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You believe that government is a limited instrument. Washington, D.C. believes that government can create utopia on earth.
You believe in a thing called "truth." Washington, D.C. believes in the all-importance of moral relativism.
You believe in the importance of faith, community, and family. Washington D.C. believes in the all-importance of the state and the "new world order."
You believe that America could once more be the shining "city upon a hill" that its first settlers strove to build. Washington D.C. believes that it is that city.
Am I exaggerating? In recent years, you have been able to see all sorts of indications that the values of Washington D.C. are not yours. You have watched, for instance, how the men and women who produce the goods and services we all benefit so tremendously from have been branded as "greedy capitalists" because they have dared to succeed. These are the individuals who have driven the economic machine that makes possible all the grand schemes of Washington bureaucrats, but they have been condemned nonetheless.
You have watched while the Boy Scouts of America -- of all people! -- have been treated like criminals. You see, the Boy Scouts are stubborn as well as backward. They still insist on following all sorts of outmoded practices, like using the word "God" in their oath of allegiance and refusing to allow homosexuals to serve in leadership positions. So they have been hauled into court after court in California, Illinois, and other states to answer for their crimes. And President Clinton has punished them by refusing to address their annual jamboree (the first time a sitting president has done so in this century).
You have watched while the condom (not Pepsi) has become the symbol of a new generation -- a symbol deliberately and enthusiastically promoted by Washington, D.C., with your tax dollars, in the name of "sex education." Neither you nor your children can escape it because it is everywhere -- on radio, on television, in films, in magazines, in schools.
Washington, D.C. does not have the answers -- it isn't even asking the right questions. The right questions were asked recently in a letter to the Los Angeles Times written by a school teacher. Mrs. Jones told the editors that she had taught in the public school system and enjoyed a successful and rewarding career. It was her habit to enter the classroom each day and address her students by saying, "Good morning, class." The students would respond, "Good morning, Mrs. Jones." Then they would get on with the day's tasks. This happened for many years until she finally retired.
In the fall of 1993, Mrs. Jones decided that it was time to go back to teaching. She was, of course, a bit nervous about facing students again, so she prepared very carefully. She was relieved when she finally entered the classroom and saw all the bright, young faces. Certainly, the clothes and the hair styles were much different, but she reminded herself that these things always changed from year to year. With growing confidence, she said in a friendly tone, "Good morning, class." And a student sitting in the front row shouted, "Shut up, bitch!" All the other students laughed.
The first question Mrs.Jones asked the Los Angeles Times editors was, "What happened in America between 'Good morning, Mrs. Jones' and 'Shut up, bitch'?" And her second question was: "Who is going to do something about it?"2
Contrast that experience to the tragedy earlier this year in West Memphis, Arkansas (which has been repeated in countless other communities): Three nine-year-olds went out to play and never came home. The next morning, their bodies were found. They had been beaten to death and left in a drainage ditch. A few days later several teenagers, allegedly involved in the occult, were arrested for the crime.
What happened in America between my youth and those boys' youth? Is there a parent today who does not fear for his or her children's safety even in supposedly "safe" communities?
How things have changed!
My father was an uneducated man. He dropped out of school in order to help his family through the Great Depression. I don't think he ever finished reading a book in his life. But he gave me some of the soundest advice a parent can give a child. He told me again and again: "You are going to make mistakes. Everybody does. But when you make a mistake, take responsibility for it. That's the mark of a man." What happened in America between the time when people owned up to their mistakes and when they started blaming it on society?
As a conservative myself, I support this latter agenda, but it is not really the answer.
There are bureaucrats in Washington D.C. whose only job is to count the things our economy produces, like automobiles, refrigerators, computers, and tons of rice, corn, wheat, and steel. But who counts the most important things of all?
Washington, D.C. cannot tell you how many children were hugged or how many husbands and wives said, "I love you," today. It cannot tell you who did a fine job at work or who surmounted a difficult personal obstacle or who did a good deed today. It cannot tell you how many families will pray over their evening meal or get down on their knees before God and ask for forgiveness and strength tonight. And yet without these things this nation would surely fall. These are the things that make America what it is. These are the things we must fight to preserve. Our military power is unmatched. Our navy controls the sea. Our air force controls the skies. We are the only remaining superpower in the world. But we are faced by an enemy within: the moral breakdown of our society.
Our economic strength is also unrivaled. We have just experienced a decade-long stretch of prosperity such as the world has never seen. Our standard of living is the envy of all. But we are in danger of spiritual starvation.
So, you say, "What can I do?" The real answer is to fight for the things you care about. For most Americans, life isn't executive orders, congressional legislation, agency regulations, or judicial decrees.6 It's a helping hand and good neighbors. It's bedtime prayers and lovingly packed lunch boxes. It's hard work and a little something put away for the future. No government commands these things. No government can replicate them. They are done naturally, freely, out of love, concern, and commitment.
Stand for those things. Believe in those things. Insist that the politicians who ask for your votes defend those things without shame or embarrassment. Teach your children those things. Inspire them to love what you love and to honor what you honor. If you will do these things, then this great experiment in liberty will survive, and we will again be that shining city upon a hill.
Reprinted by permission from IMPRIMIS, the monthly speech digest of Hillsdale College. Subscription free upon request. Hillsdale College | Hillsdale, MI 49242
The culture of war permeates most of our intellectuals. Historians do surveys from time to time on which American presidents were "greatest." Only wartime presidents ever get on the Top Ten. Few historians seem to have absorbed this bit of wisdom from Will Durant, who with his wife Ariel wrote the 11-volume Story of Civilization, once a part of every middlebrow Book-of-the-Month-Club America's library of unread dust catchers:
"Civilization is a stream with banks. The stream is sometimes filled with blood, from people killing, stealing, shouting and doing the things historians usually record, while on the banks, unnoticed, people build homes, make love, raise children, sing songs, write poetry and even whittle statues. The story of civilization is what happened on the banks."