Thank you very much. Ladies and gentlemen, distinguished guests, and Mr. President, I want to thank you particularly for the hospitality you have shown me and such is my appreciation ... I will not mention, that you said last night, from your very lips, "Bo Jackson could not hit major league pitching."
It is a threefold pleasure for me to be here today. First, I am honored to come to a podium to which so many distinguished speakers have come.
Second, I am delighted to deliver the Landon Lecture in the 100th year of the man whose name brings honor to this lecture series. Think of it. Alf Landon's life spans nearly half of the constitutional life of this Republic. He was born during the first administration of President Grover Cleveland, the 22nd president, and next year he will cast his vote in the election that chooses the 41st president.
The third reason I am pleased to be here today is that the prairie is my home too. I am a son of what used to be called "America's middle border." I am a middle-westerner, born and raised in central Illinois. And I believe with a confidence, firmly founded in fact, that it is in the middle west, on its broad plains with its far horizons, that the American value of equality is especially well understood. It is about that value that I wish to speak today.
When Alf Landon was born, the tragedy of "bleeding Kansas" was a living memory for many Kansans. That tragedy was an aspect of one chapter of America's struggle to define and implement equality. Now, toward the end of the next century, the problem of equality poses questions less stark than the emancipation of slaves. But for that very reason the idea of equality today requires serious careful analysis.
Today is, of course, April 15, tax day. And I wish to approach the question of equality of taxation, because the subject of taxation takes us to the heart of the matter, the question of what government is for.
Why do we tax ourselves? What are the proper aims of government when spending the resources raised by taxation? To what extent is the promotion of equality such an aim? And what kind of equality?
This year we are celebrating the bicentennial of the Constitution. But to be precise, we are celebrating the 200th anniversary of our second Constitution. The first was, of course, the Articles of Confederation, drafted in 1777, implemented in March, 1781. It is timely to recall why the Articles failed. One reason—indeed the primary reason that they failed was taxation. Under the Articles, the federal government was unable to tax people directly. It could only assess states and hope the states would pay their assessments in full and on time.
This was, frankly, intolerable. The federal government had to be strengthened if ours was to be a united country, and a great nation capable of great exertions internally and externally. Taxes are the blood that makes the body politic live. So let us begin by recognizing that fact, and the fact that among the great rights conferred by the Constitution is the right, and I do mean the right, to pay taxes to the federal government.
It was in 1787 that our politics became national in the sense that the supremacy of the national government was made possible by the Constitution. But it was in the late winter of 1933 that politics became national in a new sense: Government under Franklin Roosevelt acknowledged what conditions were teaching, that our lives are woven together by an industrial economy. Since then, the urgent question still an open question has been: Can a people devoted to the widest possible scope for self-interestedness, a nation of aggressive individualism, think and act collectively as much as is required by pursuit of the public interests?
The New Deal was the first event since the Constitutional Convention of 1787 fundamentally to alter the relation of the citizen to the government. The government became a powerful engine of distributive justice, influencing the allocation of wealth and of opportunity.
In 1933, Congress created the Tennessee Valley Authority to operate a power plant at Muscle Shoals, Alabama. Today, urban Americans, whose idea of the pastoral is Central Park, cannot imagine the increase in American happiness wrought by rural electrification. In 1933, one in four Americans was working the land, and the land was blowing in the wind. But reclamation, irrigation, and research all sustained by the federal government turned agriculture into the most successful sector of American society in the subsequent 50 years. The bountifulness of California's central valley, for example, is attributed not just to mother nature, but to the Bureau of Reclamation that made it.
However, after 50 years in which government has cushioned many of life's sharp edges, government has fallen in esteem. The accommodations required for an ameliorative government, the cost of public claims on private productivity, the cost in taxes, among other things, has become the organizing question of our domestic debate in the 1980s.
