It Happened One Night: Alexis and Mitt in America

“Mitt, Mitt, get up!  I don’t have much time, but we must talk.”

“What? Who? Tocqueville? Alexis de Tocqueville!?”

“Mitt, glad you recognize me. We need to talk about your campaign. I need to remind you about a few things I wrote in Democracy in America.”

“Ann, where are you?”

“Not to worry, she’s having a hot chocolate with ma chère Marie and talking horses. Which brings me to my first concern—this inequality issue.  Monsieur le President Obama is beating you over the head with it, and you’re not making good responses.”

“It’s class warfare!”

“Mitt, that only confirms the President in his error: In America you don’t have classes or masses.  You have ordinary citizens with rights and opportunities, who are able to make great things of themselves. As my countryman then-President Sarkozy told your Congress, America is the land of the second chance.”

“This is how my thoughts are translated:  While Americans have “an instinctive taste” for freedom, “what they love with an eternal love is equality … nothing can satisfy them without equality, and they would sooner consent to perish than to lose it.” Do I sound so awkward in English!? Mitt, I know you speak French well, but in America these days that doesn’t help a politician, does it? Sometimes you Americans’ love of country goes overboard….”

“So once you talk about ‘class warfare,’ it sounds as though you’re defending a separate group of people against all the others.

“This is the way to think about equality: There is ‘a manly and legitimate passion for equality that … tends to elevate the small to the rank of the great; but one also encounters a depraved taste for equality in the human heart that brings the weak to want to draw the strong to their level and that reduces men to preferring equality in servitude to inequality in freedom.’ Don’t you see that this ‘depraved taste for equality’ is what your President is encouraging?”

“Alexis, I talk about successful business leaders all the time….”

“Mitt, you are muffing it: After the President made that “you didn’t make that” remark, he became the first in his office to attack the work ethic. And the work ethic means more than big shots like Steve Jobs or Bill Gates.  It’s the kid who works for better grades, the factory employee who makes sure her area is clean, the teacher who goes the extra kilometer—you know these remarkable American types, who descend from pioneers and Puritans and who go to PTA meetings and show up when they are needed for a community or church activity.”

“And you should also recall my warning about the rise of an ‘aristocracy of manufacturers.’ What the silly socialists don’t see is how similar this is to the even greater threat of bureaucracy. A private corporation is also bureaucracy. And we both know the government bureaucracies last forever and are far more dangerous. Those government bureaucrats are the really dangerous class in America!”

“But when you campaign on the basis of your business experience much of America (especially those who work for corporations) is hearing you say you can run a bureaucracy. You think people enjoy working in cubicles and crunching numbers!? Don’t you read ‘Dilbert’? Being the head statistician-in-chief is not a leading qualification to be President!  America is not a bureaucracy! Statistics are after all the basest form of equality. Americans who take pride in who they are don’t want to be treated as statistics. Let your President defend his bureaucratic creations and all the dependency and soft despotism they spread!”

“Alexis, can I really say things like this?”

“So talk about the work ethic. Why is your President so hostile to it—in his attitude toward accomplishments, his softening of work requirements for welfare recipients, his questioning of school discipline practices?”

“Your country never ceases to amaze me. You people always exceed expectations. A black President—astounding. I have to admit I didn’t understand how well your people’s virtues enabled you to deal with race.”

“But just as astounding and all the more disappointing is the collapse of the mores that made liberty such a source of independence! Your mores combined enlightened reason and religious faith so that Americans could exercise a liberty that did not threaten others but made communities stronger. You have to learn to talk about mores—common sense and faith together, not just religion by itself! It’s uniquely American.”

“In France today the division between secular and religious is even greater than when I walked the streets of Paris. America is becoming too much like France! You are even developing religious and secular political parties. And your television has popular shows about cooking! Leave that to the French! This is not good for the future of freedom!”

“Alexis, it’s not the job of the President to make people more religious!”

“Mitt, you must address the character of Americans—their mores. That’s the source of your country’s success. And all you Americans understand implicitly that strong character and faith go together. You know this from all the work you put in for your church. Character and common sense—this President undermines both!”

“He has a way with words, but I fear what I said about democratic poets rings true about him: His work is full of ‘immense and incoherent images, overloaded depictions, and bizarre composites, and … the fantastic beings issuing from their minds will sometimes make one long for the real world.’ Hello, Mitt, wake up Americans from their dream!”

“Alexis, I just don’t hear ideas like these from any of my advisers….”

“Just talk with your Vice Presidential running mate. Remember, I wrote about how Irish Catholics are the most democratic Americans, and Paul Ryan proves my point.”

“We’ll talk again. Before I leave, one more bit of advice: Maurice Chevalier, now there was a crooner.  You? Please don’t ever sing in public again.”

“Next visit I’ll bring my friend Lincoln with me. You have something to learn from him. And tell Ann he’ll leave Mrs. Lincoln at home. Adieu.

Ken Masugi

Ken Masugi is a Senior Fellow of the Claremont Institute. He teaches in graduate programs in political science for Johns Hopkins University and for the Ashbrook Center of Ashland University. He has edited Interpreting Tocqueville’s Democracy in America, co-edited The Progressive Revolution in Politics and Political Science, and co-authored and co-edited several other books on American politics and political thought. In addition, he has worked ten years in the federal government as a speechwriter and on policy issues, at the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, where he was a special assistant to Chairman Clarence Thomas, and the Departments of Justice and Labor.

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Comments

  1. Lavaux says

    How refreshing to see the word “mores” instead of “values”, and to see the American understanding of equality honored rather than trashed. To restore de Tocqueville’s America, we must re-center our culture around workable mores that provide the cohesion keeping the virtuous together as well as the force repelling the vile. Once this project is underway, we will see that the left’s understanding of equality divides us to subjegate us to the state, atomizing our society by herding us into client groups dependent on an ever-growing state.

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