Whither Men of Stature? | The American Spectator | USA News and Politics
Whither Men of Stature?
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LEARNED MEN WANTED
Re: R. Emmett Tyrrell, Jr.’s The Stature Gap:

In response to Mr. Tyrrell’s question, “Why do public servants and public thinkers not attract the esteem they had in earlier eras?” I have a suggested answer.

Could it be that public interest has been overwhelmed, finally and completely, by political interests? As the substantive positions of the Democrats and Republicans become ever less distinct, what use is there for a sage who will take the broad view of a philosopher? What is called for are expert “spinners” and attack dogs such as James Carville, who can hardly be confused with a sophisticated thinker in any positive sense of the term.

I see such Republican “stalwarts” as John McCain cozying up to Ted Kennedy and Russ Feingold. I see our President padding his pockets all these years in search of his lost veto pen. I see Republicans and Democrats tripping over one another to be first to announce some proposed legislation that focus groups have shown to be likely to translate into votes. I see more winks and nods than at TGI Fridays on a late Friday night.

In short, the business of government has dropped all the remaining facade of principled leadership in the public good. Of what use are broad thinkers who can only cause an outbreak of troublesome deep thought among the diminishing portion of the electorate so capable? In these days when the internet grants a forum to any pestiferous thinker with access to a computer, it’s more useful to have on board someone accomplished at demonizing such malcontents than it is to breed even more pests in house.

In the case of our President, he has surrounded himself with persons who have somehow managed to keep alive the preposterous perception that he’s a conservative. The Democrats are hamstrung by the fact that the leading lights of their political philosophy, such as Karl Marx, are not only dead, but retain an unacceptable aura of going just a bit too far. As a result they have to put up such charlatans as John Kerry, who might have done better, had he had access to the political assassins so prominent in the legacy of the Clinton White House.

I fear that Mr. Tyrrell’s question fails to go far enough. Not only is deep thought disfavored in the public sector. I think we must consider whether it can survive at all.

Look for an accelerated push by both parties to rein in free speech on the Internet, “in the public good,” of course. See the McCain-Feingold-Cochran Campaign Reform Bill, reining in free speech in the form of campaign contributions, as a possible template. Although the FEC recently declined Congress’s invitation to take the next step, I can hardly imagine that thought in the public interest, publicly expressed, is safe.

No politician has to place or keep on staff anyone who engages in such perfidy. That, I suggest, is why public servants and thinkers are no longer found in public service, but are relegated to the blogosphere and out of the mainstream websites (among whose number I count TAS).
Mark Fallert
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

I offer two reasons:

1. The end of the Cold War ended the “mystery” of high government service — the sense of a priesthood wrestling with titanic forces.

2. Although there are some exceptions, “stature” has usually been reserved for the left-of-center. When that was the liberal ascendancy, they had a self-reinforcing clique. I don’t mean that in a cynical sense — they didn’t think of it in those terms — but that was what it became. Leading voices in the Ivy League were supported by leading voices from Wall Street law and finance which were supported by the mainstream media, particularly the N.Y. Times. That claque doesn’t exist now essentially because (a) liberals are now leftists and (b) both liberal and leftist ideas — big government — did not really work.

Milton Friedman is indeed a man of stature and recognized as such, but as recently as the 1960s and well into the 1970s he was considered a crank in “stature” circles in economics. He really came into his own in the 1980s in terms of stature.

Also, I think you fall for the left-wing definition of stature. Are not Scalia and Thomas great justices — men of insight, erudition and philosophy? But they will never be celebrated as that in the “stature machines” of the Ivy League and the mainstream media. It is true there is nobody to replace Buckley, but he was always sui generis.

The left has been so wrong, is so bitter and remains so clueless as to the direction of social thought and endeavor — toward individual responsibility and away from bureaucracy — that it is unable to acknowledge men and women of stature on the Right, where they are being grown.
Greg Richards
New York

A few terse observations as to the above in D.C.:

-Serving in D.C. has ceased to be fun and, as “Scooter” Libby will attest, become troublesome.

