Making America's Case
Thanks to WETA, Public Television's flagship station in and around our nation's capital, discussions that occurred during the "Re-Elect America" Bus Tour were broadcast to the public in an hour-long documentary, entitled "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 Representative Doug Teper of Georgia proclaimed 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 Representative Teper.
State Senator 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, Kansas, 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, Arizona, 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 Reverend 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," he continued, "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, the Reverend 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 no case.
Why, then, are our elected representatives so shy about making America's case? When Senator Edward Kennedy 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 Senator Tom Daschle or Representative Dick Gephardt 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 inquire 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 call.
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 America.
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?