“A house divided against itself cannot stand.”
Abe Lincoln used those words in 1858 to describe a country that was careening toward civil war. Now we’re a house divided again and another civil war is coming, with the 2012 election as its Gettysburg.
Call it America’s coming civil war between the Makers and the Takers.
On one side are those who create wealth, America’s private sector–the very ones targeted by President Obama’s tax hikes announced Monday.
On the other are the public employee unions; left-leaning intelligentsia who see the growth of government as index of progress; and the millions of Americans now dependent on government through a growing network of government transfer payments, from Medicaid and Social Security to college loans and corporate bailouts and handouts (think GM and Solyndra).
Over the past century America’s private sector has been the source of productivity, innovation, creativity, and growth–and gave us the iPhone and iPad. The public sector has been the engine of entitlement, stagnation, and decline -- and gave us Detroit and the South Bronx.
The private sector built the strongest economy in the world. It armed the free world in World War Two, and then in the three decades after the war turned America into the most prosperous society history had ever seen. It revived America in the Reagan and Clinton years, and thanks to the Bush tax cuts brought this country back from economic collapse after 9/11.
In those same years a growing public sector, by contrast, turned Europe into a cesspool of debt, stalled economies, and chronic social dysfunction that’s set the streets of Athens -- and perhaps other European capitals--on fire.
That’s where we’re headed, too, more rapidly than we like to think.
That public sector–state, local, and federal -- now consumes 40% of GDP, compared to 33% just twelve years ago. It’s brought us to the point where 48% of Americans are now on some form of government handout, from 44% when Obama took office–almost a fifth more than during the Reagan years. And too many of them have been programmed to believe they have no future unless the government takes more from the Makers -- precisely what Obama promised on Monday.
So we know which side Obama and the Democratic party are on. Like John Brown’s raid on Harper’s Ferry, ObamaCare has been a wakeup call to what’s at stake–just as the turbulent events in Wisconsin showed how far Democrats are willing to go to win.
We’re not Greece yet -- or on the brink of Bull Run. But it’s time for Romney and Republicans to make clear which side they’re on -- and to make it clear there can’t be government transfer payments, from Medicaid to Social Security, without a strong vibrant private sector to pay for them.
They don’t have to stoop to the Democrats’ tactics. They just have to give our free market, private sector economy the robust defense it deserves.
A country where more Americans go on Social Security disability than get jobs -- as happened last month--can’t stand.
Lincoln hoped in 1861 that the “angels of our better nature” would pull us back from catastrophe. He was wrong. Let’s hope in 2012 those angels still hover -- and can make a house divided whole once more.
Historian is the author of the just released "Freedom's Forge: How American Business Produced Victory in World War II" (Random House May 2012) and the Pulitzer Prize finalist book "Gandhi and Churchill: The Epic Rivalry That Destroyed an Empire and Forged Our Age" (Bantam, 2008).