The Distinction that Matters Most

A reflection on the Americans for Prosperity Defending the Dream Summit

by Jacqueline Otto

This past weekend, a few thousand conservatives inside the Washington Convention Center were enjoying dinner and patriotic music. A few hundred protesters with Occupy DC  sat outside the same building in the November cold. Those inside chorused the National Anthem and saluted the American Flag. Those outside yelled at and heckled police officers and denounce the American Dream. Those inside memorialized a great American, and brought their children to learn about freedom. Those outside vandalized private property and brought their children to learn about civil disobedience. The difference is stark and stunning. The significance is unmistakable.

The Americans for Prosperity Foundation (AFPF) hosted the Defending the Dream Summit primarily to educate. The Summit offered breakout sessions on issues ranging from state spending to how to produce effective YouTube videos. The event featured authoritative scholars, journalists, and current and former Presidential candidates.

A couple of friends from Florida who own a small technology company came to learn how to use their skills in helping local campaigns. A family came from Arkansas to teach their children about current legislative issues and the importance of limited government. Many people came seeking to find organizations to which they can donate their time and money, a sign of robust civic association.

Not so with the Occupy DC protesters outside. They came not to respectfully learn, but to violently dispute. They came not to donate time and money, but to demand more benefits and money from the government.

As they attempted to shut down Massachusetts Avenue, I witnessed a protester in a wheelchair roll herself in front of a moving car. Other protesters who were blocking streets ended up hospitalized. Some protesters brought their toddlers, who were caught up in the mob that rushed the convention center. While some were trying to break down the front door, others yelled “We are not violent!” When we were finally able to leave, security guards funneled us through a back door.

Before these events, AFP Summit attendees had mostly afforded the Occupy protesters the benefit of the doubt. Surely they were sincere, just a little (or very much) misguided. Surely their moral indignation was rooted in an admirable ideal, but their lack of leadership is what has lead them to chaos. Most people believed that the Occupy Wall Street protests had many themes in common with the Tea Party aura of the AFP Summit.

But as National Review’s Jonah Goldberg said at the event, “any similarity between Occupy Wall Street and the Tea Party misses the fundamental differences.” Namely, while both were against bailouts, the Tea Party opposes them in principle, and because they were footing the bill. Occupy Wall Street opposes them because they didn’t get a bailout for personal debts.

In 2008 Goldberg prophetically described the Occupy Wall Street protesters as “The Spoiled Children of Capitalism”:

It’s an old story. Loving parents provide a generous environment for their offspring. Kids are given not only ample food, clothing and shelter, but the emotional necessities as well: encouragement, discipline, self-reliance, the ability to work with others and on their own. And yet, in due course, the kids rebel. Some even say their parents never loved them, that they were unfair, indifferent, cruel. Often, such protests are sparked by parents’ refusal to be even more generous. I want a car, demands the child. Work for it, insist the parents. Why do you hate me? asks the ingrate. . . .

We’ve all witnessed the tendency to take a boon for granted. Being accustomed to a provision naturally leads the human heart to consider that provision an entitlement… And so it goes, I think, with capitalism generally.

Capitalism is the greatest system ever created for alleviating general human misery, and yet it breeds ingratitude.

While these protesters raged against capitalism, and specifically David and Charles Koch, who have been both beneficiaries and benefactors of capitalism, the AFP Summit attendees celebrated the ability of capitalism to reduce poverty and alleviate suffering. Recall that the name of the gathering was the “Defending the Dream Summit.” The dream of the attendees is that of free markets, limited government, and freedom for humanity. It is a belief in the dignity of liberty.

Not surprisingly, Ronald Reagan was often cited through the event. And it is Ronald Reagan that most aptly described the juxtaposition of these two social forces.

You and I are told increasingly that we have to choose between a left or right, but I would like to suggest that there is no such thing as a left or right. There is only an up or down. Up to a man’s age-old dream, the ultimate in individual freedom consistent with law and order. Or down to the ant heap of totalitarianism.

Commentators like to describe political thought as a kind of spectrum, where every distinct position could be plotted. We have all seen the charts and the Cartesian planes and have taken the quizzes and discussed our results. But the real lesson of this event is that we must set these distinctions aside. It is up and down that is important.

Freedom lifts up. Violence drags down. That is the distinction that matters most.

 

Jacqueline Otto blogs at www.ValuesAndCapitalism.com, a project of the American Enterprise Institute.

 

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