Some people believe that America is just this land of individuals who have a lot of liberty and should be left alone because that’s how we got so great. I can’t find any evidence that that’s a true story. As best I can tell, the American century, the last century, the one everybody looks at with such awe, wasn’t built by a bunch of random individuals who didn’t care about each other and wouldn’t do anything for each other and a government that was missing in action.
The country was built by us pooling our resources, mainly through government, massively investing in infrastructure, public schools and dams and roads and bridges and education, educating a whole generation of young people at a level and scale that had never been done before, building a middle class that had labor rights and civil rights and women’s rights to make sure that the middle class could include more and more people, to making sure that we were no longer poisoning the air and the water, taking care of our children, making sure that industry wasn’t poisoning and killing our kids. That is what made this great American century that everybody’s so in awe of.
Lots of countries care about economic growth, but they have no environmental protections, no labor standards. That’s not America. America is a great country because we perform well economically and meet those standards, but also we meet high environmental standards and high consumer protection standards and high civil rights and labor standards. We are world class across the board. That’s why people want to come here, not just because we’ve got a big GNP. You can have a great GNP and have people working in sweatshops and have the water and the air poisoned. That’s not America.
So, when you look at what kind of country we are, you say “I’m going to defend that.” I’m going to defend my parents’ achievements. I’m going to defend my grandparents’ achievements. I’m not going to let people take a wrecking ball, paint it red, white and blue and smash down every American achievement for the last century and call that patriotism. In my view, it’s not patriotism. Frankly, being a conservative would mean you would want to conserve the achievements of our parents and our grandparents. They achieved the American century, the American middle class, the American way of life. It includes an appropriately active government. It also includes a dynamic private sector. It also includes community responsibility and individual responsibility. But all of those together, not just free markets and starving America’s government so it can’t do its job.
And so we have a responsibility to go forward and stand up for what we believe in. Whether we’re running for office or not, we have a responsibility to defend the America that we inherited and to make sure that people calling themselves patriots don’t smash it down.
In Their Own Words is recorded in Big Think’s studio.
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