Monday, July 29, 2013

Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power by Jon Meacham

I saw the book Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power at Costco, and true to my nature, I judged it by the cover. In addition, the author had received a Pulitzer Prize, so I was pretty sure it would be good.

What a wonderful look at one of the most dynamic of our founding fathers! He brought Thomas Jefferson to life with the theme of power running through the book. 

He begins with Thomas Jefferson’s childhood and early years. His father died early in his life and left him as the “man of the house”. Therefore Thomas Jefferson had to begin exercising power early. Because of some preternatural wisdom, Jefferson sought out older men to mentor him and make connections that would introduce him into the halls of power. 

Being a landed gentleman, he served in the House of Burgesses in Virginia from a young age. He therefore had a very close up view of the British government and its dealings with the colonies. So when skirmishes broke out in Boston, it was Jefferson who was called to write up our fabled Declaration of Independence.

Although a slave owner, Jefferson recognized that the institution had to die. He included this kind of language in the Declaration, only to see it removed during the revision process. He would fight his whole life in whatever pragmatic way he could to end the practice he had inherited. Unfortunately, it was a battle in which he would ultimately fail.

The first year of the Revolution saw him elected as Governor of Virginia. He used this time to go through the legal code of the state with a fine-toothed comb. He ended ancient inheritance laws designed to benefit the landed gentry. He learned to practice pragmatism, to feel out the lawmakers and push from behind the scenes legislation he deemed valuable. He knew how to use language and religious sentiments to further his causes. He pushed for freedom of Religion, arguing that for the state to prop us a particular religion only enfeebles that faith. He quoted Scripture to say that the gates of  hell shall not prevail against the church, and therefore government support was not necessary. God did not need humans to prop Him up. His moment of ignominy occurred when he fled Richmond as it came under British attack. He would spend much of his political career living that down.

“A favored son, a brilliant student, a legislator of his state at age twenty-five, author of the Summary View at thirty-one and of the declaration of Independence at thirty-three, governor of Virginia at thirty-six… Thomas Jefferson was accustomed to public success and popular praise, to moving from strength to strength and from glory to glory.” But now his wife was dead, he was humiliated over the attacks hurled at him for abandoning Richmond, and he felt the sting of public malice. Thomas Jefferson knew the choice was between a quiet retirement, leaving his name muddied or advancing and continuing to make a mark. When he was called to serve in Paris, he jumped at the chance.

Jefferson loved his time in Paris, but never forgot that he was, first and foremost, an American. While there, he developed a life-long, although at times rocky, friendship with the Adams. He fell deeply in love with a married woman, Maria Cosway. His head and his heart battled, with no clear winner. His time spent with her was brief, but it is the one scandal that he admitted, much later in life, was true. He corresponded with her throughout his life, albeit intermittently. 

During his time in Paris, his wife’s half-sister, a slave, Sally Hemings was sent to help care for Jefferson’s daughters. Interestingly, he did not request her, yet the author concludes that Sally’s resultant pregnancy was because of an affair with Jefferson. However throughout his life, there is no evidence they were sexually active. Only the timing of her pregnancies, the word of her children and rumors in country are offered as proof. Never once does Jefferson send for her, inquire of her, treat her children differently from other slaves, or acknowledge the rumors as true. In characteristic fashion, he refuses to discuss them. He was opposed to gossip and trained from an early age to manage, so it’s easy to imagine him taking the fall for another’s dalliances. In fact, although the author acknowledges the DNA linking Hemings ancestors to Jefferson, the Thomas Jefferson Society has admitted it is not clear that Thomas Jefferson was the father and there is research suggesting that the father of the Hemings children may have been Jefferson’s brother. 

From the distant continent, he received word of the new Constitution. It was more than he could have hoped for. He sailed home and was offered the position of Secretary of State by the first president, George Washington.

Although he and Washington respected each other, they were never close. Partially this was because both feared two different things. Jefferson, ever the democrat, saw the lessons of the English Civil War and feared that Americans would grow frustrated with their republic and demand a king. Impolitic statements by the Federalists added to his fears. Washington, having suffered under an impotent federal government during the Revolution, feared a government that was too weak. As he knew concerning himself, he had no ambition towards monarchy. In fact, all his efforts were to avoid just such a fate for himself and when confronted with the possibility of becoming a king, he reacted with horror. Perhaps this led him to underplay Jefferson’s fears and therefore rely on the Federalist, strong-government-supporting, Hamilton. 

