Why, Precisely, is America so Great?

The one thing that President Obama and all the GOP contenders for his job agree about is that America is the greatest country in the world.  They all use this line in every speech they make, and it always brings the crowd cheering to its feet.  But none of these politicians ever quite gets around to explaining precisely why we're the world's greatest country.  That's too bad, because it's a serious question that deserves a serious answer -- right now, before Republicans choose their candidate and before the voters make their choice in November.

The key lies in understanding that "politics" isn't just about choosing one candidate or another, or even about choosing one party or another.  Politics is the relationship between the individual and the State.  And it is this relationship we humans have been struggling to get right for thousands of years.  We've tried everything -- kingdoms, empires, left-wing dictatorships, right-wing dictatorships, socialist models, models based on religion, and all sorts of democracies and republics.

When our country's constitution went into effect in 1788, the U.S. established a relationship between the individual and the State that was unique in history: the individual was in charge, the State would serve the individual, and there would be an arm's-length distance between the two.  It is this unique relationship -- not our continental size, or our natural resources -- that propelled the U.S. into becoming the strongest, richest, freest, and most opportunity-oriented country the world has ever known. 

If you think of this relationship as a kind of operating system -- like the operating systems that drive our computers and our cell phones -- you can see how it's been steadily modified and upgraded throughout our history.  In this sense, each new law enacted by Congress has been an effort to improve the operating system.  At times in our history, for instance during President Franklin D. Roosevelt's administration, the changes have been so substantial that it's less like an upgrade and more like a wholly new version of the operating system that's been installed.  But never in our history have we replaced the original operating system -- that extraordinary, uniquely American relationship between the individual and the State -- upon which our country was founded.

Until now.

From the moment President Obama took office in January 2009, he and his Democratic allies in Congress have worked to replace this operating system with one in which the State is dominant, the individual is subservient to the State, and the relationship between the two is halfway between intimate and suffocating.  This isn't version 2.0; this is revolution.

Like so many of history's revolutionaries -- Lenin and Castro come to mind -- then-Senator Obama never made clear precisely what he planned to do when he campaigned for the White House back in 2008.  He presented himself to voters as a genial moderate who would stop the bickering that had come to paralyze Washington, get the economy back on track, and end an unpopular war in Iraq.

Yes, there were quite a few journalists who probed deeply enough into Obama's background to see that he was far more radical than he wanted voters to realize.  But their often remarkable findings didn't reach most voters -- for instance, those articles about who really wrote Obama's books, or those commentaries about how how implausible it was that this genial, moderate graduate of Harvard Law School, said to be the most brilliant carbon-based life-form that ever walked the Earth, possibly could have sat for 20 years in the Revered Jeremiah Wright's church without noticing that this lunatic was a vicious, anti-American race-baiter.  With the exception of those with close ties to the candidate and his deceptive campaign, no one who voted for President Obama in 2008 thought that he or she was voting to change the relationship between the individual and the State.

This time around, there's no excuse.  The president's incessant calls for "fairness" and his tax-the-rich policies are designed to cripple our free-market economy and destroy the greatest job-creation machine the world has ever known, thus making more Americans dependent forever on government handouts for their daily bread.  His education proposals, and his takeover of college loans, will make an entire generation of young Americans utterly dependent on Washington for their futures.  ObamaCare will destroy a health care system that's expensive, but which provides a level of health care unmatched anywhere in the world, and will literally give the government control of our bodies.

Reversing course after four years won't be easy, but it's possible.  Reversing course after eight years won't be possible.  That's because changing the relationship between the individual and the State isn't like shifting around the furniture in your living room; if you don't like the new arrangement after a few weeks, you can always go back to the way it used to be.  Changing the relationship between the individual and the State is like making an omelet -- and you cannot unscramble an egg.

Herbert E. Meyer served during the Reagan administration as special assistant to the director of Central Intelligence and vice chairman of the CIA's National Intelligence Council.  He is the author of How to Analyze Information and The Cure for Poverty.