American Rights,
American Responsibilities

Big government invites corruption and imperils the generosity of the American spirit.


In America today, we need to trust ourselves not look to others to take care of us. As a society, we bloom when we allow individuals to work hard and enjoy what they can achieve. Economist and Nobel laureate F. A. Hayek rightly credited the “unchaining of individual energies” with creating and sustaining the West’s freedom and prosperity. Only individuals create and dream, something Americans have recognized since the nation’s founding. That is why we Americans reject collectivism. We do not believe that, in the words of one turn-of-the-century German thinker, “The individual is nothing in relation to the course [of time], the species is everything.”

However, we cannot ever allow our society to drift to the opposite extreme, at which the individual is everything, and the group is nothing. As Americans, we are bound together by a common outlook and heritage. We have freedom, but we also have responsibilities, both to ourselves and to those around us. That is what makes us great.

In my family, our need to care for others — not just our family but strangers, too — springs from our Christian beliefs. The greatest commandment, which envelops so many others, is the voluntary obligation to love your neighbor as yourself. Government coercion is a poor and dangerous substitute for that appeal to our better angels. As Winston Churchill said just over 100 years ago, the good Lord taught us to believe “all mine is yours,” not “all yours is mine.” Christian charity is about giving, not taking.

Here in Louisiana, when the storms have come, we have seen the incomparable generosity of the American spirit. I’ll never forget what I saw: people standing on rooftops begging to be rescued. Hospitals meant to save lives, suddenly helpless to preserve them. Families torn apart for all time by the relentless force of the rising waters.

A monumental failure of government contributed mightily to what we saw during those grim days in 2005.We will see other storms come to our state but, as governor, I’ve worked to make sure those tragic events never visit Louisiana again. I’ve also put everyone in the state on notice that all of us, as individuals, must take greater responsibility for preparing for the storms life brings us. All of us must be responsible for meeting the needs of the truly disadvantaged, people with physical or mental limitations. People who can take responsibility for themselves should not expect someone else do so. We will help you when catastrophe comes, but you’d better not sit there and just wait for someone to pull you out when you could climb out, or pick you up when you could stand on your own two feet.

Today, we have taxpayer dollars going to banks, investment houses, and automakers, and financial firms that are judged “too big to fail.” Our government is supposed to be a “partner” with these businesses. As one businessman told me, that’s like an alligator having a chicken as a partner for dinner. I believe big government should not be picking and choosing which companies we will bail out or rescue. That political competition lets the best lobbyists determine the winner.