Freedom and Populism: Strange Bedfellows

Contra-positions on abortion, global warming, terrorism, energy, tax policy, couric bailouts, entitlements, race, national security, constitutional authority, God, governmental boundaries, immigration, healthcare, and lifestyle preferences yield uncomfortable positions for those who wind up in a gunfight armed only with a knife.

If we are to survive, we must have ideas, vision, and courage. These things are rarely produced by committees. Everything that matters in our intellectual and moral life begins with an individual confronting his own mind and conscience in a room by himself”. While my historical perspective on most things in our society never jibed with those of Arthur Schlesinger, Jr. I admit there is great value in his words concerning our core values.

“Oh how sweet it is to hear one’s own convictions from another’s lips”. Johan von Goethe’s words of 200 years ago are likely even more salient today as your quiet convictions are drown out by the noise of our culture.

The two quotes relate to each other when one decides it is time to stand up and be counted. We all would benefit from spending some quiet time alone in the room described by Mr. Schlesinger to help each of us define exactly what it is we stand for and why. Goethe alludes to step two of the process in that there is great intellectual satisfaction and comfort in hearing that someone else has come to the same conclusions as you. Intellectual confidence comes through validation.

I write this because I often find myself conflicted on several fronts as I observe our American culture evolving in ways I don’t anticipate; politically, economically, socially, spiritually, and intellectually. Often times the populist sentiment is wrapped too nicely for my emotions to disregard but for some reason it doesn’t sit right with my innate core beliefs. Some years ago it became increasingly more important that I knew which team I was playing for, and why. Why I believe in certain things became as important, or more so, than what I believe. What we believe is emotional; why we believe gives it an intellectual foundation recognizing that compassion is an essential component of an intellectual response. Ironically, emotional first responses are usually trumped after revisiting our intellectual foundations.

We live in a world where too few people confront important issues by expressing their core beliefs for fear of breaking the laws of political correctness and populist sentiment, or exposing themselves to an unwelcome confrontation. Populism and the ‘politics of unity’ on the surface sound like great ideas but quite ironically serve as efficient mufflers of diverse thought. As Americans, we now find ourselves neck deep in an era of populist emotion where a majority hired a man billed as the great unifier. It sounds great but unity and freedom are often at odds in a free society and ideological discord is inevitable. Civil society cannot allow one ideological voice to denigrate another by means of emotionally stewed personal attacks in the name of populism or national unity lest we desire a return to the society of Woodrow Wilson.

Contra-positions on abortion, global warming, terrorism, energy, tax policy, bailouts, entitlements, race, national security, constitutional authority, God, governmental boundaries, immigration, healthcare, and lifestyle preferences yield uncomfortable positions for those who wind up in a gunfight armed only with a knife.

Just ask former Ms. California, Carrie Prejean, how she felt about being ripped recently by Katie Couric for expressing one of her core beliefs in a beauty pageant. No apology yet from Ms. Couric (none expected either) as she must have felt comfortable speaking freely at Princeton University’s ’Senior’s Day’. Wall Street Journal’s Dorothy Rabinowitz was there however and called her on it. She writes;

“Ms. Couric that day introduced those Princeton seniors to a fact of life they don’t teach in journalism school – yet, anyway. Namely, when waving the banners of progress and justice, the good and the true, truth needn’t be a hindrance”.

So much for the spirit of our nation coming together if someone’s views and free speech conflict with populist sentiment.

Our civil society is at a point where its citizens crave leaders that have principles, express them without fear, and stand steadfastly behind them. To be known as an independent or moderate on a wide range of issues displays a type of pragmatism which is either intellectually or morally lazy, or simply cowardly. If we concentrate our search for leaders from amongst our politicians, we’re doomed because precious few of them seem to have spent much time figuring out what their core values are. Certainly there are those that have but unfortunately for us politics seems to have a way of paralyzing them for fear of being labeled something that won‘t get them elected next time.

Our society has enough 24/7 all star voices earning salaries to tell us very convincingly what they think we should think. Sometimes there is agreement, sometimes not. What we really need is for more unknowns (like you and me) to intellectually develop our own thoughts and convictions in order to create a foundation to agree, disagree, or agree to disagree. We should be challenged to grow a spine and be heard on the issues without fear of reprisal because it doesn’t conform to Katie Couric‘s world. We need to take the time to be intellectually prepared to make someone’s monologue into a dialogue within the arena of ideas; to write our thoughts and be heard.

God gave us a brain (yes, I said it) and a soul to formulate our unique perspectives and the Founders provided an amendment that gave us the freedom to express them. Not just when it’s convenient but more importantly, when its not.


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