Today as we approach another national election, the central argument in our country is about how to make the welfare state compatible with the rate of economic growth necessary to finance the welfare state. In the United States the public is not being brought face-to-face with the price of its needs and its appetites, the cost of the bill that is going to come due, down the road, if the price is not paid reasonably and responsibly. The political class in the United States has not been telling the public the truth. Now, I being a conservative am by definition pessimistic, I subscribe to the "Ohio in 1895 theory of history," so named by me for the little known fact that in Ohio in 1895 there were just two automobiles, and they collided. That is a version of the buttered side down law, which is the chance of the bread falling buttered side down is directly proportional to the cost of the carpet. But I do think it is not the congenital pessimism of a conservative that inclines me to look bleakly at the coming political choices. I think you can sum up the public finance condition of the United States today in six words that appear, all alone, in place of an epitaph on a tombstone in a churchyard in rural England. All it says on the tombstone is, "I told you I was sick." No one evidently listened to the deceased, but it is time for us to start listening to the better angels of our nature and to the real economic facts that are becoming increasingly glaring.
Today the American national mind is ambivalent; it is unformed; it is soft wax ready to receive a fresh imprint. Both parties have been representing the national mood with, I dare say, maddening fidelity. Both parties suffer the same disability. They cannot propose policies proportionate to means or means commensurate with their policies.
The Democratic Party is committed to programs of distributive justice enhanced equality of conditions that it is not prepared to ask the country to pay for. And only the courtesy I learned at my father's knee keeps me from hooting when Republican leaders devise euphemisms like "loophole closing revenue enhancements" to avoid saying the dreaded phrase "tax increase."
Conservatives, and here I speak as one, are particularly culpable. Conservatives dissolve in admiration for the insight: "There is no free lunch." It means that: Someone must pay for everything that has costs. That, although hardly a sunburst, is true enough. So is this: Government or so conservatives not long ago professed to believe government should tax sufficiently to pay for its services. For decades, conservative after dinner speakers convulsed their audiences with this thigh slapping joke: "We are not getting all the government we are paying for Thank God!" But in the 1980s, the conservative administration has been surely telling the country that it need not pay for all the government it is getting. For every dollar of government, the current administration is charging the country only 78 cents in taxes.
Republicans, clearly, have come to think that the world is their oyster and the promise of low taxes is their oyster fork.
Perhaps Republicans and all politicians should be marched, one by one, down to the block on Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, where the Internal Revenue Service building stands. Carved on that building are Oliver Wendell Holmes' words: "Taxes are what we pay for a civilized society." Had he lived in a period as dangerous as ours he would have added: "And for freedom." Unquestionably, Holmes was right. Unfortunately, the subject of taxation annihilates many Republicans' power of thought. They will not accept this fact: Given the fact that large additional spending cuts are politically unlikely and prudentially unwise in the defense area, the country cannot pay its bills with the revenue structure that remains after the tax-cutting in 1981.
It is wise to question how we, under a conservative administration, have, on the one hand 18 consecutive quarters of economic expansion (the longest such period in the post-war era), and alongside of this expansion, 170 to 200 billion dollar deficits.
I will digress here and give a short history of the Republican mind. That's all it takes.
The Republican Party (being a member, I can be rude) became dismayed over what it took to be the unfair allocation of political labor in the postwar period. The Republicans were practicing what Jack Kemp has come to call "root-canal politics." Democrats had all the fun. They came in and voted programs and Republicans complained about the cost of things. Republicans were the dentists of American life necessary, but unloved. Then, in the early '70s the Republicans got an idea. The Republican party didn't used to be a party of ideas. It was a party of tough Kansas farmers, guys having no truck with untested new ideas or untested old ideas or any ideas.
By 1974 a Republican, assistant professor (think of that, that used to be an oxymoron phrase, oxymoron, for those internally contradictory phrases like married bachelor or Lebanese government, something like that) but a Republican assistant professor was having lunch at a restaurant on Connecticut Avenue in Washington and he drew a curve on a napkin. And the curve demonstrated something not just true, but trivially true, and it is: That at some point when you raise tax rates you can get lower revenues from higher rates because the high rates suffocate economic activity. Conversely, there are times and places when you can cut taxes and have the tax cut be so simulative that you get increased revenues from lower rates. The assistant professor was Arthur Laffer. And it was the Laffer curve on that napkin that should be in the Smithsonian.
