Palin's America by Heart

I bought Sarah Palin’s new book, American By Heart, just before Christmas, knowing I would have time to read it before my new semester began. George Bush’s book took priority, since it was longer, so I didn’t finish Palin’s book until last weekend—an appropriate time to complete it as it coincided with the shooting in Tucson and all the accusations against Palin. The image presented by the far Left, that she is vitriolic [last week’s favorite word, later followed by “civility”] and uses rhetoric that spurs people on to violence, cannot be sustained in light of what Palin herself writes. I wonder if any of those who hate her have taken the time to read what she actually has written?

Unlike her earlier autobiography, which naturally concentrated on her upbringing, her family, and her experiences as the vice-presidential candidate, this new book provides the opportunity for her to express what she really believes about government, the place of America in the world, and the significance of religious roots for the health of our society. It allows her to construct a framework, or worldview, within which to understand her positions on the issues that confront us all, whether in culture or in politics.

Palin also makes extensive use of quotes from a panoply of conservative thinkers and politicians from Alexis de Tocqueville to Calvin Coolidge to one of her favorites and mine, Ronald Reagan. I was also gratified that she recognized the value of Whittaker Chambers in our history.

Yet she doesn’t confine herself to conservatives, pulling excerpts from speeches by John F. Kennedy and others not of her political stripe—even from Barack Obama himself.

Here’s a quick rundown of the emphases of the book:

Chapter one, “We the People,” stresses the significance of the nation’s founding documents—the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. God-given rights, as posited in the Declaration, and fidelity to the limits of government’s power, as delineated in the Constitution, are cornerstones of liberty.

She turns in chapter two to an appreciation of those who serve in the military, contrasting that appreciation with the disdain shown by Hollywood toward the armed forces, where a reflexive anti-Americanism often surfaces. She also quotes freely from John McCain’s account of his time as a prisoner of war in North Vietnam. Her respect for McCain’s service is genuine.

From the military, Palin segues into an examination of the concept of American exceptionalism. Is American exceptional? In what sense? Here is where she draws on the writings of Tocqueville to highlight what an eighteenth-century Frenchman saw when he visited this country. America is not perfect, she is clear to note, but it is exceptional in many ways. The problem is that some national leaders no longer believe in that exceptionalism.

Family, parenting, and the pro-life message come next. Here’s where Chambers enters the picture as she relates his account of how meditating on the intricate design of his daughter’s ear led him to think of a Creator.

Her chapter on Mama Grizzlies contains her concept of feminism, a feminism that empowers women but doesn’t degrade men or try to erase the distinctions between the sexes. That leads into a discussion of the value of hard work, which she contrasts with the self-esteem culture that seems to dominate our society today.

In the final three chapters, Palin focuses on the importance of religious belief for all of life and the nation. Without being preachy, she nevertheless traces how religious beliefs have been the foundation for our society from the beginning. Never, though, does she imply that government should step in and force religion on anyone. In fact, she quotes former attorney general John Ashcroft saying, “It’s against my religion to impose my religion on others.”

Palin’s conclusion is entitled “Commonsense Constitutional Conservatism,” and if she does decide to run for the presidency, I believe this will be her slogan.

Do I have any criticisms of the book? Well, I don’t share her belief that 12-Step programs are part of a religious revival. In fact, I believe they do a disservice by calling something a disease that is actually a sin. I also think she could have cut back a little on some of the quotes. Of course, that comes from my academic milieu, where you don’t want to overdo the quotations. Yet those are quibbles when compared with the positive message she shares and the agreement I have with the other 99% of the book.

For those who believe Sarah Palin is a danger to America, that she is a purveyor of hatred, I challenge them to read this book. They won’t agree with her but they might see a different person than the stereotype they have adopted. If they really believe in civility, they will take this first step and not fall into a stereotype of their own:

Is that really how they wish to be perceived?

Chambers & Counterrevolution

More wisdom from Whittaker Chambers today. Reflecting on the sad state of society in 1925 with respect to its grasp of the dangers it was facing, he penned these poignant words:

The dying world of 1925 was without faith, hope, character, understanding of its malady or will to overcome it. It was dying but it laughed. And this laughter was not the defiance of a vigor that refuses to know when it is whipped. It was the loss, by the mind of a whole civilization, of the power to distinguish between reality and unreality, because, ultimately, though I did not know it, it had lost the power to distinguish between good and evil. … The dying world had no answer at all to the crisis of the 20th century, and, when it was mentioned, and every moral voice in the Western world was shrilling crisis, it cocked an ear of complacent deafness and smiled a smile of blank senility—throughout history, the smile of those for whom the executioner waits.

As I read his analysis of 1925 America, I can’t help but think about American society as we get ready to enter this new year. How do we compare with the America he witnessed? Are we dying and don’t know it? Is the executioner waiting for us?

