Does Anyone Remember?

Today used to be George Washington’s birthday. Yes, I know it still is, but how many people are aware of it nowadays? Instead, we have Presidents Day, always celebrated on the Monday of the week and apparently dedicated to all presidents regardless of merit. Washington had merit; some of the others have had very little.

I mean, do I really have this urge to celebrate the presidencies of Millard Fillmore or Chester Alan Arthur? Am I supposed to rejoice in the progressivism of Woodrow Wilson, the New Deal of Franklin Roosevelt, or the Great Society of Lyndon Johnson? Should I extol the lack of Christian character in John Kennedy, Richard Nixon, and Bill Clinton, to name only a few who demonstrated that lack?

There certainly are presidents I admire. Washington served his country without regard to personal desires. He led an army for eight years without pay; he came out of a comfortable life to lead a nation as its first president. Everything he did set a precedent, particularly his model for stepping down after two terms.

My appreciation for Abraham Lincoln grows with each new piece of research on him. Grover Cleveland was, as one biographer tagged him, “an honest president.” Calvin Coolidge understood constitutional limitations and decided not to run again for the office in 1928 because he didn’t want the position and the power to change his character for the worse. Ronald Reagan, in my view, was the most effective president [in the positive sense of actually doing something worthwhile] of the twentieth century.

I wouldn’t mind if we celebrated all of those presidents on their own birthdays. Of course we used to do that with Washington until the 1970s when Congress decided to create three-day weekends for a number of holidays. In the process, they excised a special recognition of our first president. I like three-day weekends as much as anyone, but the decision to relegate Washington to the dim recesses of our history was inexcusable. We do still see representations of him occasionally on Presidents Day when actors dress up like him to sell cars—but that’s about all.

Why do most people not miss it? Perhaps there’s a dismal reason educationally:

Am I kidding? I wish I were. Generally speaking, we don’t know our own history. My experience teaching American history at the university level confirms this sad diagnosis.

Anyway, for those who remember who George Washington was, have a happy Washington’s birthday.

Battles in the Ongoing War

The attempt to reverse our nation’s plunge into moral and fiscal insanity is on. This is a war [pardon my “violent” language] and there are many battles to be fought on multiple fronts. Republicans in Congress are doing their part. Governors such as Scott Walker in Wisconsin are as well.

Yesterday, the House of Representatives passed a number of welcome measures:

  • The Pence Amendment, defunding Planned Parenthood, passed 240-185.
  • The King Amendment, defunding Obamacare implementation, was approved 241-187 [three additional anti-Obamacare provisions also succeeded].
  • The Poe Amendment, blocking funding for EPA enforcement of greenhouse gas regulations, was even more popular, passing 249-177.

House Republicans are doing what they were elected to do. The problem, of course, is that these measures now go to the Democrat-controlled Senate. There is hope that some of them will survive, but they will undoubtedly die on the president’s desk.

Yet, as we are told in Scripture, we should not despise the day of small beginnings. It can lead to greater things.

Meanwhile, Wisconsin’s new Republican governor, Scott Walker, has virtually walked into a maelstrom. His state is a fiscal basketcase after years of Democrat control. He was elected to change things. He and his majority-Republican Senate were about to do that when the firestorm erupted. What was their crime? They concluded a couple of things: first, collective bargaining for public employees is not a good idea; second, those same employees, to help with the fiscal crisis, ought to contribute more to their pension plans and healthcare. Currently, they don’t give nearly as much to them as their counterparts in the private sector.

The response, particularly from teachers, who decided that protesting was more important than doing their jobs, has been disturbing. The protests are shrill, demanding, and even threatening. Law enforcement has had to work with the Republican legislators to protect them from the ire being directed at them. Some protesters are showing up at legislators’ homes and scaring family members. The signs some protesters are carrying also speak to their state of mind:

By the way, that’s supposed to be Gov. Walker. Cute, huh? Connecting any and all conservatives with Hitler has become standard operating procedure. And just to show that it wasn’t a lone loony, here’s another:

These are teachers. Any real questions about what they’re teaching the children of Wisconsin? Would you trust your children to their care and nurturing?

In case you might think these are simply spontaneous outbursts of patriotic rage, it’s also no real secret that the Democrat party is behind this well-orchestrated mob. Obama’s own group, Organizing for America, is in the thick of organizing this portion of America for their boss who, by the way, described the Republicans’ proposed actions as an “assault” on the unions.

Should public employees even have unions? A new poll says 64% of respondents don’t think so. Even 42% of Democrats don’t agree that this type of union should exist. That 42% is in step with Franklin Roosevelt, who stated categorically that government employees had no right to unionize. That’s pretty remarkable, considering that FDR’s biggest voting bloc was unions.

What of the Democrats in the Wisconsin legislature? Well, the fourteen Senate Democrats not only refused to show up for work [keep in mind who pays them to do so], they fled the state, hiding out at a resort in Rockford, Illinois. They did this because there are nineteen Republicans in the Senate and it takes twenty senators to pass a bill.

