Norman Rockwell said he painted the past the way we wished it was.
For many, there used to be a wonderful place called "America." These folks cry out in despair that something has ruined that America and made it indistinguishable from evil, socialist Europe.
"Take back America," they implore. "Take back America." But what is the follow-up? Take America back from whom or what? Republicans want to take back America from Barack Obama, as if he holds more than the presidency.
But more radical voices imply that citizens need to take back America from "the government" because it has negatively transformed that simple Rockwell world.
However, do we really have warm nostalgic feelings for a country without Social Security?
Prior to the New Deal, a significant part of the elderly population had no income and no assets and no place to live. The lucky ones were able to live with their children if they had work and a place for the grandparents to stay. The televised series "The Waltons" gave us a wonderful image of this America. The only problem with that image is that TV is not real, and real poverty is crushing.
Then there is Medicare.
Do we really feel nostalgic about a time when most elderly people had no medical insurance? There is nothing warm and fuzzy about the rising cost of federally supported medical insurance, but it is so expensive because it has been so successful in extending the quality of life for so many.
Do we really want our elderly to have to choose between eating and buying medicine? Would we be better off if Medicare Part D and Medicare itself were not there for our elderly parents and grandparents?
Or, how about the America where there was no intrusive government hand to regulate child labor?
We may get a chance to go back to that America. Missouri state Sen. Jane Cunningham proposes to gut the child labor laws of her state. Then, impoverished parents will be able to get their children under 16 into full-time work to contribute to the family. Education will just have wait—probably forever.
The real place called America is not about nostalgia. America is strong, involved in innovation, willing to work hard and willing to become more than some memory that grows in intensity rather than accuracy year after year.
Those who rally around the call to "take back America" would do well to consider American author Peter De Vries' observation: "Nostalgia isn't what it used to be."