A few years ago, I was in China and, through the help of a friend, had the chance to spend a few hours with a senior editor of the People’s Daily - the Communist Party’s voice and the most influential journal in China.
The highly intelligent editor, himself a senior party man, of course, was cool and dispassionate until we came to a discussion of the causes of revolutions. On that topic, he displayed an almost scholarly knowledge and focused - with great passion and concern - on the dominant role that rising expectations of the people play in starting a revolution.
He discussed, with particular knowledge, a study of the French Revolution - noting that the provinces and towns that were hotbeds of revolutionary fervor were also areas that had seen the most prosperity recently.
For China, its hopes for expanding prosperity require it to bring the hundreds of millions of peasants in the interior of the country into the prosperity of China’s coastal industrial zone. While the country was making progress with that, he said, it came, “at the price” of raising the expectations of those three-quarters of a billion peasants. If the Chinese government can’t keep meeting those expectations (probably requiring at least 7 percent to 8 percent growth per year) rebellion or revolution could erupt. He went on to observe that truly hopeless people don’t dream and plan for the future - and don’t revolt.
Of course, he was exceedingly proud of what China was achieving, but it was obvious that for a senior agent of an authoritarian regime, the people’s hope and optimism was an inherent threat to the state - even as it was necessary for that state’s growing prosperity and strength.
But for America, a democracy (technically, a constitutional republic) an optimistic public with faith in our future is an essential strength - and something to nurture and celebrate. When a democratic public loses faith in the future - as France did in the 1930s, as Britain did in the 1970s and as too many Americans are doing today - it is something to correct promptly, not a reason to rejoice secretly. Optimism is a source of our strength.
Of course, in this week before Christmas, Christians are particularly reminded of the reason for optimism and faith: Jesus was born more than 2,000 years ago to redeem us. But whatever our religion or lack of religion, Americans have solid political grounds for swelling with optimism as we end 2010.
For me, the miracle of the American spirit began to reveal itself in the late spring of 2009. We were still in the midst of an economic meltdown. Our homes and 401(k)s were -and for many of us, still are - shockingly reduced in value. Many of us had lost our jobs or had our incomes substantially reduced. The greatest corporation in American history - General Motors - was going bankrupt. The great Wall Street banks that commanded the heights of world finance were illiquid and moving toward insolvency. And during the early weeks of February, the newly inaugurated president had talked about our economic collapse being a catastrophe from which we might never recover. Most of the country had turned fearful - I know I was scared, and so were some very experienced New York financiers whom I knew personally.
President Obama started applying the typical remedies: bailouts, nationalizations, trillion-dollar stimulus - spreading the wing of the state to “protect” the helpless people.
And then the American miracle occurred - not in Washington, but in the hearts and heads of the American people. The polls started to show that the American people wanted Washington to do less, not more. They didn’t want to be sheltered under the wing of the state.
The American people feared the permanent loss of liberty more than they feared the temporary loss of their income or property.
The Tea Parties self-formed without leadership from above. But millions of people who didn’t join the Tea Parties nonetheless endorsed their sentiments and values so that by last month, polls showed that the electorate identified more with the Tea Parties than the Republican Party, which itself had just won the greatest election victory in well over half a century.
No other people in the world would have responded to economic danger by seeking more liberty and less government protection. No other people would have thought to themselves, “If I have to suffer economically in order not to steal from my grandchildren, so be it.”
We know this is true of other nations. Just look in the streets of Greece, France and Ireland. My dear old England found its streets filled with violent people demanding their “right” to retire early or have heavily subsidized university fees or guaranteed government jobs - even if it means the impoverishment of their progeny.
Such attitudes reflect not a faith in their future but an indifference to the future of their civilization.
I believe that 2011 will reveal an American people who will go into the streets not with violence to protest government spending cuts - but in peace and discipline to protest any failure by their government to make such cuts.
So in this Christmas season, as many of us prepare to fall to our knees in thanks for the gift of our eternal optimism and salvation, let us also celebrate the continuing miracle of the American people’s abiding love of liberty - and acceptance of the sacrifices it will take to keep that liberty.
Merry Christmas, and, pray God, may He continue to bless America.
Tony Blankley is the author of “American Grit: What It Will Take to Survive and Win in the 21st Century” (Regnery, 2009) and vice president of the Edelman public relations firm in Washington.