Archive for the ‘ The Historical Muse ’ Category

The Tipping Point

I finished reading the book I recommended a few days ago—The Forgotten Man by Amity Shlaes. It was as good as I thought it would be. Even though I thought I knew a lot about the Great Depression, it opened my eyes to the extent of the reach of the government at that time. For a while, it seemed as if all private business was at a standstill due to the desire to have the government control everything. For instance, FDR’s goal was to turn all power companies into government-run agencies. It kind of reminded me of the current situation, where last week Treasury Secretary Geithner said the government should have greater control over insurance companies that might fail. Will it stop there?

What is the difference between the Depression years and now? Why didn’t the government succeed at that time in taking over everything? As I read the book, it became clear that the people continued to maintain certain beliefs that wouldn’t allow it to happen. The government had changed, but the basic beliefs of the people of America had not.

Today, we are undergoing a cultural revolution that did not occur in the 1930s. The Christian basis for our society is under attack. We may no longer have the spiritual reserves to stop the revolution. The current administration may be more successful than FDR’s in transforming the government into a nanny.

We are at the tipping point. There are enough Christians in America to make the difference. The sad reality is that too many of them don’t see the danger. In fact, too many seem to be in favor of the change. We need to heed the Biblical call to renew our minds so we might know the will of God.

The Forgotten Man: A Recommendation

Every so often I like to recommend a book. I’m about halfway through The Forgotten Man: A New History of the Great Depression by Amity Shlaes. Although I haven’t yet completed it, based on what I have read up to now, and on the numerous positive reviews of the book, I am confident I can recommend it without concerns that I will have to retract that recommendation by the time I have finished it.

Some of you, I know, may be reluctant to tackle a book dealing with the Depression. All that economics, all that . . . well . . . depressing stuff! Shlaes, though, manages to cover all the “stuff” in a most interesting way by focusing on people.

She carries forward the stories of a number of individuals—both those who worked for the New Deal and those who suffered from it—so that you don’t feel as if you are bogged down in an economic treatise. In effect, she personalizes what some authors have turned into impersonal events. She tells a good story. History should be a story about people who are affected by the times they live in.

Her storyline is that the New Deal did not accomplish what its defenders claim it did—it most assuredly did not bring the nation out of the Great Depression. The old liberal mantra that FDR ended the Depression has been under siege for quite some time, and deservedly so. Recently, President Obama commented [and I’m paraphrasing here because I cannot find his exact words] that there is no debate on the effectiveness of the New Deal, indicating that he believes it was a success. If he truly believes there is no debate, he is woefully uninformed.

The Forgotten Man makes it clear that the debate is real, and that the weight of the evidence is against the liberal interpretation. Some of you, before buying the book, may want to read a few reviews. Here is one that is quite good. I encourage you to peruse it and check out others. I trust you will be convinced that this is a worthwhile read.

Image vs. Reality

Politicians have always been obsessed with projecting a certain image. Franklin Roosevelt, for instance, wanted to be seen as strong and in command. His particular concern was that he had suffered from polio and was confined to a wheelchair. How could he run for president and be considered a strong leader if he was wheelchair-bound? Fortunately for him, he lived in a time before television. His people could craft the image he wanted. It’s difficult to find any photos of FDR in his wheelchair. Instead, we see pictures such as this one:

FDR could stand only because he had leg braces. He could hold steady only if he was gripping a podium or if someone [as in this picture] held an arm for him to grasp. This is how the public perceived him. Image won out over reality.

In 1960, John F. Kennedy ran against Richard Nixon for the presidency. This time television was the vehicle for helping to promote a certain image for JFK. He came across as youthful and vigorous. Nixon, meanwhile, in one of the debates, was recovering from a sickness. He also had a serious “five o’clock shadow” that made him look dark and suspicious. The Kennedy people succeeded in raising the temperature in the studio so Nixon, who would sweat easily, would be even more uneasy and appear less appealing.