This is about as outrageous as it gets. All these “fugitives” should be removed from office for dereliction of duty. Their goal is simply to take the legislative process hostage and hope that the pressure of the protests will cause the Republicans to back down.

Thus far, the Republicans are holding firm, and a rally at the Wisconsin capital is scheduled for today to provide moral support for their cause. [Note: supporters of the Republican bill have to rally on weekends because they show up for work on weekdays.] In 1981, President Reagan fired more than 11,000 public-sector employees in one day when they refused to report for work—the air traffic controllers. He showed courage in doing so. That same brand of courage is required now to deal with those who neglect their jobs, be they teachers or legislators. The first can be handled by the state government; the second by the voters.

A Contrast, Not a Comparison

A new theme being promoted by some in the media and, implicitly, by the Obama administration itself, is the similarity between the current occupant of the people’s White House and Ronald Reagan. Time magazine was up front with the linkage this week on its cover:

Well, I would like to do a comparison myself. Let’s start with the economy.

Both Reagan and Obama inherited a mess. Reagan’s solution was to reduce the tax burden on citizens and cut back on regulations. Obama rushed through a stimulus package. Reagan’s approach allowed individuals and companies to use more of their own money and not worry as much about government interference. Obama’s approach was government-to-the-rescue: bailouts that began in the final months of the Bush administration became standard; certain companies were taken over by the government.

Two years into Reagan’s first term, things began to turn around. It took a while simply because his budget, with the first of the tax cuts, didn’t even go into effect until October 1981, nine months after he took office. We are two years into Obama’s tenure and even though the stock market has rallied some, our long-term prospects are not bright—unemployment shows little sign of abating and our $14 trillion debt is threatening our financial viability as a nation.

No matter how much Obama might want to appear Reaganesque on the economic front, there is a more valid comparison:

Then there’s healthcare. Reagan, long before he became an active candidate for any office, recorded a speech against socialized medicine, pointing out its anti-free market, anti-American [historically] nature. He also recognized that any scheme that would put government in charge of healthcare would be far beyond any authority granted in the Constitution.

Obama, by contrast, never even attempted to base his desire for a national healthcare plan on constitutional authority. He is good at declaring that he loves the Constitution, but not so good at following it. When federal judges ruled against the bill, saying it was blatantly unconstitutional, the Obama administration actually had the nerve to say that those judges were perpetrators of “judicial activism.” That’s almost hilarious. Judges who try to rein in unconstitutional measures by appealing to the document itself are judicial activists? That gives logic a whole new definition.

Then there’s the issue of national security and dealing with external threats. Reagan’s war against totalitarian communism began more than three decades before he took the oath of office. He saw the dangers early in his career and spoke out forcefully. When he had the opportunity as president, he crafted a policy that deliberately led to the undermining of the Soviet Union. In the memorable words of British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, “Ronald Reagan had a higher claim than any other leader to have won the Cold War for liberty and he did it without a shot being fired.”

Today’s major threat is from radical Islam. While Obama has continued to send troops to Afghanistan, there has been no all-out war against terror on his watch. That would be particularly difficult for him as he has an affinity for Islam himself. Note that I did not say he is a Muslim, but he certainly has sympathies for the religion that has spawned the radical terrorists. He apparently has no qualms about the Muslim Brotherhood having a “place at the table” in whatever new Egyptian government emerges from the present crisis. Yet that organization is the parent of Al Qaeda, Hamas, and Hezbollah.

Does he even recognize the problem here?

So while Obama may want to present himself as a latter-day Reagan, any sound analysis of their different philosophies and policies will show there is more of a contrast than a comparison.

Those are really huge boots to fill. President Obama doesn’t even come close to filling them.

Reagan Symposium

Yesterday was Ronald Reagan’s 100th birthday celebration. Yes, he wasn’t here to participate in the remembrance, but I believe he was watching.

A major event took place at his presidential library and both Sarah Palin and Dick Cheney spoke at the Young America’s Foundation [YAF] building in Santa Barbara. The YAF owns the Reagan Ranch.

 I couldn’t be at either of those events, but I did attend a fine Reagan Symposium at Regent University in Virginia Beach. This is an annual event that attracts the best Reagan/conservative scholars in America.

The most well-known speakers, due to television exposure, were Michael Barone and Bill Kristol. Stephen Hayward, who has authored two massive volumes on the age of Reagan, was there, as was George Nash, arguably “the” historian of modern American conservatism. His seminal book, The Conserative Intellectual Movement in America since 1945, is one of the texts in my Ronald Reagan and Modern American Conservatism course. I was pleased to have the opportunity to speak with him.

The theme of the symposium was a discussion of the concept of American exceptionalism. In what ways might America be considered exceptional? How does one define that term? What was Reagan’s understanding of the uniqueness of America and what it has offered the world? It was an excellent sharing of viewpoints—glad I could be part of it.

