President Obama’s synopsis of the recent speech he gave describing his Afghanistan troop withdrawal was, “America, it is time to focus on nation-building here at home.”
What on earth does that mean?
Though lofty and nearly unimpeachable as a safely vague slogan, it is hardly new or unique to Democratic speech making.
There has been a chorus on the Left promoting this idea for years without fully explaining it. Nation-building at home is code for the implementation of far-left policies. Because the president and the liberals who feed him these slogans misunderstand our nation so badly, they can be forgiven to promote a false definition of nation-building.
A nation comprises its people, their cultures, values, and hopes. To build a nation is to promote those values and let the people chart their course.
History’s best example of nation building is the miraculous forging of the Great American nation in the last quarter of the 18th century. The great political philosophers and leaders of opinion of that time and place did not make it their priority to construct schools, create a robust weather service, ensure thorough food inspection services, and mete out fat union contracts for those enterprising Revolutionary War veterans waiting, shovels in hand, for a federally funded infrastructure project.
Instead, they described the proper role of government and empowered individuals. They made the case for self government and political rights. They harnessed the devout and promoted virtue and morality.
“We used to have the best roads, the best bridges, the best airports,” Obama has taken to saying lately, as if title to the world’s tallest building confers some moral superiority upon a people.
Is that the sign of a great nation?
The infant United States made a great nation because its people were enterprising, yet humble.
Alexis de Tocqueville pointed to faith as a source of greatness: “The Americans combine the notions of Christianity and of liberty so intimately in their minds, that it is impossible to make them conceive the one without the other.”
Nation-building has been tried in many places, usually with little success. It may be the same ambiguity that causes politicians to use it as makes it so ineffective as a military objective. War and combat require precision, not platitude.
Perhaps our efforts in Afghanistan will come up short as well. If so, it won’t be for a lack of construction. So far, the United States has poured billions into infrastructure projects there. But as most observers note, there isn’t much of a nation there to maintain or even make use of them.
Nation-building is much more than engaging in construction. We build schools, but a beautiful schoolhouse is a waste without committed teachers, a strong curriculum, and a public hungry to be educated. A court system and police force are nothing without a people’s desire to follow the law and live in a peaceful society.
To build a nation is to develop those institutions.
Obama and his acolytes say they want to begin nation-building in America, which simply means they want to pass more federal dollars to people who will build things.
The real blueprint for a great nation is available for all to see. We need to take seriously the Constitution—at which liberals scoff these days. We need to remember the values upon which our people derived so much power for self government and self responsibility. We need to cease the war on religion and expression of faith. And we need to return to the limits of government that our founders properly outlined.
True nation-building in America would require an about face by those who use the term so freely, starting with President Obama.