2022 State of the Union Address, President Joseph Biden
Republican Party Response, Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds
Libertarian Party Response, Libertarian Party Chair Whitney Bilyeu
The State of the Union Response, Texas Free Press
Editor, and 2018 Libertarian US Senate for Texas Nominee, Neal Dikeman
It has been a challenging year.
Our country remains deeply divided on issue after issue. Americans in different parts of our nation simply can’t fathom the views of others. Trust in each other and our institutions is low. We lay blame like it’s an answer – instead of an abdication of personal responsibility.
We finally ended the longest and most expensive war in US history – on terms that left more questions than answers, only to now watch Europe face the first major conflict on the continent since WWII. We again face the difficult question of the role we want or America in the defense of liberty.
We’ve lost nearly a million Americans to Covid since the pandemic began. More than every combat death in all the wars in our history combined. For so many Americans it’s personal, and not over. We have moved on because we must and because Americans by their nature look forward upon history, not back. But we should never forget that we, the people of the richest and most technologically advanced nation in the history of the world, failed a million Americans in the accounting that matters the most: life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
We will each answer to our children, and our Maker, in our own time, for our own choices made in the face of challenges.
So what is the state of our American experiment in democracy in 2022?
Make no mistake, our straits are not dire, our future is both bright, and our destiny within our control:
Our world is not a zero sum game, it is what we choose to make it. The stars are our guideposts, not our limits. Knowledge and technology are the great equalizer.
Despite the strains felt in the fabric of our institutions, this last year our country set another world record for wealth, and for the world’s oldest thriving Democracy. It will continue to do so as long as we defend it.
Our self-evident divisions themselves serve proof we remain uniquely able to openly debate the never-ending clash between progress and tradition – painful as it may be.
We’ve made it through the pandemic, and we may be bowed, but definitely not broken. American resiliency has faced down adversity far greater than this before.
Our country is not at war for the first time in decades.
The American economy is strong and everyone who wants a job can get one – though we face real economic issues that must be dealt with: huge budget deficits, mounting debt, in the hundreds of thousands of dollars per American household, some $30 Trillion in total, rising cost of living, stagnated wage growth and rising inequality, labor and supply chain shortages, and inflationary pressures for the first time since I was a small child.
We each today hold in our hands, in the tiniest of cellphones, unbridled access to countless relationships past, current, and future; the combined knowledge of all human history; and computing power far in excess of that which sent a man to the moon – and stands on high ground in a free nation to use it. Your feeling is correct, the playing field is not even remotely level. With that knowledge and power in your hand, in this nation, the greatest and least among us each stand advantaged over every member of every generation that has ever come before in any nation in the history of the world. We have no legitimate excuses, either individually, or as a nation, except our own failures to act.
But the stresses we all feel are real – and largely failures of policy:
Healthcare – Despite the best healthcare system the world has ever seen - our healthcare funding system is still broken, and still tied to our government and our job. Covid has laid bare the moral and functional flaws of a system erected on the shaky foundation of a poorly conceived World War II era corporate tax giveaway. The political right continues to defend this indefensible system. The "best" idea proposed from the left is doubling down on a government run system – when the government run Medicare system we already have is so underfunded it’s functionally bankrupt and saddling us with more mountains of debts. Expanding a bankrupt system because it looks cheap is well – you get the picture.
We need a “Million Payer” system, not single payer, where your health insurance is not tied to your job or government, but where you can buy insurance directly usable anywhere. Where doctors work for you, not the insurance company, and insurance is yours, not your employers. Where you own your health data, and medical bankruptcy becomes a thing of the past.
Race - Issues of race relations which have plagued us for two hundred years still plague us. The issue remains frustratingly intractable. We relitigate the issues over and over which we fought the bloodiest war in our history and the upheavals of generations past. But we have proven we can meld countless immigrants from across the world in ways no other nation ever has – solving this too is obviously within our power. We must stop treating race as a win-lose game.
Thirst for Power – Factions on both right and left vie for control of the money, and rules, and culture of the country – we pay the price for centralization of power in Washington, and our own desires to ensure our opposing worldviews are imposed upon the lives of our brethren wherever they live in our country, amid fears of what will happen to our country if they are not. These fears are unfounded. The fear of that thirst for power, should instead be a guiding principle.
Foreign Policy - Our foreign policy remains a mess. We have American military bases in more countries than we have US Senators. We vacillate between facets of a jumbled mash up of antique policies with no common strategy or long-term view. It is likely that not a single member of Congress can even articulate our “policy”, let alone do our leaders have a common agreement, or even understanding, of what it is.