Jefferson did not enjoy his time in New York as Secretary of State. But he did manage to make sure the Capitol was built in the south and taken out of the hands of his dreaded Federalist bankers. Even this was a pragmatic response to Hamilton’s idea of a National Bank. While Jefferson feared it, he knew as a practical matter, it would come to pass. He got the best deal he felt he could. Finally, at the end of Washington’s first term, he could take the infighting no longer and resigned. 

He returned to his beloved Monticello and family. Although he ostensibly wanted to escape the drama inherent in politics, it was here he listened to the political news of the day and plotted with his compatriots Madison and Monroe. While he considered himself a farmer and retired from civil service, nevertheless, he diligently followed politics. So it came as no surprise that 4 short years later he again embroiled in national happenings. He and Adams were the forerunners for the title of 2nd President of the United States. Jefferson narrowly lost to become the 2nd Vice President of the United States. 

He continued to operate according to previous power plays, smooth and polite, a warrior who chose his battles, yet conducted himself in the background. Adams sealed his political fate with the hated Alien and Sedition Acts. Jefferson kept a wary eye on his leader, always with fears of a return to monarchy present. When Republican Thomas Callender was prosecuted under the Sedition Act for speaking out against Adams, the Jefferson/Adams friendship suffered an almost fatal blow. Jefferson would replace John Adams in the election of 1800 as the 3rd President.

“From war making to economic life to territorial acquisition to federal spending to subpoenas and the sharing of information with Congress and the courts, Jefferson maintained or expanded the authority of the presidential office.” He operated as a hands-on president, knowing the power of the office and persuasiveness of personal attention. He interacted intimately with the legislature in order to govern in a consistent fashion with a consistent message. He is most famously known for sending Lewis and Clark to chart the Northwest Territory and the Louisiana Purchase, doubling the size of America. He faced scandal however when he did not fully exonerate James Callender for the sedition charge. The rumors of his dalliances with Sally Hemings would hit the front pages as a result. As President, he was forced to deal with European hostilities and unfinished business with England. While he navigated us peacefully through, the story was not over and the War of 1812 would result on Madison’s watch. 

Following in Washington’s footsteps, Jefferson stepped down after two terms. He returned to his beloved Monticello, where, despite desiring a quite retirement, he very much kept up with the swirling political world. He dealt with deaths and scandals. In true Jeffersonian fashion, he solved every problem he could and lamented those he couldn’t. He knew how to make things happen and when to sweep things under the rug. He focused on his next great love, the University of Virginia. He watched as the Missouri Compromise enshrined slavery and ushered in what Jefferson called, “the knell of the Union.” He knew a geographic line would inexorably lead to civil war. 

At one point, near the end of his life, Jefferson was asked to counsel a young namesake on how to live a virtuous life. He answered, “Adore God, reverence and cherish your parents. Love your neighbor as yourself, and your country more than yourself. Be Just. Be true. Murmur not at the ways of Providence. So shall the life into which you have entered be the portal to one of eternal and ineffable bliss.”

What fitting words to a remarkable life. 

Monday, July 22, 2013

George Washington by Paul Johnson

I love American History and I love Paul Johnson the historian, so how could I not read his book, George Washington? Coming in at just over 100 pages, this very slim biography is little delight. 

He follows George Washington from his childhood in Virginia through his death just days shy of 1800. Although from a young age, he kept and cataloged a mountain of papers, indicating that he knew he might be destined for greatness, his overwhelming ambition was to be thought unambitious. Despite the records and accounts, he still remains somewhat mysterious and private. 

He was born to landed Virginia aristocracy. Although dismissed by some as uneducated, he was definitely taught in the classical way at home by schoolmasters, and when his father died, he sought out mentors. He copied out 110 Jesuit maxims and determined to live his life by that wisdom. Land and what he called “interest” were the things that consumed him. He felt land made one a gentleman and “interest” was the bonds and connections that allowed one to move up in the world. It’s possible that his interest in “interest” was one reason why we was so accepting of so many different kinds of people. He never knew when it would help to have a friend in some particular place. So rather than causing him to simply use people, he developed true relationships he could count on.

George Washington began working as a surveyor as a young man. This allowed him to get a very good lay of the land and begin investing in western properties. He experienced Indians in his travels and began to believe strongly that they would not impede America’s move westward. Once Washington inherited his brother Lawrence’s Mount Vernon property, he began to see the importance of defending that land. 