A Wall Street Journal reporter read the napkin and he wrote it up. And out in California, the man who was to become the epicenter of American politics read the Wall Street Journal about a self financing tax cut. What an enchanting idea because it obviates all difficult political choices got a problem, cut taxes. You can't blame President Reagan, any Republican politician would have felt the same way.
I have to remember what Cardinal Wolsey said of Henry the VIII: "Be very careful what you put in his head, you will never get it out!" You won't get that idea out of anyone's head, it is too charming. After all, do you remember how President Reagan got the nickname the "Great Communicator?" He is a terrific communicator, don't get me wrong. But he got that reputation in the summer of 1981, when Congress was locked in a titanic struggle over tax cuts and spending cuts, and the president went on television, looked the country in the eye, and said: "Be brave and endure a tax cut." The country said, "My God, that guy can talk!" Well, he cut taxes and the shelves of libraries groaned beneath the doctoral dissertations of supply side economists arguing that if it had been done right, if Volcker had cooperated, etc. ... we would have had a self-financing tax cut. The fact of the matter is: We didn't and we have deficits. This tells us something about modern government: What it is doing that it should do and what it is doing that it shouldn't do.
David Stockman, when he left government, wrote a book, and in it he said, "The dirty little secret of American politics is that 80 percent of all House Republicans and 90 percent of all Senate Republicans have voted for every major expansion of the welfare state in our lifetime." It is not a "dirty little secret." It is not a secret at all. Those were all recorded votes. Only ideological spectacles blinded people to the fact, the obvious fact that the modern welfare state is not an accident. It is not a conspiracy foisted on the nation.
In fact, it represents the settled consensus of the American people. And notice that in 1987 the most conservative administration we are apt to have in our lifetime is proposing the most substantial enlargement of the welfare state in many years. President Reagan has proposed catastrophic health insurance. In proposing catastrophic health insurance, Ronald Reagan said his plan would give "Americans the last full measure of security." It won't! It will be enriched to enlarge the security provisions. But that is not what is interesting to me. What is interesting to me is: that this president has endorsed the provision of the last full measure of security as a goal for the American government. The argument, ladies and gentlemen, about the legitimacy and permanency and comprehensive nature of the welfare state is over.
Ronald Reagan is probably the last president this nation shall have for whom the Depression, and FDR's response to it, was a direct formative experience. Ronald Reagan's legacy will include, in catastrophic health insurance, one of the most important post-New-Deal enrichments of the welfare state.
Republicans clearly can no longer seek to win control of the government by bashing the government. They must find a new vocabulary of conservatism, one that comes to terms with some of the great lessons of the Reagan years. One lesson is that the American people are not nearly as conservative as they say they are. There always is, in any democracy, at any given time, a gap between the real and rhetorical politics, the way people talk and the way, when push comes to shove, they expect to be governed. That gap has become uncommonly wide in the 1980s.
The American people complain bitterly and constantly about big government, but these complaining Americans have the following profile: one in six complaining Americans who works, works for government; one in seven complaining Americans is a social security beneficiary; one half of America's complaining families will receive some form of transfer payment or other from government this year. The American people have a voracious appetite for government, they just have a negligible willingness to pay for it. Which is why conservatism in our time is the prayerful belief that it is time to cut my neighbor's subsidy.
But it turns out we are all subsidized. We have been given by Ronald Reagan, under his strong leadership under his forcing the question that called our bluff we have been given a crash course in the realities of the federal budget. We have been given, indeed, a cold shower of facts and our bluffs have been called and it turns out that we can no longer believe that you can balance the budget out of waste, fraud, and abuse. Lovely idea if we could. It would obviate all difficult political choices. There is no community in the world that has a concerned clergy and faculty committee in favor of waste, fraud, and abuse. There is no lobby for it.
