There’s been some furor over NBC political news director Chuck Todd’s description of Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore the other day. You can watch the segment below:
The flak Todd is catching is legitimate: he is expressing the very liberal (and very wrong) concept of government and liberty; to wit, that individual rights and freedoms are granted by the government. The fact is that the Founding Fathers established the Constitution to limit the powers of the government, even going so far as including the 10th Amendment (“The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited it by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people“) in the Bill of Rights. It also fits with the very declaration that created the nation to begin with (“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.–That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed“).
If what Chuck Todd was saying – that our rights come from government, and so therefore government can remove those rights as it chooses – was actually considered radical by the media establishment, the outrage be deafening. Sadly, the media establishment is overrun with liberals. Liberal dogma, which depends on the idea that people are subservient to government, fully accepts Todd’s characterization. Indeed, it lionizes it. The outrage response is not to Todd’s remarks, but to articles like this one.
I wasn’t going to bother to commenting on the entire thing. After all, it’s just another illustration of the fundamental divide between conservatives and liberals. You can’t reconcile that basic difference – conservatives know that rights do not come from government and liberals feel that they should. But then, something happened in my own life that brought this problem to the fore.
My brother-in-law works long, hard hours at his job and to help him out, my wife and I have been watching my 13 year old nephew from the time he gets done with school until her brother gets home from work. This also means I get to help him with his homework. The subjects he usually asks for help with are the three I’ve always been comfortable with: math, science and history (or in the modern vernacular, social studies). Yesterday, he asked if he could quiz me on the stuff he learned in history that day. It’s a little game we play – he’s a bright kid and he tries to catch me with trick questions. To my surprise he broke out a pocket Constitution and asked, “What are the rights given by the First Amendment?”.
I told him none. The First Amendment guarantees freedom of speech, religion, the press and assembly – but it doesn’t give them to anyone.
Now, ordinarily I would be ecstatic that the very basics of our government are being taught in our schools. Civics is a subject that is not given nearly enough study by our youth. But his reaction to my answer might have me rethinking that position. You see, he was shocked – astonished, even – by it. Then he said, “But my teacher said our rights come from the Constitution.”
I suppose I shouldn’t have been angered by that. I mean, textbooks are written by liberals, curriculum are designed by liberals, and most of our educators are liberals. But that such drivel is being taught had me seething. To my nephew’s credit, he was able to follow along as I outlined how the Constitution does not grant rights, but was written to ensure the government protects rights. But the fact that I spent 90 minutes deleting the programming the liberal establishment was implanting in one impressionable 13 year old not only angered me, it frightened me.
This is the problem with liberal academics today. Rather than an exploration of ideas, it has become a process of indoctrination into the liberal world view. Even though my nephew’s pocket Constitution included the Declaration of Independence, his class hadn’t covered it. They hadn’t even read it – and in fact, had been told not to. Educators have figured a novel way of turning the Constitution in on itself, in a version of double-speak that would leave even Orwell breathless.
If we are not having our kids explore the very foundations of the government they’ll soon be entrusted with guiding, what are we inviting? The answer to that is also self-evident: a subversion of the very country our forebears worked so hard to create and preserve. The liberal dream realized: the fairest, most equal society in history, with the rights you deserve provided by a benevolent government.
Of course, we’ve seen that movie before, thousands of times. It was the underpinning of the French Revolution, complete with guillotines for those who would not accept the government’s benevolence. It girded the Soviet Union’s gulags, the reeducation camps in Maoist China, the chaos in the streets of Venezuela. It was the result our founders feared – and from what I’m see happening today, the one I’m afraid we’re fast headed towards.
One of the unique things about being a citizen of the United States is that unlike other nationalities, we often have these discussions about what being an American actually entails. We’ve been engaged in just such a discussion for the past four or five years now, and many people have landed on many different definitions.
Are we defined by our borders, the territory we control as a nation? Are we defined by our ethnicity or ethnicities? By our economic circumstances, both as individuals and as a nation? For many, these definitions, or a combination of these definitions, is what defines “Americanism.” These may be aspects of American life, but they are not what defines us as a people. As we saw this past weekend in Virginia, clinging to those notions is more divisive than unifying. They cannot define a nation as diverse as ours, one where wealthy and poor from every ethnicity on the planet call home.
Likewise, political leaders who foster these views cannot be unifying. They can only divide the nation along religious, ethnic and class lines. Both our last President and our current one have willingly used the imagery and language of grievance, attempting to force the nation as a whole to view the world through the distorted lenses of one subset of Americans or another.
