for my friend who remains "undecided"
Manifest Destiny is the idea that "it [is] the nation's . . . destiny to overspread and to possess the whole of the continent which Providence has given us for the development of the great experiment of liberty and federated self-government entrusted to us" (John O'Sullivan, journalist and ambassador to Portugal, 1845).
There are many facets to the political motivations and outcomes of manifest destiny, but for the purpose of this assessment, the philosophy of the idea is what we need. In the 1840's it was our American destiny to flourish across the landscape and to spread democracy. But the important distinction is that we were not building a weave of urban centers with apartment buildings and rooms for rent. We were individual families, staking out land, working it, and living independent from government reliance for infrastructure and jobs. (side note--if I were a lady in the 1840's, you bet your bootstraps I'd take my pantaloons and head out West.)
The day after the Democrats' convention ended, Bush was giving an early-morning speech in the middle state of Missouri. Wearing a bomber jacket and cocked grin, he spoke casually, as if it were a church picnic, appealing to Americans' sense of individualism. America empowers: Anyone can come. Rags to riches. If you can make it there, you'll make it anywhere. Those ideas appeal to our personal character--what can I do with what I've got? And they also appeal to this internal measuring stick we've got so that we'll know which level we've reached as compared to the rest of the competitive field. Oh goody, I love a good scrappy match.
Bush told the people: All of these reforms are based on this conviction: The role of government is not to control or dominate the lives of our citizens. The role of government is to help our citizens gain the time and the tools to make their own choices and improve their own lives. That's why I will continue to work to usher in a new era of ownership and opportunity in America. We want more people owning their own home. We want more people owning their own business. We want more people owning and managing their own health care system. We want more people owning and managing a part of their retirement systems. When a person owns something, he or she has a vital stake in the future of the United States of America.
How many times did he say the word, "own"? And what about the threat? Did you catch that? Run for your lives! The GOVERNMENT is coming to get you.
So I'll get down to it. Republicans feel a fine inkling toward rugged individualism, the personal ideals of working with your hands and brushing them off after a hard day's work. I think we can all tip our hats to that. But where the Republicans go wrong is that underlying the want to make it on your own is suspicion.
Suspicion of government is the fuel for the desire to do it on your own. Or maybe the guy next to you got help, so that's not fair. After all, you did it on your own. Or, if you're doing it on your own, someone may take it away from you. There is always a threat, so I need my rifle to protect my property. Stay off my property!
Is it American to be suspicious? Is it ethical to be suspicious? Isn't suspicion actually a vice?
Republicans use suspicion as a tool to measure what sets them apart from the rest. They use it to help them define for themselves which policies are better. Take health care, or welfare, or any old "government program" you wish. If you subscribe to the notion that if you get help, your efforts aren't worth a lick, then you're not going to respect someone on Medicaid now are you? Heck, you're not even going to respect some old sissy who has to go to the doctor in the first place. Sounds fun, right? I think I want to be a Republican. It's like being back on the playground again.
So what about those Democrats? Well, Democrats are traditionally in favor of government subsidies to help those who cannot help themselves. They want to fund institutions that can carry out the functions of housing the mentally retarded, of paying for emergency care in hospitals for indigents. Despite the fact that people and systems are inherently flawed, it is the desire for goodwill--to care for the other--that underlies these notions.
For me it is a simple distinction. Am I going to stand up for me first, or am I going to stand up for the people? Which is more ethical? Which requires the greater responsibility? You can argue the mechanisms of delivery, but that is simply a ruse put forth by Republicans who want a disconnect between the arm and the hand. If you go that route how can you ensure that the well being of the people is being taken care of? And isn't the well being of our fellow man and woman and child much too precious not to ensure its success? It is the greater good of a nation that I am interested in, more aptly, the greater good of my community, of the community to which I belong. I take part. I pitch in by upholding the collective responsibility espoused by the party. Without collective responsibility we make ourselves vulnerable. Are we one nation under God, or are we one individual under a nation? And do we owe the greatest responsibility to ourselves or to each other? My faith teaches me about that, and it is all connected. We are all connected.