Americans Past, Present, and Future
Last weekend, the Honorable Tom Feeney, Speaker of the Florida
House of Representatives, addressed close to five hundred delegates
from public policy institutions and grass-roots organizations, hosted
every year by the Heritage Foundation. The purpose is to discuss
the state of the Union, and to hear those who are able to illuminate
matters of particular concern.
Mr. Feeney's speech - "On Policy and Politics" - illuminated
just about every matter of concern and thus prompted the following
In 1774, speaking at Carpenter's Hall, Philadelphia, Patrick Henry
noted that those gathered for the First Continental Congress were
no longer New Englanders, Virginians, or New Yorkers: they were
Americans. The remarkable transformation happened at a time of great
need. Significantly, ever since 1774, there have always been Americans
who rose to the occasion in time of need.
Some insist on acting offended when divine providence is given
credit for the continuing good fortunes of this nation, but many
hold that the alternatives offered require a great deal more suspension
of disbelief than simple faith.
Be that as it may, we need not go all the way back to the miracle
of the Founding Fathers, only to 1980. By then, during a single
term, the affable but inept President Jimmy Carter had helped propel
the decline in America's domestic health and international status
to a point where even the communist handlers of the 1960s' hapless
youth could not have hoped to see it. An America where no one could
afford a home, or even fuel for a car, and whose armed forces would
be the laughing stock of the world seemed just around the corner.
But, as always, it was America's renewal that proved to be around
the corner. In January 1981, on the constitutionally mandated date,
a new president was sworn in who carved a path leading out of the
national malaise. By the time Ronald Reagan had finished his terms
of office, America was riding on a new wave of prosperity, its standing
in the world restored, its sworn enemy on the way to irrelevance.
Two decades after that memorable moment of rescue, America was
in need again. This time, our self-respect was in a sorry state.
We had elected people patently unworthy of high office and, in our
euphoria about the continuing bull market, did not find the strength
to show them the door. In fact, we permitted ourselves to flirt
with four more years - or eight, heaven forbid - of not being able
to look into the mirror as we brush our teeth.
Once again, however, America is in the process of renewal. The
boastful and contemptuous Clintons have been replaced by the genuinely
modest Bushes; lying and cheating as a way of conducting the business
of government has given way to honesty. That is our present, and
it did not come about by accident.
This column has commented before on the role the majority in the
U.S. Supreme Court played by delivering the standard American response
to a crisis - which is to resolve it quickly, simply, effectively.
(Reminder: The crisis was not about the outcome of the elections;
it was about the survival of the Republic.) Mr. Feeney's speech
helped to recall the other pillar holding up the edifice during
America's hour of need. Tom Feeney was that pillar.
Under incessant barrage from the Florida House Minority Leader,
and U.S. Representatives for various Florida districts, Mr. Feeney
served repeated notice that the Constitutions of the United States
and the State of Florida shall be followed, and that no amount of
hate speech can change that. And hate speech there was, day and
night. The language these so-called public servants had permitted
themselves would have been unthinkable in American politics when
I first arrived here, and ought not to be tolerated in this land
- but that is for the voters of Florida to contemplate.
Amidst all the shouting, Mr. Feeney never raised his voice. And,
in Philadelphia the other day, it was much the same. His speech
would not qualify for an oration. But in his quiet ways, he covered
a great deal of ground. Indeed, he declared his colors on just about
every topic that people have on their minds these days. He spoke
about the last elections, the courts, taxation, education, technological
advances, California's faulty energy policy, and national security.
He invoked Friedrich Hayek's "Road to Serfdom" and Whittaker
Chambers' decision to expose America's communists. The colors Mr.
Feeney declared were all American.
It is a safe bet that Speaker Feeney will play a role in America's
future. He came close to becoming lieutenant governor when he ran
alongside Jeb Bush in 1994. But he would have had no national profile
at the time, so it might be as well that he stayed where, as it
turned out, he could perform yeoman's service for the nation.
I hope readers are not annoyed by my frequent use of the word "American,"
as it applies to concepts, responses and, above all, people. True
- it implies a division between those concepts, responses and people
that are, and those that are not. But America is a club everybody
is free to join, if one is lucky enough to live here. All you need
is to acquaint yourself with the very clear and simple ways established
at the time of the Founding, and resolve to stick with them whenever
you come to a fork in the road.
Like so many before him, Tom Feeney has done just that. And that's
why he will be a part of America's future.
And that's why America always has a future.