When I went to visit my mother yesterday, her TV was stuck on President Obama’s Inaugural Address. It was painful to listen to it. Fortunately my 90-year-old mother is hard of hearing. I came in on this line from the address:
“Being true to our founding documents does not require us to agree on every contour of life; it does not mean we will all define liberty in exactly the same way, or follow the same precise path to happiness.”
You and I might define liberty as being able to keep the money we earn. Obama and friends may define liberty as taking money that you and I earn and giving it to people who have decided to live in terms of government generosity. He said as much. “For we, the people, understand that our country cannot succeed when a shrinking few do very well and a growing many barely make it.”
Why aren’t people doing well? Because Obama defines liberty in a way that was different from the founders he referenced in his address.
Some time ago I was listening to Alice in Wonderland (a Walt Disney Read‑Along Book and Tape) with my oldest son, who was three at the time, and came across a rather insightful commentary on the nature of political power.
Alice is confronted by the Queen of Hearts and is asked if she plays croquet. Alice answers "Yes," but insists she cannot stay to play because she's trying to find her way.
"Your way?" bellowed the Queen, "All ways here are my ways. Off with her head."
After locating these scenes in the original Alice in Wonderland books, I found that two stories, Alice's encounter with the Red Queen and her trial before the Queen of Hearts, are merged in the abbreviated Walt Disney book and tape.
The Red Queen maintains that all ways are her ways: "I don't know what you mean by your way," said the Queen, "all the ways about here belong to me." The individual must sacrifice his ways for the good of the State. Individuals are made to feel guilty for having private initiative. Any productivity that makes for an unequal society must be given up for the good of all.
The Queen of Hearts, a political cousin to the Red Queen, had a simple solution for those who disagreed with her policies: "Off with their heads!" When opposition arises, supposed or real, the only solution open to the despot is forced compliance to the new definitions.
The Red Queen and Queen of Hearts are on a rampage in our nation. Those who do not play croquet with them will find the refrain "Off with their heads!" spoken with clarity and regularity. Theirs is a grab for power in a house of cards.
How do tyrannical governments get into power? Well, it's a slow but deliberate process. The goal is to change the way people think. One way to do this is to change the rules of the game, even down to the definitions of terms. Again, Lewis Carroll some insights:
"I don't know what you mean by 'glory,' " Alice said.
Humpty Dumpty smiled contemptuously. "Of course you don't — till I tell you . . . . When I use a word, it means just what I choose it to mean — neither more nor less.
"The question is," said Alice, "whether you can make words mean so many different things."
"The question is," said Humpty Dumpty, "which is to be master — that's all."
For the despot, power is all that matters. Words and what they mean, what they can mean, are used to shape new opinions.