Climate Change – The generational issue still faces us, and we will pay the price if we ignore it. The solution is not as intractable as some believe, and cost to address it is not as high as others fear. The technology and tools to solve it have been at hand, but policy makers have failed us. The left has hijacked the free market solutions we need to unleash markets and technology, attempting to use the issue to promote non climate objectives and new government revenues, and we have mistakenly treated climate issues as solvable piecemeal without other nations. Greenhouse gases are global and do not care where or how they go in or come out of our atmosphere. They are at heart a trade problem. And we have allowed climate change to become an almost religious debate, rather than simply one of the many problems that America strides over during its progress. The net result is we are on path to deal with it in the slow, expensive way – a path we need not stay on.
We will not solve these stresses in coming years through partisan action and power politics - any more than we solved them that way in preceding years. A shift in thinking is needed.
A free democracy, despite all its problems, is far better than all other systems. In a market system, the market tends to expose or fix bad decisions over time. In government led economic systems, even when decisions are right, incentives are poor, and small bad decisions tend to compound and grow over time, and prove very hard to unwind. Our healthcare and massive tax code, and laws of biblical length that no member of Congress has actually read, are cases in point.
The only tools that solve either a corruption in capitalism – or an overreach of government - are labor and economic mobility, equal opportunity in a meritocracy, freedom, and transparency. The more we attempt to legislate those, paradoxically the shorter those tend to be in supply.
We watch the invasion of a young democracy in Europe and hear the saber rattling in Asia by countries whose people are not free for the pursuit of life, liberty, and happiness, and whose leaders are not accountable to their people, and it should make us reflect.
Today’s globally interconnected world is not one a great nation can walk alone even if it desires - but the role of policeman of the world is not a mantle we should seek to assume. And power is best served when it never has to be used. It may not be our right or responsibility to build other nations, but when someone is setting fire to your neighbors’ house, who among us will turn our back? Consider that properly used our global institutions are not infringements on our sovereignty anymore than the countless Volunteer Fire Departments across Texas are. There but for the Grace of God, Go I.
Our Constitutional framers drafted the 2nd Amendment for good reason, they were more afraid of standing armies than crime, and believed the sovereignty of the states, and an armed citizenry, were the final arbiters of protection of the other Amendments – one they hoped would never be needed again. Our nation stands unique among nations of the world in this framing. We erode it at our peril – as history has proven that our unique experiment cannot be taken for granted. I had the opportunity to speak at an NAACP university student chapter, and on this question responded with a question: do you really want to live in a world where only the police and army bear arms? You could have heard a pin drop. Watching China and Hong Kong, Russia and Ukraine still today, and considering the divisions of the last year, I think we all understand why that room went silent.
The key to the protections of our Bill of Rights freedoms are enshrined in the rights of states and the rights of citizens – not solutions centralized in Washington. That makes for a messy democracy – but the only kind that can continue to stand the test of time.
My elementary age daughters will grow up being taught that our history is not perfect, but it is truly amazing and awe inspiring. That in every generation leaders rise to meet challenges. And sometimes they will need to be those leaders. They are taught daily to remember three words: Kindness, Confidence, and Learning, and to try to separate small problems from large ones and simply strive to make good decisions.
We should all remember, we are not a simplistic Democracy, we are inheritors of a Constitutional Republic created to form a perpetual, perfect union by a compact of unique sovereign Federal States. Everything our founding fathers did was to ensure that the minority was protected, not to enable the majority of people or states to easily impose their rule on the minority – even if the majority is in the right. Our country was not built to be ruled from Washington, or Austin. Nor to ensure all decisions were perfect or efficient. It was built to be governed by us city by city and state by state, and be resilient and vibrant for far future generations.
It is not the Supreme Court’s job to fix the failures of Congress and legislatures. Or the President’s job to rule by executive action. Your political party is not of importance other than as a tool of engagement. There is no they. Only 330 million passionate, prideful, hopeful, fearful and industrious Americans. There is such thing as a free lunch, and if we want to find the seat of all accountability, we have only to find the closest mirror. The buck and accountability stops at the desk of each of us – for whom the President, 535 members of Congress, and every individual in our government, work.
Our leaders should remember this - on the campaign trail four years ago in Houston, TX, I met a man named Lewis. Lewis was much older than I am. Before my speech I introduced myself. He shook my hand, looked me in the eye, spoke slowly and chose words with care and emotion: “If you get into the Senate, I want you to remember” as his voice got loud ... “That’s not your chair, that’s my chair, you work for me!”
Let us thank God and our predecessors for the gifts upon which we build, and accept responsibility ourselves for our nation meeting the challenges we face. May the Lord keep each of you and abide with you, and grace guide you, in all your endeavors and relationships as we face our opportunity.