According to Original Intent
On January 17, the New York Times Magazine looked at the "Class of '94" in the U.S. House of Representatives. Included were photographs of the men and women first elected to Congress in 1994. Across the board, the captions were rather ungenerous, sometimes bordering on mean.
All the more surprising, then, the downright praise accorded one George Radanovich, member for the 19th district of California. "Conservative with a safe seat, and a former class of '94 president," Dana Milbank wrote, "who is gaining stature and eyeing a statewide office."
A Conservative with stature? In the New York Times?
And now a confession at this crucial point, to avoid the risk of being exposed in Salon magazine, or - perish the thought - in Hustler:
My wife and I had dinner with Congressman and Mrs. Radanovich - not once but twice. The second time around, their infant son was present as well.
But it was a different occasion that planted the seed of a column in my mind.
Last October, after holding a town meeting at Fresno City College in California, I attended a dinner at which some six hundred of his supporters gathered to hear a report to be given by the Congressman. The budget negotiations in the Capital were approaching their climax - there was much these constituents, at the other end of our vast continent, were rather anxious to find out from their man.
The first sensation was the warmth, and the complete absence of pre-election hype in the large room. After a few short speeches, there were the customary introductions and, finally, George took his place on the rostrum.
He spoke at length, in rather quiet tones. He reported on the battle going on in Washington, then on the varying fortunes of some local issues, clearly matters of long standing concern. The guests listened attentively, asked some questions, got straight answers - the show was over.
In one sense, it was a most uneventful evening. Yet it made an impression that stayed with me and resurfaced as I was reading the magazine article.
It seemed like a simple story: Apparently, a working member of the community woke up one day and decided to offer his services, if the others thought they would have use for it. They did, and sent him to Washington - twice. He was now back home, continuing the ongoing conversation very much as a working member of the same community. There were no "airs," no slogans, no promises, no self-congratulation.
Yes - the thought came irresistibly - that is how the Framers must have pictured those who would go to Congress and represent the districts. Even though, as president of the 1994 Freshman Class, George Radanovich must have been tempted to make Washington the center of his universe, he chose to remain firmly attached to the people who sent him there.
The story is one of those American miracles which occur here day in day out, old hat for many. But they are miracles nonetheless, because they do not occur elsewhere - like a Hungarian, such as myself, and a Croate (Mr. Radanovich's family background) totally unaffected by what is called "the historic baggage." Over here, we are just a couple of Americans discussing how to derive the best lessons from America's past to secure America's future.
Mr. Radanovich has been proposing his "American Vision," predicated on a balance of government, business, family and religious/civic institutions. He has been making the rounds using a chair for illustration. In a healthy society, the four legs of the chair ought to be the same length. America used to be just such a chair. The role, the influence of the four types of institutions used to be in balance. But now, the government "leg" has grown into a ridiculous equivalent of Pinocchio's nose, whereas the family "leg" is a mere stump, and the chair topples over if you try to sit in it.
I have been proposing "four points of the compass" - the rule of law, individual rights, the guarantee of property, our common American identity - as the principles upon which this nation was founded, and with which this society has succeeded as no other.
Four points of the compass, four legs of a chair - expressions of a yearning for the America given birth here 222+ years ago. Our sitting president may pay lip service to that America, as he did at the end of his "State of the Union" speech the other night. But the substance of his words sends a different message to everyone willing to listen.
Loud and clear, Mr. Clinton served notice once again that he will use any device to turn this country into yet another attempt to prove that socialism works.
One wonders if career politicians will ever put up the necessary road blocks.
Citizen-politicians, like George Radanovich, just might.