The year was 1948. The New Deal dynasty of Franklin Roosevelt had spanned four elections and passed onto his successor, Harry Truman.
Two years earlier amidst this backdrop Leonard Read had started the Foundation for Economic Education. Perhaps this was because he saw few others willing to stand for the classical liberal ideas he believed in. As he saw it, the previous two Republican nominees for president, Wendell Wilkie and Thomas Dewey, had attempted to co-opt the New Deal rather than refute it.
Read wrote of Wilkie,
“Then, something seemed to happen to his demeanor. For the first time it became obvious that he was thinking in terms of winning the election. It became clear that he was thinking of methods for capturing votes. He seemed to think less and less of being right. The voice of expediency persuaded him to say in his speech of acceptance that he believed in the Fair Labor Standards Act, a position at complete odds with liberal tenets. He went more and more down the New Deal path, as did Governor Dewey after him, not because either one necessarily believed in that course but because they must have thought it was the way to defeat the Roosevelt Party and to secure the office for themselves and their party. They acted from motives of expediency rather than from moral convictions. Yet this action proved to be not even expedient. By it they did not succeed.”
In Pattern for Revolt, Read laid out what a more principled candidate might say through a series of fictional campaign speeches, culminating in an inaugural address.
I don’t think Leonard Read would mind if Joe Biden wanted to incorporate some of these lines into his own inaugural address.
1. "The mere changing of parties or personalities is not important. The transfer of power from one party to the other is important only if the ascending party has principles which it is important to substitute for the principles of the party in power. Nothing else matters."
2. "Choosing among numerous aspirants to office who vie with each other as sponsors of public housing, socialized medicine, the nationalization of education and a host of other socialistic items is like choosing between Tweedle-dee and Tweedle-dum. That is not an election in any significant sense, that is, not in any ideal sense, but only in an unimportant, personality sense."
3. "Men in government, therefore, should be those who aim at making government as unnecessary as possible. Contraction, not expansion, should be the aim."
4. "Freedom is an assertion of man’s God-given free will, a resurrection of man from deadening arbitrary authority, whether this authority be exercised by democratic majorities through the instrumentality of the State or by oppressive men in anarchy. Authority of men over man exists in the presence of error and ignorance, folly and wrongdoing."
5. "We do not need to care who is elected to the presidency if we carry our ideas. What could I do in office on behalf of liberalism if the people’s ideas were those of slaves? On the other hand, what will our collectivistic opponents be able to do in extending their authority if the people subscribe to the principle of liberty?"
6. "In every field where arbitrary authority is imposed we shall inquire how it may be removed and replaced by a reliance on the initiative and enterprise of individual citizens. We must give to the art of self-government its American renaissance."
7. "How do people reason in order to arrive at the conclusion that we can be enriched by paying government a huge overhead to take from all of us and give to some of us, or even to most of us? This merry-go-round in economic thinking is too confusing for me."
8. "If the booty from public looting is not taken away from those who are getting it, those who are now without this booty will press their demands beyond the point of governmental resistance. The choice is only one of going on with the filthy business or getting out of it entirely. Our country cannot endure half robbers and half robbed."
9. "Coercion, of which government and the laws of God should have a monopoly, has its place solely as a restraining force for the protection of the individual citizen’s life, liberty and property. Use of coercion to relieve the individual of responsibility, to direct his activities, and to dispose of his property, which is the self-support of life, destroys that which makes life worth living, and even life itself."
10. "It is one thing to limit governmental coercion, which is police force, to the suppression of evil. It is quite the opposite to extend it for the doing of good. Coercion cannot do good; it can stifle evil. Coercion stifles whatever it touches, be it good or evil."
11. "You ask me, then, how do I propose to deal with those who are now in distress? The answer is simple. I have no proposal for dealing with them through government. Under no circumstances is it a Federal job. It cannot be properly done at that level by me or by Congress."
12. "To assume that the chief executive is general manager, a common error, is to betray the ways of freedom and to deny the concept of limited powers, upon which this government was founded. The people, the individual American citizens, are their own managers."
13. "Properly, this office has only the function of executing the policing details which the Congress finds it necessary to impose and of managing such federal services as the Congress has, wisely or unwisely, thought it expedient to provide."
14. "But of this be certain: I shall stick to my own job and will avoid assuming any responsibilities not clearly mine. The enactment or repeal of legislation, for instance, is the function solely of Congress. Whether the job is done well or badly is the responsibility of your representatives in Congress, not of your President. My job is to administer the government as it is. This, and nothing else!"
No doubt it would be difficult for anyone to live up to those words, let alone a president. But surely it is easier to aspire to principles that one boldly lays out for all to see.
Hopefully some politicians will take a lesson from Leonard Read and take a stand for freedom.