-There are no longer political and philosophical disagreements. All is “spin,” personal attacks, and nonsensical questions and responses (many of which are chronicled by the A.S.)

-There is now a ton more money in industry and even academia, so given the above, why should one bother?

-The entire idea of public service has become viewed by many as only for suckers — the pursuit of the filthy lucre now trumps all.

-The overriding circumstance, however, is sclerosis and abhorrence of even serious debate of major ideas to move the country forward. The average member now wakes each day with a fundamental decision: Shall I kick the can down the road with my right or left foot? The American public has been feminized to the point that hard choices are simply avoided as these “leaders” simply hope to get through another term absent controversy.

-A nation of bold risk takers has become a nation of craven dolts and this is evidenced by those elected to office. Who among us would voluntarily be questioned by Durbin, Biden, Kennedy, et al., to take a position that offers little in the way of personal satisfaction?? Not I, said Cock Robin!
Bruce Karlson
Navarre, Florida

The problem is, you are comparing two very different eras.

The old boys gained stature in academia, to be sure — but that was before academia was hopelessly cheapened by Marxists and anarchists, and boardroom thugs disguised as “scholars.” Kissinger and Moynihan arrived trailing clouds of glory, as it were. Poor Ms. Rice? We were simply relieved that none of the Bolshevik mud and offal had stuck to her.

Secondly, stature and reputation were much more centralized then. If the Big Media said you were “distinguished” then you were, by golly, distinguished, for no other voices could make themselves heard. Today, as an unforeseen result of a vastly widened (i.e., functional) “public square”, this sort of “orthodox confirmation” is no longer possible. All to the good, says I. With many eyes watching and many voices ready, the capable and dedicated can still prove themselves. But the parasite intelligentsia are increasingly denied the chance to rest on their (largely imaginary) laurels. Which may account for the shrill, not to say rabid tone of so many of them lately.

Last, no ever regards his contemporaries with the same automatic respect he gave earlier mentors and models. Perspectives change with circumstances and time. Which is why God gave us gin.

Keep up the good work.
Martin Owens
Sacramento, California

As regards to you question about the lack of stature of incoming public servants, combined with the loss of stature of social scientists, I think I have the answer. It is a complex weave of money, respect and demographics.

I received a master’s degree from a top-five public policy school in 1993. My class should have generated multiple public servants of stature. We haven’t. Instead, of roughly 80 graduates, only 20 are still in policy positions. Instead the stars of the class have gone to work for consulting firms, investment houses, health care organizations or technology firms. Why? Who wants to be a G-9 when you have 20K in loan debt? This is the money aspect.

Then when you weave in the public respect level economists, sociologists and other policy wonk have, or do not have in a results-driven research project. When you work for XYZ think tank, you are expected to generate answers consistent with XYZ’s mission. It is not easy to be treated as a hired gun or a shill, even if you are not.

Demographics play a part in this. Much as baby boomers dominate all other aspects of life and nothing can match their youth, brilliant policy wonks cannot get traction when compare to the legends of yore… Friedman, Stigler, and Moynihan. As far as no major problems to solve…I heartily disagree. Have you looked at entitlements and immigration? Those are two major areas where major solutions are needed. Finally, I cannot imagine a liberal policy wonk going to work for the Bush administration given the current political state.

To quote a public man of stature, it’s a conundrum.
Raymond Dingman

The big intellectual debates that animated the 20th century are over and we won. There are now only tactical debates, mainly among conservatives, like about how to deal with immigration, how many troops to send to war, etc. Even in the Iraq debate, the left has no idea to present. They offer partisan complaining and truly puerile posing (not to suggest that there is nothing to complain about).

