Mitt Romney gave the commencement address at Liberty University on Saturday. There is much to agree with in his speech, which enumerated such universal and American values as personal responsibility, the dignity of work, the central importance of education, military service, and religious traditions. The values he embraces are very close to values of the Democratic Party, but with a Romney twist!
Personal Responsibility and Accountability
For example, he said that “American culture promotes personal responsibility,” and that is certainly true—America has always combined the strengths of community with the expectation of individual effort and initiative, with the appropriate rewards for going farther and doing more.
And we all believe in accountability for those who act with careless disregard or in active opposition to our country’s best interests—who act against our safety and our wellbeing, either externally and internally. We know our national and individual safety is threatened daily by those who plot our physical destruction from afar. And lately our safety and wellbeing have been threatened by those pursuing economic strategies that, without massive intervention by the Federal government and governments around the world, would have created another Great Depression, and even so, came perilously close to bringing us to our knees.
However, there is a critical difference between Mitt Romney and Democrats like President Obama. In his speech, Mr. Romney specifically calls on high school graduates to get married before having children, but he is willing to give the financial plutocrats a pass on the recent economic debacle. Democrats expect personal responsibility from people in all walks of life, especially including business leaders who hold tremendous influence over our very financial stability as a nation. Democratic policies for protecting our interests aren’t for the sake of control, but for the sake of our safety as an economy—to ensure that those businesses in positions of power cannot abuse that power and cause devastating economic collapse to the United States of America. Unmarried pregnant teenagers aren't capable of costing millions of people their jobs, homes, and retirement.
Democrats believe in public protection policies precisely because we believe in personal responsibility, which should extend to the affluent who make risky business decisions as much as anybody else. Taxpayers should not be burdened with providing “welfare to the wealthy” when the wealthy have gambled foolishly. Personal responsibility is critical if we are to survive as a nation, so we applaud Romney’s call for more personal responsibility, and we stand with him in emphasizing this aspect of our culture so strongly. We simply hope he directs his call for personal responsibility in the direction that helps ensure the financial stability of our nation as Democrats are trying to do.
Mitt Romney also spoke about the dignity of work. Democratic policies focus on the dignity of work, as well as the dignity of workers themselves, protecting their democratic rights at their places of employment. Democrats believe we should be focusing our resources on putting people to work on rebuilding our country’s infrastructure, for example, rather than paying “corporate welfare” to to the most profitable corporations on the planet. Democrats believe it is a basic tenet of the Judeo-Christian teachings Mr. Romney holds up, to value work over wealth.
The Importance and Power of Public Education
Mr. Romney also points out that America has a deep and abiding respect for education. Our Founding Fathers especially valued public education for all. For example, John Adams wrote that "Laws for the liberal education of youth, especially of the lower class of people, are so extremely wise and useful, that, to a human and generous mind, no expense for this purpose would be thought extravagant." And that Thomas Jefferson believed that public education was the "key-stone of the arch of our government," and paying for it was a patriotic act. Indeed, he believed it is as patriotic as paying for a well-armed military or saluting the flag.
Democrats believe as our Founding fathers did that public schools—and public education for all—should be sacrosanct. When our educational institutions and infrastructure are sacrificed at the altar of profiteering, whether via privatizing schools or privatizing of educational loans, we subvert the vision of our Founders.
Our country’s culture of valuing education is why Democrats believe so strongly in low-cost financial support for students undertaking higher education. Higher education is a benefit to the entire society, as well as the individual—America does better when everyone who wants to achieve higher education is able to, without being left in a state of overwhelming and often unmanageable debt due to high-cost private education loans.
Supporting Family and The Military—Abroad and At Home
Democrats agree that the merit of military service is without measure, that there is no greater gift to this country than putting one’s life at risk to protect and defend it. It’s why Democrats believe in taking care of our patriotic servicemembers just as well when they're at home as when they’re out in the field. Medical and mental health care is as important as helmets and body armor. Democrats believe in programs which support employment or retraining of our dedicated troops when they return home from the battlefield. Democrats believe so strongly in supporting our troops that we’ve introduced the VOW to Hire Heros bill, the New GI Bill for the 21st Century, and one of the most important initiatives for veterans and their families, the Veterans Health Care Budget Reform bill.
