There are other things we grew up with in America — those of us of Boehner’s age and a little younger — and not all of them bring pleasant memories to the surface. In fact, a significant number of them we wanted “snuffed out.” Certainly, the casual kind of racism and intolerance that was not unfamiliar in the America of my own youth should have been snuffed out. The second-class citizenship accorded women (cemented in both tradition and the law) needed to be left behind, as did attitudes toward gays, the handicapped, the mentally ill, and others in society who lived on the margins, largely invisible to the majority of us, and who suffered in silence until their concerns were given voice a decade or two later.
I know what Boehner is saying about the kind of America he grew up in and there is certainly much of that America that needs to be protected and cared for. Boehner’s America of strong communities, strong families, an expansive view of personal liberty, and a government that had yet to flex its muscles in an effort to control us is worth preserving. It is worthwhile to save as much of that America as can be accomplished without rolling back the genuine progress we have made in other areas of our national social life.
But trying to hold back change in America is an exercise in futility. America was created as an engine of change, a grand experiment that was to alter the consciousness of ordinary people around the world and allow them to believe that their own lives mattered as much as those of any rich man, nobleman, aristocrat, or king. Ordinary people, by virtue of being born human, were endowed with certain rights that could never be taken away, only suppressed by government. There was revolution in that idea, and the crowned heads of old Europe trembled as they witnessed the virulence of the American idea sweep across the continent and the rest of the world, unsettling and upsetting entire societies in its wake.
But it is here at home that we continue to see how that simple idea of liberty affects changes in our society. The problem has not necessarily been with whether change was necessary. Many changes we have witnessed since Boehner’s childhood have expanded the idea of freedom and have been a welcome counterpoint to traditions that had outlived their usefulness and stood in the way of human progress.
The problem in recent decades — and it didn’t begin with President Obama and the current crop of far left liberal Democrats in Congress — is that we have thrown prudence to the winds and have been trying to steamroll change without thought of the consequences, or an acknowledgment that we have unmoored ourselves from the basic principles found in the Constitution that define our nationhood.
Certainly Obama and the Democrats have accelerated this process enormously. Boehner’s lament is for an America of which President Obama and many on the left are openly contemptuous. Their stated intent to “transform” America literally seeks to deny some of the fundamental tenets that are embedded in our DNA and codified as first principles in the Constitution. In return for some kind of nebulous security against the ravages of disease, Wall Street bankers, and global warming, our choices as free men and women are being squeezed by government resulting in a loss of liberty.
The irony is that each area of American life the Democrats are bending their efforts to “transform” needs reforming. There are many conservatives and Republicans who could have supported small, prudent, incremental changes in health care, on Wall Street, and in energy policy. But this has never been about fixing what’s broken for the Democrats. It has always been about gaining for government the ability to control. Whether for angelic purposes, or as a grubby political power play, the connecting thread in what the Democrats are trying to do has, as a practical effect, limited the choices of ordinary people to control their own lives. This interposition of government in what were previously private matters, by definition, is an attack on our liberties no matter how well intentioned.
Boehner’s complaint about the Democrats is a reminder of what is at stake in the elections of 2010. The majority of us don’t want an American transformation, which should be made quite plain in November. Whether it will be enough to preserve the America we grew up in will be a continuing concern in the years to come.