Those on the left do not have ideas — they have attitudes and the desire for power. I challenge you to articulate an idea of the left, as that term would have been understood in 1960. For now, the thinking is over. For now, it is the “doing” that is at hand and George Bush would have been the perfect man for the “doing” assignment if only he could better articulate what he is doing.

I should also note that the world felt a lot more fraught when all those ideas were being debated by men of stature. I am sure they will be back some day but I fear it will be because we need them and I am not sure we want to hope for that.
Jim Stamos
Chicago, Illinois

The 24-hour news cycle deflates stature. Familiarity breeds contempt.
Ron Brown
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Gore Vidal?? From one who has followed your writing and your comings and goings for some time I choked on the revelation that Mr. Vidal was an old pal — or were you being facetious? Further, mentioning him as having stature seemed misplaced. But I did not do this letter to quarrel over Vidal but to suggest that your whole piece is in error.

What of the deceased former editor of the Wall Street Journal editorial pages — Robert Bartley? What of Oliver North? Charles Krauthammer? Mel Gibson? Ann Coulter? Don Rumsfeld? Ken Blackwell? Rudy Giuliani? David Horowitz? Brit Hume? Laura Ingraham? R Emmett Tyrrell?

Bill Buckley once wrote in an exchange of letters with me that “the struggle availeth” (in re: the conservative movement) yet lately he seems to have given up on that struggle (see a couple of his latest — Iraq/Billary). You though, suggest that Rush himself would not compare himself to Mr. Buckley. Maybe he wouldn’t, but I would. As one who worshipped BB from afar, I had one occasion to sit with a small group and listen to him debate with a good friend about the relative merits of Nixon versus Reagan. My friend was a Reagan proponent and Bill was pro-Nixon. Who was wrong on THAT one? I still worship BB but must disagree as to Rush’s level of stature. Bill may have been a Yale man and Rush possessed of only a grade school (he ignored everything during four years of high school like a lot of us) Missouri education but no one alive today nor during your period of figures of stature can exceed him for his intellect nor his effect as a philosopher for the 20th and 21st centuries! I believe the conservative movement would be in BIG trouble should he pass prematurely from the scene. THAT’S stature!!
Morris J. Turkelson, Col., USAF Retired
Former County Prosecutor, Former County Republican Chairman, conservative
Ohio

I believe that public servants and public thinkers today have roughly the same intelligence and gravitas as those in the past. The reason they don’t share the same esteem in the public’s mind is the same reason nightly news anchors don’t. The reason is that news and opinion is much more available today than it was in the past.

Today anybody who has the inclination can start a blog and provide news and commentary on current affairs. Often the bloggers have special insight into the specific issues on which they comment because of their professions or some other reason. Often the specialized and expert opinion available from blogs is far better than the watered-down, lowest-common-denominator information available from the MSM. MSM reports are often researched by reporters with no special knowledge of the issue at hand. Important aspects of stories can be overlooked or simply unreported. Opinions formed from incomplete or ill-informed stories are themselves subject to skepticism.

The expertise that can be marshaled from the blog reading public is amazing, in my opinion. There are several examples that come to mind, but the most obvious is the Dan Rather story on the President Bush’s National Guard service. Within 24 hours of the initial report on 60 Minutes, widely scattered and disparate experts on various aspects of the story came together on a few blog sites to thoroughly discredit the 60 Minutes report. That is the reason government and media personalities don’t have the same esteem they used to.
Doug Santo
Pasadena, California

It should be noted that “stature” in a profession has to do with scarcity. If there are numerous “big fish” in a good size pond, they are less noticed than a few “big fish” in a small pond. I suspect that is the source of the problem in this article, and it should also be said that this is “lack of stature” perception is not confined to “public service” positions but is found in many walks of life.
Philip Sandstrom

I would suggest that the reason we lack public thinkers of “stature” is that the media and culture no longer place any emphasis on accomplishment in any realm besides athletics, music, film, and other aspects of culture/entertainment. At least in the past, with the existence of a “middle-brow” media culture there was some attempt to give the public what they should know and care about, rather than just what they picked themselves to care about. A perfect example is all the commotion about Katie Couric moving to the CBS news anchor chair. Honestly, who cares? And yet it led many “news” stories. Poor Katie, having to move on and only earn $60,000 per night (assuming she takes no days off during the year).

