President Obama said something at his town hall meeting that I think is very revealing, both about his own political essence and about the ideological jungle we're all hacking our way through:
And by the way, I think most people understand -- because I spent two years running around the country talking about my life and why I was running for President -- they understand that I was the kid of a single mom, and I got my education through scholarships, and I lived in a small apartment with my grandparents, and they were helped by the G.I. Bill and FHA in terms of being able to climb into the middle class.
The whole reason I ran was because my life is a testimony to the American Dream. And everything that we've been doing since I came into office is designed to make sure that that American Dream continues for future generations.
Now, the president also talked about personal responsibility and our dynamic private sector, so I can be accused of taking his remarks out of context, but I think it means something when he juxtaposes "American Dream" with all that federal aid that helped his relatives "climb into the middle class." He really does see things that way -- that the chief purpose of government is to give to those who lack, which means first taking from those who have. His "redistribution of income" remarks have not been slips of the tongue. To Obama and those who think like him, the American Dream is about what you have, not how you got it.
There has been much angst lately about the great divide in American political life, with a lot of commentators wondering why we can't "all get along" and find some common ground. It's because we have core values that are almost -- not quite, but almost -- mutually exclusive. We either see things through the prism of freedom or the prism of equality, the two dynamic forces always in tension in our republic. Those of us who have one of those core values will give in somewhat to the other side -- freedom will admit to a basic safety net for the most vulnerable, equality will tolerate the need for the private sector to actually create the wealth that's passed around -- but we're also in the grip of the "never give 'em an inch" mentality. The more equality we have, the less freedom; the more freedom, the less equality. That's just the way it is.
My core value always has been and always will be freedom, because with it, everything is possible, and without it, nothing is. And if greed is the dark side of liberty, I'll accept that. The dark side of equality is envy, and that seems to me a far uglier quality.