Twenty-three years ago, as I stood in Red Square, I learned more acutely than I had ever known previously what it meant to be an American. While the gold towers of the Kremlin spoke of a Moscow from days gone by, the austere backdrop of a grey and lonely communist way of life which appeared everywhere else allowed me to understand why being an American was simultaneously an incredible human opportunity and an awesome responsibility.
Being an American meant enjoying a level of personal freedom, of personal liberty which was beyond the comprehension of the ordinary Muscovite.
It meant living in an economic system where entrepreneurship was valued and overbearing government management abhorred, of treasuring the beauty of America’s diversity and the common bonds of patriotism which define the American spirit, of routinely shaping the size, scope and direction of our government, and of having the opportunity to succeed and, as importantly, the opportunity to fail.
Ultimately, President Obama’s stimulus plan runs contrary to nearly every one of these American principles. Having seen first hand what centralized government control does and can do for an economy, there is much to fear about the Obama prescription for economic prosperity.
President Obama’s stimulus plan ties our economic prosperity not to personal liberty, freedom and autonomy, but to enhanced central government control over matters which have typically been the responsibility of local government and individual Americans. It redefines patriotism as an acceptance of tax increases upon American entrepreneurs and an equal forebearance of a growing entitlement and dependence economy. It undervalues the American spirit of resilience and optimism in deference to a politics of fear and apprehension. Finally, it relies on a theory of economic isolationism, wherein American protectionism becomes mainstream and the interconnected nature of world economies are marginalized.
As I sit here this evening, I am forced to wonder whether this stimulus plan is an American plan, or is it a replay of a failed, planned economic system which I observed in Moscow, circa 1985. Many might say – oh, that is an overreaction. I will simply reply by offering this anecdote.
As our train rolled to a stop at the Moscow train station – in the dead of winter – the PA system on the train loudly played the Soviet National Anthem, then switched over to the English broadcast of Radio Moscow, extolling the virtues of the Motherland and the strength of the Soviet system. The triumphant broadcast proclaiming eventual victory for the Soviet way of life was heard by everyone on the train, Russian and foreigner alike. I remember sitting there in my window seat listening to this endless propoganda while looking at the sad face of a Babushka sweeping the snow off the train platform with a broom of scattered and loosely-sewn straw. This was her government job in the great Soviet empire.
Any economic system which minimizes the role of individual liberty and freedom, of individual choice and entrepreneurship in deference to greater and greater government direction and involvement, to greater and longer lasting government programs fostering lifestyles of entitlement and dependence runs the risk of bringing Soviet economic malaise to our shores – of creating platform after platform of straw-sweeping Babushkas at every train station in America.