The following appeared last fall in the local paper. It's up to us to make people come to the "right" conclusions!
With the recent market turmoil and panic, combined with a highly charged political campaign, Americans can be excused if they find it all a little bewildering. While bewildering, it has caused me to think of bricks and mortar. Bricks and mortar in a real sense and more importantly in a metaphorical sense.
I often think how much we take for granted in this country. The world we wake up to each day has in it the homes and businesses, associations and organizations that comprise our physical reality and by extension, our culture. How did these things come to be? What was the animating spirit behind their creation? What is it about this culture that makes us unique and sets us apart? As a building can fall down, can the things that have made our culture also be destroyed?
In all of the responses to our current travails perhaps what is most alarming is a very deep sense that the political responses are missing the mark and drawing the wrong conclusions. It reminds me of a story attributed to Abraham Lincoln. When Lincoln was a practicing attorney he once represented a client who owned barges on the Mississippi River. One of these barges got loose one day and rammed an abutment of a railroad bridge and caused extensive damage. The railroad sued the man for damages and during the trial brought in all kinds of experts and high priced legal talent in an effort to win. Their case seemed pretty airtight until it was time for Lincoln’s summation. “My learned opponents” Lincoln said, “have presented an impressive case. There is no question that they have their facts absolutely right. But they have drawn completely wrong conclusions.” The jurors laughed uproariously at this, adjourned to deliberate and shortly came back with a verdict favoring Lincoln’s client. With the trial over, attorneys for the railroad besieged Lincoln asking him how this could be. They had the case won, how could Lincoln win they demanded to know, simply by saying what he did. “Well boys” Lincoln replied “it just happened that when court adjourned for lunch today I happened in the saloon where the jurors were eating and told them a little story. A story of a farmer working in his barnyard when his ten year old boy came rushing up to him all excited. Paw, said the boy, come quick. Sis and the hired man are up in the haymow. He’s a pullin down his pants and she’s a liftin up her skirts. Paw, they’re gettin ready to pee all over our hay. Son, the farmer said, you’ve got your facts absolutely right but you’ve drawn a completely wrong conclusion.
Now, I know that the American taxpayer doesn’t want to end up like that farmers daughter. To me it’s absolutely essential that we don’t do more harm by coming to the wrong conclusions, that somehow our system and it’s principles are at fault.
Most Americans recognize that we’re headed for some lean times. This should be regarded by us as an opportunity to get back to the basics, living within our means, working hard, saving and thrift, and strengthening our sense of community. If you cut through all the fog its not hard to see anything that can’t be fixed by returning to the virtues that built this country. Can there be any doubt that what is ultimately going to pull our chestnuts out of the fire is the American free enterprise system? American businesses, workers, entrepreneurs, doing the millions of things that they do every day conducting this nations affairs is the mortar that holds us together. We certainly can not look to government to create wealth for us.
Perhaps the most important “brick” of our civilization, it’s very foundation if you will, is under assault, and few recognize the danger this poses. To understand the origins of that foundation and it’s bearing on us we need to go back to a misty June morning centuries ago in the English meadows of Runnymeade. While not appreciated at the time, the events that day helped to sow the seeds of the greatest civilization in the history of the world. By compelling the government, in this case the king, to sign a document recognizing certain of their “rights” and privileges, the barons set in motion a chain of events that over centuries coalesced into the freedoms we all enjoy today. The signing of this document, the Magna Carta, was the first, nascent, organic appearance of the recognition that a king was responsible to a higher authority. It helped to lay the foundation that our personal freedoms are directly tied to our economic freedoms. Stop and think about that for a moment. Your right and my right to associate, worship, and speak freely are inherently bound to our rights to property. At a time when our government is scattering billions of dollars like chicken feed, swollen and drunk on it’s own power and sense of self-importance, it threatens to expand it’s size and scope even more.
It is my hope that Americans are mindful of these things and don’t draw the wrong conclusions. For it’s not just billions of dollars that we stand to lose but the steady erosion of our freedoms. The freedoms that allow us to build, create and succeed beyond our dreams. But with that success there is always the inherent risk of failure. That is the nature of life. The art of life is in treating success and failure as the imposture’s that they are, as a wise poet once said. Let us not attack the foundation, the “bricks and mortar” that make us who we are because of the abuses of a few. The stakes are that high if we are to pass on an America to our children that bears any semblance to the one we knew when we were young.
- Mark H. Knaust