Hope vs. Despair: The Discussion is Coming

My colleague, Paul Kengor, wrote a brilliant article this week saying that Team Obama will try to cast the presidential election either in terms of class warfare—if Romney is the Republican nominee—or a battle over social issues, if Santorum gets the nod. If it’s Romney, the president’s team will have home field advantage. If it’s Santorum, Team Hope and Change will be playing on Rick’s home turf. Santorum will frame the debate as his version of hope versus Obama’s. Recall that Obama made “hope” a centerpiece of his 2008 campaign. Yesterday’s Santorum losses in Arizona and Michigan notwithstanding, human nature dictates that progressives and conservatives will soon have a debate about the source of our nation’s hope.

Kengor argues convincingly that Obama strategist David Axelrod is salivating as he prepares to serve up Romney as a piece of “red meat for the Occupy movement.” And why not? Class warfare is the favorite team meal of the all-star progressive squad. Consider the man who wrote the playbook, Saul Alinsky. The author of “Rules for Radicals” sought to give meaning to young radicals by teaching tactics to take from the “Haves” and give to the “Have-Nots.”

I happen to agree with some of the things Alinsky says in “Rules.” Things like: “[A]ll revolutionary movements are primarily generated from spiritual values,” and, “Today’s generation is desperately trying to make some sense out of their lives and out of the world…. The young are … looking for what man has always looked for from the beginning of time, a way of life that has some meaning or sense.” It’s human nature.

Alinsky gets that. We all know that there is a spiritual meaning to life, even if we’re hesitant to talk about it publicly. In that sense, Rick Santorum may be the best Republican candidate to take on President Obama. Santorum, like Alinsky, isn’t afraid to talk about life’s core spiritual issues.

But Santorum wouldn’t agree with Alinsky or Obama on the source of our political hope. Alinsky said that the community organizer, someone he believes to be on a higher plane than a mere leader, “understands that all of life is a quest for uncertainty; and that he can live with it.” This is an idea that dates back to the mid-19th-century German philosophical roots of modern radical progressivism. The highest value of progressive leaders is never-ending, radical, societal change. Why? Because they believe a social climate characterized by uncertainty provides the best environment for societal evolution. Whether it’s Barack Obama proclaiming in October 2008, “We are five days from fundamentally transforming the United States of America,” or Rahm Emanuel saying, “You don’t ever want a good crisis to go to waste, it’s an opportunity to do things you would otherwise avoid,” or Nancy Pelosi assuring an audience that, “We have to pass the bill before we can find out what’s in it,” radical progressive leaders seek to offer hope to their constituents by creating a climate of uncertainty.

But this runs contrary to human nature. Rather than creating hope, secular progressives create despair. And I believe rank-and-file progressives are getting wise to this.

A few weeks ago I visited a Washington, D.C., think-tank that is positioned best to understand the Occupy folks. Without any leading on my part, I asked one of the senior leaders to use one word to describe the defining characteristic of the Occupy movement. Following a few seconds of silence, he responded, “hopelessness,” and another senior operative quickly agreed.

It’s high time that we have a national discussion about the source of our political hope. We’re more likely to see that discussion if Rick Santorum is the Republican nominee. Like Ronald Reagan, Santorum eagerly discusses our hope using the language of the Declaration of Independence when he speaks of a Creator who creates us equally with certain unalienable rights. Santorum promotes this uniquely American wellspring of hope while radical secular progressives unwittingly create despair by believing in evolving, godless values (God-centered values are “dead” values) in pursuit of ongoing fundamental societal change. After all, how much rudderless fundamental change can a nation bear? Today’s radical progressives lead Americans down a dimly lit path to proven failure (e.g., massive progressive federal programs), while Santorum marches toward what he and Reagan perceive as a Shining City.

Of the two leading Republican presidential candidates, Santorum seems far more eager to lead a national discussion about the source of our country’s political hope. Either way, Americans will have that discussion some day, and we will have it soon. Progressivism will collapse under its own weight and, as Alinsky said, Americans will try to find meaning in the world. Inevitably, we’ll find it in those simple but profound words of the Declaration that created our nation—a nation that, as Lincoln said, is “the last best hope.”


Lee Wishing is the administrative director of The Center for Vision & Values at Grove City College (http://www.visionandvalues.org). He will be a participant in an April 19-20 conference hosted by The Center for Vision & Values at Grove City College on “The Challenge 2012: The Divided Conservative Mind.”

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