The American miracle


The American miracle

Jul 4, 2008 6 min read

Visiting Fellow

"Tell us about the American miracle."

It was in 1983 when West German Chancellor Helmut Kohl spoke those words to President Ronald ReaganThey were gathered at the annual G7 economic summit attended by the heads of the leading industrialized nations.

Two years earlier, Reagan had gone to his first G7 meeting in Ottawa, where he outlined his economic recovery plan. The other world leaders didn't appear to be very impressed. By 1983, though, it was a different story. Reagan's plan was in full swing - and the U.S. was defeating inflation and unemployment at a time when the rest of the world was still in recession.

Gathered in historic Williamsburg, Va., those leaders had one question: How did he do it? According to Reagan:

First, I gave them my thoughts about how excessive tax rates take away the incentive to produce, and how lower tax rates, in the end, generate more economic growth and also greater revenue for government. Then I told them what we had done to lower our tax rates, and some of the other things we were trying to do, such as reducing the size of government, eliminating unnecessary regulations and interference in the free market, and turning over to private enterprise some of the functions government had taken over.

He must have made quite an impression. Before long, Reagan was reading about their own efforts to cut taxes and reduce regulations back home. "The next time I'd see them," he wrote later, "they'd say the policies were stimulating a turnaround like the one we had had in the United States."

That's what the United States has been doing since its inception - spreading the gospel of freedom across the globe. And as we celebrate another birthday (our 232nd), it's worth taking a second look at that "American miracle."

What's the common thread in what President Reagan told the other leaders that day? Liberty. Yes, the very idea that sparked a revolution in this nation - indeed, that created this nation. After all, if you cut taxes, reduce regulations and shrink the size of government, what are you doing? You're freeing individuals to use their God-given talents and imaginations to build a better life for themselves and their children. That's what America has always been about.

You simply can't spark an "American miracle" if you put your faith, first and foremost, in government. You have to believe in the individual. You have to trust that free men and women will innovate and strive in ways that aren't possible when big government stands over them, watching and scolding like an unwelcome nanny.

Liberals may profess concern for "the little guy," but their policies clearly show they don't believe in him. This view puts them at odds with our Founding Fathers - the ones who wrote the very documents we celebrate tomorrow: the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. Taking a cue from Thomas Paine, who declared government "a necessary evil," they fashioned a form of self-government that carefully defined the powers of government - which, it must always be understood, come from the "consent of the governed."

As Thomas Jefferson said at his first inauguration in 1801:

A wise and frugal government … shall restrain men from injuring one another, shall leave them otherwise free to regulation their own pursuits of industry and improvement, and shall not take from the mouth of labor the bread it has earned. This is the sum of good government.

To truly appreciate what "good government" is, you have to go to the source. That means actually reading the Declaration and the Constitution. Most of us probably haven't even looked at these seminal documents. If so, I urge you to get your own pocket-sized copy of these cornerstones of American freedom. The Heritage Foundation will send you one, free of charge, when you sign up at our What Would Reagan Do?" website.

We can't expect liberty and self-government to survive in an atmosphere of ignorance. To keep the "American miracle" alive, Heritage is making these documents available in an easy-to-carry form for you and everyone you know - your schools, your scout troops, your churches and your family and friends.

Rebecca Hagelin, a vice president at The Heritage Foundation, is the author of "Home Invasion: Protecting Your Family in a Culture that's Gone Stark Raving Mad" and runs the website

How do we meet people's basic needs in America? The answer often depends on where we stand.

Those who stand in Washington, D.C., typically see problems such as poverty, homelessness and drug addiction in terms of statistics, costs and caseloads. This view nurtures the mindset that these problems can be solved only by government programs fueled by ever-increasing spending.

But if you stand on South Division Avenue in Grand Rapids, Mich., or on West Main Street in Leesburg, Fla., you perhaps see things differently.

Instead of statistics, you might know a family who can't pay its rent because of unexpected doctor bills. Instead of a case number, you might know a pregnant teenager whose dad was never around. Your close-up view of these problems helps you see what Washington bureaucrats can't: That what these people need most are family, friends and support networks that know them personally.

Therein lies the power of religious and community-based organizations, which President Bush has rightly highlighted from the earliest days of his campaign right up through today. The best expressions of this reorientation toward the local, the flexible and the personal have been through programs such as Access to Recovery. ATR is a program that allows drug addicts to use vouchers at the treatment facility of their choice, including religious providers.

Similarly, grassroots nonprofits also play a valuable role in helping the homeless.

"We cannot break dangerous patterns of behavior and cycles of poverty unless we get personally involved," says Mary Kay Baker, director of the Interfaith Hospitality Network in Grand Rapids. Her organization works with 15 local churches to provide shelter, food and other forms of material assistance to homeless families. But it offers more. "They need cheerleaders who listen to them and give them encouragement."

Mary Kay and her colleagues live this personal approach. They refer to the people they serve not as "clients" or "cases" but as "guests," according them dignity and respect. Church members volunteer to house these "guests" in their church buildings, cook and eat dinner with them and play games with their children or help them with homework.

This personal approach includes another crucial element: discipline.

With assistance comes personal responsibility. Toward that end, guests are required to seek employment during their stay or receive a seven-day notice to leave.

Guests at IHN also must turn over their government-issued debit cards to staff. Although staff members don't hold veto power over the cards, they talk with guests about their spending choices. "Many guests have never had the concept of saving explained or modeled for them," says Baker. "When we encourage them to save money, they often leave thrilled to have enough saved up for their first's month's rent."

IHN's networking approach with local churches is just one model for meeting people's needs. The First Baptist Church of Leesburg, Fla., has taken a different route by gradually building an entire ministry village on its campus. Staff and volunteers operate different ministries that serve homeless men and women, abandoned children, pregnant women, sick people without medical insurance, alcoholics and drug addicts, and many others.

What motivates FBC members? "They love Christ, and Christ loved broken people, so they are moved by their love of Christ to serve those he served," Pastor Emeritus Charles Roesel says.

This local, faith-centered approach doesn't just transform lives. It also tackles human need more efficiently than bloated government programs. For example, while FBC's community medical care center spends about $30,000 a month to provide medical care to the uninsured, it receives over $100,000 a month worth of donated pharmaceuticals and services.

Similar savings are achieved in Grand Rapids. IHN receives $12,000 annually from a government grant - less than 10 percent of its budget.

But because churches and volunteers provide housing and food to their approximately 200 guests each year, they provide services that would cost taxpayers more than $92,500 annually in government expenditures.

Such examples bear out the original idea behind the President's Faith-Based and Community Initiative. At its best, the initiative seeks to instill a personal, community-based approach to meeting human needs by reducing regulations and fostering an environment in which faith-inspired and grassroots efforts can flourish.

As government budgets spiral out of control, the need is more urgent than ever for policies that create environments in which families, local congregations and community-based organizations can thrive. Their power to meet people's needs lies in a personal approach that government simply cannot emulate.

Ryan Messmore is a William E. Simon Fellow in Religion and a Free Society at The Heritage Foundation.

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