Tuesday, June 2nd is the last day of my encore US History class. At this writing, I have only two more classes left to tie up all that I’ve taught them through the year. To that end, I’ve decided to quote two foreigners who looked at the United States from the outside and described what is great about our country.
The first is Bono, head of the rock band U2, who said: “It’s not a left/right issue. It’s a right/wrong issue, and America has constantly been on the side of what’s right.”
I was quite surprised to hear him say that because he was speaking at Georgetown University - an ostensibly Catholic institution that has become a liberal bastion. It’s full of professors who probably cringed when they heard it because they’d spent their careers magnifying America’s flaws to the point where all the right things we’ve done are overshadowed.
“America is an idea,” the Irishman Bono continued. “That’s how we see you around the world: As one of the greatest ideas in human history… The idea is that you and me are created equal… If we have dignity, if we have justice, then leave it to us. We’ll do the rest… This country was the first to claw its way out of darkness and put that on paper.”
He’s talking, of course, about our Declaration of Independence, which laid out our founding principles. Then our Founding Fathers wrote a constitution to make sure “we have dignity” and “we have justice” as Bono put it. That constitution put restrictions on government to see that it didn’t get too big or too powerful and take away that dignity and justice.
“Then leave it to us,” he said. “We’ll do the rest.” In this, he was absolutely right. Government should stay out of our way because the best government is that which governs least,” as John O’Sullivan put it back in the 19th century.
But it isn’t lately. Ours is becoming the government that governs most, intruding into nearly every aspect of our lives. It’s regulating everything from baby furniture to soda pop to the carbon dioxide we exhale, and there’s no end in sight.
Then there’s this quote from the other foreigner: “Europe was created by history,” said former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. “America was created by philosophy.” Not only did America jettison the European idea of the Divine Right of Kings, we designed a replacement system that restricted government as much as possible while still preserving order.
Thatcher also said: “There are significant differences between the American and European version of capitalism. The American traditionally emphasizes the need for limited government, light regulations, low taxes and maximum labor-market flexibility. Its success has been shown above all in the ability to create new jobs, in which it is consistently more successful than Europe.”
That agrees with Bono’s remarks at Georgetown. He had gone on to praise capitalism as the best way to stem poverty. Speaking about Africa, he said: “Entrepreneurial Capitalism takes more people out of poverty than [foreign] aid.” The progressives in audience must have gasped because then he said: “Rock star preaches capitalism. Wow!” He put his hand to his head and declared: “Sometimes I hear myself and I just can’t believe it.”
Bono appeared to be speaking from his heart and not from notes. What slipped out had become his truth: The best government is the one that, to the greatest extent possible, gives everyone and everything a good leaving alone. If we’re free to, we usually do what’s right.