Random Spotter recently had the opportunity to watch the new movie “Lincoln” that Steven Spielberg directed and produced. As I watched, a million thoughts raced through my mind, including an observation that the founding fathers created an indisputable foundation for the defeat of slavery in their definition of equality. Once slaves were recognized as people, their ultimate emancipation was a foregone conclusion because of the language of “all men are created equal” and” they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights” in the Declaration of Independence.
After further reflection, I reached a point of discomfort as I came to the conclusion that equality is a term that has lost its true meaning in the political rhetoric of the last 100 years. Our partisan polarization of issues has bastardized the issue of equality. In fact, the writers of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution sought to create a nation that limited government powers and interference in the private and public activities of its citizens. However, Government in the past century has ballooned in size and scope of regulation, and in its efforts to solve social and economic ills, has achieved a level of taxation and oppression that anyone with libertarian sensibilities can’t help but reject.
Perhaps more importantly, our political vocabulary now defines equality as parity of pay, benefits, economic achievement, recognition, and employment. Our American society now demands an equal distribution of everything of value. The problem with this interpretation is that it misrepresents equality’s significance to our founding fathers, and it’s not a workable definition in practice. Equality has never meant anything other than opportunity. The founding fathers envisioned a nation in which all had the opportunity to follow their ambitions and to seek their own paths free from government intrusion. Instead, we’ve created a culture of entitlement that is evident wherever there is any imbalance, as seen on battles over tax rates, federal services, college admissions and employment screening, and anything else that could be tied to personal achievement.
Yes, it’s still difficult for politicians and the media to be honest about individual success. I doubt that they don’t believe that hard work deserves reward. But, I do believe that emotional stories of need and want touch the average person (including politicians and journalists) more intensely than logical expositions about the value of rewards commensurate with creativity, ingenuity, and hard effort. I’m sure the early founders would disagree with our new definition of equality because, no matter how appealing the idea of equal wealth may seem, they recognized that achievement is not a collective endeavor but an individual one. Government’s role is to protect the process, not guarantee the result.