In his speech to the Democratic National Convention, nominating President Obama for a second term, former president Bill Clinton said that the choice before America was a stark one: What kind of country do you want to live in? That’s exactly right.
Do you want to live in an America with a robust array of legally-protected civil society institutions, supported by volunteerism and charitable giving? Or do you want to live in an America in which the government occupies more and more of the public square, squeezing to the margins of our common life the voluntary associations that have long enriched our democracy?
Do you want to live in an America in which the national government recognizes that certain moral truths about the human person stand in judgment on law and public policy? Or do you want to live in an America in which utility, not dignity, is the governmental measure of the human person?
Do you want to live in an America that is recovering a sense of the decencies, a country in which moral conviction born of biblical faith is welcomed in public life and neither the culture nor the government deplore biblical morality as irrational bigotry? Or do you want to live in an America in which both culture and the government think of human beings as bundles of desires that public policy and the public purse are supposed to satisfy — an America of Sandra Flukes?
Do you want to live in an America that respects the inalienable right to life declared in the Declaration of Independence — an America that gladly affords legal protection to the unborn, the radically handicapped, and the elderly because it has rejected what Blessed John Paul II called the “culture of death” and has rebuilt a robust and compassionate culture of life? Or do you want to live in an America in which an unborn child has less legal protection than a protected species of wolf in a national park — an America in which the mildest criticism of Planned Parenthood results in your being denounced by both public officials and the media?
Do you want to live in a country that cherishes and protects religious freedom in full? Or do you want to live in a country where religious freedom has been dumbed-down to a “privacy” right to certain weekend leisure activities?
Do you want to live in an economically robust America in which earning a living is not only possible, but is celebrated as a dignified expression of responsibility and self-respect? Or do you want to live in an America in which the national government is the primary economic actor?
Do you want to live in a responsible society or an entitlement society?
Do you want to live in an America that is pioneering new ways of combining economic growth, the empowerment of the poor, compassion for the underprivileged, and fiscal responsibility, thereby setting a new path for the democracies of the 21st century? Or do you want to live in a country that spends profligately and burdens future generations with both unpayable debt and the economic stagnation that sky-high debt-service causes?
Do you want to live in an America that is respected throughout the world for being just as well as strong, an America that supports others’ quest for freedom? Or are you resigned to living in a world where jihadists murder American diplomats, tear down the U.S. flag, and raise the flag of radical Islam over U.S. embassies with impunity?
Do you want to live in an America that combines its traditional hospitality to the stranger with respect for the rule of law? Or do you want to live in a country in which demagoguery makes it virtually impossible to create sane immigration policies?
Do you want to live in a country that has rebuilt a public culture of civility? Or do want to live in an America in which the politically incorrect are decried as Nazis?
Stark choices, indeed.
George Weigel is Distinguished Senior Fellow of the Ethics and Public Policy Center in Washington, D.C. and holds EPPC’s William E. Simon Chair in Catholic Studies.