[H]ow can we help you, from the grassroots level, how can we help you promote the cause of freedom and liberty for all peoples throughout the world?The President responded:
[T]he best way you can help is to support our troops. You find a family who's got a child in the United States military, tell them you appreciate them. Ask them if you can help them. You see somebody wearing a uniform, you walk up and say, thanks for serving the country.While giving emotional support to the military is certainly valuable, the President completely missed the point of the question. In his conception, apparently, the role of private citizens is to lend their support to the initiatives of government. What the questioner was interested in, which I think is much more important, was the ways in which private citizens can act independently of government in ways that advance freedom and the broad national interest.
The Bush Administration has consistently underestimated the importance of engaging the people and harnessing our energies. For all the talk of the dreaded Rove Machine, the White House's PR has been inept at best. And while there have been some moves towards exploiting the strength of distributed systems rather than centralized planning, the trend in all areas of the Federal government is in the opposite direction. (A notable recent exception has been the release of intel documents from Iraq and Afghanistan, for which I am exceedingly grateful.)
But private citizens, when acting together, have tremendous power to spread the ideals of liberty on their own, without using tank battalions or national diplomacy. Given that the President unaccountably missed his chance to rally the people, as it were, I would like to submit my own suggestions:
1. Establish merit-based college scholarships for students from oppressed countries such as Iran, Syria, Saudi Arabia, Uzbekistan, China, or anywhere else where freedom is kept in check. Send the best and the brightest of these countries to schools where they will be taught the benefits of liberty, an appreciation for America, and the practical skills to establish open governments and free markets back home.
2. Privately fund radio broadcasts into oppressed countries, a do-it-yourself Voice of America so to speak. Translate the classic texts on liberty (Adam Smith, Thomas Paine, the Declaration of Independence, etc.) into the languages of oppressed countries and distribute them in as many formats as possible. For that matter, translate popular literature as well. Heinlein can be a better exponent of liberty than Madison, if more people read him.
3. Sponsor English teachers. The more people in these countries who can speak English, the better for America.
4. Invest in these countries. Not in the big government-linked crony-capitalist industries like oil or diamonds, but in the growth of middle-class entreprenuers. Instead of allowing oppressive governments to become more powerful with our money, private investors should be strengthening the middle class, the true engine of liberty. Additionally, the more contact we have with private citizens in these countries, the more knowledge we will build up about them and the more opportunities the government will have for effective intelligence-gathering.
5. Individuals should aggressively switch away from oil consumption towards alternatives such as solar power or coal. In every country where oil revenues make up a large portion of the economy, you find government corruption, oppression of the people, and rampant poverty. The oil industry by its very nature depends on cooperation with governments, and massive capital investments. Worse, at a recent event I attended, anti-slavery activist Aaron Cohen digressed from his main presentation to talk about the ways in which slavery and ethnic cleansing are often linked to large oil projects in the Third World. The bloodshed in Darfur? Largely over oil rights. Individuals can help by promoting technologies that are independent of huge, centralized government-run producers.
In brief, there are all sorts of ways in which private citizens can fight tyranny and advance the cause of freedom. If the government won't take advantage of what we can offer, we'll just have to do it on our own.