For quite some time, a quote from Richard Obenshain has been sitting at the top of my blog, The Virginia Conservative. It reads, “The most important goal in my life is to have some significant impact in preserving personal freedom in the life of this country.” Although most citizens would appreciate such a statement, the name Richard D. Obenshain may not be all that familiar outside Virginia. So, to give you a bit of background, he was quite active in state politics in the mid 60’s to late 70’s as he served as the chairman of the Republican Party of Virginia and, after beating John Warner for the Republican nomination, was well on his way to becoming a U.S. Senator.
Unfortunately, so many of us never got the chance to meet Mr. Obenshain; he died in a plane crash in 1978, several years before I was even born. But, his legacy lives on, in part, through his children. Even the most casual observer of Virginia politics will likely recognize the name of his son, my State Senator Mark Obenshain. Kate Obenshain, his daughter, also served as a chairman of the RPV and currently works at the Young American Foundation. In addition, the RPV building in Richmond is named in his honor.
As you might guess, I really like Mr. Obenshain’s quote. It returns a bit of honor and dignity to politics. If one adopts such a philosophy, influencing policy and seeking office isn’t treated as a means to acquire power, wealth, or fame, but rather the main focus becomes the promotion of our shared principles. It is not about the greatest gain for a single individual or cabal, but instead advancing the cause of liberty to each and every citizen of our great state (or nation).
However, Richard Obenshain’s quote as listed on my website and also Wikipedia is incorrect. According to Senator Mark Obenshain, it should actually read, “The most important goal in my life is to have some significant impact in preserving and expanding the realm of personal freedom in the life of this country.” I’ve taken the liberty of adding this quote to Wikipedia. The change is more than just cosmetic. Not only did Mr. Obenshain wish to maintain the dwindling list of freedoms that we already enjoy, but also enlarge that number. Of course, one can only speculate on what freedoms he would like to expand. In our present world, I would like to free travelers from the unreasonable TSA searches at the airport, remove the federal government from the sphere of education, allow states to determine the proper age for alcohol consumption, and forbid warrant-less wiretaps of citizens.
Apparently, then-President Ronald Reagan was so impressed by this quote, that he kept a paperweight inscribed with the motto on his desk in the Oval Office. In what is likely the greatest tragedy, most, if not all, of his successors have not respected these words. Even though it is impossible to gauge what kind of impact Richard Obenshain would have had in Congress, from this quote alone I dare say that he would have been a far stronger advocate for liberty than our current Senators, Jim Webb and Mark Warner.
Let me ask you a question. For those of us involved in politics, what is the most important goal in your life? Is it as noble as preserving and expanding freedom for your fellow Americans like Richard Obenshain? Or do you consider such principles to be secondary or of no value? Are you (or they) in the field simply for the money, a fancy title, or to meet the famous and powerful? If our politicians and politicos truly supported the notion of personal freedom, would we have either Obamacare or the Patriot Act?
Although we often disagree on the specifics, all kinds of government need leaders who heed the words of Richard Obenshain. After all, without liberty, we become enslaved to the whims of the government. Our citizens and politicians would do well to remember that the greatest freedom is achieved when the largest amount of responsibility is left, not in Washington, in Richmond, or the city council chambers, but with the individual.