Charles Gray | Get better — not bitter
The Gray Area | We missed an opportunity to hear Cantor talk about the solution to our problems
October 22, 2011, 1:53 am·
The Gray Area
There will always be times in life in which we struggle. In those difficult times, we often face a choice: are we going to become bitter or are we going to become better?
Yesterday revealed on a small scale the way that the Occupy protests are about taking advantage of America’s economic troubles to become bitter not better.
Right now, America is struggling. But our nation faces even greater threats on the horizon. Our federal budget deficit is unsustainable and is causing a great deal of uncertainty for investors.
To respond to these problems, the Left has refused to cut spending. Eventually, the only option that will be open to us if we continue on this path will be massive tax increases that move our country in the direction of Europe, where 50 percent of GDP in some countries is government spending. The Right, meanwhile, wants to adopt a program of across the board spending control that will bring us to long-term fiscal sustainability and bring certainty back to tenuous markets.
Yesterday, Eric Cantor was going to come to Wharton to talk about why we need to lean toward the second solution.
He was going to talk about the distinctness of the American Dream. By telling the story of his family, he was going to describe what makes America great. It is the opportunity to become something. That opportunity is much different from other countries that have moved in the last 70 years towards greater and greater government. As Cantor would have pointed out, in England there is now a stigma with starting a business and moving up the economic ladder, while in America it has historically been viewed positively.
His message was very important. It was designed to show that even though tax-and-spend policies may seem great in the short term, in the long term they jeopardize the American Dream that made our ancestors want to come here in the first place.
Although this is a very important message, I don’t blame Eric Cantor for deciding not to come to campus. It would have been very difficult for Penn’s security to ensure that the situation remained in control.
It became clear what these protesters were planning to do the entire time when they still came to Huntsman Hall when the speech was cancelled. They entered Huntsman Hall and began shouting that the University of Pennsylvania is their university. This sort of behavior is not at all conducive to the real adult conversation that this country needs to be having.
It is also clear, though, why the Occupy movement has decided to take this approach. It is easy to tell people that they need to become bitter in difficult times, and that the government needs to step in to continuously solve the problem. However, it is much more difficult and requires a more reasoned argument to explain how we can become better. That is what Eric Cantor’s speech and his family’s story was all about.
The truth is that the short-term statist policies that these demonstrators are calling for seem great on the outside, but once they get implemented, they lead to the problems that those same demonstrators complain about when protesting. It’s a vicious cycle of continued intervention to try to fix problems that then causes even more problems.
But in the process of shutting out the other side, the protesters are preventing us from having the real conversation that is needed to build a consensus around the more long-term, pro-growth policies our government needs to take to put us on the path back to greatness.
One of the signs I saw during the protest asked, “How do you like this mob?” When seeing this, I couldn’t help but think about one of my favorite founding fathers, John Adams. In Massachusetts in 1770, a mob of angry Americans assembled in Boston and attacked a group of British soldiers with snowballs, oyster shells, clubs and sticks. As a result, a small number of these soldiers shot into the crowd. The Boston Massacre had just occurred.
When the British soldiers were imprisoned, no one in Boston wanted to defend them. Everyone assumed that these soldiers would be found guilty by an American jury and sentenced to be hanged.
John Adams decided that he would rise above the short-term anger of the American colonists and represent the British in court. Even though he sympathized with the independence movement, he knew that in the long-term America needed to be a country focused on reason and justice. America would not be great if it simply submitted to the passions of a small group of people.
When finishing his impassioned defense of the soldiers, in which he presented numerous facts attesting to their innocence, he stated, “Facts are stubborn things, and whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations or the dictums of our passions, they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence.” Most of the soldiers were acquitted.
In that moment, Adams revealed one of the things that would make America great and different. Our people would look to the facts and the evidence to make decisions — not their passions.
I urge the Occupy protesters to do the same. They have a reason to be frustrated, but let’s channel that energy to understand the causes for the economic troubles we are in now. That is how we will become better. It’s too bad we missed an opportunity to do that yesterday with Eric Cantor’s speech.
Charles Gray is a College and Wharton senior from Casper, Wyo. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org. The Gray Area appears every Tuesday.