Ronald Reagan’s reputation has only grown over time, as even those who didn’t like him have to admit, however grudgingly, that he had a well-informed worldview and a clear vision of what he wanted to achieve as president.

Happy birthday, President Reagan.

The Civility Ploy

Tonight is the State of the Union Address.  I predict that the two words we’ll hear repeatedly are “civility” and “investment.” The latter has to do with more government spending disguised as “investing in our future.” The former is now the new catchword for politics.

I believe in civility. While I do have a sense of humor and like to poke fun at absurdities in our public life, there’s a line that should not be crossed. The problem is this—that line is subjective. For instance, is this cartoon uncivil?

Or is it simply illustrating the rather rabid rhetoric that has emanated from the Left, not just in the past few weeks, but ever since I can remember? Surely you recall all the Bush hatred, publicly stated. How about the pictures of Bush as Hitler? Go back to Ronald Reagan and we learn that he was a warmonger who loved to starve schoolchildren and throw old people out on the streets.

In the House last week, one Democrat representative made the Nazi connection again. Republicans, he said, are like Joseph Goebbels, Hitler’s propaganda minister. In what way, you ask? Well, they are lying about healthcare, and that’s the same tactic that Goebbels used. Oh.

One of the positive things about being a historian is that I have studied the political rhetoric found in all periods of American history. What becomes painfully obvious is that the eras of the type of civility urged upon us now have been few. Read the newspapers of the 1790s, for instance, where you see George Washington being called a traitor to his country and accused of trying to set himself as a king. The vituperative language used against Abraham Lincoln is startling, particularly when you consider that a lot of it came from the North, not the South.

The issues I have with the current calls for civility are these: first, the astounding hypocrisy of those who are demanding it; second, the attempt to use that nice-sounding word to undermine genuine debate on the issues. Often, just disagreeing with President Obama makes one a racist or a “hater.” Yet we have to be able to say when we think policies are wrong. How would Patrick Henry fare today?

Kind of weak, isn’t it? I prefer the original.

So, as you watch the State of the Union Address [if you have the stomach for it], watch for those key words, but understand what’s really going on.

An Evil Element

In her interview with Sean Hannity earlier this week, Sarah Palin used a Scriptural reference that no one, to my knowledge, commented on in any of the analyses of the interview. She quoted from 2 Timothy 1:7, which says,

For God has not given us a spirit of timidity [or “fear,” depending on the translation], but of power and love and discipline.

While no one else seemed to pay much attention to it, I noticed it immediately and found it to be an insight into her spirit at this time of intense pressure stemming from an onslaught of false accusations. It indicated to me that she is continually going back to the source of her inner strength—her Christian faith.

Why would Palin be drawn to this particular Scripture? It speaks clearly to her situation, informing her of what her frame of mind ought to be. It comes in the midst of the most demented and vitriolic [yes, I used that word] attacks on a public figure I’ve ever seen in my lifetime. I remember how Reagan was demeaned during his administration. All of us can easily recall what was termed Bush Derangement Syndrome in the past decade. Yet what is happening to Palin at this time is possibly even more severe. As she noted in that interview, she receives death threats all the time, not only leveled at her but also at her children.

Understand this: there is an evil element out there that would actually relish seeing her and her family assassinated.

Who hates her? Why do they hate her? The first question is the easiest to answer: those on the far Left detest her. They are more than rude and crude toward her; they are demonstrably unstable. Where have we heard that characterization recently?

The second question requires more analysis. Here’s what I believe. They hate her for the following reasons, at minimum:

  • She is openly Christian.
  • She redefines their concept of feminism, refusing to be aggrieved and play the victim.
  • She overturns their idea of how a woman should get ahead—she did it without government favors.
  • Her belief in American exceptionalism makes them grind their teeth in rage.
  • She has the audacity to forge ahead without first getting some kind of degree from either Harvard or Yale.
  • She’s just not from the right class of people—how can anyone from the Alaskan frontier not be a backward, uncouth person? Surely she must be stupid.

There are more, I know, but those are the ones that readily come to mind.

Her most vociferous critics on the far Left are found in the blogosphere. They make the most outrageous claims, often exhibiting the very attitudes of which they accuse others:

As Palin noted in the interview, if they didn’t have a double standard, they would have no standards at all.

But they are aided and abetted by the more sophisticated critics in the media. The mainstream media won’t be as bellicose as the deranged segment of the Left, but it will perform a valuable service in keeping the nation’s collective mind pointed in whatever direction it desires:

Are they real journalists at all? Or are they something else?

I believe Palin had to respond to all the accusations. This doesn’t make her unpresidential or petty or defensive. There are times when you have to make your case and hope that enough sensible people will listen, learn, and reject the lies and distortions emanating from the fever swamp.

If all of this ends up destroying Palin’s  reputation, evil will have won a battle, but that’s not the same thing as winning the war.

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?