Perhaps the saving grace of this country in its perilous fiscal and cultural condition is that the Democrats are even worse about sticking their feet in their mouths than even the Republicans are.
Everyone knows now about President Obama’s gaffes – “the private sector is doing fine” and more specifically “You didn’t build that.” But now the Charlotte host committee has trumped even Obama’s foolishness by airing a video at the convention which contained the toxic line “The government is the only thing we all belong to.”
Since the video aired and was immediately seized upon by the Republicans and the conservative media, the Democrats’ spin doctors have run from it with their hair on fire. But the word apparently didn’t get out to the delegates, because they’re perfectly happy with the idea they belong to the government…
What this points out is a fundamental difference in worldview between conservatives/libertarians and The Left, with moderates now obligated to referee the matter. Namely, do you consider yourself a citizen, or a subject?
Because there is a major difference between the two.
And it’s not just whether you’re allowed to vote. Citizenship involves much more. Wikipedia notes two different concepts of citizenship in Western thought…
- The liberal-individualist or sometimes liberal conception of citizenship suggests that citizens should have entitlements necessary for human dignity. It assumes people act for the purpose of enlightened self-interest. According to this viewpoint, citizens are sovereign, morally autonomous beings with duties to pay taxes, obey the law, engage in business transactions, and defend the nation if it comes under attack, but are essentially passive politically, and their primary focus is on economic betterment. This idea began to appear around the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, and became stronger over time, according to one view. According to this formulation, the state exists for the benefit of citizens and has an obligation to respect and protect the rights of citizens, including civil rights and political rights. It was later that so-called social rights became part of the obligation for the state.
- The civic-republican or sometimes classical or civic humanist conception of citizenship emphasizes man’s political nature, and sees citizenship as an active process, not a passive state or legal marker. It is relatively more concerned that government will interfere with popular places to practice citizenship in the public sphere. Citizenship means being active in government affairs. According to one view, most people today live as citizens according to the liberal-individualist conception but wished they lived more according to the civic-republican ideal. An ideal citizen is one who exhibits “good civic behavior”. Free citizens and a republic government are “mutually interrelated.” Citizenship suggested a commitment to “duty and civic virtue”.
For our purposes we would likely ascribe the first concept of citizenship to the libertarian/conservative philosophy and the second to that of the Democrats. But frankly, the civic humanist concept of citizenship is much more fitting for the Clintonite or old-style Democrat worldview than today’s more Hard Left Democrats; the Left would certainly agree that voter participation is key to citizenship, but their concept of it says little of the obligations citizenship involves short of participating in wealth retribution. And that’s a considerable shift from your father’s Democrat Party.
No, to this crowd citizenship isn’t important at all. They’re perfectly willing to bestow the benefits of citizenship on people who are here illegally, and in so doing dilute the effectiveness of their fellow citizens at the ballot box. They’re willing to do that because they think to do it will change the demographics of the electorate in a way that favors them.
But beyond the question of voting and winning elections, the Left views “citizenship” in the same vein many of us would view “subjects” in a non-Republican form of government. A subject is someone whose rights and responsibilities are minimal; he owes fealty to his king or his dictator, but beyond that he takes what the king gives him and may only petition the king for more out of the latter’s kindness.
The Left might bristle at this as a characterization of its worldview, but functionally what is being presented at the DNC in Charlotte this week is the proposition that we’re subjects who belong to the government, with the right to vote (for Democrats). It’s a Friends With Benefits proposition, if you like. But the overarching message is that the government providing for the people – whether through guaranteeing wages at a certain level, financing college education, providing free health care, feeding the poor, providing free or cheap housing and so on – is not a degradation of the citizenry the way Franklin and de Tocqueville noted (“When the people find that they can vote themselves money, that will herald the end of the republic”), nor even a necessary evil but in fact a sign of prosperity and virtue. And that smacks of the benevolent monarch or dictator the Founding Fathers warned us about.
It’s not citizenship. It’s subjection.
And it’s up to the Center in American politics to decide which we will be.
It’s unimaginable that, presented with the unmistakable, crystal-clear choice the Democrats cheerfully presented last night (and, one assumes, the rest of the week as well) the majority of this country would opt to be subjects. Unimaginable.
But the last four years have been unimaginable. So perhaps nothing should be taken for granted.