(Salem, Massachusetts) Weather allowing, Salem is a fairly short and pleasant sailing trip from Boston to the Bay State’s rocky North Shore. If a visitor has history on his mind, there is virtue in perusing Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The House of the Seven Gables or Jonathan Edwards fiery sermon “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God”.
While most Americans might vaguely associate Salem with the infamous “Witch Trials” of 1692 that episode is but a partial albeit compelling insight into the powerful religiosity of 17th century New England.
William Bennett has thoughtfully described America’s “Culture War” as a clash between older more settled values and newer impulses whose adherents view the traditional vision as oppressive and restrictive of their personal liberties and lifestyle. To describe this conflict as “Puritans Versus Libertines” would be horribly simplistic but a sure guarantee of many a raucous argument.
A far more riveting perspective is found in President John F. Kennedy’s famous 1961 Inaugural challenge to Americans to “Ask Not What Your Country Can Do for You, but rather What You Can Do for Your Country”.
In the half century since Kennedy spoke Western society has evolved in a direction that goes far towards turning his challenge upside down. In Western Europe we see masses of citizens protesting- often violently- against governments that dared to even marginally reduce their lavish entitlements. Free education – pre-school through graduate school- is not uncommon. Thus individuals can remain students into their thirties and then retire on generous pensions before they are sixty (only the much maligned Germans must labor till age sixty-seven before retiring).
In Europe even the political parties of the right are far to the left of America’s Democratic Party. There is an “All Party Consensus” in favor of the full blown Entitlement State. Elections are fierce contests over relatively small differences. The “Conservative” Sarkozy dared to lift France’s retirement age from 60 to 62 and thereby forfeited the Presidential election to the Socialist Hollande who promptly returned it to 60.
In the United States society and the political spectrum has moved in a direction similar to Europe but at a far slower pace.
Currently we are engaged in a Presidential election that partisans on both sides regard as a historic pivot point for the future of the country.
The party of the leftl and their candidate (Obama) has revealed its clear bias in favor of expanding the size, scope, and taxing authority of the Federal government and redefining “fairness”, who is “needy”, and the “proper” distribution of wealth.
The party of the right and their candidate (Romney) views Obama’s record and direction as economically disastrous and dangerous to liberty- nothing less than an outright attempt to impose European style Social Democracy in America.
A cynic might describe Obama as hoping to get re-elected by promising people “lots more stuff right away” and Romney countering with “maybe a little less stuff, but only somewhere down the road”.
In truth, however, these two candidates- unlike their Tweedledum, Tweedledee European counterparts- represent hugely different visions of what America is, and which direction we should be moving in the future.
Romney celebrates “American Exceptionalism” and the “glorious History” that produced it. Obama asserts American Exceptionalism is no different than that of any other nation and views our History as a deeply flawed record requiring repeated apology and the “transformation” he promised but carefully omitted to detail.
While the establishments of both parties maneuver, spend, and exhort in this slugfest of an election, there is discernible a non-establishment community that is usually less engaged politically, and generally quieter.
They are our immigrants. They are a diverse lot. Some people think they are predominantly Hispanic, but in the last ten years the largest group (36%) has been Asian.
They often work for wages most Americans would disdain, but they see as bountiful compared to those in their home countries. While many Americans feel cramped with three people in a six room house, they often happily stuff six people into a three room apartment.
With relatively rare exception they came to America not for an Entitlement, but for an Opportunity- a chance to get a job, get ahead and seek a better life for themselves and their families. They came here in pursuit of the American Dream- a phrase that seems quaint to some, a source of mockery to others. But to our immigrants it remains very real and shines with Promise.
In Lenin’s memorable phrase they “voted with their feet”, not for a political party, but for a Country- America. They don’t apologize for coming, they don’t fixate on the country’s admitted flaws, and they certainly don’t want America “transformed”. They want it preserved, and at a very deep level, they understand their vital stake in seeing that it shall be.
William Moloney is a Centennial Institute Fellow and former Colorado Education Commissioner. His columns have appeared in the Wall St. Journal, USA Today, Washington Post, Washington Times, Philadelphia Inquirer, Baltimore Sun, Denver Post, and Human Events.