Politics & Policy

YOU, Go to Washington?

Democracy requires a team effort.

EDITOR’S NOTE: This column is available exclusively through United Media. For permission to reprint or excerpt this copyrighted material, please contact Carmen Puello at cpuello@unitedmedia.com.

Standing between liberty and tyranny is you.

That’s one of many essential lessons found in a powerful and necessary new book, Mark Levin’s Liberty and Tyranny: A Conservative Manifesto (Threshold, 2009).

#ad#Levin’s volume sounds a call to arms for conservatives, urging every last one of us to recognize how high the stakes are and to engage in public affairs to the best of our ability. Realizing that it’s not always the instinct of the conservative to take on Washington, he reminds us that our efforts in politics and public policy can take many forms, whether actually going to the nation’s capital, running for office closer to home, or discussing the current issues in your living room. Doing your job and living your life are important contributions, Levin writes, but “it is no longer enough.” America needs more from its concerned citizens.

When the actions of a Republican president set the scene for the current commander-in-chief’s CEO firings, we need a new level of attention from all Americans. In Levin’s words, we need “a new generation of conservative activists, larger in number, shrewder, and more articulate than before, who seek to blunt the Statist’s counterrevolution — not to imitate it — and gradually and steadily reverse course. More conservatives than before will need to seek elective and appointed office, fill the ranks of the administrative state, hold teaching positions in public schools and universities, and find positions in Hollywood and the media where they can make a difference in infinite ways.”

We appear to be living in a paradigm shift, in which the government is taking over in unprecedented ways. If you’re uncomfortable with what you’re seeing, get to work.

There are countless examples of citizens who have shared Levin’s concerns at one time or another throughout America’s history and have gotten involved in politics because of them. One of Levin’s contemporary favorites, as anyone who listens to his radio show knows, is Minnesota congresswoman Michele Bachmann. She’s someone the Left loves to hate; in fact, left-wing groups pulled out all the stops in their attempt to defeat her last year. She got involved in politics a decade ago after one of her foster children (she and her husband have taken care of 23 over the years, in addition to raising five children of their own) came home from high school with a poster to color for math class, instead of serious homework. She realized there was something wrong with the public-school standards in her home state and got involved in improving things. Her efforts would eventually take her to the state senate and, now, the U.S. House of Representatives. Ask her about it and you’ll get the sense of a woman who is thinking not about an office but about her country.

Talk to Bachmann about politics and the future, and it is clear that she has “liberty and tyranny” on her mind (both literally — she cited the book on Sean Hannity’s show — and foundationally). What she says seems to stem not from political ambition but from those concerns that got her into politics in the first place. She views herself as a back-bencher with an opportunity and a responsibility at a crucial time in American history. She’s a former federal-tax-litigation attorney who now sits on the Financial Services Committee. Also a small-business owner and an educational entrepreneur (she helped found one of the first charter schools in the country, which is still running), Bachmann brings a breadth and depth of experience to Washington that Gotcha! sound bites do not do justice to.

On Levin’s show late last year she was open about her amazement that anyone would want to subject himself to the political process. There’s little question that she has thought that since, as her every word continues to be parsed and scrutinized; it becomes positively viral at times. Bachmann was already doing more than her part before she ran for the House, before she ran for state office, before she and her husband welcomed 23 foster children into their home. But she, like Levin, knows America needs all hands on deck. This is the real, substantive, bipartisan “Yes we can” message. It’s the message of the citizen-politicians of the Founding era.

In his bestseller, Levin prescribes a way to combat “the ascent of a soft tyranny” in the United States today. Rather than ask the government to fix everything, we must “return to founding principles,” which involve “a free people living in a civil society, working in self-interested cooperation.” This is what Bachmann is trying every day to contribute to. We can’t all be members of Congress, but we all have a sphere of influence in which we ought to be full and informed participants. That doesn’t just mean a vote and a letter to the editor now and then. We need to teach our children that which is worth preserving. We need to engage with our friends in a smart and respectful way. The future of liberty depends on it — on us.

Kathryn Jean Lopez is the editor of National Review Online. © 2009, Kathryn Jean Lopez. Distributed by Newspaper Enterprise Assn.

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