Obama sees an America where the only alternative to an ever-growing government that intervenes in every aspect of our lives is an atomistic individualism with no regard for our fellow man. Either we are all wards of the state or we are Ted Kaczynski, hiding alone in our Montana cabin. Civil society and voluntary action — private charity and civic organizations, churches, synagogues, mosques, and businesses large and small — do not exist, or if they do, they are simply distractions from the work of government.
We can dismiss such remarks as little more than the president’s penchant for attacking straw men, but everything he says or does suggests that he believes them to be true.
On the other hand, what do Republicans believe? Beyond opposing the president, do they have a view of how the individual and the ideal of liberty fit into our society? How would they meet the challenges of today, in an America that is different and more diverse than ever before? Will they reform the institutions of government and challenge the modern welfare state?
The president closed his inaugural address with a statement that we should all embrace. We “have the obligation,” he said, “to shape the debates of our time, not only with the votes we cast, but the voices we lift in defense of our most ancient values and enduring ideas.”
The president has set out an agenda and a vision. It is now up to Republicans to answer with an agenda and a vision of their own.
— Michael Tanner is a senior fellow at the Cato Institute and author of Leviathan on the Right: How Big-Government Conservatism Brought Down the Republican Revolution.