But that is not the problem. The problem is that we, like all industrial nations, have in the post-war period translated the concept of civil rights into the doctrine of economic entitlement, making enormous promises to ourselves as a matter of rights, enormous calls on the future productivity of the country. When these promises were made, we were not thinking of the cumulative suffocating impact of these on the private sector, which at the end of the day must pay the bills. We were careless about a demographic fact the elderly are the disproportionate consumers of transfer payments, pensions, and medical care. And, in nations such as ours, the population ages. In the year 2000, the proportion of the American population 65 and older nationwide will be what it is in Florida today. So there is an enormous demographic push beyond the expansion of the welfare state.
It is therefore idle for either party, and particularly the Republican party, to pretend that the welfare state is not permanent and is not going to grow in its burdensome nature. The Republican party is fully committed to a complex, ambitious menu of welfare state benefits. This is not a partisan problem because both parties have to govern and have to make some choices. The choices are well illustrated by Senator Fritz Rollings, Democrat of South Carolina. He shows that it is not just the two parties, it is the public that is the problem. He is fond of telling the following story:
"A veteran GI," says Hollings, "returning from Korea went to college on the GI Bill; bought his house with an FHA loan; saw his kids born in a VA hospital; started business with an SBA loan; got electricity from TVA and later, water from an EPA project. His parents retired to a farm on Social Security, got electricity from REA and soil testing from the USDA. When his father became ill, the family was saved from financial ruin by Medicare and his life was saved by a drug developed by the NIH. His kids participated in the school-lunch program, learned physics from teachers trained by the National Science Foundation and went through college with Guaranteed Student Loans. He drove to work on the interstate highway system and moored his boat in a channel dredged by the Army engineers. When floods hit, he took Amtrak to Washington to apply for disaster relief, and spent some time in the Smithsonian museums. Then one day he wrote his congressman an angry letter asking the government to get off his back and complaining about paying taxes for all those programs created for ungrateful people."
How does this happen? Any shrinkage of government, ladies and gentlemen, is an achievement that runs counter to the instinct of the animal. The normal dynamic of politics is a process of addition. Candidates promise to add to government's repertoire of benefits. Reagan has wanted to put a subtraction button on the great adding machine of government, he says. He thought the new federalism might do that by devolving choices to lower levels of governments. But that won't diminish the quantity of government. Conservatives have always said that governments closest to the people are the most accurate barometers of the real values and desires of the people. What then do conservatives make of the fact that in recent years state and local governments, those closest to the people, have been growing the fastest?
Why does government grow? I will give you an example. In August of 1986 President Reagan at the Illinois State Fair boasted; yes, boasted: "No area of the budget, including defense, has grown as fast as our support of agriculture." He added, "This year alone we will spend more on farm support programs . . . than the total amount of the last administration in all of its four years." The farmers interrupted his 11 minute speech with applause 15 times.
As Moynihan says, "The growth of government is a natural and inevitable product of the political bargaining process among interest groups that favor government out-lays that benefit them." This process occurs under all administrations. What is different today, so different in degree that it is different in kind, is the radical discontinuity between Republican rhetoric and political results. "Once through the $100 billion dollar deficit," as Senator Moynihan has said, "then comes the $200-billion dollar barrier; once through that a $1 trillion dollar debt occurs and the $2 trillion dollar barrier the politicians are free to soar: After all, no serious harm has come of it so far." That is what Mr. Moynihan means when he says "big government has been made cheap in our time." Because of the numbing deficits, the money does not seem to matter.
I think most people in Washington are alarmed by the deficit. And why not? It took this country 200 hundred years and 96 Congresses and 39 presidents to compile the first trillion dollars in federal debt. It took the 40th president four and a half years to double it. And we are, in the midst of recovery, on the path to adding a trillion dollars in federal debt every six years. I do not believe a healthy capitalist economy can function with the public borrowing 40 to 50 percent of the nation's net savings simply to finance the deficit.
Everyone in Washington is alarmed with one exception. It is part of Ronald Reagan's considerable charm that nothing alarms him. He deserves the John Jacob Astor Trophy for savoirfaire in the face of difficulty, so named by me for the little known fact that Astor was on the Titanic in the first class lounge having a drink when the ship hit the iceberg and he turned to the waiter and said, "I sent for ice, but this is ridiculous."
