By Dave Belton, Columnist
Last week marked two very important anniversaries. The first was the 50th anniversary of one of the memorable days in most baby-boomer’s lives. The second was the 150th anniversary of the greatest speech ever given by an American.
Pro-military. Anti-Commie. Pro-capitalist. Anti-union. Unashamed patriot who saw America as a shining beacon in a world of gathering darkness. Ronald Reagan? Well…yeah, he was those things. But Reagan was following the lead of his ideological mentor…JFK. JFK had much more in common with Ronald Reagan than he did with LBJ, and certainly with today’s Leftist Democratic Party. “The soundest way to raise revenues is to lower taxes,” said Kennedy. Can you imagine a Democrat saying that now? Kennedy ballooned the economy by enacting a huge tax cuts against the wishes of the liberal establishment. He unabashedly championed capitalism and free enterprise as the engine of America’s success. He hated welfare and disdained entitlements.
Kennedy was an amazing orator, giving many quotable speeches. “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.” Do you hear anything about welfare in that statement? How about Food Stamps or Obamacare? What you hear is the fundamental truth of American Exceptionalism, that under our old system of free enterprise and limited government, ordinary citizens were free to accomplish extraordinary things.
He championed this idea again when he said, “We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things. Not because they are easy, but because they are hard.” Another time he said, “Do not pray for easy lives. Pray to be stronger men.” When’s the last time you heard a politician express such courage and optimism…optimism born by our American heritage of doing the impossible?
“Let us not seek the Republican answer or the Democratic answer, but the right answer. Let us not seek to fix the blame for the past. Let us accept our own responsibility for the future.”
In an age where blaming the other party has turned into an art form, both sides could learn from these words of wisdom. Last week also marked the 150th anniversary of Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address. Everyone knows the, “Four score and seven years ago,” part, but few recall the next and most important words: “Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation, so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure.”
This wasn’t a rhetorical question from a confident leader. It was heart-wrenching query from an embattled president of a weak, unstable, backwater nation. It was an admission of doubt from a beleaguered man who sent half a million people to their deaths in what was, at the time, a losing effort to preserve a fledging democracy. “America will never be destroyed from the outside. If we falter and lose our freedoms, it will be because we destroyed ourselves.”
Perhaps more than any other president, Lincoln understood the delicate fragility of democracy. Growing up in this post World War century of peace and plenty, it is hard to remember that democracies are the rare exception (there it is again, American Exceptionalism) rather than the rule. Most of humanity has lived – and continues to live – under despotism, poverty, and tyranny. We are not currently locked in a great war. But our freedoms – the liberties this nation was conceived on and dedicated to – are most certainly being tested. Can this nation long endure?