Monday, March 6, 2006


By Edwin J. Feulner and Doug Wilson, Crown Forum, $26.95, 235 pages

As I write, President Bush’s approval rating is 41 percent; his disapproval rating is 55 percent. But Congress too is seen with similar national disfavor. Government, including states and localities, seems out of kilter. What to do? That is the challenge faced by Edwin J. Feulner and Doug Wilson whose book, “Getting America Right,” sets out to bestir intellectuals and Americans generally to get back to our roots, back to American traditions and values. Traditions, values, positive paradigms — they make up the authors’ blueprint for change. They say:

“We cannot allow a nation conceived in true liberty under higher law to tolerate limitless government power; it is a self-betrayal that corrupts not just our leaders but ourselves, the voters who elect profligate leaders with a carelessness beyond belief. We must realize that nothing is more intrinsically un-American than a system in which bureaucrats and school administrators, not parents, make decisions about a child’s education; one in which government handouts create generational dependencies; or one in which retirement comes not on our own terms, but rather those dictated by politicians thousands of miles away.”

Mr. Feulner is president and founder of the Heritage Foundation, a premier conservative think tank, as well as treasurer of the classical liberal international Mont Pelerin Society, founded in 1947 by free-market worthies such as Friedrich Hayek, Milton Friedman, and Leonard Read. In 1989 President Reagan conferred the Presidential Citizens Medal on Mr. Feulner as “a leader of the conservative movement.” His coauthor, Doug Wilson, is head of, a leading Web site on U.S. conservative news and community, and of Next Solutions, Inc., a management consulting firm.

Clearly the Feulner-Wilson team sides with the Lincoln point of 1859: “Public opinion in this country is everything.” The team sees this Lincoln thought as correct then and now, reminding us that America is a democracy, that a democracy is as it thinks, votes, and acts. The team sees action guideposts on constructive conservatism as missing in the White House, Congress, and the people. Providing such guideposts is the goal of this bold, brave, and forthright book. The goal can be seen as a six-point plan in the following chapter headings, each as a question on possible official action:

“Is it the Government’s Business?” “Does It Promote Self-Reliance?” “Is It Responsible?” “Does It Make America More Prosperous?” “Does It Make Us Safer?” “Does It Unify Us?”

Take that last guidepost question on unity. That unity is jeopardized, say the authors, as government spending veers out of control, gets squandered and divisive with pork-barrel and special-interest politics, as bilingual education dispirits immigrants from becoming true Americans, relegating them to second-class status, as cultural relativism and a cult of diversity hover over them and our very survival.

The authors note the irony that America has been a nation of immigrants for hundreds of years, one enjoying a rich diversity of peoples who add to her strength and vitality; but an overdone cult of diversity can rob us of our national identity and of loyalty to our basic values.

As seen in their second question, the authors see America’s Welfare State undermining another basic value, self-reliance. Welfarism contributed to H. L. Mencken finding Americans increasingly succumbing to “boobus crybabyism,” to the New Deal’s federalizing life’s problems with public works and Social Security, to Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society plying Medicare, Medicaid, the War on Poverty, and so on. So as welfarism has risen, self-reliance has sunk. Sunk?

And how. I recall social historians Marvin Olasky and David Beito tracing the long rise and fall of religious and ethnic self-help fraternal societies helping others to help themselves in a growing nation. A fall via government preemption? Yes, and bye-bye self-reliance.

Ed Feulner and Doug Wilson say that it’s time to breathe new life into the Founders’ constitutional vision, that limits can be restored to runaway government, that America and Americans, alerted, can get back on the right track. Hear the authors’ last line: “It’s up to us. This is our republic to cherish and nourish. Let’s get to work.”

William H. Peterson is the 2005 Schlarbaum Prize winner of an Award for Lifetime Achievement in the Study of Liberty, given by the Ludwig von Mises Institute.

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