For years the Republicans complained about the Democrats. They complained about Harry Hopkins who said to Franklin Roosevelt, "We will tax, tax, spend, spend, elect, elect." Then Republicans found something worse! It is borrow, borrow, spend, spend, elect, elect. What makes that worse is: That with tax, tax, spend, spend, elect, elect, at least the cost of the generation's consumption of goods and services from government is borne by that generation. Under borrow, borrow, spend, spend, elect, elect, a good part of the cost of the consumption of government goods and services is shoved into the indefinite future onto a rising generation. Thus big government is made cheap and the last political restraints on the growth of government are removed. It is a profoundly dangerous development. What will happen to address this? Who knows, given the change in our country.
Remember, not long ago most American workers were farmers. Today about three percent are, and they feed all of us and much of the world. The most important cause of this revolution was knowledge generated and disseminated by government. The social sciences and medical sciences have produced knowledge that has, in turn, driven government in the direction of growth and activism. Anti-poverty programs became a moral choice only after we had this knowledge from the social sciences about the extent and causes of poverty. Or, to take another example, there was a time not long ago when the biggest hospital expense in this country was clean linen. Now we have knowledge. We have kidney dialysis. We have CAT scanners. We have numerous other technologies that cost money. We can choose to keep people alive and so we do. And it costs money. As society's wealth has increased so have the demands on government. You might think it would be the reverse that as people become more wealthy they become more independent of government. That is not quite how it works. There are, for example, limited amounts of clean air and water. But a people of plenty, a wealthy society, will accept fewer limits than a people of scarcity. So they make the collective purchase of environmental improvements and these cost money.
To come back to the subject of the deficit, the fastest growing component of government is not defense. (Indeed defense is now in negative growth, largely because of the deficit.) It is the deficit that explains the largest, fastest growing component of government, which is interest on the public debt. By the end of this decade debt service will require a sum equivalent to nearly half of all personal income tax revenue just to pay the interest on the money we have borrowed. Most of those revenues, by the way, are deducted from the pay checks of Americans who work for wages. Now who receives the interest payments that government pays? The people who receive them are American and foreign owners of capital, who have lent their capital to our government by buying its bonds, so the deficits require people who work for wages to pay vast sums to people in places like Grosse Pointe and Riyadh who lent their capital to the American government.
It is a highly regressive transfer of wealth, but the instinct of modern government is to protect client groups, to protect the Chryslers of the world.
Modern government actually is technically, strictly, and literally reactionary. It reacts against change. It is a schizophrenic reactionary: on the one hand, modern government tries to foster economic growth and dynamism, yet then it tries to prevent casualties from dynamism. Yet that is inherent in economic growth. Remember our farmers, that three percent feeding the country? If the market were allowed to work entirely, there would be fewer. It is not allowed to work entirely. One-quarter of all the jobs in the automobile industry disappeared in recent years. One-half of all the jobs in the steel industry disappeared and that is what is behind the pressure for protectionism. The desire to protect existing groups from the dynamic of change. All modern governments seem to do this. Government, as it becomes omnipresent, omniprovident, and hyperactive, tries to protect the strong, the existing, the organized, the intense. That is how we do politics in Washington.
If you want to know how the government in Washington works, do not read the Constitution, it has precious little to do with it. Read the Washington telephone directory the next time you are there. Particularly the pages that begin: National Association of. ... Those are some of the 2,500 lobbies and other interest groups that are, after government and publishing in all its forms, the largest employer group in Washington. They are there for the explicit purpose of bending public power to private purposes.