Those debates may have turned the election. What’s especially interesting about them is that people who listened to the debates on radio thought Nixon had one, while those who watched them on TV gave the nod to JFK.

TV Played a Major Role in Creating an Image in 1960

TV Played a Major Role in Creating an Image in 1960

In fact, the image was just as phony as FDR’s ability to stand. JFK was not healthy; he had severe back problems and was constantly being injected with drugs to withstand the pain. He brought a doctor to the White House who constantly shot him full of amphetamines. The man was nicknamed “Dr. Feelgood.” Image trumped reality.

We now have a president who has crafted another image, that of a suave, cool communicator who can sway crowds with his wonderful ability to give a speech. What is only beginning to be known is that he is not very good when he doesn’t have a teleprompter to help him.

I remember seeing a video of one of his rallies during the campaign when he was trying to talk about an issue off the cuff. I have to say it was one of the most embarrassing moments of political campaigning I have ever witnessed. He stumbled around unable to put two coherent sentences together. Even though I was opposed to his candidacy, even I was in pain for him, wanting him to do better.

What, you don’t remember that video being played over and over again on network and cable TV? It was ignored completely. It didn’t fit the image that the news media had of their candidate. Call me cynical if you like, but I believe that if it had been a Republican, everyone in the country would have seen it repeatedly.

Even now, as president, Obama always has a teleprompter. It is omnipresent. People are beginning to notice. One cartoonist has expressed it this way:

We need to be alert to the difference between the image politicians want to project and the reality of who they are.

Self-Evident Truths & Inalienable Rights

When the Founders declared independence, they debated the document that Jefferson drafted. All the debate centered around the specific charges against the king. No one raised any objections or questions about the opening paragraphs.

The second paragraph, in particular, spoke of self-evident truths—beliefs that everyone in the room held to without needing some type of external evidence to bolster those beliefs. Self-evident truths are obvious; they are implanted by God Himself in each person. The Founders identified at least three self-evident rights that people possess: life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. These were granted by God; therefore, government could not take them away arbitrarily. That’s why they are called inalienable. Yes, someone may lose all three, dependent on his behavior [murdering another person means you may have your life taken from you by the state; theft may result in your imprisonment, which would also impact any pursuit of happiness]. But the state cannot take these away without a sound reason.

That paragraph does say that these are not necessarily the only inalienable rights God gives; it says that they are “among” the rights. So that leaves the door open to other inalienable rights that may be self-evident as well. What those other rights might be must be understood within the context of the 18th century when the Declaration of Independence was written. They would have to somehow be connected to basic rights that all people accepted as self-evident. The key to knowing them, during that era, was knowing the Bible and the God who granted them.

We have changed the formula in our day. Now we have concluded that government is the source of rights. We have made some things into self-evident truths and inalienable rights that the Founders never would have imagined. You might recognize some of them in this recent political cartoon.

How have we come to this? I hate to sound like a broken record, but I will repeat: we are at this point because we have rejected God as our source. We no longer think Biblically as a society. The only solution is to return to that Biblical basis and renew our thinking. We must break up the new foundations that are being laid and place the historic Christian faith once again as our cornerstone.

The Reagan Perspective

One of my students asked me this week if the Obama administration would do so much damage to the country that there would be no hope of repairing it after he leaves office. I was of two minds as I tried to answer.

First, I think the potential damage is so staggering that America might not ever recover. The massive debt, the inevitable leftist court appointments, the unrestricted access to abortion [which has begun already], and the stamp of approval given to homosexuality by the government could be the death knell of this republic.

On the other hand [and I don’t say this cavalierly or as a knee-jerk response], with God all things are possible. We are going to have to recognize, though, that The Great Recovery will never come primarily through government action. It must occur first in the hearts of individuals. What we need is a spiritual awakening—and not “spiritual” in the sense of anything-goes New Ageism, but an awakening specifically Christian.

Ronald Reagan recognized this even as he faced off against the threat of the Soviet Union. In his 1983 speech to the National Association of Evangelicals—the one often referred to as the “Evil Empire” speech—he constantly made reference to the need for such an awakening.