As Mr. Romney says he believes in his speech, Democrats, too, believe self is only well-served when it serves those around us. It’s why Democrats believe so deeply in ensuring our fellow citizens have access to all they need to build better lives for themselves, regardless of their circumstances. It’s why we believe in ensuring there's health care coverage for all citizens, including those who can’t afford it on their own; for ensuring our elderly aren’t homebound without a reliable food delivery program; and for support for single mothers struggling to afford child care at jobs where the low federal minimum wage isn’t sufficient to reliably put food on their table or clothes on their backs.
And we are thrilled that Mr. Romney is in total agreement with us that family is of enormous importance. Family gives us strength when we feel weakest. It is our safety net when we stumble, and our comfort when we are bereaved. Democrats believe so strongly in support of the family that we fight tooth and nail to give every family in America the opportunity to thrive. And because family is so critical to our nation, Democrats believe that every family deserves respect and recognition, regardless of family structure, even if that structure is comprised of two fathers or two mothers.
A great deal of the speech was on religious topics, which makes sense given that Liberty College is a Christian University founded by the evangelical preacher Jerry Falwell, and in that regard Mr. Rommey made a point out of the fact that “Religious liberty is the first freedom in our Constitution," as if to imply that it must therefore supercede all others.
While we firmly embrace the right to practice whatever faith one chooses, on this matter Democrats respect and reaffirm the wisdom of our Founding Fathers, who called for a separation of religion and government in that first amendment. While true that religious liberty is of paramount importance, it is coupled inalterably with the command to keep government free from religion and religious affiliation.
While many of our Founding Fathers were devout in their beliefs, they chose willfully—and then enshrined in the Bill of Rights—that their religious beliefs not become the law of the land. Their intention was precisely to ensure America was never a specifically Christian nation, or indeed aligned with any religion, Christian or otherwise. It is demeaning to the Founders to insult their deliberate exclusion of religion in our laws by claiming religion—especially only one specific religion out of many—underlies in some way our secular founding document and our great nation.
Strangely, into this lively evocation of the historical importance of religious faith in America, Mr. Romney made an additional claim that our Founders would likewise abjure: that religion is somehow under attack by mysterious forces. In fact Democrats, too, are of every faith, and "attacking" religion would be akin to attacking ourselves. Democrats believe, as Republicans do, that Americans are blessed with the freedom to observe the faith of our choosing, be it Protestantism, Catholicism, Mormonism, Judaism, Jainism, or Islam, among others. Many more Americans are self-avowedly religious than are not, and Democrats are so devoted to protecting our religious freedom that we stand up for those who are marginalized by the most powerful religious organizations in this country. Faith is not a monopoly for conservatives and Republicans.
Where Mr. Romney returns to agreement with us is in his assertion that “men and women of every faith, and good people with none at all, sincerely strive to do right.” This is as important to Democrats as to Mr. Romney and we’re glad to be in agreement.
And Mr. Romney finds agreement with us again when he acknowledges that “People of different faiths, like yours and mine, sometimes wonder where we can meet in common purpose, when there are so many differences in creed and theology. Surely the answer is that we can meet in service, in shared moral convictions about our nation stemming from a common worldview.”
A Call To Service
When Mr. Romney talks about the call to service as one of the fundamental elements of our national character, it reminds us that it was Democrats who created The Peace Corps, and President Obama who created United We Serve, about which former Secretary of State Colin Powell said when announcing its launch, it’s “how we're going to rebuild this country and meet our great challenges—together."
As Mr. Romney states in closing:
“In all of these things – faith, family, work, and service –the choices we make as Americans are, in other places, not choices at all. For so many on this earth, life is filled with orders, not options, right down to where they live, the work they do, and how many children the state will permit them to have. All the more reason to be grateful, this and every day that we live in America, where the talents God gave us may be used in freedom
“At this great Christian institution, you have all learned a thing or two about these gifts and the good purposes they can serve. They are yours to have and yours to share. Sometimes, your Liberty education will set you apart, and always it will help direct your path. And as you now leave, and make for new places near and far, I hope for each one of you that your path will be long and life will be kind.
“The ideals that brought you here … the wisdom you gained here … and the friends you found here – may these blessings be with you always, wherever you go.”
These are sentiments we share and echo. We wish only the best for the graduating class of Liberty, and of all graduating classes this year. And we suggest that if these bright young people genuinely look at the guiding principles of the major political parties in this country, they will find a multitude of reasons to become proud supporters of the Democratic Party.