Posted on August 31, 2015


How many times have you “lost your I.D.?” By this we mean, of course, some official document, like a driver’s license, which fits neatly into your wallet and confirms who you are.

This is pretty serious business, losing your I.D. If you are traveling, and you lose your passport, you could be in deep doo doo, a phrase I seem to remember from one of our recent ex-presidents.

Your “official” identity is even the subject of much debate these days. Should voters have an official identity card, or just vote as they have in the past without having to prove who they are.

Actually, as I remember the last time voting, I had to show the nice little old ladies checking off the voting lists that I was who I said I was. Otherwise, just about anyone I suppose could walk off the street, say they are me, and vote. There’s lots of room for fraud and misrepresentation if that’s the case.

Presumably you know who you are, and by that I don’t mean you’re the person in the picture in your driver’s license, or your passport, or some other photo i.d. I mean you know who you are as a person.

You are kind or mean, or a little bit of both. You may be religious, or not too religious. You may be prone to bragging on yourself, or to being deeply self-critical. You may think of yourself as smart, or kind of stupid. Your moods swing wildly (I must be bipolar!), or you are pretty even-keeled. I’m dull. You’re pretty athletic, or you can’t hit the side of a barn with a basketball. You are pretty, you are ugly. Well, it depends on my mood. You are the life of the party, or you are a tongue-tied dimwit who goes dumb in trying to meet anyone new.

My question is what are we as a people? That’s a big question, impossible to answer in an OpEd column. It deserves probably a book. But let’s take a stab at it. I especially think it behooves us to do this over the course of the next year as we decide who we are going to elect President.

I think we are reaching, or have reached, a major turning point in our history, and this election will be a bellwether of where we go from here. Let me offer a quick example of the “identity” issue.

Are you a subscriber principally to liberty, or to equality? Even more important, which is the leading part of our collective national identity?

Are we a people given to freedom and liberty, in the work place for example, or do we believe everyone has a “right” to have a job, an income, and a roof over their heads?

Do we believe in free marketplace dynamics as the driving force in our overall prosperity as a people, or do we subscribe to the equality principle?

Those of you old enough to remember will recall President Lyndon Baines Johnson’s (1963-1969) “War on Poverty,” an expression of the second principle, equality. It gained much credence in our society.

Some claim if the Vietnam War hadn’t so rudely interrupted our world, it—the War on Poverty—might have succeeded. Today, according to its adherents, we might be a nation free of poverty, everyone equalized by government policies and actions.

If that sounds a bit Marxian, or at least socialist, it’s because it is.

Jefferson wrote at the very beginning of the republic, “all men are created equal.” What did he mean by that? Did equality become part of our national identity, or, at least co-equal, with the concept of a free society?

If we are free to rise or fall in our world, and face the consequences, especially as described by the economist Adam Smith who was a contemporary of Jefferson and extolled a society governed by the free play of the marketplace, then equality has to place second fiddle to liberty.

Jefferson’s equality was certainly not the same “equality” that Karl Marx argued for in his denunciation of capitalism and commitment to socialism.

Jefferson envisioned a country of free landholders, agriculturalists, the “yeoman farmers” in the language at the times, all contributing to the republic, but each possessing their liberties and freedoms. They were equal in liberty. That Jefferson also held slaves kind of complicates the issue, but that for another time.

Marx envisioned the end of capitalism, which promoted the rich and impoverished the working classes, and its replacement by a State-run, or government, form of socialism, distributing the wealth equally and benefitting all. That, at least, was his ideal.

We are identified by most of the world as the land of the free (and the brave of course).

If we look ourselves honestly, freedom and liberty trump equality as the guiding principle in what makes us special, or exceptional.

Published as “Equality or Liberty, What is our Identity,” in The Tuscaloosa News, Sunday August 30, 2015.

Posted in: History, Politics