For all of us who believe in liberty, yesterday’s ballot offerings all over the country were hardly inspiring. Predictably, the results this morning may be more than a little dispiriting. Just in case you might be feeling somewhat “down” at the moment, let me offer what I hope will be some cheerful thoughts. Eternal optimist though I am, I admit that when I looked at the morning papers the pessimist temptation briefly had me in its grip. Then I asked myself :What good purpose could a defeatist attitude possibly provide? Will it make me work harder for the causes I know are right? Is there anything about liberty that yesterday’s election disproves?
If I exude a pessimistic demeanor, will it help attract newcomers to the ideas I believe in? Is this the first time in history that believers in liberty have lost some battles? If we simply throw in the towel, will that enhance the prospects for future victories? Is our cause so menial as to justify deserting it because of some bad news or some new challenges? Do we turn back just because the hill we have to climb got a little steeper?
I think you know the answers to those questions.
This is NOT the time to abandon principles. I can’t speak for you but some day I want to go to my reward and be able to look back and say, “I never gave up. I never became part of the problem I tried to solve. I never gave the other side the luxury of winning anything without a fight. I never missed an opportunity to do my best for what I believed in, and it never mattered what the odds or the obstacles were.”
Let’s remember that we stand on the shoulders of many people who came before us and who persevered through far darker times. I think of the brave men and women behind the Iron Curtain who resisted the greatest tyranny of the modern age, and won. I think of those like Hayek and Mises who kept the flame of liberty flickering in the 1930s and ‘40s when the whole world must have seemed mad for statism in one form or another. I think of the heroes like Wilberforce and Clarkson who fought to end slavery and literally changed the conscience and character of a nation in the face of the most daunting of disadvantages.
I think of the patriots who shed their blood for American liberty and suffered through unspeakable hardships as they took on the world’s most powerful nation in 1776. I think of martyrs of the Reformation. And I think of the Scots who, 456 years before the Declaration of Independence, put their lives on the line to repel English invaders with these stirring words: “It is not for honor or glory or wealth that we fight, but for freedom alone, which no good man gives up except with his life.”
As I thought about what some of those great men and women faced, the obstacles before us today seemed rather puny. I’m ashamed that for a moment I let a little election get me down.
If you want my advice, we should not squander a second feeling bad for ourselves. This is a moment when our true character, the stuff we’re really made of, will show itself. If we retreat, that would tell me we were never really worthy of the battle in the first place. But if we resolve to let these tough times build character, teach us to be better and smarter at what we do, and rally our dispirited friends to new levels of dedication, we will look back on this occasion some day with pride at how we handled it. It’s already past 9 am. Have you made any calls to cheer anybody up yet?
Believe me, the folks who for the moment are basking in victory and salivating for the opportunities they may soon have to deploy more force and coercion in our lives are not divinely-inspired geniuses. They are not going to be the first bunch in the history of the planet to figure out how to make big government work. They are far more likely, in fact, to give those who believe in liberty some unique opportunities to drive home our arguments with more eloquence and effect than ever before. When they flop, will the right ideas be lying around, ready to go, to make change for the better? That depends on us. Will we rise to the occasion?
Use this time to think about how you can do more for liberty and do it better, reaching larger audiences in ways that turn lights on people’s minds. Support others who are working full-time on liberty’s behalf. INspire, don’t EXpire!
So in the course of a few hours, I’m happy to say I’ve traversed from a moment of despair to a smile and a sunny optimism, to an eagerness to accept the challenge and get down to work. To all those out there who are hoping people like you and me will go quietly into the night, just keep thinking that. You’re in for some unexpected surprises.
Onward and upward! Larry
Lawrence W. Reed is newly aboard as president of the Foundation for Economic Education in Irvington NY. He is also president emeritus of the Mackinac Center for Public Policy in Midland, Michigan, which he founded two decades ago.