Chambers always said that it wasn’t good enough to be a conservative. Here’s why:

Counterrevolution and conservatism have little in common. In the struggle against Communism the conservative is all but helpless. For that struggle cannot be fought, much less won, or even understood, except in terms of total sacrifice. And the conservative is suspicious of sacrifice; he wishes first to conserve, above all what he is and what he has. You cannot fight against revolutions so.

Christians have become more politically active; the Tea Party movement, apparently comprised of a majority who consider themselves Christians, has made an impact on politics. Yet politics is only one part of the answer, a part that can hold back the onslaught, but can never overcome it. There is a deeper level where the real battle is engaged. It is a spiritual battle, and only committed Christians—perhaps the counterrevolutionaries Chambers mentions—are the ones who can  and must carry it forward.

Chambers: Death of a Nation?

Those who have read this blog long enough know my affinity for Whittaker Chambers, a man I consider one of the true heroes in American history. He had joined the Communist Party in the 1920s, thinking it was the answer to all the world’s crises. Only later did he come to grips with his error, but when he did, a whole new understanding opened to him.

As he notes in his masterful autobiography Witness, his mind had to be renewed completely:

What I had been fell from me like dirty rags. The rags that fell from me were not only Communism. What fell was the whole web of the materialist modern mind—the luminous shroud which it has spun about the spirit of man, paralyzing in the name of rationalism the instinct of his soul for God, denying in the name of knowledge the reality of the soul and its birthright in that mystery on which mere knowledge falters and shatters at every step.

As he stepped out into his new reality, he found faith in God, and that gave him insight that is well worth sharing with our generation:

External freedom is only an aspect of interior freedom. Political freedom, as the Western world has known it, is only a political reading of the Bible. Religion and freedom are indivisible. Without freedom the soul dies. Without the soul there is no justification for freedom. … Hence every sincere break with Communism is a religious experience.

There has never been a society or a nation without God. But history is cluttered with the wreckage of nations that became indifferent to God, and died.

That last line is haunting. How indifferent are we as a nation right now? How close are we to death?

A 9/11 Remembrance and Reflection

On the morning of September 11th, 2001, I was on my way to Patrick Henry College where I was a professor of history. Before arriving at the college, I stopped at a gas station. One of the other customers came up to me and informed me in a rather vague way that a plane had hit a building in New York City. I have to admit that didn’t sound all that bad to me—I assumed it was a small plane, I had no idea it was the World Trade Center, and I had no reason to believe it affected me in any direct way.

Yet his manner indicated there might be something more to it, so I turned on the car radio to find out if this was anything significant. Reports were sketchy, but I gradually realized it was bigger than I thought. When I got to the college, a prayer meeting already had begun over the incident, but we were largely in the dark about details. One of the problems was that there was no television in any of the rooms where we could watch the drama unfold. Trying to get news on the Internet also was difficult—it seemed to have slowed to a crawl.

My wife was on her way to a store close to Dulles Airport, but she soon grasped the enormity of the situation when all the stores began to close for the day. Of course, the plane that smashed into the Pentagon took off from Dulles that morning. That made it even more real; we used Dulles for our flights all the time. It made our next trip to Dulles for a flight a little more sobering.

I didn’t see any video of the actual events until sometime in the afternoon. Then I was glued to the television for hours. Living just outside the DC area made us feel more vulnerable than if we had been in our home state of Indiana, for instance.

For me, what took place that day was literally an act of war. I recall saying that to my American history class. This really was the modern Pearl Harbor, only worse. Few Americans in 1941 were aware of what Pearl Harbor was and Hawaii was not yet a state. In 2001, everyone knew New York, and the image of the Twin Towers was quite familiar.

Now they were no more—destroyed by an enemy that wanted to take down the one nation that stood in its way as it sought to impose its religious ideology on everyone.

The unity at the time seemed real. Flags appeared everywhere. Congressmen and senators stood on the steps of the Capitol and sang “God Bless America.” Yet I never was convinced the unity was genuine, and with each passing day that put 9/11 further from our minds, my analysis proved correct.

Rather than viewing this as an act of war, the political Left shifted ground and thought of it as merely a crime to be handled through the judicial system. Today, there is little understanding on the Left of the true nature of the evil that exists in radical Islam. They are more concerned with being sensitive to the extremists and not making them angry.

Here is what the Left needs to understand: they are inherently angry, and nothing we do will satisfy that anger. They will stop at nothing to try to destroy those they hate. And they hate us.