Soon, because of his surveyors knowledge, he was to find himself defending his beloved state in the French and Indian War. Despite two stinging defeats, four bullets shot through his coat, and two horses shot out from under him, his heroic behavior and courage led to a promotion to full colonel. The lessons he learned in this war would prove invaluable to his Revolutionary War efforts. If nothing else, the bitter defeats taught him that the British could indeed lose. 

While he had no children of his own, he was a loving and devoted husband and father to the widow Martha Custis and her children. 

Mount Vernon was not only filled with family and friends, it was filled with slaves. George Washington was no fan of slavery, considering it inefficient at best. Recognizing the inhumanity of it, he refused to sell his slaves to his own detriment. He became, over the course of his lifetime, slave rich and cash poor. Yet he tried to make an horrible situation the best he could. He clothed and educated his slaves, refused to hunt fugitive slaves with dogs and rarely used the whip. “At the time of his death, of three hundred slaves on his property, only about a hundred actually worked.” He kept slaves until their death and refused to break up families. He freed his slaves upon the death of Martha, yet even this step was difficult in a culture that found its very life entwined with the “peculiar institution.”

Washington viewed with trepidation the increasing presence of the British into American life. While not necessarily a radical, he could see that eventually America would have to resist the British and he sincerely hoped the mother country would eventually see reason. “Washington was baffled and in the end angered and disgusted by the sheer ignorance and incompetence of the home government from 1763 onward.” He represented Virginia at the Second Continental Congress and accepted with both confidence and self-doubt the role of commander in chief of the Revolutionary forces in July of 1775. He spent the next 6 1/2 years battling both the British and Congress. The weak federal government was unable to keep its promises or pay its bills. Lessons not lost on the future first president.

“Washington will never go down as one of the great field commanders... Of the battle he fought, he lost three out of ten. On the other hand, he was a strategist of genius who understood very well what kind of a war he was fighting and how to win it.” And with the will to fight for what he knew to be right, win it he did. When he resigned his commission at the end of the war, King George remarked that if Washington returned to his farm, “he will be the greatest man in the world.” “Farmer George” went home. 

Back at Mount Vernon, he poured himself into the running of his neglected plantation. He set about on a project of building canal to connect the distant west to the populated towns and plantations. Ever thinking he made sure Mount Vernon would benefit from the proposed corridors. Yet in these agricultural and business dealings, he began to see the need for a stronger national government. Leaving home once again, he presided over the Constitutional Convention and saw a new nation truly birthed from the ashes of the Revolution.

After the new Constitution was ratified, Washington was informed that he had been selected as the first president. Despite having to borrow the money to travel back to New York, he initially declined a salary. Yet congress would not have it and despite its own lack of resources insisted all public servants receive a regular salary. This lack of funds proved to be one of the first obstacles President Washington had to deal with. Hamilton, of low birth, but a proven financier, insisted that all debts be paid and that these new United States start on firm footing, opening itself up for business and future credit. He fought as well for a National Bank, believing it and integral part of a growing economy. Washington generally sided with Hamilton, but had to incorporate the differing opinion of Jefferson who saw Hamilton as an aristocratic monarchist intent in returning America to a monarchy with King George at the head. Washington deftly navigated the crisis, siding with Hamilton yet presiding over the compromise which would locate the national headquarters in the south. 

Washington set the precedents for future presidents. He was active. He toured the country and talked to the people. He was no monarchist as Jefferson feared and even Jefferson declared, Washington, “would rather be on his farm than made Emperor of the World!” George Washington suited up in his old uniform when a “Whiskey Rebellion” began over taxes and pushed for the promised Bill of Rights. He knew we needed a strong separation between church and state in order to avoid the feeble Church of England and the bigoted New England version of it. Yet he considered himself a Christian and saw religion as very important in the life of America. He would have been horrified to see the mockery we have made today of his attempts to save the church from the government. While eager to return home after his first term, events such as the French Revolution and America’s continuing hot and cold relations with Britain convinced him that he must stand for a second term. This first “second term” even set the precedent we continue to see in second terms: b-list appointees, scandal, intransigence, and heartache. 

Washington spent his final three years at home, working on much neglected project of love, Mount Vernon. Yet there was no rest for the righteous as visitors remained at his home almost constantly and wore him out. Unlike the last book I read on George Washington, Johnson sees him as mentally sharp and observant to the end. He died after getting sick following a snowy ride in December 1799. He was bled by his doctors, as was the custom and that probably contributed to his death. So passed away one of the greatest Americans to ever live, a model for us as individuals and for our current leaders.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Witness by Whittaker Chambers

I read The Witness by Whittaker Chambers after seeing so many people whom I respect sing its praises. 

