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Working for Liberty

Published: July 26, 2010

One of the things I’m proudest of about the United States is that we’ve always been a nation of dreamers and strivers. I spend a lot of time in France, and as much as I love it there—its gorgeous countryside, magnificent wines, haute cuisine, haute couture, and all things related to the enjoyment of life—the French do not seem as interested in striving as we are. In recent years, like the rest of Europe, the French are unwilling to let work be the focus of their lives. They want more benefits and time off, longer vacations, earlier retirement, and are willing to give the government whatever power it needs to make that happen. In other words, they’re willing to trade a little of their liberté in exchange for more égalité and joie de vivre.

Remember it was the French who gave us that wonderful statue celebrating liberté in New York Harbor, of the lady holding a torch, the one they so aptly named Liberty Enlightening the World.

Liberty is what America has been all about over the years. Most American families came from somewhere else. What all looked for in the United States has been freedom and independence. A meritocracy where anything is possible—a country where striving, regardless of race, creed, or color could pay off. A land where dreams come true. Is that so wild a dream? President Obama is living proof it isn’t. But the idea of “yes we can” did not start with him. Over the years, American inventors from Benjamin Franklin, Eli Whitney, and Robert Fulton, to Thomas Edison and the Wright Brothers confronted naysayers who told them it simply couldn’t be done. Of course, they proved otherwise, thanks to a combination of inspiration and perspiration—Edison claimed it was mostly perspiration. Thanks to their tireless efforts and vision, they made life better for themselves and everybody else, too.

And we Americans could not only dream, we could build as well. Not only do we create new machines, we make them run.

Today, we hear sophisticated people say that America can’t make what we create anymore, that we have to outsource manufacturing because Americans don’t want to get our fingers dirty. When I hear that statement, it makes me sad, even angry. And I don’t believe it for a minute. Given half a break and a level playing field, American workers today are still the most productive and efficient in the world. While far from perfect, we are still the nation of dreamers and strivers. And one thing we still dream of and strive for is freedom, not just for a chosen few, but for everyone in America.

Once when the Mormon Tabernacle Choir was singing at Lincoln Center, they asked me to write a patriotic poem. The choir hummed “My Country ’Tis of Thee” in the background. Here’s what I wrote:

America, land of the free,

My home sweet home of liberty, of thee I sing;

Let freedom ring for everyone in America:

Freedom from want, freedom from fear,

Freedom to speak, freedom to hear.

And when we bow our heads to pray,

To worship God in our own way,

I have a dream, may it come true

For everyone in America.

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