Our Pathetic Politicians
Making America's case
Thanks to WETA, public television's flagship station in and around
Washington, discussions that occurred during the "Re-Elect
America" bus tour were broadcast to the public in an hour-long
documentary titled "Talking with America."
The lessons are worth noting. Major media is constantly accused
of bias, and justly so. But the failure to speak up by those who
continue to believe in, and adhere to, America's founding principles
and documents is no less damaging.
The documentary demonstrated how unaccustomed America's
detractors are to encountering opposition. And because they are
unaccustomed, they are also unprepared. The following examples
are typical of our experiences across the land.
Tom Chavez, director of the Museum of New Mexico, represented
the many men who use women's issues to beat up on the U.S.
Constitution. "I will remind the women in this room," he cried out,
"you were not equal before the law until this century if yet." Upon
this, he was asked to guide us to a passage in the Constitution
that deprives women of rights."Give me a break," he protested, "I
am not going to cite this on the spot. It's there," he insisted. At
that point, he was offered a copy of the Constitution to aid his
memory. He declined the opportunity.
State Rep. Doug Teper of Georgia proclaimed that the Constitution
counted black people as three-fifths of a person. When informed
that the (now defunct) passage constrained not black people but
slave-holding states, he got furious. He vented his spleen on the
rule of law, at the heart of the entire discussion, referred to as the
North Star of America's compass. "I want to smash that compass,"
exclaimed Mr. Teper.
State Sen. Mike Massie of Wyoming spoke for many who hold that
the U.S. Constitution was no good, but just in case we find merit in
it, they credit the influence of the Iroquois Confederacy. When
asked to identify the source of such a contention, he could not
recall it, but was absolutely certain it existed. When pressed
gently, then not so gently, to name a single source for so
monumental an assertion, he wondered whether we might "get off
the subject for a second."
Social Justice, naturally, provided some of the most delicious
moments in the documentary. This most meaningless of phrases
that result from attaching the qualifier "social" dominated many of
our town meetings. Contenders for the grand prize included the
executive director of the Center for Social Justice in Topeka, Kan.,
who was unable to define the term to the point where he declared
the word "social" to be of no importance to him; and a young man
who demanded to be heard on the subject, then proved incapable
of completing an actual sentence no matter how long we kept the
camera on him.
In the end, we offered a thousand dollars in cash to anyone willing
and able to define "social justice." The executive director of the
ACLU in Phoenix, Ariz., insisted on trying. Having previously
declared that "the rule of law without social justice is patently
nonsense," she ended up defining social justice as "due process
and equal application of the law."
During the same town meeting in Phoenix, we encountered the
most widely held objection to America's founding in its most open
version. The Rev. Oscar Tillman, Baptist minister and noted black
activist, said the Constitution had been "written by people who
didn't respect me. The rules were there,but they weren't there for
me. Individual rights? I didn't have any." To his credit, he listened
carefully to the response. Apparently for the first time, he visibly
considered the proposition that the civil rights movement's
legitimacy was provided by the Constitution and nothing else; that
his ability to demand justice had been in fact established by the
Founding Fathers however long it took for the country to find
agreement about it. Before the end of that same discussion, Mr.
Tillman came to the conclusion that the Constitution must not be
applied differently to different people, or "we are hurting the whole
as a whole." It was a moment to cherish.
Thus, when challenged, those who have a bone to pick with the
American model give up, destroy their own case in an outburst, or
switch sides. From coast to coast, not a single discussion resulted
in the "other side" sustaining its case. Why? Because they have
Why, then, are our elected representatives so shy about making
America's case? When Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, Massachusetts
Democrat, attacks school choice, he is attacking the American
model. Is there no senator to call him on that? Is there no one to
ask why he prefers the communist model instead?
When Sen. Tom Daschle, South Dakota Democrat, or Rep.
Richard A. Gephardt, Missouri Democrat, look into the camera and
blatantly misrepresent the American model, is there no one to call
them on any of it?
These people, and many like them, have nothing to stand on but
our reticence to call their ideas what they are, clearly identifying
their evil source.
Our reticence creates a dangerous culture.
Recently, this column drew attention to serious misinformation
published by the Kennedy Center on the subject of "Women in the
Concert Hall." Upon learning that the column had been posted on a
back-stage bulletin board and discussed by members of the
National Symphony Orchestra, I called the public relations office to
ask if they had some response. The woman who answered
declared in a high-handed manner: "I am glad that as a member of
the public you had a chance to express your opinion." "We are not
talking about opinions," I countered, "but about facts, and about
the Kennedy Center publishing wrong facts." Upon this, the woman
said she would put me through to the right person, and I was
promptly funneled into a voice mail. The party has yet to return my
The episode troubles me greatly because the public relations office
of our premier cultural institution dismissed a disclosure of their
wholesale disinformation campaign with the haughtiness I had
come to associate with the totalitarian regimes of my youth in
Hungary. She could just as well have been an official of the Soviet
Ministry of Culture, instead of the employee of a public trust in the
United States. Presumably, the woman has no idea how out of
touch she is with the American model. How could she know until
we start telling her and all the others?
Balint Vazsonyi, concert pianist and political philosopher, is
director of the Center for the American Founding and a senior fellow
of the Potomac Foundation. He is the author of "America's 30
Years War: Who Is Winning?"