I can see why it was a life changer for so many. 

Unfortunately, I am largely unfamiliar with the period under consideration. Whittaker Chambers gained national attention in the 1950s when he testified against Communist spy, Alger Hiss and his fellow co-conspirators. He goes into a lot of detail and offers names, dates, and locations as if his reader is familiar with these events. But as I am not, I found myself getting bogged down in the details at times. 

But those details are not what I found fascinating about this book. While it was written to convince a skeptical public of his veracity, he also referred to himself as a witness to history. He believed the world was divided into two competing ideologies. One side believed in God. The other side believed in man. In the course of his lifetime, he found himself switching from what he called the winning side to the losing side. He always believed that the godless ideology would eventually win. It is simply too attractive to believe that man and his reason are the way to a perfect world.

What made the part of the book that concerned itself with philosophy so engrossing was his level of clarity and introspection. He felt chosen by the grace of God to be a witness, to testify to the truth, to report on what he had seen and learned. He saw the ultimate struggle between Communism and freedom, but he knew the struggle had taken many names and would take others in the future. 

He described Communism thusly, “It is the vision of man’s mind displacing God as the creative intelligence of the world. It is the vision of man’s liberated mind by the sole force of its rational intelligence, redirecting man’s destiny and reorganizing man’s life and the world. It is the vision of man, once more the central figure of the Creation.” Communism denies God, denies the soul, and as such, denies humanity.

Today, we would call the struggle the fight between right and left. Obviously leftism is not on the level of Communism as to the amount of bloodshed, but the left does have blood on its hands. When the hero du jour is Wendy Davis fighting for the right to kill a baby after 20 weeks gestation, we can wonder, “Where is your soul?”

One very telling anecdote told by Chambers involves the decision of another to leave the Communist Party. The man’s embarrassed daughter could not really explain it except to say, “One day, he heard the screams.” Whittaker knew exactly what this meant. The Communists denied that humans were more than animals, that they had a soul. So the torture and murder of fellow humans became simple collateral damage in the journey to create utopia. As Stalin famously said, “You cannot make an omelet without breaking a few eggs.”

Yet one day, this man, “heard the screams.” He suddenly realized the screams of pain and torture were the screams of a soul being denied its right to live and to create a meaningful life for itself. Suddenly he heard a human being, of infinite and eternal worth, being put to death and killed. He heard the sound of a soul, extinguished. 

It is the same “sound” a person who is pro-choice hears when she sees a sonogram of a fully formed baby in the womb sucking her thumb. This accident, this “product of conception”, this amorphous mass, is a soul.

Whittaker Chambers realized that without God, there is no soul. Without a soul, murder and destruction become means to an end. There is no other conclusion. Without the soul, we are animals, and we will act like animals. But in our reason and intelligence, we become and justify being beastlier than any beast. For him, there must be a God.

He sums up his thinking about man and God in his testimony before the House UnAmerican Activities Commission, “Under the bland influence of the idea of progress, man, supposing himself more and more to be the measure of all things, has achieved a singularly easy conscience and an almost hermetically smug optimism. The idea that man is sinful and needs redemption has been subtly changed into the idea that man is by nature good and hence capable of indefinite perfectibility. ... Man is essentially good... And yet, as 20th century civilization reaches a climax, its own paradoxes grow catastrophic. The incomparable technological achievement is more and more dedicated to the task of destruction. Man’s marvelous conquest of space has made total war a household experience ... The more abundance increases, the more resentment becomes the characteristic new look on 20th century faces... Men have never been so educated, but wisdom, even as an idea, has conspicuously vanished from the world.” He goes on to quote from Dostoyevsky about the eternal necessity of the soul to be itself, but once indulged to the point of freedom from God, tragedy, evil, and often the exact opposite of what was intended results. 

I love his wisdom and insight. He is truly brilliant and one of the deepest thinkers I have ever encountered. He writes beautifully and almost poetically. Obviously each word is carefully chosen. For a good summary of his philosophy without the details of his everyday life, the opening preface, called Letter to My Children, is exceptional. (And only 20 pages out of the 800-page tome.)

Monday, July 8, 2013

Jesus: A Biography from a Believer by Paul Johnson

When the esteemed historian, Paul Johnson, wrote a biography on Jesus, I knew I had to pick it up. His subtitle, “A Biography from a Believer” explains his own point of view. But what I was most interested in was how his historian’s brain treated Jesus as an historical figure. 