But perhaps the general lack of stature there are still a few notables out there who somehow remain. I would suggest that maybe David McCullough or Stephen Ambrose (until he recently died) still had some stature in the general public as historians.
Christopher D. Booth
Nashville, Tennessee

Why do public servants and public thinkers not attract the esteem they had in earlier eras? Yours is a very good question. Our nation has been in a long decline. One of many reasons why the Roman Empire collapsed was because of a lack of genius. The brilliant statesmen from earlier eras haven’t been replaced because the culture has deteriorated. The golden age of American culture ended in the early 1960s. Just like the Romans, all great civilizations eventually fade away and ours is no exception.
Marc Handelsman
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Perhaps persons like Mr. Buckley are considered to have stature during their time in the sun was that he was rare for his time.

You are in “awe” of the uncommon things. An oak tree is not “awe-inspiring” because we, on the east coast, see them everyday. That does not mean it should be so, but that it is. Now you plant a Sequoyah in Central Park and everybody will notice. We’ll notice until there are about 100 of them (all descended from the first).

My train of thought runs this way, Mr. Buckley had stature because he was the loudest/Strongest voice among a small few “standing athwart history shouting STOP”, but his voice would be hard to single out today because of the many — granted because of him — ” today who are “standing athwart history shouting STOP” just as loud and strong as he. The same could probably be said of those of the more liberal mindset and whatever it is they shout.

Carrying the tree analogy, the Buckley’s are now so relatively common that we are not “awed” by them. It will take a “Super-Buckley” for us to say that we are “awed” by that person and say they have “stature.”

Of course, there are those who think that anybody who disagrees with them is a bungling buffoon and can’t possibly be intelligent because if they were they would agree with my supremely enlightened intellect. Those sorts of people (of whom we have a lot of, and are the ones it seems who get to determine who has “stature”) will never be “awed” by anybody.

I’m reading Chesterton’s Heretic. He described Bernard Shaw as being extremely intelligent, an extremely literate writer, extremely honest and extremely wrong. There is not enough of that. Recognizing stature irregardless of preference.

Thanks for providing a place for me to slack off work and ramble.
unsigned

Bob Tyrrell asks: Why are there no “thinkers of stature” in American public life?

I can’t speak for the Democrats, but there are any number of thinkers of stature out there on the conservative side of the spectrum. Pete DuPont, Virginia Postrel, Thomas Sowell, and Paul Johnson are just a few that come immediately to mind.

However, as the GOP has over the last decade shed its apparently too-confining philosophical fetters in order to remake itself as the faint right wing of the Perpetual Incumbency Party, it should come as no surprise that serious thinkers committed to core values are increasingly disinclined to affiliate with it.
Bob Danielson

The lack of stature in American public life today isn’t a problem that can be explained in a Letter to the Editor, but I’ll give it a try anyway. One factor is the ascending model of personal consumption, which quashes what used to be called community-mindedness. Another is the deterioration of public discourse to such a low level that average Americans are unable to think clearly about complex issues. But the primary underlying cause is the lack of a palpable crisis at home that might draw a few people of integrity and talent out of the woodwork. Wherever there are great Americans, there is likely to be a crisis nearby: think George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, Franklin Roosevelt, and George Marshall. None of these men were petty merchants trying to line their pockets and those of their associates. They rose to the occasion when something of greater importance was at stake. There will be respected American leaders in the future, but, unfortunately, the circumstances that bring them out aren’t going to be pretty.
Paul Dorell
Highland Park, Illinois

“Why do public servants and public thinkers not attract the esteem they had in earlier eras?”

