In July 1941, in the course of a radio broadcast appeal on behalf of the United Service Organizations and the National War Fund, John D. Rockefeller Jr. articulated several guiding beliefs or life principles that he and his wife endeavored to follow in bringing up their family. There are ten in all, and you can see them inscribed on a large brass plaque on the concourse leading into Rockefeller Center in New York City. Several, alas, belong on the List of Endangered Moral Sentiments. I am thinking in particular of these four:
I believe that every right implies a responsibility; every opportunity, an obligation; every possession, a duty.
I believe that the law was made for man and not man for the law; that government is the servant of the people and not their master.
I believe in the dignity of labor, whether with head or hand; that the world owes no man a living but that it owes every man an opportunity to make a living.
I believe that thrift is essential to well ordered living and that economy is a prime requisite of a sound financial structure, whether in government, business or personal affairs.
Today, of course, we like to think that we have a right to everything and a responsibility only to be sure that our rights are observed. The Obama administration has also illustrated the extent to which the rule of law has been redacted into the rule of political expediency, edged with virtuous-sounding rhetoric to sweeten the pill. “Secured bond holders“? They’re just “speculators” according to the President, folks whose rights can be traduced with impunity when a “higher principle,” e.g., doing favors for a big labor union or “spreading the wealth around,” is at stake.
With a rapidity that is awful to behold, the government in this country is becoming the bloated master of us all. Governor Mitch Daniels referred to this as “shock and awe statism.” An apt phrase. If the administration’s efforts to usurp health care are successful, I believe there will be no turning back. The process of emasculation will, in essentials, be complete. Mopping up operations–ridding the land of “hate speech” and dissent, for example–can be undertaken later. One big happy flock–I mean family–presided over by a semi-elected nomenklatura. Thank God ACORN is thinking about changing its name: voter fraud is one thing, but it won’t do to be so obvious about it. (On second thought, maybe they can be as obvious as they want to be: the department of justice–why does that name seem increasingly ironic?–doens’t seem to mind.)
The return and expansion of the welfare state underscores the extent to which our political masters wish to inculcate the belief that government owes everyone a living–on its own terms, of course. As for “opportunity,” that is fast being enrolled in the index of forbidden words. Those who speak of “opportunity” have shown themselves to be the same people who are critical of policies that demand equal outcomes, and of course equal outcomes are precisely what a culture of rights, not duties, is all about. As for thrift, that is a virtue other people should practice. When it comes to the United States government, a deficit of nearly $2 trillion is a down payment on Hope and Change.
Two trillion dollars: that’s $2,000,000,000,000.
How much is that? Well, there have been roughly 740,000 days since the birth of Christ. You could spend more than $2 million every day since January 1, 1 and still fall nearly $500 billion short of $2 trillion.
Responsibility. The rule of law. Self-reliance. Thrift. They seemed like good ideas at the time. So did a vigorous national defense and service in time of war: that, after all, was the context in which Mr. Rockefeller articulated his credo. I’m glad he set it down in brass for all to see. We can go and visit the plaque in New York as we would go to a museum of antiquities. How quaint it was that people used stand up for themselves and look after their families and people in their own community. We’re beyond that now. Where exactly we are is a question that is as as unedifying to contemplate as it is easy to answer. George Orwell, please call your office.