The false ideology that dominates the political Left blinds them to the false ideology that seeks to devour them. I’m reminded of a poignant quote from Whittaker Chambers in his classic book Witness as he tried to warn the society of his day about the evil of communism:

The dying world of 1925 was without faith, hope, character, understanding of its malady or will to overcome it. It was dying but it laughed. And this laughter was not the defiance of a vigor that refuses to know when it is whipped. It was the loss, by the mind of a whole civilization, of the power to distinguish between reality and unreality, because, ultimately, though I did not know it, it had lost the power to distinguish between good and evil. … The dying world had no answer at all to the crisis of the 20th century, and, when it was mentioned, and every moral voice in the Western world was shrilling crisis, it cocked an ear of complacent deafness and smiled a smile of blank senility—throughout history, the smile of those for whom the executioner waits.

Are we at that same place today?

At Southeastern University, where I currently teach, a group of students from the College Republicans planted 2977 American flags in the ground to commemorate those who died on 9/11. It was a moving sight.

Not many people showed up for the remembrance, but those who came felt it deeply. The sad thing is that the new crop of college freshmen has no real significant memories of that day. They were too young to be impacted in the way I was. What does this portend for the future? I will do my part to remind them that an enemy does still exist and that the price of liberty is eternal vigilance. I only hope they are open to that message.

Reagan's Political Conversion

What happened to change Ronald Reagan from a New Deal liberal into a conservative icon? My latest posting on Big Government tells you how it happened. They made it the feature story for the day. You can find it here:

http://biggovernment.com/asnyder/2010/07/17/reagans-political-conversion/#more-144614

Most of the posting is an excerpt from my book on Reagan and Whittaker Chambers, which I just finished writing  recently. I’m looking for a publisher now. Prayer would be appreciated.

It Matters How You Get There

I’ve enjoyed contributing posts to the Big Government site. Through those, I have made a number of pleasant contacts with readers who have sent me e-mails. It’s also gratifying to write on people and issues that I consider significant.

I’ve noticed some trends in the comments on the site to my posts. First, I seem to draw out atheists. Now, I’ve hardly given an altar call; it seems all one needs to do is just mention God in a positive vein and venom will spew forth. A couple of comments were so obscene that the administrator had to remove them.

This experience has reemphasized to me that the coalition of people who want to reduce the size of government and get it back within its constitutional boundaries includes some who are motivated more by anger than anything else. Now, they are hardly the majority, but their presence and the extreme language they sometimes use is more of a detriment than an aid to the cause.

Another observation is that there are those who claim to be Christians and yet believe things that are antithetical to basic Christian faith. Again, I’m not surprised by this, but every time it rears its head, it is disappointing.

A case in point is my latest post, which dared to include a criticism of philosopher Ayn Rand. Actually, I was defending Whittaker Chambers’s critique of one of her novels, Atlas Shrugged. More than one commenter saw no problem uniting her philosophy with Christianity. The main reason for this is that she comes out on the side of the free market—as do I.

Yet Rand’s path for getting to this free-market position is not one that is compatible with Christian faith. First, Rand was an atheist. She loathed the idea of God. As an adherent of the philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche, she favored the idea of a race of supermen who would transcend traditional morality and create their own right and wrong. She also shared with Nietzsche his disdain for Christianity, which she called “the best kindergarten of communism possible.” Christian ethics, she said, were destructive of the self, making life “flat, gray, empty, lacking all beauty, all fire, all enthusiasm, all meaning, all creative urge.” She called for an ethic of selfishness instead.

Now, self-interest is one thing: I am to take care of that which is my own first; I am to give priority to family, etc. But that’s not the same thing as selfishness, which is the dethronement of God and the enthronement of oneself as god. In her personal life, she was sexually promiscuous and dictatorial in her manner. One biographer says “she was vituperative, without humor, and increasingly Stalinist in her behavior as she aged … in the jealous demands she exercised over those who formed what was in effect her cult.”

The word “cult” seems appropriate. Some of those who follow Rand’s teachings are devoted to her in a way that comes close to cult-like worship.

Rand may have been in favor of capitalism, but it really does matter how one arrives there. I do so on the basis of Biblical principles, not through an ethic of selfishness.

If you didn’t have the opportunity to read my post in Big Government, you can find it here:

http://biggovernment.com/asnyder/2010/07/03/mr-beck-meet-mr-chambers/

I will continue to stand for Biblical principles as the basis for my analysis of our culture and our public policies. I hope to help others think things through on that basis as well.

Correcting a False Perception

I like Glenn Beck very much. He has helped a lot of people understand some basic principles. That’s why I was disappointed a couple weeks ago when he mentioned Whittaker Chambers in a negative way. I’m convinced it’s due to ignorance of what Chambers accomplished, and that he just passed along something his staff gave him.

To help remedy that, I wrote a post for Big Government to correct the false perception he may have. You can see it at

http://biggovernment.com/asnyder/2010/07/03/mr-beck-meet-mr-chambers/#more-138258

I’m hoping someone on Beck’s staff will pick up on it and pass on some better information to him.