He begins by stating, up front, his belief that Jesus was both God and man. Without this fundamental understanding, Jesus life can be confusing and subject to dismissal. But with this as his basic premise, he can treat the miracles, the virgin birth, the encounters with the people of his day and his death and resurrection as matters of fact rather than speculation.

I love how he introduces his book, “The problem with writing the life of Jesus the man is not so much the paucity of sources as their abundance, and the difficulty in reaching behind the written text to the full meaning of sayings and episodes which need to be explained afresh to each generation. There is the further problem of presenting to readers, two millennia later, the personality of a man so extraordinary and protean, passionate yet deliberative, straight-forward and subtle, full of authority and even, at times, stern, yet also infinitely kind, understanding, forgiving, and loving, so dazzling in his excellences that those close to him had no hesitation in accepting his divinity.”

He begins with the account of Jesus birth, dedication and episode in the temple at age 12. Being that he is Catholic, he believes those referred to as “Jesus’ brothers” are actually cousins and that Mary was a perpetual virgin. He speculates that during the “missing years” from 12 to 30 that Jesus spent time in a variety of occupations and with a variety of people. This led to his deep understanding of people and jobs such as shepherding and farming.

His next section deals with the Baptism, Temptation and choosing of the Apostles. With Jesus beginning to make a name for himself, Johnson points out that Jesus is never physically described. Yet again and again, he is described as “looking up” or “looking at”. Apparently Jesus had a penetrating gaze and was a keen observer. He also exuded an air of authority which was immediately recognized wherever he went. Johnson details the way in which the disciples were chosen, but makes the point that not all who were called responded favorably. The “rich, young ruler” went away sad that Jesus asked too much of a commitment from him.

Johnson goes onto highlight some miracles in the life of Christ. But these miraculous deeds were not without negative repercussions. As such, Jesus often performed these supernatural actions reluctantly, usually compelled by compassion. He asked the witnesses not to speak of them and lamented that people needed these signs to believe. Jesus knew from the start that his miracles would draw the attention of the authorities. “It was the miracles, and their obvious success and truth, which persuaded these men to put Jesus to death. For they drew attention to the real threat - Jesus’s teaching, which promised to overthrow all their traditional, ancient, exclusive, and hieratic values.”  At times he even intentionally goaded them, as when he performed healings on the Sabbath. 

Johnson then begins a discussion of what Jesus taught and why. Jesus taught constantly in his three year ministry. Every meal, every encounter, every detail along the roadside gave him an opportunity to expound upon an eternal truth. Jesus did not simply reiterate the laws which had bound the Jewish culture for centuries, but rather exposed the nuggets and moral soul within the law. He preached an eternal Kingdom of God in which the law was obeyed, not because of rules and regulations, but because of a changed heart. Jesus taught what had never been taught before. He turned all perceived wisdom on its head. “Love your enemies.” “Judge not.” The heart, not actions,  needed to be radically changed. Actions would follow. Jesus preached an equality of mankind unknown throughout the world. “Love your neighbor as yourself.” And everyone is your neighbor!

How then did he teach? Certainly not in the usual way. His teachings are preserved for us in parables, poetry, and questions and answers. This memorable way of expounding truth has allowed so many of his words to remain with us to this day. When Jesus speaks, “inanimate objects spring to life, animals are anthropomorphized, nature teems with purposeful moral activity, and human beings often assume a dignity, a profundity, or a pathos, thanks to the brilliant glitter of Jesus’s imagery.” Jesus spoke in riddles and sometimes incomplete stories. These begged the listener to press in closer to him for the answers and understanding. His teaching tested his audience again and again as he repeated, “Let him who has ears to hear, hear.”

And what of the people he encountered as he walked from town to town? While Jesus addressed large crowds at times, we see a special intensity in his interactions with individuals. Social position or lack thereof appears to be irrelevant to Jesus. He could look straight into the heart of the person he addressed to see where the true need lay. To the paralytic he offered forgiveness, to the rich, young ruler he offered freedom from possessions, to the woman caught in adultery, he offered understanding. Although he is usually seen in the company of the outcast, even the highly placed found favor in his eyes when they placed their faith in him. He elevated women in a way no one had done before. They played a pivotal role in his ministry and he often found himself defending them against an intolerant society. He loved children. Unheard of in the ancient world. He expected a certain amount of childishness from his followers, urging them to become “as little children” in their faith.

