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 thoughts.
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.