Are You Free or Caged

Editor’s Note – the following speech was first delivered at the Lehigh Valley Lincoln Day Breakfast on February 18, 2012.  Wayne highlighted these comments again on Glen’s weekend radio program on March 17, 2012.  You can listen here.


By Wayne Woodman

Conservative Businessman and Chair of the Lehigh Valley Republican Committee

My wife and I were fortunate to have travelled to Antarctica recently.  During the trip I had the opportunity to spend time amidst enormous breeding colonies of penguins.  Standing on the beach one day, surrounded by thousands of these remarkable birds, I was fascinated by their behavior.

Penguins are monogamous.  While colonies can be the size of small cities, each penguin couple raises their own brood.  Each parent shares responsibility for guarding their nest and providing food for the chicks.  Penguins are constantly busy.  They attend to the structure of their nest, go out to sea to feed, and fend off predator birds that try to steal eggs or attack chicks.  As a result, Penguins manage to thrive in a very harsh environment.  However, this comes at great risk.  Only half of each generation survives to adulthood.  Every time a parent goes out to sea they are subject to the appetites of leopard seals and killer whales.  Should that parent fail to return, the remaining parent must decide whether to abandon its nest or risk starving to death.  After seeing penguins in their natural state, I had a growing respect for them. They are amongst the most stoic, disciplined, productive creatures I have ever seen.  It was clear to me –Penguins are Republicans!

It occurred to me that the only time I had ever seen penguins prior to this encounter was in a zoo or an aquarium.  The habitats are generally enclosures with a faux ice shelf and a long but narrow swimming pool. In captivity, penguins have no risks.  Food is provided, veterinarians make sure their health is maintained and there are no predators in their swimming pool.  I wondered, if penguins were free to make a choice, which environment they would choose.  Would they choose to live their life in the wider environment of the world with all of its risks?  Or would they trade that life for the enclosure of the zoo where everything – including safety, food, and healthcare – is provided?  I realized that each of us – every American – is facing that same choice.

President Obama, in his continuing effort to fundamentally transform America, has defined the country by dividing us.  His politics have devolved into class warfare.  His policies are driven by a failed ideology, and if he is reelected, his policies will stifle the only economic system in history that has proven itself able to continuously create wealth while improving the lives of all individuals throughout society.

America is an exceptional nation, not because of its vast resources, its continental size or because of its geographic location.  We are an exceptional nation because of our social mobility.  The 1% the President rails against is not wealthy by luck, right or title.  The 1% is the productive class—the creative class –the innovators and risk takers.  Today’s 1% is not the same as the 1% of a decade ago or a century ago.  The power of the American social model, left to its own devices, allows someone at the bottom of society to rise, through his own efforts and ambition to the top of society and it offers no protection to those at the top of society from falling should their judgment and effort be less substantial than their capital.  There is no doubt that should this President be reelected, and allowed to continue his transformation, that social mobility will decline.  Those currently at the bottom of society who choose this President’s policies are trading opportunity for the equivalent of the penguin enclosure, while those at the top of society are looking to maintain their connections within a political machine that protects cronyism.

The worst consequence of Mr. Obama’s transformation is to our youth – the generation we need to count on to continue the tradition of America’s exceptional economic progress.  If the productive class is diminished and demotivated through political policy, then young people entering the workforce will find fewer opportunities.  Does anyone think that punitive treatment of capital and risk taking behavior leads to job creation?  Of course not!  And the younger generation will be shepherded into the enclosure where ambition will be sapped, and replaced with the lethargy of the welfare state.  We would have traded American exceptionalism for European socialism.

What do you think would happen to our penguins in the enclosure if, one day, the zoo announced it was insolvent, the zoo keepers have been laid off, the food vendors won’t deliver, and the veterinarians can’t be paid?

The next nine months will determine which way we, as a nation, will pivot.  Each of us in this room is not simply a Republican, but Republican leaders and opinion shapers.  Each of us, in our communities, needs to focus on the next nine months. We must broadcast the message that this President and his agenda threaten a political and economic system that has, for nearly three centuries, produced a way of life at every level of society that is unimaginable to nearly everyone on the planet.  All Americans are the 1% in global terms and none of us should accept anything less for future generations.  However railing against the President is not nearly enough.  We must also make the positive case, the Republican case, for America’s future.

Where would we be without freedom?  How do we distinguish ourselves from our political opponents?

We believe in the capacity of human beings to advance themselves through their own initiatives.

We believe compassion towards others is the responsibility of each of us, one human being to another, within our communities.

We believe the innovative power of the human mind can flourish only when it is free to do so; when we are free to pursue our passions, fully aware of the risks, and fully capable of reaping the profit of their success.

It is only in this kind of environment that human beings can be fully human. Every effort to mitigate the ordinary risks of life through government policy inevitably leads to a loss of initiative, a diminishment of compassion, a disappearance of innovation, and a degrading of human dignity.

It’s time to start disassembling the federal enclosure.  It’s time to free its many inhabitants to better pursue a life rewarded through the virtues of freedom.

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