About a week ago, I happened to read a “letter to the editor” from former Senator Bob Dole that really resonated. In it, he laments the confusion of the media in its failure to reflect the concerns of most Americans in reporting current events. In part, Dole says, “Perhaps I’ve lost touch with the soul of America and what it stands for, but for one, I’m tired of the constant media chatter about (John) Walker and terrorist prisoners……..Tell us more about real heroes, those who have kept America free and continue to do so.” Count me as one with Dole. Am I completely out of the loop? Almost everyone I know is repulsed daily by the news leads on the major TV networks and the constant drivel about the “victims of the week” and their “feelings”. Have we become simply a nation of whining voyeurs? The Walker and Al Qaeda prisoner stories are complete fabrications of the sensation-driven news producers. The sad part is that we buy it. One more thing: Enron is a big story, but it’s an important business story kept alive as a political story by those who still can’t accept the 2000 election results, a complicit media that craves the politics of class envy, and a few Enron/Ken Lay business peers who are overcome with schadenfreude. Again, I’m with Bob Dole: wake me when the media circus is over.
The title of this essay is a direct quote from Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton, referring to the families of the victims of the 9-11 attack, including those who are illegal aliens. This is the ultimate entitlement sentiment and demonstrates just how far the entitlement mentality has reached. This Federal program is unprecedented, but now sets a precedent that will add a new layer to the cult of victimology. We now have many of the survivors complaining about the size of the payments, one calling it a “disgrace”, another saying “my children should never have to want for anything”. Some people in Oklahoma are complaining that the Oklahoma City bombing survivors were slighted. Whatever happened to gratitude? What would happen if, God forbid, we were engaged in a total war with massive destruction in multiple locations around the country? Is the government, through its taxpayers, responsible for full restitution as though it is to blame for the attacks? We seem to be treating this as a non-recurring event, but what about the next one and the one after that? The average payment to families of victims of 9-11 is $1.6 million tax-free. How much will be expected next time? And what differentiates these particular victims from other victims equally as innocent?
Oklahoma Governor Frank Keating makes the sensible point that the Federal payments are discriminatory in amount based on the income level of the victim, creating a class based entitlement. He further reminds us that private charities are required to demonstrate need, criteria not required of taxpayers’ money!
Compassion is a great virtue and Americans have always had it in abundance. But compassion is a private virtue and its expression should be as well. There is misguided policy at work in these government payments to victims of 9-11 and we need to seriously question what we have wrought.
Recently I re-read Martin Luther King, Jr.’s 1963 classic “Letter From Birmingham Jail”, as powerful a testament of the American ideal as has been written this side of The Declaration of Independence. There is no better exposition on natural law as it applies to contemporary public policy issues. In reading these words, I couldn’t help but reflect on the juxtaposition of them with the dialogue from Harvard professor Cornel West and that of his surrogates, Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson, as they dealt with the “disrespect” shown by Harvard’s President, Larry Summers, in his criticism of West’s and his colleagues’ Afro-American Studies program. The Dr. King of 1963 (if not the later version) would be appalled at the level to which the current “stewards” of his legacy have sunk. Even arch-liberal Al Hunt agrees that their “silly conduct reinforces the political bankruptcy of these national black politicos……..(who) seem often irrelevant, relying chiefly on a press that feeds and stokes the faux conflicts on which they thrive.” The sad end of this story is that what Shelby Steele has so aptly described as the “muteness of white guilt” succeeded in forcing Mr. Summers into appeasement, a complete compromise of institutional moral authority, and deference to mediocrity. Not a credit to MLK’s legacy.
Consistent with the soul-searching experience and dialogue that I discussed in the January issue as a “useful by-product” of the war on terrorism will be the debate orchestrated by the President’s Council on Bioethics over the next couple of years. Leon Kass seems the ideal choice to lead this panel and, if reports of the Council’s first session in January are an indication, we are indeed in for some morally serious deliberations. As Kass himself said, “one feels a palpable increase in America’s moral seriousness, a fresh breeze of sensible moral judgment, clearing away the fog of unthinking and easy-going relativism.” Wow! I can’t wait. As Andrew Ferguson reports in The Weekly Standard, it is the second of two Council charges that is unprecedented—“to undertake fundamental inquiry into the human and moral significance” of recent advances in genetic science. One gets the distinct feeling that there are critical issues at stake—like what it means to be human—and that there are grown-ups in the room deliberating them. It’s about time.
If you want some insight into the thought of Leon Kass and the direction in which he might lead the Council and the country in this regard, I recommend his article “The
If you want some insight into the thought of Leon Kass and the direction in which he might lead the Council and the country in this regard, I recommend his article “The Meaning of Life-In the Laboratory”, in the Winter 2002 issue (No. 146) of The Public Interest. One quote will give you a flavor: “The current boundaries defining protectable human life, gerrymandered for the sake of abortion—namely, birth or viability—may now satisfy both women’s liberation and the U. S. Supreme Court and may someday satisfy even a future Pope, but they will not survive the coming of more sophisticated technologies for growing life in the laboratory.” In The Abolition of Man, C. S. Lewis says that human nature will be the last part of nature to surrender to man. There is now serious work underway examining the possible repercussions. Let’s pay close attention.
If, as I believe, one of a President’s key responsibilities is to be “teacher-in-chief”, George Bush was in top form for his State of the Union message. Plainer words are rarely as well spoken by a political leader and critical passages of the speech about war and the evil we face could not have been more instructive. The clarity was as stunning as it was refreshing, and it was disturbing to some, even in our own State Department, who cringed at Bush’s reference to the “axis of evil”. Kent Guida, a friend from my political philosophy group, sent along a piece by Victor Davis Hanson that draws the distinctions between two types of necessary military leaders—the organizational men and the warriors. We need both but not always at the same time, and rarely do the same skill sets reside in the same leader. So now the President is preparing us for the next, much more difficult, step–to move pre-emptively against Iraq. The organizational men urge restraint, multilateralism, and pretext, but the warriors know that this war is for all the marbles and that restraint and hesitation will be disastrous. After Bush’s speech, there should be no question in which direction the strategy now tilts. He did not mince words in characterizing this decade as “decisive in the history of human liberty.” As Peggy Noonan noted, this speech was about as big as presidential statements get.
“Our society increasingly has a problem confronting evil (which, like good, is essentially a religious concept). It’s frightening to think that a sane person could ruthlessly slaughter five children, kill and cannibalize fifteen young men or murder six million strangers. It’s actually comforting to attribute such horrors to insanity. Mental illness can be treated with drugs and psychotherapy. But how do you treat evil? With the weapons of the spirit. And, when necessary, with very strong bars or a lethal injection.”