At some point in tonight’s foreign policy debate between the two presidential candidates, Governor Mitt Romney should send his very capable inner wonk on a long coffee break and press a big-picture truth that otherwise will go begging: America’s strength on the international stage requires economic strength, and our economic strength cannot long endure under the weight of a government so swollen in size that it stifles human enterprise.

The connection between economic freedom and economic growth is well-established. The connection between the relative strength of a nation’s economy and its strength on the international stage is also well established.

There are a lot of reasons for this, but it’s maybe easiest to grasp by thinking about technology. Our strength rests partly on our position as a technology leader, which allows our military to do more with less. But we’re unlikely to maintain that position of leadership if our government habitually suffocates our high-tech entrepreneurs under high taxes and hyper-regulation.

We’re also unlikely to maintain our position as technology leader if we don’t bring economic freedom into our educational markets. The current practice of giving huge, preferential infusions of taxpayer money to public schools controlled by unions has grown so dysfunctional in many cities that filmmaker Davis Guggenheim—beloved by the left for his global warming documentary An Inconvenient Truth—felt compelled to attack it in his Waiting for Superman. In the film, inner-city families are so desperate for educational alternatives that their lives revolve around an annual lottery that selects a lucky few to attend a successful charter school.

President Obama has repeatedly emphasized using federal dollars to add more teachers to the current system, so much so that the left-leaning Saturday Night Live felt compelled to ridicule it in its skit of the first presidential debate. His proposal deserves to be spoofed. The average student/teacher ratio in our public schools has been shrinking for decades, and educational outcomes have remained stagnant. What students and parents need is not more money dumped into an underperforming system, but schools competing for their business. Competition will lead to educational excellence, something we sorely need in order to maintain our position of global leadership.

In the second debate, the president called for “investments in research and science that will create the next Apple, create the next new innovation that will sell products around the world.” The problem here is that government investments didn’t create Apple. Steve Jobs and his colleagues created Apple, and competition in a free market drove them to excellence.

Steve Jobs’ story brings up another element related to national security and America’s future. Steve Job’s mother got pregnant when she was an unmarried college student. Since her parents opposed her marrying the biological father, she aborted Steve and went on with her life. Goodbye, Apple.

OK, obviously that last part isn’t what really happened. At the time, the United States still protected the unborn, but 57 years later, abortion is legal and President Obama is the most pro-abortion president in our history, so much so that he repeatedly voted against an Illinois bill to protect the life of babies born alive after surviving an abortion attempt.

What does this have to do with national security? A nation that gets into the habit of killing the next generation of innovators, laborers, managers, doctors, nurses and soldiers before they ever draw a breath is a nation that is inviting decline. This is partly because “a house divided against itself cannot stand.” But it’s also because demographic decline always follows a culture of death, and no nation can remain secure in the face of long-term demographic decline.

David Goldman explores the pattern in his recent book How Civilizations Die. There he gives several sobering examples from history—noting, for instance, that “the most reliable observers” in classical Greece and Rome “complained of endemic infertility and infanticide. Ultimately, the city-states could not field enough soldiers to fend off their enemies” (115).

The 19th century political philosopher Alexis de Tocqueville warned America about a future marked by cultural dissolution overseen by a vast and benevolent government. “I see an innumerable crowd of men, all alike and equal,” he wrote in Democracy in America, and above them “stands an immense and protective power which alone is responsible for looking after their enjoyments and watching over their destiny,” a ruling power that “spreads its arms over the whole of society, covering the surface of social life with a network of petty, complicated, detailed, and uniform rules” until it “reduces each nation to nothing more than a flock of timid and hardworking animals with the government as shepherd” (805-6).

For four years President Obama has been moving us ever closer to an infantilizing nanny state of just this sort, so I suppose it’s fitting that in the first debate he said he was warming to the term Obamacare.

It’s also telling that in the second debate he used some form of the phrase “make sure” 45 times. A political cult of “making sure,” of channeling and controlling and corralling the rollicking quest that is the American Experiment—such a vision of America is a sure recipe for decline on the international stage. Think about it. How many pilgrims would have made it to these shores, how many pioneers would have settled the West, how many inventors would have pursued their eccentric dreams, how many couples would even have dared to have children in this fallen world, if “making sure” had been the prime directive?

The only sure things, as the old saying goes, are death and taxes. The present regime has been a strong supporter of both. Let’s pray that tonight the governor from Massachusetts offers a starkly different recipe for American greatness.

  • DK

    Wow. Class sizes are increasing. Teachers pay and benefits are being cut. Business models are turning teachers into scripted robots. Yes, many American schools are a mess but your solutions here seem naive. You can’t fix education if our family system raise broken kids. Do a little more research and reflection, please.

  • Martial_Artist

    Mr. Witt,
    You write: “…educational outcomes have remained stagnant.
    I would humbly beg to differ. They have been declining, at least everywhere in this nation that I have resided in the past 5 decades. When I finished 1st grade in northeastern Illinois in June 1952, the majority of my first grade class could read and understand a a newspaper article about an everyday occurrence that discussed events a 5-6 year old would comprehend, say a report of a house fire as but one example. My family moved to California that summer and I found myself surrounded by second grade peers who could hardly manage to enunciate sentences from a “Dick and Jane” reader. The decline has continued steadily over the intervening decades, such that when my daughter was in fifth grade, circa 2002, her “language arts” teacher asserted that the phrase “so fun” was a valid grammatical construct in English. No wonder the woman taught “language arts.” It was immediately obvious to me that she had not mastered English to a degree sufficient to qualify her to teach it to 12 year olds, yet there she was earning a salary as a teacher of the English language.