Stopping Us Out of the Gate

Off to the RacesAfter seeing the movie “Secretariat,” I came home wondering what made it so affecting.

Most of us know the outcome; Secretariat was a great horse that won the Triple Crown. Some, like me, even remember it. How could it be as dramatic and powerful as it was when we all know the story?

Last week, Rush Limbaugh mentioned it on his radio show. He, too, was struck by the American-ness of the story. An average American, a housewife, achieves greatness. Penny Chenery Tweedy, despite all odds, despite discouragement, in the face of common sense, had an undeniable belief in her horse and herself. She persevered and fulfilled the American dream.

But there’s a lot more to it than that.

I think it all boils down to one line delivered near the end of the movie. Secretariat is at the Belmont, the final race that pits endurance against speed, seemingly not his forte. The jockey doesn’t want him to get out too far at the beginning, but to pace himself and come on strong at the end. The horse doesn’t see it that way. He begins to break away at a frightening pace halfway into the race. The crowd groans to see this as it would appear to doom him to falling back and losing.

Secretariat pours it on. He defies conventional wisdom. His owner suddenly gets it. He has to give it his all, even if it means he fails or dies. Penny screams to the jockey, “Let him run!” It’s a glorious outburst. The horse’s soul is in that race and she understands that he must try to fulfill his destiny.

Not only does he win, but he wins by 31 lengths and a record time – ever – for one and a half miles. It’s an achievement unmatched even 37 years later.

The story is the can do attitude. It’s the pursuit of happiness. It’s what the American people have done since our founding. The nation let people fulfill their dreams. It let them strive for the best. It let them fail. It let them do it, unfettered.

It’s what has made the country great and what has powered the globe.

That attitude seems in stark contrast to today, when we are not told to strive. We are told we can’t do it. We are not let loose to do our own thing and bring excellence to others. Although this trend has been going on since FDR started shackling us, the erosion of rights has purposefully been gradual enough so that younger generations don’t even seen the manacles.

Under Barack Obama, the trend has accelerated.

The entrepreneur who wants to provide a service or create a product is overwhelmed by rules and regulations. He must have quotas, he can’t discriminate, he must have union workers. The project must be environmentally friendly. We can’t offend other countries. Making too much money means the taxman comes or the social justice worker who wants redistribution of wealth. The media pounces on problems or actively looks for errors or trouble. Then the city, state and federal government roll out a list of taxes, licenses and fees.

Even something as simple as cutting hair can’t be done just by opening up a shop. The owner must be licensed. He has to pay fees. He has to have insurance. He has to take classes like chemistry. He cannot go to another state without going through the whole rigamarole again.

It’s stifling.

We’ve gone from running free to struggling with crutches.

Our economy suffers and people are dispirited.

Maybe that’s why this movie is so powerful.

Maybe that’s why this election is so important. We’re running to get our soul back.

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