Well, the Republican National Convention is underway at last, Isaac or no Isaac. To this point, there have been no big surprises. The roll call vote selected Mitt Romney as the party's nominee. The GOP's speakers all spoke as we expected them to speak. The next two days will complete the Romney / Ryan coronation ceremony, after which the delegates will depart, the cleanup crews will set to work, and the presidential campaign will enter its final stretch.
One meme, however, has gained ever greater strength among Americans. It's the one Barack Hussein Obama handed us in a recent speech, the one that he's since writhed and twisted to escape: "You didn't build that!" Some say he got the germ of it from Massachusetts Senatorial candidate (and 1/32nd Cherokee) Elizabeth Warren. If so, by now I'm sure he'd like to return it with thanks for the thought. Given the reactions to it from all across the nation, it's likely to cost him the election.
So, being a kind and generous soul, ever ready to succor the downtrodden in their hour of need, I thought I might toss The Won a stick of dynamite -- conveniently pre-lit -- to clutch to his chest as he mourns the demise of his presidency and the ruination of the coalition that elevated him to the Oval Office.
One of my favorite non-political quotes comes from the man generally accorded the title of the greatest genius ever to grace the sciences, Sir Isaac Newton:
"If I have seen farther than most, it is because I have stood on the shoulders of giants."
This statement displays a degree of humility to which very few of us (and possibly not Sir Isaac himself) can honestly lay claim. Moreover, it expresses a transcendent truth. It is in the nature of things that each of us begins his labors by mounting "the shoulders of giants:" human achievement from the first stirrings of rationality to the present moment. It is right and appropriate to take pride in one's own accomplishments, but it is equally right and appropriate to acknowledge our dependence on the accomplishments of those who preceded us.
But above all, we must keep this in mind: Human accomplishments are the accomplishments of humans. Individuals do it all; collectives achieve nothing. And governments are merely collectives that have been indemnified for their uses of coercion and violence.
No government has ever paved a highway.
No government has ever built a bridge.
No government has ever dredged a waterway.
No government has ever "helped the poor."
No government has ever designed a weapon.
No government has ever defeated an armed enemy.
And no government has ever landed men on the Moon.
All any government has ever done, with regard to those activities or any others you might care to name, is to decree that "this shall be done," and to mulct its longsuffering subjects for the required resources, whether or not they approved of the proposed undertaking. Whether the job was then prosecuted by private contractors or government-salaried employees makes no difference; the actual accomplishments belonged to individual men.
This isn't rocket science. Speaking of which, the vaunted American space program would never have "gotten off the ground" were it not for the insights and expertise of a certain Wernher von Braun -- a German emigre.
Now let's backhand the GOP for its sins.
Last night, several speakers mounted the Tampa dais to extol the virtues of the eventual nominee, and to articulate overarching concepts for the campaign. Chris Christie, in particular, spoke of the imperative of choosing respect over love:
And I am still [my mother's] son today as governor, following the rules she taught me, to speak from the heart, and to fight for your principles. You see, mom never thought you would get extra credit just for speaking the truth.
And the greatest lesson that mom ever taught me though was this one. She told me there would be times in your life when you have to choose between being loved and being respected.
Now she said to always pick being respected. She told me that love without respect was always fleeting, but that respect could grow into real and lasting love. Now, of course, she was talking about women.
But I have learned over time that it applies just as much to leadership. In fact, I think that advice applies to America more than ever today.
You see, I believe we have become paralyzed, paralyzed by our desire to be loved. Now our founding fathers had the wisdom to know that social acceptance and popularity were fleeting, and that this country's principles needed to be rooted in strengths greater than the passions and the emotions of the times.
But our leaders of today have decided it's more important to be popular, to say and do what's easy, and say yes rather than to say no, when no is what is required.
Every word is gospel truth. Domestically, our greatest deficit is respect: both for others and for oneself. Internationally, our greatest deficit is, once again, respect: the respect of other nations' governments for our principles, our power, and our resolve. Until those deficits are addressed candidly and soberly, America's downward trajectory will continue unaltered.
But Governor Christie's theme of respect wasn't the only one expressed last night.
Respect cannot be given; it must be earned. But once earned, it becomes the foundation of all achievement, the ingredient without which no chancy enterprise would ever be undertaken. For there are few jobs that require no collaboration with others, and no one will collaborate wholeheartedly, without reservations or venal ulterior motives, with someone he does not respect.