Several reasons come immediately to mind. One, the incessant dumbing-down of America by liberals and their mainstream-media allies. Two, the adolescent maliciousness and perfidy of those two groups in their attacks on any intellectual or public servant with whom they have disagreed.

But public officials also carry the tarnish of historic and contemporary bad apples who’ve worn civil servant robes. Perjurer Bill Clinton, his wife, Al Gore and and John Kerry are examples. They and those of their stripes diminished or diminish the standing of the office with which they were entrusted and betrayed — and, yes, lied to or misled — the people they were supposed to serve.

It also doesn’t help the public’s esteem for public officials when those officials get involved in scandals, scandalous behavior or petty obstructionist politics. For example, the scandals like some the Clintons and Gore started, the one Jack Abramoff helped create or the one Tom Delay got caught in. Or when former officials such as Madeleine Albright openly criticize our president and country in other countries. Or when we have the nonsense we’ve seen in past years on the blocking of judicial nominees by Democrats. Or when we have officials in the minority party sabotaging the Senate Intelligence Committee.

Another blow to the stature of public officials comes from having loonies in Congress such as Cynthia McKinney or people like Baghdad Jim McDermott or Osama bin Patty Murray. Or when people such as Howard Dean or Wesley Clark rise to prominence in one of the nation’s two most powerful political parties.

Etc., etc., etc.
C. Kenna Amos Jr.
Princeton, West Virginia

I don’t have an all encompassing solution to the lack of “stature” but I do think I understand the core cause of this. Examples of this can be taken from headlines in any paper in the country today’s. I disagree that all the “big problems” have been solved but I think the ones that government can solve have been to the extent practical.

The “big problems” of our times and post Great Depression time period are all the creation of Government and for a host of reasons no consensus is possible because Government created solutions (a.k.a. programs) create “classes” of people around who benefits from these programs vs. those that actually pay the bulk of the cost for these programs. Examples abound everywhere. The big issues of our times, Social Security, Medicare/Medicaid, public education, health care, illegal immigration, welfare, progressive income tax system just to name a few are all the creation of government and to some extent or the other transfer wealth from those that produce it to those that consume it beyond their means to pay for the benefits provided. This creates a win/win situation for politicians that go along with these programs and a lose/lose for anyone trying to go against the masses of benefactors. At least up to the point that these systems bankrupt society at large and collapse all appears rosy for the benefactors both in and out of government. France is a good example of where we are headed.

The original intent of this nation’s founders were that those elected to public office would serve the interest of their fellow citizens for a limited amount of time and return home to live under the laws that they enacted. We have a permanent political class of people at the National level now and the bulk of them have little or no experience outside of politics and living off of the tax payers’ bounty. Anyone think Ted Kennedy is the only one in Congress that doesn’t have a clue about what it takes to run a business under the laws he has helped push through over the last 44 years? What percentage of Americans still think that businesses pay taxes and should pay a heavier burden? What is it we expect from the privileged few in Congress that receive five times the per capita income and don’t have to contribute to Social Security or depend on it would make a reasonable person think they care about the consequences of this fraudulent wealth transfer program? Why would a rational person deliberately violate prescribed security procedures in time of war and then claim “racism” when the rent-a-cop tries to actually enforce the published regulations? The people we have elected to hold office today are consumed about staying in office, not solving the problems government has created. The worship of government is the largest practiced religion in this country today.

