Freedom isn’t free is a more catchy title, but doesn’t bullseye my point.
America isn’t free. We like to pretend that it is. While we might hate to even approach the premise, but here goes:
1) Having a republic requires an informed electorate. While an autocracy like China gets results much quicker, a democratic republic is supposed to be superior in the long-term. A democracy serves the greater good and prevents “absolute power from corrupting absolutely.” As a tradeoff for this advantage, a democracy produces more mess and requires voters to pay attention. That’s the cost: We’re supposed to pay with our attention, so that when democracy is exercised it’s done in an informed manner. How badly have we failed in this regard? Look no further than our terrible soundbite-driven, billion dollar elections. (Shameless plug: MY BOOK.)
2) We tax like a small government, and spend like a large government*. Think back to the wars in Afghanistan or Iraq. Or the prescription drug benefit for Medicare. Or, now, our sky high budget deficits. We have the lowest total tax rate in the world of all developed nations, yet spend massively on our military and all kinds of other programs. Do we complain? Yup. Do anything about it? Nope.
3) Some gave all. All gave some. I saw this phrase a lot during my campaign around Veteran events. It felt especially incongruous then, as it does today. Today, less than 1% of Americans serve in the military. We don’t share the financial burden through higher taxes when our nation is at war. We’re “spared” from graphic wartime photos and articles as the media barely covers injuries and deaths. We’re sheltered from all of it. Yet, it might be easier than any other point in history for a president to send Americans to war. Could this be because it impacts so few of us?
The idea of America as an exceptional nation is sacrosanct. We’re like all other nations, except we’re a cut above. We demand this as fact, yet do no believe we should pay any kind of price for it to be true. The irony is that this flies in the face of the most American idea of all: the egalitarian idea that only our sacrifice and hard work yields us results. You must earn it. From America’s earliest days, the new world was the land of opportunity. That’s what has me incensed. How we can believe in this concept individually (that we must each earn it), but forget that it also must apply collectively as a nation? It’s why I literally spent 5 years thinking of this book, and finally spit it out over 2 months. America is not free. If she’s going to stay special, we’ve got a whole lot of work to do.
Happy Election Day!
*I cribbed this perfect turn of phrase from the Economist presidential endorsement.