Republican congressional candidate Sue Googe spoke about her upbringing in communist China to emphasize the importance of protecting freedom in the United States Friday.

Googe is running against long-time Democratic Rep. David Price in North Carolina’s 4th district, which covers portions of Durham, Orange and Wake counties. Speaking to about 10 students at an event sponsored by the libertarian student group Young Americans for Liberty, she focused on the cultural conditions that allow communism to take root in a society and warned against the excessive growth of bureaucracy, imploring the crowd not to lose sight of the individualism America was founded upon.

“A lot of times we forget how lucky we are to be Americans,” she said.

How Googe’s experience growing up poor in communist China has influenced her “libertarian-leaning Republican” political philosophy was a core theme throughout the talk. Having lived in a society with “free” education, housing and health care, she quipped that she had “lived in the perfect world Bernie Sanders describes.”

But “free” has its costs, she noted. She cited education as an example, noting that the same textbooks were used for all students in all classrooms, without any recognition of individual differences. They had free housing too, she said, if something more akin to a prison cell can be considered a home.

At the same time, Googe did note that she was actually fairly happy growing up in China because there were no income disparities to be ashamed about. 

But this type of happiness has its drawbacks, she said. If people are dependent on the government for their livelihoods, education and housing, the ambition to achieve greatness disappears, Googe explained.

“When everyone’s equal, you don’t feel any drive,” she said. “All of you here, if you go to a class, you work hard to get a good grade. If the teacher just averages everything out, that takes away your drive.”

Googe said most people associate communism with a dictator coming to power and imposing tyrannical rule, but that picture is too simplistic. Several communists “really believed it was the best solution” in response to prior inequalities and were willing to cede the power to someone above them.

That willingness, she said, was the “most dangerous part” of communism because it took out the will to fight for liberty and to question authority.

“The Holocaust could happen in Germany because they had the culture of people willing to submit to power,” she said. “If Obama sent the Army to suddenly take a town, the Army would resist.”

The failure to recognize that other cultures lack an understanding of liberty has been one of the major pitfalls of the United States' foreign policy, Googe said, while championing a more isolationist perspective. Forcing others to accept democracy, if they do not understand the value of liberty, is a fool’s errand, she said.

“The role I think Americans play in the world is to be an example, show how we can be a superpower and how people can enjoy liberty, but don’t force it down their throat because you don’t have the support,” Googe said.

Googe said she did not understand what liberty really meant until immigrating to America. The value of freedom really sunk in when she visited her old village in China in 2014.

There, she was introduced to the story of her grandfather, who had been killed by the government and had his land confiscated. Googe was shocked, she explained, at the degree of self-censorship within her own family in that she had never heard the story before.

“As an immigrant myself, I can definitely relate to Sue,” said first-year Aditya Paruchuri. “Although I’m not from a communist nation, I can definitely see how the differences between America and your own country can help you see how America really stands out.”

Although most people assume nothing comparable to communism could ever happen in America, Googe said that such complacency can be the enemy of individual freedom and liberty. She urged students to remember that “freedom is extremely high-maintenance.”

“The Constitution is just a piece of paper,” she said. “If we give ISIS a constitution and a bill of rights, what are they going to do? Having the Constitution in print and hanging in a frame, it doesn’t matter. Without that spirit, it doesn’t matter what paper you have.”

First-year Nikhil Sridhar agreed that the value of freedom can sometimes be forgotten.

“I thought it was great how she spoke about the importance of liberty and American values, because that’s really what’s important,” he said. “A lot of young people don’t understand that. As Reagan said, ‘Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction’ and Sue really hit that.”

Youth groups have been supportive of her message, Googe told The Chronicle after the event. A perspective coming from communist China can spark discussions that would otherwise not be had on campus, she said.

If she wins her election, Googe said her focus will be on principle, not policy, which she said “comes and goes.”

“My principle is to protect people’s personal liberty, and to protect private property against government overreach,” she said. “Government’s job is to provide collective defense and to provide a platform that’s fair to all so everyone can rise up from the platform. Anything that moves away from that, I’m likely not to agree with that.”