On February 5, 2008, presidential candidate Barack Obama famously stated that "[w]e are the ones we've been waiting for. We are the change that we seek." Unfortunately, this sentiment begs a larger question: When did America become a nation waiting on change?
America has rarely been a nation to reward those who simply wait and hope for life to improve. From its inception, the American dream required both action and sacrifice. In Common Sense, Thomas Paine recognized that had the colonists not seized the moment for independence, they would be no different than other nations that "have let slip the opportunity, and by that means have been compelled to receive laws from their conquerors, instead of making laws for themselves."
The heroes of the women's suffrage movement in the United States were no exception to that action-oriented legacy. Women such as Lucy Stone, Susan B. Anthony, and Alice Paul were ridiculed, arrested, and even jailed because they took action rather than waiting for someone else to champion the rights of women to vote.
Alabamians have seen countless examples of ordinary people who changed their futures and the trajectory of America by refusing to wait for someone else to challenge the evils of racism in America. When Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on a Montgomery city bus on December 1, 1955, she knew the possible consequences, she understood the culture, but she took action nevertheless.
The founding of our nation, the sacrifices of suffragists, and the civil rights movement are all examples of Americans seizing the opportunity to take the challenges facing this nation head-on and embracing the notion of self-governance which is essential to American identity.
But somewhere along the way, many Americans and Alabamians began to believe that their government and their political leaders could or should solve their problems and even provide for them. And this belief crosses the boundaries of the Democrat and Republican divide. Consider politicians at both ends of the ideological spectrum playing the same tune that governmental actions will "create jobs." That tune plays to an audience looking for a politician to deliver employment security or maybe even a job itself.
And voters from radically different backgrounds are waiting ... again. Those on the left look for the next Kennedy or Roosevelt to bring about another New Deal era while those on the right wait with bated breath for the next Ronald Reagan. Unfortunately, those looking for a savior in the form of a political leader will be routinely disappointed.
Americans waiting on President Bush to save them from an economic crisis watched as President Bush signed into law the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP), bailing out banks, automotive companies, and insurers that made catastrophic economic decisions. Consider President Obama's path to the White House. Americans widely projected their dreams and aspirations onto a candidate who promised them hope and change from the prior administration. With unemployment currently over nine percent nationwide and ten percent in Alabama, those same Americans see economic doubt replacing their hopes. And with more than $4 trillion added to the national debt since January 2009, those same Americans recognize a very real change that they simply cannot afford.
There are examples of Alabamians waiting on change as well. Consider public education in Alabama. For decades, Alabama has trailed the rest of the nation in academic performance. To make matters worse, the least effective schools in Alabama exist in the areas most in need of educational improvement. The result has been and will continue to be generations of lost opportunity.
America and Alabama need political leadership to enable Americans to secure for themselves a brighter tomorrow. But even more important, the United States needs its people to take an active role in their own governance, quit waiting for hardened institutions to change their direction, and realize that government action is not always the best answer for society's problems.
President Obama might have been correct to say that Americans are the change they have been waiting for. However, as always, the success of future generations of Americans requires men and women striving to change their stars rather than waiting for another politician or government to do it for them.
The difference between government dictating every facet of American life and the American people determining their own futures rests squarely upon Americans refusing to delegate their problem-solving responsibilities to politicians and governments. This idea is neither novel nor revolutionary. Perhaps Edmund Burke crystalized the point best when he said, "All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing."
About the author: Cameron Smith is General Counsel for the Alabama Policy Institute, a non-partisan, non-profit research and education organization dedicated to the preservation of free markets, limited government and strong families, which are indispensable to a prosperous society.
This article was published by the Alabama Policy Institute.