. But, speaking of causes that do merit true charity, we love the ability to decide which charities merit our donations, rather than being forced by government to pay for causes we don’t approve. We love to volunteer, but hate to be commandeered.
We love the chance to choose how to define success. We love the idea of improving our standard of living for the sake of our children — and of being able to leave something for our children, or our charities of choice, after we’re gone. And we resent it when government tries to tell us we haven’t earned the right to pass on the rewards of our own successes in that way. We know we built that success, or are in the process of building it, more despite government than because of it.
We do love government for one big thing, though: We love the way it has built and trained the greatest armed services the world has ever known, and we love the values that drive those armed services. We love the idea — nay, the truth — that we are the “good guys” on the world stage; that never in the past hundred years have we ever fought for conquest, but only for ideals, for self-protection, or for protecting the innocent — or all three. Even when some of us disagree about when military force should be used in support of those causes, we take pride that our uniformed personnel are dedicated to such high standards of conduct. And we know, unlike Obama, that protecting American interests throughout the world is by definition a noble cause, because our interests are interests of a free and noble people.
We yearn for a president who will tell the world the truth that never before in mankind’s history has a nation voluntarily sacrificed so much in order that so many others might be free. Repeatedly the United States of America has been far, far more sinned against than sinner, and we are owed more apologies than those we owe others.
Finally, we have confidence that we can out-compete anybody, and any nation, via mostly private (or voluntarily collective) genius and hard work. Honest competition is bred into the American character from birth; it is celebrated and honored and, yes, flat-out enjoyed more here than perhaps anywhere else. As we compete, we all get stronger; it’s not a zero-sum game — and competition in some realms certainly doesn’t hinder voluntary cooperation in others.
We learn through competition that the most effective competitive edge often comes from teamwork, which we establish through private endeavor and improve through communal exertion. (Communal, we stress, not governmental. Freedom, not fiat.) And we love all these pursuits for the sake of the pursuits themselves, and we love them because we were the ones who made the choices to pursue them.
Such are the things I think Volleyball Mom loves about America. And such are some of the very lessons those middle-school girls are learning in that gymnasium.
As the mom said, “America is great… we’re special… we’re winners.” We always have been thus. And as of today, we have only 35 days left to save America.
*Clarification: Just as the late William Raspberry’s “cabbie” was a composite character, so my Volleyball Mom is a composite for things various people say to me in ordinary life, out here well beyond the Washington Beltway.
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