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When America’s Founders established a limited government with separate and enumerated powers, they ingeniously improved the art of governance. But when they provided broad freedom for individuals to own property and pursue their own interests, rather than those of government, they set in motion forces that would change the world for ever.
In a short time, the wave of innovation, discoveries, and the unprecedented prosperity unleashed by American individualism would also inspire others the world over to secure freedoms that would similarly improve the spiritual, social or economic condition of millions.
Whether it was the battles against despotism in Central America, South Korea’s fight against communism, the cause to eliminate Soviet Russia, the efforts to bring down the Berlin Wall, or even the insurgencies currently transforming the Middle East; in every case, freedom was the primary objective of leaders who defied coercive governments.
But oppressed groups in foreign countries were not the only ones desirous of the American brand of liberty. Irish, Jewish, Italian, and other immigrant groups who came here in search of the American dream would have to join together and break down the barriers denying them equal opportunity for achieving prosperity as well.
A full century after the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation, equality and due process also eluded Black Americans who suffered from insidious state sponsored segregation, a woefully deficient educational system, and political disenfranchisement. The added absence of economic freedom, severe police corruption, and other social disparities would spark an epic struggle requiring the contributions of many courageous, humble and selfless leaders.
Although unacceptable levels of poverty, scarcity, and persistent vestiges of discrimination linger to this day, once freedom was secured for a previously discriminated group (or an oppressed nation); once individuals were free to commerce and own property; once coercive and centralized government action was bound; the result was expanded economic opportunities, an overall decline of inequality, and vast improvements in the political prospects for all. In short, once equality of opportunity was secured for a society, prosperity became a reality.
If we wish to see a prosperous and thriving U.S. Hispanic and Latino community that is now 50.5 million strong, the lessons of history are clear – it requires more freedom, not less; it requires less government, not more. And it requires leaders who are committed, steadfast, and possess the ability to inspire others to action.
To be sure, past Hispanic and Latino activism encompassed a broad spectrum of issues. Back when the elected leaders and staffers in the halls government did not look like us and were mostly unsympathetic to us as a voting bloc, “old school” leaders were employing coarse methods in order to be heard. It was forgivable - considering they were on the outside looking in. That is to say, they had to be crude and embarrassingly uncouth in organizing such things as protests marches, walk-outs, and boycotts because conventional methods to gain consideration of grievances were shut off to them during those turbulent times.
Nevertheless, their efforts improved access to education and positions of power, reduced discrimination to nominal levels, and inspired a new generation of leaders. And for their sacrifice and accomplishments we are eternally grateful.
But it must also be said; mistakes were made. Because ideas have consequences, regardless of their noble intentions, much of the collectivist agenda that was also advanced by many Hispanic leaders of both parties had long-lasting damaging effects.
They naively encouraged the excessive growth of government borrowing, spending and taxation responsible for our current decline. They barely observed how America’s growing dependency on government assistance programs undermined our values and family cohesion. They were complicit in failing to adequately protect the rule of law, safeguard property rights, defend our right to contract freely, and promote sound money and open competition. And they failed to speak out against interventionist schemes responsible for the severe contraction in credit, reduction in new business start-ups, and the epic home mortgage collapse that wiped out 35% of American wealth.
It could be argued that maybe they didn’t have a proper place at the table, or limited resources kept them from moving beyond the pressing issues of civil rights, educational attainment, and voting rights. Maybe they had to prove party loyalty; they didn’t see the forest from the trees; or maybe it was a question of addressing “priorities”.
I can accept all of those mitigating excuses for yesterday’s leaders, but today’s leaders have no excuse; things are different now. The National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials (NALEO) reports that 5, 850 Latinos are currently serving in elected office.
Leadership models that depend too much on one individual have become outdated and ineffective. Given the advances in technology and our rise in numbers, leaders today must be open to accountability and seek to develop those around them by modeling, teaching, and delegating. A new generation of young Hispanic leaders must also be better educated, better informed, and better positioned. They must be of high integrity, data-driven, adaptable, and recognize the strengths of those around them.
Accepting the mantle of leadership today also requires choosing what is right over what is expedient. This means leaders must reject fashionable, but failed programs that ultimately increase dependency, centralize power, and increase the size and scope of government.
Hispanics must no longer be satisfied with leadership that overpromises, and under delivers. We must learn from the lessons of the past and boldly question everything, and question everyone. The old paradigms and outworn conventions must be re-examined. This means we require honest, civil, and open debate in which we call on leaders to present the reasons that anchor their ideas.
We must no longer give cover to irresponsible legislating, party-first behavior, or imprudent policies that do not serve society as a whole. This means a leader’s overarching commitment must be to look at the empirical evidence – they must advance time tested policies we now know to best diminish poverty, preserve family cohesion, increase prosperity, and advance self-reliance.
This could be our watershed moment.
By emphasizing individualism, decentralized power, private property and free enterprise – Young Hispanic leaders can lead America into a new day of prosperity.
(The above remarks were delivered to the attendees of the National Hispanic Professionals Organization’s Annual Conference held in Austin, TX this week.)