“The aim of Jesus was not to change the world. His aim was to fit its inhabitants for the Kingdom of God, which he insisted ‘is not of this world.’” The Jews of his day had a hard time understanding that the meaning of this world lay in the one beyond. The understanding of an afterlife was rudimentary at best and many did not believe in it at all. They fundamentally misunderstood the concept of the Messiah and many rebelled when he failed to rise up politically. He constantly separated heaven and earth, refusing to get involved in even the petty political squabbles of the day. He dismissed raging controversies with, “Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” Yet although he focused on making the citizens of earth fit for the Kingdom of Heaven, he paradoxically made them better citizens of earth. “The quest for the next world has transformed this one” as Christians have risen up and made the world a better place because of Jesus.

Jesus issued his own version of the Ten Commandments through the example set in his life.
  1. Each soul is unique, indestructible and timeless.
  2. Each person is part of the larger humanity.
  3. Respect the fact that we are all equal in the eyes of God. No jockeying for position.
  4. Love above all.
  5. Show mercy as God shows mercy.
  6. Live a life of balance.
  7. Cultivate an open mind.
  8. Seek Truth.
  9. Exercise power with restraint and modesty.
  10. Show courage.

Jesus preached revolution in the hearts and minds of the men and women of ancient Judea and for that he had to die. Two very public events preceded his death. He rose a verifiably dead Lazarus, and chose to ride into Jerusalem to the deafening cries of the crowd. Neither could be dismissed or ignored by the ruling elite. Jesus knew it was his time and so prepared for the end with one last supper and the institution of a holy communion to forever remember his death. After a trumped series of trials and false charges and crowds paid off by the accusers, Jesus died a criminal’s death on the cross.

But he didn’t stay dead! Apropos of the life and ministry of Jesus, it would be women who discovered the empty tomb. Women of faith and undying devotion to their savior brought the news to the cowardly and disbelieving men. Only when Jesus himself began to appear to them did they believe. After Jesus ascended back up to heaven, he left the Holy Spirit to guide and comfort the new church. While I may question why God would leave humans in charge of spreading the gospel message, he did. He has a reason. But first he came, himself, as a man, to show us how to live.

Friday, July 5, 2013

Freedom Manifesto by Steve Forbes and Elizabeth Ames

Freedom Manifesto by Steve Forbes and Elizabeth Ames provides a clear and compelling MORAL case for the Conservative agenda. Any Conservative wishing to combat the liberal ideology with a moral argument needs to read this book, especially since Americans are starting to wake up to the knowledge that Big Government is not the way to a compassionate and moral society. Conservatism is.

The book is broken up into six chapters, each contrasting the free market with its Big Government counterpart. In each case, the moral supremacy of the free market becomes clear. 

Chapter 1 illuminates the distinction between FedEx or the Post Office.  As the chapter makes clear, private enterprise exists to serve the needs of the customer, the government exists to serve its own needs. 

Chapter 2 contrasts Freedom or Big Brother. Who poses more of a threat to our liberty? Big Business or Big Government? It is the government that drowns us in laws and regulations and sends enforcement officers to our door. It is the government that manipulates the value of money and eats up our savings through inflation. It is the government that tramples rights, suppresses creativity, and imposes control and rigidity. Freedom to succeed or fail produces innovation and abundance.

Chapter 3 focuses on the dichotomy between Silicon Valley or Detroit. One was stifled by government interference and stagnated. The other remained free to innovate and changed the world. 

Chapter 4 hits home with the question, “Food Stamps or Paychecks?” Are we free people or wards of the state? Is is truly compassion to create dependency and produce quantifiably unhappier citizens? Or should people be allowed to adapt and make their own future using their own creativity?

Chapter 5 compares the likes of Apple or Solyndra. One is the result of the free market rewarding success and punishing failure. The other embodies the spirit of cronyism or what they call “few-dalism” as the few, the friends, the well-connected get access to millions of taxpayer dollars. 

Finally, Chapter 6 deals with our future. Reagan or Obama? “Democratic capitalism’s free markets are based on moral optimism, the historical conviction that humankind’s ingenuity will solve today’s problems and create new products and services that lead to a better future.” This requires a basic optimistic and positive set of expectations on the part of the American people - Ronald Reagan style optimism. Or we can indulge in a more pessimistic view in which people are helpless without their government leading the way, the economy is static and must be maintained as per the status quo, the future is a disaster waiting to happen unless government works to avert it. Obama’s view.

This book explores the question of how we see ourselves and our future as Americans. Will we be individuals with the freedom of “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,” or will we become wards of a bloated and inefficient government in which everything is “free” but us?