“For all America’s reputation for individualism and competition,” he asserted, “our nation has from the beginning been built on a foundation of community and cooperation.” As evidence of the practical value of these social virtues, he cited Utah’s safety net, in which government, church-run charities and volunteers cooperate to provide benefits while encouraging self-sufficiency.
Lee went on to praise Lincoln’s activism in creating the conditions for economic opportunity: dredging rivers, building canals, broadening land ownership, founding land-grant universities. “These public goods weren’t designed to make poverty more tolerable,” he said, “but to make it more temporary.”
The subtext here is not a challenge to establishment Republicanism, which would offer no ideological objection to the role of government that Lee described. The real contrast is with libertarianism, particularly of the Rand Paul variety. And Lee has come close to making his criticism explicit. “Freedom means ‘we’re all in this together,’ ” he said. “The conservative vision for America is not an Ayn Rand novel. It’s a Norman Rockwell painting, or a Frank Capra movie: a nation of ‘plain, ordinary kindness, and a little looking out for the other fellow, too.’ ”