This is not a partisan complaint, it is not a Republican or Democratic problem, it is the way we practice politics. We have decided that the test of government is whether or not it is responsive. Whereas it is manifestly a case that the problem with our government is its hair trigger responsiveness. We have a government incapable of saying it is like a seismograph, an incredibly sensitive seismograph, leaping at every appetite tremor. It is kind of a great cafeteria, operating on the theory that whatever results from this churning of interest group shall be called the "national interest." It is the Cuisinart theory of government: You produce a puree and baptize it "the national interest." It is true, of course, what you get is a clamor for services, no clamor to pay for them, and you get deficits. Again, this is not a Republican or Democratic problem, it's a problem with our political culture. It is a problem with degradation of the democratic dogma, it is a problem with people failing to realize that leadership is the ability to inflict pain and get away with it. Short term pains, we hope, for long term gains. But, pains. Deferring gratification is painful, paying for what you want is painful, but government by Gallup poll doesn't lead to leadership.
The worst example I can give of this was when Gerald Ford was president, he was asked early on if he favored a stiff tax on a gallon of gasoline as a form of price rationing to dampen demand. And his answer is grave and on my mind. He said, "No, today I saw a poll that shows that 81 percent of the American people do not want to pay more for a gallon of gasoline." George Gallup gets rich proving that Americans do not want to pay more for a gallon of gasoline. But, anyway, Ford went on and said, "Therefore, I am on solid ground in opposing it." Well, all ground seems solid when your ear is to it. And as Churchill said, "It is hard to look up to someone in that position."
But it is technically, ideologically, philosophically the position of American democracy in our time. Now it seems to me that something ought to change.
The only way to get this to change is for the American people to recognize what government "ought" to do and what it shouldn't "ought" to do. Government shouldn't protect people from change. It shouldn't say that all interest groups have a right to bend public power to their purposes.
We are not all equal in the dignity of our appetites. Not all appetites are created equal. I think it is time to make a distinction.
There are, I suggest, two distinguishable categories of actions by contemporary government that address the value of equality. The value of equality as it exists in an essentially prosperous middle class nation.
The first category includes actions that can usefully be said to pertain to necessary consumption.
The second category should be called "enabling actions." The idea of necessary consumption encompasses things that, in the nature of things, we cannot avoid experiencing using or should not have to avoid using or experiencing, or enjoying. Let me give three kinds of examples:
One is clean air. Breathing is neither volitional nor optional. All Americans do it and no American, should, because of financial condition, suffer in the elemental matter of access to healthy air.
Now this is not to say that governmental concern for reasonable equality regarding air quality requires that the air in all regions, and in urban and suburban and rural areas, be identical in cleanliness. City air is going to contain more impurities than air elsewhere, and people who choose to live in cities choose that cost of their choice. The sensible object for government is not equal air quality, but uniform national minima. The goal is that all Americans shall be equally protected from injurious air.
A second example of a commodity of involuntary consumption is medical care. The difference between this example, and the matter of clean air, is that breathing is unavoidable. Becoming ill is not. It is true that an extraordinary, indeed a disgraceful, amount of expense of illness in this country is, in a sense, voluntary.
It is voluntary in the sense that it is brought on by behavior that people choose not to change, in spite of evidence and abundant information about its dangerous nature. Such behavior includes smoking, drinking too much, eating foolishly, not exercising properly, not wearing automobile safety belts.
But much medical care, especially that required by the elderly, is truly unavoidable. Regarding medical care, as regarding air, the object is not equal medical care for all, but a guaranteed equality of access to adequacy. The goal is the access of all Americans to a reasonable, civilized, minimum of medical care.
A third category of "involuntary consumption goods" is not really quite involuntary. I am thinking of parks, national parks, and others, wilderness areas, unspoiled beaches. Can we live without them? Of course. Can we live well without them? Of course not.
The interesting aspect of this example is as follows: If the government does not act to protect and provide splendors of nature, even the rich will be denied them. There are, that is, some goods that are equally denied to all persons if government does not intervene to protect and provide them.
Turning for a moment from the concern for equality as it applies to matters of necessary consumption, consider now the class of government actions that can be called "enabling actions." These are not actions to establish equality of condition. Rather, they are actions to equip persons for the adventure of freedom. They are government actions to reduce the dependence of persons on government.