I don’t have the solution to this but I do understand that we, as a people have made government service an impossible task for anyone that truly understands what the real problems are. Somewhere between the Civil War and today, the bulk of this nation’s voters have abandoned the ideals of what it means to be an American and to expect our privileged and very wealthy political class to act differently than the masses do is wishful thinking in my view. We will not see positive changes in this situation until the people we elect to government are held to the same standards as the rest of us and we hold ourselves to a higher standard than we do today. At that point, people of “stature” will step forward and serve in the traditions of the Founders. Until that time, you can expect to see more and more political “HOs” and “PIMPs” run for office or accept high ranking government jobs. We are getting what we planted and people of true “stature” recognize the futility of the situation and the potential cost to them and their families if they buck the trend. What is it worth to you to have to work and live in a den of thieves, liars and two faced people that will prostitute themselves for any cause that can get them votes? As long as we pay the “Johns” their asking price I suspect they will continue to perform their circus tricks for us.
Thom Bateman
Newport News, Virginia

Victor Davis Hanson has stature. Charles Krauthammer has stature.
Steve Koch

CONSERVATIVES REJECTED
Re: Mark D. Tooley’s Ejecting From the Church:

A lot of congregations are spared social commentary from the pulpit for fear of splitting the flock. This article proves that fear to be valid. Does anyone else feel a little uneasy about using church funds to criticize other mainline churches on the TV?
Danny L. Newton
Cookeville, Tennessee

I am a former Episcopal/Anglican church member. To paraphrase Ronald Reagan, “I did not leave the Anglican Communion. It left me.”

I don’t attend church to hear political operatives rail against my country and vilify the systems that made it great; and I don’t attend church to have my lifestyle “affirmed.” Most especially I don’t attend church to actively work against the Jews.

Unfortunately that seems to mean that it’s getting increasingly difficult to attend church at all.
Kate Shaw
Toronto, Ontario

OH, THE HUMANITY
Re: Doug Powers’s Class Clones:

Check out identical twins. Even those raised in the same household have different personalities. Cloning is not one of humans’ better ideals.
Elaine Kyle

BIG BONED, NOT FAT
Re: Eric Peters’s Little Big Bottoms:

Hey, not all 3-year-olds who weigh 40 pounds are fat. Our son Keller is 3 years, 8 months, weighs in at 40 lbs., and is a shade over 44 inches tall. His BMI index places him in the lowly 12th percentile. Almost all of his pants are slims, and many of them have to be worn with a belt or not at all.

It’s tough raising a kid this tall and physically mature, but it has its benefits. I figure he should be able to mow the lawn by the time he hits seven!
Dave Fobare

THANKS AGAIN TO BEN
Re: Ben Stein’s Greetings From Rancho Mirage:

I was unable to reply to the article so I was wondering if you wouldn’t mind sending this to Ben Stein.

I just read your article entitled “Greetings From Rancho Mirage” and found it to be right in line with some other articles that you have written thanking the military. I just wanted to tell you thanks for being so nice to us and that the appreciation is welcome….
Tim Boggs

Thank you, Ben Stein, I appreciated your article.
An American Soldier

Thank YOU, Ben Stein! You are a wonderful, wonderful man!
D. Lovelace

I applaud Mr. Stein for his column. Too many people do not really realize we’re locked in a life-and-death struggle for the fate of the world. Most of the rest of the world just wants the illusion of safety and security. Mr. Bush and the military leaders understand the importance of winning. Unlike Vietnam we can’t afford to “cut and run.” If we do, the Western civilization will cease to exist, I pray that the determination, resolve and sacrifice required to win this war doesn’t faultier. All I can say is: God bless everybody who is serving right now.
David J. Pesec, PhD, CPC
Mansfield, Ohio

Wonderful article!
E.R. Little, CPO, USN, Retired

Thank you for your article. It means a lot.
Phyllis Zagano, Commander, U.S. Navy Reserve

MASSACHUSETTS ECHO
Re: Mark Fallert’s letter (under “Once Again”) in Reader Mail’s Softening Hard Times:

Having read and dissected Mr. Fallert’s carefully worded and scrupulously constructed criticism of Mr. Stein’s position re: Big Oil, and the War in Iraq, I think that he worked much too hard to produce it. He could have merely stated that “Big Oil is making ‘obscene’ profits, and that he ‘supports the troops but opposes the war.'” Ho hum. The same old Kerry/Kennedy fertilizer.
Joseph Baum
Garrettsville, Ohio

MOBBED BY MYTH
Re: Ralph R. Reiland’s Port Security? Fuhgetaboutit:

The story Ralph Reiland passes on from George McEvoy, about the Mafia providing port security during WWII, is almost certainly an urban legend.

