Love. It’s the most powerful word in the English language. When it is flanked by two pronouns, it becomes the most powerful sentence in the English language: I love you.
Those three words change hearts. They change lives. They change everything.
It doesn’t matter what part of the world you live in or what language you speak, there are the equivalents of those three words. And they carry with them the same power everywhere they’re uttered. For the person saying them, and the one hearing them.
But if those words are not followed by loving actions, that’s where confusion begins. That’s where betrayal begins.
As a guy who remained unmarried through my early 40s, I used those three words more casually than I should have, not worried about the heart I might be wounding. Who knows why, but none of the reasons I can think of are good. Was I being careless or selfish? Was I doing it to make the women I was dating feel better? Or myself?
Then I met the real love of my life. She scared me. She impressed me. I knew she was the one. I wasn’t sure if I was the one for her.
On our first date, I tried my usual approach, the one that had sometimes worked with women before. It didn’t. It didn’t because I wasn’t comfortable doing what I’d done before. I wanted to love her. I wanted her to love me back. Coward that I was, I’d never taken that risk with my heart — and with my life — before.
But I had not met her before.
On that night when I first said to her those powerful three words, I knew it was the first time I had ever meant them. Because I was afraid. Afraid I wouldn’t hear those words back.
Luckily for me, I did. We celebrated our ninth anniversary last week.
“I was 32 when we met, and 62 when she died, the heart of my life, the life of my heart,” the writer Julian Barnes confessed in a memoir about his late wife, Pat. “You put together two things that have not been put together before,” he added. “And the world is changed.”
That’s the power of love. The world is changed by it. Without love, the world is barren.
The day my wife told me she was pregnant, my world was changed again. In what is the greatest song written about childbirth, the narrator in Bruce Springsteen’s “Living Proof” says this:
In his mother’s arms it was all the beauty I could take,
Like the missing words to some prayer that I could never make.
It was — and is — all the beauty I can take. Watching our daughter grow and laugh and play. The heart of my life, the life of my heart. The answer to a prayer I never even knew to pray.
It is love, regrettably, that is so utterly absent from anything we talk about as conservatives. I would bet that if you Googled every speech by every conservative candidate in 2012, you wouldn’t find the word “love” once.
Even though we believe deeply that love is the answer to so many of the world’s problems, we just can’t say the word.
We believe that no government worker can love a child the way his parents can, and yet we still can’t say the word.
We believe — many of us — that every child born is a child of God, with unique talents and gifts, and yet we still can’t say the word.
We believe poverty is often a symptom of kids’ being born without fathers, and to mothers who are kids themselves, and yet we still can’t say the word.
We believe that leaving kids stuck in dysfunctional schools is a form of child abuse, and yet we still can’t say the word.
We believe that social promotion is a bad idea, that giving kids an A for C work is not loving and is indeed the very opposite, and yet we still can’t say the word.
We believe that saddling future generations with debt to satisfy our needs today is immoral and selfish, and yet we still can’t say the word.
We give more to charity, to the needy and the poor, than our political opponents, and yet we still can’t say the word.
The plain truth is that if there were more love in this country, many of our problems would simply vanish.
If there were more talk of love by conservatives — and especially by those of us who believe in the everlasting love of God — and if we spoke from the heart about what we are for and not just what we are against, we might start winning more hearts.
And everyone with any sense knows that winning hearts is more important than winning minds.
If we started talking about betrayal, we might win more hearts, too. Because it wasn’t conservatives who betrayed the people of Detroit; it was that city’s liberal leaders, who made false promises to their own people; and the UAW, which drove auto plants south; and the public-employee unions, which treated that once great city as an ATM until there was no more cash left to withdraw.
It is conservatives who actually think about how ATMs get filled. It requires risk taking, sacrifice, discipline, hard work — and love — to do it. To build businesses and build savings and build real wealth, spiritual as well as material, requires patience and sacrifice. No one can give you these things.
It is liberals who endlessly ponder how to transfer that wealth, transfer the fruits of all of that labor and love, and who lecture us about our lack of love when we point out that they can’t keep on forever spending more than they take in.
It isn’t just bad math, what liberals are guilty of; it’s bad faith. Liberals are betraying the people they purport to serve.
This isn’t a debate we must have, but rather a competing human narrative we must construct, this story of love and betrayal.
This year’s CPAC speeches were being run in order on C-SPAN a few months ago. I watched for 30 minutes or so; it felt like one long anger-management seminar.
I then turned down the volume; the speakers looked even worse than they sounded. No smiles, no lightness. It was all bitterness. In the end, I just turned it off. Millions of Americans have just turned conservatives off, too.
One great conservative was not afraid to use the word “love.” Take a quick look at his two most famous speeches, and there it is. That word. Love.
On the 40th anniversary of D-Day, Reagan stood at the U.S. Ranger Monument at Pointe du Hoc and directly addressed the ghosts of the men in the graves in front of him:
You were young the day you took these cliffs; some of you were hardly more than boys, with the deepest joys of life before you. Yet, you risked everything here. Why? Why did you do it? What impelled you to put aside the instinct for self-preservation and risk your lives to take these cliffs? What inspired all the men of the armies that met here? We look at you, and somehow we know the answer. It was faith and belief; it was loyalty and love.
In June of 1987, during his speech at the Brandenburg Gate, the “Tear Down This Wall” speech, he talked to Berliners about their city and its rise from the ash heap of Nazism. “What keeps you here?” he asked the Berliners gathered to hear him. Then he answered:
Something that speaks with a powerful voice of affirmation, that says yes to this city, yes to the future, yes to freedom. In a word, I would submit that what keeps you in Berlin is love. Love both profound and abiding.
Reagan used that word twice. But he wasn’t finished.
The totalitarian world finds even symbols of love and of worship an affront. Years ago, before the East Germans began rebuilding their churches, they erected a secular structure: the television tower at Alexanderplatz. Virtually ever since, the authorities have been working to correct what they view as the tower’s one major flaw: treating the glass sphere at the top with paints and chemicals of every kind. Yet even today when the sun strikes that sphere, that sphere that towers over all Berlin, the light makes the sign of the cross. There in Berlin, like the city itself, symbols of love, symbols of worship, cannot be suppressed.
Four times Reagan used that word in the greatest speech of his presidency.
So let’s start talking about love. About building things the way only people who love can build things. Let’s talk about improving lives and neighborhoods, and about creating the kind of prosperity only loving and passionate people can create.
And let’s start talking about betrayal. Let’s talk about Detroit. About kids trapped in bad inner-city and rural schools. And deficits and how those deficits are stealing the future from our children.
Let’s talk about real hope, not the false hope President Obama peddled, and about the kind of people who make promises they can keep, and the kind who don’t.
Let’s talk about the kind of guy who tells the girls he loves them and then just takes what he wants from them and leaves. And the kind of guy who says the word “love” and then lives it.
I know those guys. I’ve been both of them.
Americans know those guys, too.
— Lee Habeeb is the vice president of content at Salem Radio Network, which syndicates Bill Bennett, Mike Gallagher, Dennis Prager, Michael Medved, and Hugh Hewitt. He lives in Oxford, Miss., with his wife, Valerie, and daughter, Reagan.