Reagan Gave a Message of Christian Renewal and Hope

Reagan Gave a Message of Christian Renewal and Hope

There is so much of value in this speech that it is difficult to pull out the most significant lines, but I will try. Reagan could have been talking about our present time when he said:

Now, I’m sure that you must get discouraged at times, but you’ve done better than you know, perhaps. There’s a great spiritual awakening in America, a renewal of the traditional values that have been the bedrock of America’s goodness and greatness. . . .

We must never forget that no government schemes are going to perfect man. We know that living in this world means dealing with what philosophers would call the phenomenology of evil or, as theologians would put it, the doctrine of sin. There is sin and evil in the world, and we’re enjoined by Scripture and the Lord Jesus to oppose it with all our might.

One of my favorite paragraphs in the speech points to exactly what we see today via the government policies and the politicians and bureaucrats who make them:

It was C. S. Lewis who, in his unfogettable “Screwtape Letters,” wrote: “The greatest evil is not done now in those sordid ‘dens of crime’ that Dickens loved to paint. It is not even done in concentration camps and labor camps. In those we see its final result. But it is conceived and ordered (moved, seconded, carried, and minuted) in clear, carpeted, warm, and well-lighted offices, by quiet men with white collars and cut fingernails and smooth-shaven cheeks who do not need to raise their voice.”

And then there is this key paragraph that deals specifically with what I stated above:

While American military strength is important, let me add here that I’ve always maintained that the struggle now going on for the world will never be decided by bombs or rockets, by armies or military might. The real crisis we face today is a spiritual one; at root, it is a test of moral will and faith.

Reagan’s words from 1983 are still true today. The real crisis we face at this hour is not an economic crisis; that is only the result of the real crisis. That real crisis remains one of moral will and faith. Will we be up to the challenge? With God all things are possible, but it depends on our obedience to Him.

Lincoln Book Recommendation

Whenever I read a good book, I’d like to pass on a positive review. Last week, I commented on Lincoln, as his 200th birthday was upon us. I am presently reading Harold Holzer’s new Lincoln book (Holzer is a LIncoln scholar and a fine writer), Lincoln, President-Elect: Abraham Lincoln and the Great Secession Winter, 1860-1861. It is fascinating.

What did Lincoln go through, what did he have to deal with, as he awaited his succession to the presidency? From November 1860 until his inauguration in March 1861, he was virtually powerless to make policy or to stop the secessions of Southern states. Holzer’s book takes you into Lincoln’s mind and details his activities during this crucial period in American history. What’s more, the writing makes you feel as if you are reading a novel. Even though I know the outcome, I find myself eager to know what is going to happen next.

So, even if you are not a Lincoln admirer (which is really a sad situation), I heartily recommend that you read this book. It will be difficult to find a tyrant in the newly elected president as he prepares to shoulder the burden of a nation coming apart at the seams.

Happy Birthday, Abe

Yesterday was the 200th anniversary of the birthday of Abraham Lincoln, a man who has been a source of great controversy among conservatives. They are divided: some respect him greatly, while others consider him a violator of the Constitution and a tyrant.

In my early years, I tended to lean in the latter direction. I was so devoted to states’ rights and so distressed over the growth of the federal government that I felt Lincoln was a large part of the problem. There’s a remedy for that point of view, though. It’s called research.

I held those views of Lincoln without any real knowledge of the man, his writings, or the circumstances under which he took office. I wanted to believe that slavery was not the real issue in the Civil War, but when I read the statements of Southern leaders, I had to conclude that states’ rights was only important to them in the context of maintaining the institution of slavery.

Ultimately, I had to alter my views on Lincoln. The more I read about him, and the more I examined his speeches and saw the spiritual growth in the man over the years, particularly after he became president, the more respect I gained for him. I have come to believe that he was one of the greatest of American presidents.

So, happy birthday, Abe. And I sincerely hope that the spiritual awakening you seemed to experience in your later years was genuine. I’d like to speak with you someday.