To begin with, there is no evidence whatever of Axis agents obtaining shipping information for the U-boats. Remember that the Allies won the war, and captured all the files of the German intelligence service. The British captured and turned every German agent in their territory. One of their double agents was chosen by the Germans to set up a spy ring in America. (Their real spy ring was busted by the FBI in 1941.)

With all this access to the secrets of German espionage, there is no chance whatever that the Germans had agents in the U.S. we didn’t know about.

“Nobody older than 12 believed” that the NORMANDIE was destroyed by an accidental fire, except for the officials who actually investigated the fire and found that it was accidental. There were no German saboteurs involved; there were no German saboteurs, period.

Furthermore, we and the British monitored the radio traffic of the U-boat fleet. Many thousands of these messages were intercepted and deciphered. There were no messages that directed U-boats to targets identified by spy work.

Of course lots of people thought so at the time. For instance, the Liberty ship THOMAS KEAN was sunk by U-505 (the sub that is now a memorial at Chicago’s Museum of Science and Industry). U-505 disabled THOMAS KEAN with a torpedo, then surfaced and finished her off with her deck gun, while survivors watched from lifeboats. One of these wrote later that “They knew where everything was,” i.e. that the shellfire was carefully aimed at the holds with flammable and explosive cargo. Except that in fact U-505 didn’t know a damn thing about what THOMAS KEAN had on board, as confirmed from later interrogations of her crew and inspection of her logs.

As for using the mob as counterspies — that would be about as effective as using the Hell’s Angels as security guards. Mob guys aren’t smart — they’re brutal. They get fooled all the time by undercover law-enforcement guys. They’d have much worse luck trying to spot a competent espionage agent, who doesn’t have any constraints on what he can do to pass, and who isn’t going to be obvious enough that goombahs can spot him. They’re also greedy, ignorant, and lazy. Maybe the capos and consiglieris are smarter and more knowledgeable — but those guys aren’t going to be patrolling the docks.
Rich Rostrom

REFORM FAILURE
Re: Joe Strader’s letter (under “Citizenship Giveaway”) in Reader Mail’s Softening Hard Times and Brandon Crocker’s Be My Guest (Worker):

Joe Strader (Letters, April 6) made a suggestion that is absolutely brilliant. The only laws that our elected officials can be relied upon to enforce are those which take money from us and give it to them to exchange for votes. The reason existing immigration laws are not enforced (and documented evidence shows members of Congress have strongly discouraged their enforcement) is that these laws do not further their self-interest, which can be summed up in a single word: re-election.

I have little faith that any “penalty” or “requirement” in the McCain-Kennedy will ever be enforced, as they do little to enhance the re-election prospects of our elected officials. It is highly likely, however, that every liberalization in the bill will be carried out.

Democrats see this legislation producing tens of millions of welfare clients, who are their most reliable constituency. Republicans fear (and fear is what elected Republicans do best) being demonized by Democrats as they were during the Civil Rights Act debate in the 1960s.

While immigration reform is needed, but it must follow, not precede, measures to restore respect for the rule of law and the security of our borders. It should also be directed toward welcoming larger numbers of those who bring capital, knowledge, scarce skills and a fervent desire to become an American. The legislation promoted by Specter, McCain, and Kennedy does the exact opposite and, as such, is worse than no legislation at all.
Steve Fernandez
St. Louis County, Missouri

UNSURPRISED BY MAN
Re: Vincent Chiarello’s letter (under “We Are Not Alone”) in Reader Mail’s Awful Truths and David Holman’s Reclaiming Catholic Colleges:

Allow me, please, a follow up to my letter of February 1 of this year, responding to David Holman’s article, “Reclaiming Catholic Colleges” (1/26/06.)

