Our friend Mark Steyn has a typically strong column on the issue of Chick-fil-A, which includes the following: “Americans talk more about liberty than citizens of other Western nations, but, underneath the rhetorical swagger, liberty bleeds.” I think that with “bleeds,” Mark has chosen the mot juste, because, fallen human nature being what it is, liberal institutions will always be wounded and imperfect. Yes, there is something grating about a country that thumps its chest patriotically about freedom while simultaneously being, ahem, less than energetic in the protection of that freedom. (Nor is Mark the first conservative to point this out; not by a long shot. Dr. Johnson famously tweaked our founding generation with the line, “How is it that we hear the loudest yelps for liberty among the drivers of negroes?”)
But the difference between, on one hand, being bleeding and wounded, and on the other, being moribund, is a crucial one. Whether we stay on the good side of the line between these two depends on teachable moments like the one we’re in now. Liberty is not a self-defending value, any more than the Constitution is a self-enforcing document. We’ll never be perfectly free, any more than we will ever be 100 percent true to the Constitution (either its letter or its spirit). But with the choices we make on a day-by-day basis, in small controversies, we move the needle ever so slightly in the direction of the survival (and, dare we hope, strengthening) of our best values.