When a man who has earned our respect through creativity, ingenuity, perseverance, and attention to detail presents himself to us and says "I offer myself to you as your president," he gets my full attention. Once I've satisfied myself that he has the ability and principles required by the office, I frankly don't care whether he's "compassionate," or "empathetic," or loves dogs and small children.
But wait! Wasn't there another speaker last night? A certain Ann Romney, who strove to paint her husband in softer colors?
“I want to talk not about what divides us, but what holds us together as an American family,” said [Ann] Romney, whose husband had received the GOP presidential nomination just hours earlier. “Tonight I want to talk to you about love.”
Ann Romney, in a roughly 30-minute speech that ended with Mitt Romney walking on stage and kissing his wife, said it is women who are the unsung heroes of families.
“It’s the moms who work hard to make everything right,” said Romney, countering accusations by Democrats and other critics that Republicans are “waging a war against women.” "You know the fastest routes to the emergency room," she said. "You sit at graduation and wonder how the years went by so quickly."
"I love you, women," Romney said about midday through the speech.
Romney, in her speech at the GOP national convention in Tampa, Fla., also spoke of a marriage that was not exactly the storybook relationship that the Romneys' life is sometimes made out to be in the media.
“Well, in the storybooks I read, there were never long, long, rainy winter afternoons in a house with five boys screaming at once. And those storybooks never seemed to have chapters called MS or breast cancer,” said Romney, alluding to her own struggles with both illnesses.
Despite my deep sympathy for Ann Romney's personal trials, and my great respect for her accomplishment in nurturing so fine a family, nevertheless I must ask: Was any of that germane to whether Mitt Romney would be a good fit for the most powerful office on Earth? Do the duties of the president of the United States include loving us, or is that canard more appropriate to the flacksters for an autocrat?
"My opponent," Bonforte had said with a rasp in his voice, "would have you believe that the motto of the so-called Humanity Party, 'Government of human beings, by human beings, and for human beings,' is no more than an updating of the immortal words of Lincoln. But while the voice is the voice of Abraham, the hand is the hand of the Ku Klux Klan. The true meaning of that innocent-seeming motto is 'Government of all races everywhere, by human beings alone, for the profit of a privileged few.'
"But, my opponent protests, we have a God-given mandate to spread enlightenment through the stars, dispensing our own brand of Civilization to the savages. This is the Uncle Remus school of sociology -- the good dahkies singin' spirituals and Ole Massa lubbin' every one of dem! It is a beautiful picture but the frame is too small; it fails to show the whip, the slave block -- and the counting house!"
[From Robert A Heinlein's early Hugo Award winner Double Star]
You cannot love a whole people. It's difficult enough to love one other person. But love is the twaddle at the core of the Democrats' message. Their candidates "love us," unlike those crass, money-grubbing Republicans. They'll do "what's best for us," whether we like it or not. For they not only possess superior insight into the workings of economics, human motivation, and international affairs; they've got "the love that surpasseth all understanding," especially that of you hoi polloi who think you have a right to be left alone.
As in Heinlein's novel, it's merely a seduction tactic: Give us unlimited power over you, and we'll love you as you've never been loved before.
I don't like it that this has become a part of the Republican appeal to the citizenry. I neither need nor want "love" from any politician or party; I want the respect due a self-sufficient, law-abiding citizen.
With very few exceptions, each of us requires certain supports from others among us, principally respect for our rights: freedom to express ourselves; freedom to produce and trade in a trustworthy marketplace; freedom to enjoy the fruits of our labors without interference either from private criminals or from the State. Love? Most of us want love, to be sure. Some theorists claim that we need to love and be loved -- that unless we succeed in loving and winning the love of another, we'll shrivel neurologically and die miserably. But love isn't a commodity for the acquisition of which we should turn to politics.
Ann Romney's disquisition on love, on the love of mothers, and so forth might very well have been necessary to persuade undecided mush-heads that come November 6, her husband should be their choice. But to my mind, that speaks rather poorly of America. It suggests that we've forgotten completely about the imperative of respect and the terrible danger that emanates from any and every form of government. Political "love" is no support to American virtues. It's far more likely to be used as a justification for aggressive intrusions on our rights, in the name of "what's good for you."
Food for thought.