Given the tone and tenor of your January article, “Reclaiming Catholic Colleges,” recent events at the University of Notre Dame require that, in all likelihood, you will have to strike the University of Notre Dame from your list of the (very) few Catholic colleges you so highly applauded. Telling you this does not give me great pleasure, but, truth be told, I was not very optimistic about your piece; in fact, I wrote that my task was to “…provide a realistic overview of what is actually happening in contemporary Catholic educational life…” That realism has, at least at this time, trumped your optimism.

The President of Notre Dame, the Rev. John Jenkins, C.S.C., has announced that, “Catholic teaching has nothing to fear from engaging the wider culture,” and, as a result, will allow this Catholic university to show The Vagina Monologues on campus. The good Father, who obviously is a liberal constitutionalist, too, said that he would not “want to suppress (free) speech.” I didn’t know that banning a virulently anti-Catholic screed — at a Catholic institution no less — was a suppression of our First Amendment rights, but I guess I’m just old-fashioned in thinking that the good Father had a greater responsibility to his Church, as well as his university. Oh, and there is more, David.

Father Jenkins, steel rod that he is, bent a bit and also stated that The Queer Film Festival screenings will not be allowed, but since they’ve changed their name to The Gay & Lesbian Film Festival, well, that’s perfectly fine. Finally, David, more good news: the good Padre also weighed in about gender discrimination, no doubt a flourishing phenomenon on his campus: he has set up an ad hoc committee on gender relations! Ain’t life grand!

I do hope that Father Jenkins’ reversal does not depress you. Be aware that very often superficial change really indicates something far more serious going on underneath, such as the destruction of Catholic principles at (supposedly) Catholic institutions. Remember this: nimimum ne crede colori — do not trust too much to appearance.

Pax tecum.
Vincent Chiarello
Reston, Virginia

David Holman replies:
Thank you for your note. I followed up my article on our blog Wednesday.

Since you read my article carefully, you will recall that I did not highly applaud the University of Notre Dame without qualification. Clearly, there is a problem with Catholic schools that allow on-campus productions of The Vagina Monologues or, in Notre Dame’s case, a Queer Film Festival. Like you, I was highly skeptical about Fr. Jenkins’s hesitant stance. But since he faced a different flock, I thought he was trying to win them over before his inevitable ban. I was extending him the benefit of the doubt, holding my disapproval before I could see how he would act.

In this case, my optimism was misguided. Sarcasm aside, Fr. Jenkins is not a “steel rod” after all. I wrote on the blog Wednesday:

How disappointing. It appears Fr. Jenkins has been convinced by the campus multicultis that free speech must enjoy an official forum. Students and faculty are free to discuss even the most corrupt ideas in the classroom, in the residence halls, in the pages of the Observer, and really anywhere else. That doesn’t mean Notre Dame should afford them space to spread such pollution.

Jenkins had a better sense of this when he began his “discussion” about the Monologues. He used the example of anti-Semitic Passion plays to demonstrate that some expressions of speech would be unacceptable on the Notre Dame campus because they would so grievously offend Catholic principles. The difference, it seems, is that such a performance would be politically incorrect, whereas the Monologues are quite hip.

When I wrote about this in January, I gave Fr. Jenkins the benefit of the doubt and assumed that he was building consensus for his eventual decision to shut down the play. He proved me wrong. One has to be part of the cultural malaise or against it. In this case, Notre Dame missed a chance to join the latter group.

I do not take any pleasure in Notre Dame’s failure. But since Notre Dame as an institution is a collection of persons, and we believe that all persons are redeemable through the gifts of the Holy Spirit, I will persist in my optimism that Notre Dame may one day return to Our Lady.

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