The reality is the United States is not confined by our borders, defined by our economic clout or existent by our military power. You might have heard the United States identified as an ideal, and that is what our nation is. The glue that binds us are not the temporary trappings of wealth and power. The power that has allowed our nation to grow, to prosper, despite welcoming every ethnicity, every religion, and every race on the Earth was given to us by the men who created this country:
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.
I think that for many of us, these words have lost their meaning. After all, we’ve all heard them countless times. I can scarcely think of anyone who can’t recite them word for word.
Yet, we cannot deny the power they hold. It is those words, more than anything else, that drew our ancestors to this country. Those words are the birthright of every American and it is those words that are our unifying force.
One of the things I like to do, when faced with a passage whose meaning is difficult to comprehend, is to reword it in a way that is easier to understand. Bear with me as I do so here.
We: Who were the Founders referring to by “we?” The document this passage is taken from – the Declaration of Independence – was an open letter to the King of England and Houses of Parliament, on the behalf of the citizens of the new nation they were creating. “We” is nothing less than every American citizen.
hold these truths: to hold a belief is to accept it without question; a truth is an incontestable fact.
to be self-evident: something that needs no outside proof of its existence.
that all men are created equal: everyone, everywhere is no different than anyone else – and we are born into this condition. Whether you have the privileges and wealth of a Wall Street billionaire or are left scrounging for subsistence in the Somali sun, every person that will ever see this world is the same.
that they are endowed by their Creator: While the majority of the Founders believed in the Christian god, it’s important to note that not all of them did. George Washington and John Adams were deists, as were notable non-signatories of the Declaration, including Thomas Paine and Ethan Allen. It should also be noted that New York and New Jersey already had sizable Jewish populations by the middle of the 18th century (indeed, Dutch Jews were among the first settlers in New Amsterdam and Newark). Even among the devout Christians, there were religious differences – Charles Carroll of Maryland was a practicing Catholic, for instance. But the one thing all of them agreed on was a belief in a higher power, or Creator.
with certain unalienable: something which can neither be granted nor taken away by human authority.
Rights: Jefferson, John Adams and Franklin all were well versed in the philosophy of John Locke. While Locke’s ideas regarding natural rights were already well-established in philosophical circles by the mid-18th century, the Founders were doing something truly revolutionary here: they were claiming that by our existence, human beings have entitlements that no government can interfere with.
What follows is a listing of what those entitlements are.
that among these are: Whoops! make that a partial listing. Jefferson is saying there are other, unspecified rights, and he’s selected only the ones pertinent to why the Colonists are creating a new nation.
Life: Yes, you have a right to live. Sounds almost silly, until you watch this.
Liberty: for the 18th century thinker, Liberty was well defined by David Hume – “By liberty, then, we can only mean a power of acting or not acting, according to the determinations of the will; this is, if we choose to remain at rest, we may; if we choose to move, we also may.” I’ve read many other definitions of liberty, but this one – despite it’s age – still seems the best.
pursuit of Happiness: While nobody can guarantee that you will find peace and joy in the world, you’re entitled to try and find whatever it is that lets you achieve it.
One 36 word sentence carries quite a bit of import, I would say. If we were to reword the entire thing, it would come out something like this:
American citizens agree that the following is a statement of fact:
All people are born the same, and the Creator that grants us our existence does, by that existence, grant us certain privileges and entitlements that no person, government or entity can take away. Some of these entitlements are our lives, our freedom of movement and thought, and our attempt to derive peace and joy from our existence.
It isn’t as flowery or memorable as the original, I know. But this statement is what separates America from every other nation. It is what defines us a people, and as a country. America has not always lived up to the ideals laid out in this statement, but it is the fact we continue to strive towards it – rather than abandon it – that has characterized our place in history.
The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King once said he dreamed of the day when his children wouldn’t be judged by their ethnicity, but by who they were as people. It was Dr. King’s way of restating our guiding principle, the American principle of natural rights. We haven’t gotten there yet, as the events in Charlottesville showed. Call me a sap, a sentimental fool or a man blinded by his beliefs, but I still think the vast majority of the people who call the United States home believe in our founding principle, but are being led astray by fear of an unknown and rapidly changing future.
Thank you for your time today, and may God bless America.
*The video I linked to above can also be watched here. You’ll need about 20 minutes to watch the whole thing. It’s painful and at times angering, but I suggest you do.