The paradigm of such actions is the provision of education, not only primary and secondary education. As the world becomes more complicated, so, too, does the "enabling duty" of government. But the federal government understood that duty long ago. If you seek an example, look around.
Kansas State University illustrates one of the most far-sighted acts in the history of Congress, the Morrill Act of 1862. That act gave rise to the land-grant college system. One function of the land grant colleges has been to foster scientific agriculture. The college system with its extension services facilitated the transformation of American agriculture into a wonder of the world.
"Enabling actions" by government can include public works. Government has nurtured and, by building airports and maintaining the air traffic control system, has democratized flying. The "jet set" is no longer a flying elite. The jet has replaced the Greyhound bus as the average person's interstate transportation. The interstate highway system, by the way, is part of the infrastructure of the nation which federal government facilitated, that enabled not only commerce but the democratization of the pleasure of travel.
Now consider another factor about the quality of modern life. It is a fact so obvious that we do not notice it but so important that we should think about it long and hard: The egalitarian nature of modern life has produced a broad democratization of experience. Rich and poor alike have access to the essential American diet of information and entertainment. Tonight in Grosse Pointe and the Bronx, in Beverly Hills and in Appalachia, most people will do pretty much the same thing. They will watch some television news for information, and for entertainment they will watch some prime time television.
Modern technology the automobile, the radio, the telephone, the television set, the jet passenger plane—has put enriching experiences within the reach of Americans who have the education to earn a steady income and the education to enjoy the variety of the world.
It is therefore the enabling task of government to equip people to exploit what the inherent nature of modern life has democratized. The equality tfiat free people demand and deserve is not a matter of destinations, it is not equal outcomes, it is a matter of starting points. Americans want diversity, which means all sorts of differences and differences mean inequalities. But they want the sense that all Americans are reasonably equal in their capacity to pursue the inequalities of their choice. An old English couplet says: "All men are created equal, they differ only in the sequel."
We in the United States, like people in similar developed nations, have long since decided that there are limits to the "unequal sequels" the unequal conditions that we consider tolerable. But beyond the provision of decent minima, the proper concern for equality concerns "equality of enablement" equality of opportunity made concrete.
The equality we should tax ourselves for, so that government can provide, is equality in the capacity for striving. And it is here, I think again, that we in the middle west are particularly equipped to understand.
There is something about our life out here. The geography of the American middle west, with its unimpeded view of the far horizon, is not as histrionic as the geography of other regions. However, out here, where there are no mountains, the tallest feature outlined against the broad horizon is the upright American citizen, a phenomenon more imposing, I think, than any mountain. Alf Landon, of course, is such a figure; and any American can aspire to be like Alf Landon, with the help of an intelligently enabling government.
It is for that that we pay taxes. It is for that that we should be thankful for the privilege of paying them, just as I am thankful for the privilege of sharing these thoughts with you today.
Now, I have talked long enough. I don't mind those of you who are looking at your watches, but you who are holding them up to your ears are telling me something. So I shall subside.
I have talked about certain pathologies of modern government. They are real and they are dangerous. But I don't want to leave you cast down. I may sound a bit as Mark Twain did when he said, "Wagner's music is better than it sounds." But American government is better than it sometimes sounds. Ours is an enormously prosperous, temperate, educated, productive country. It has an enormous margin for error. It uses most of that margin, but there is no cause for despair. Our political system is good at generating temperate and intelligent men and women to make choices. And no small reason for that is the existence of the kind of institution at which I am privileged to talk today.
The great democratization of higher education is an indispensable part of the American success. No other country in world has anything remotely like it. So if I were to leave you on an inspiriting note, it would come from a great American social thinker Yogi Berra. It's a true story. He was sitting in a dugout in Yankee Stadium about 1964 and someone came up and said: "Yogi, the people of Dublin, Ireland, Catholic Ireland, have just elected a Jewish mayor." And Yogi said: "Ah, only in America."
On that inspiriting thought, and with the knowledge that some of you have to sneak off to classes, I shall subside. And I thank you very much for hearing me out. Thank you.