BY DAVID GELERNTER
If we forget our basic ideals or shrug them off, we no longer deserve to be great.
Presidential elections are America’s season for serious chats around the national dinner table. The sick economy, health care and the scope of government are the main issues. But another is even more important. Who are we? What is the United States? Recently Gov. Mitt Romney urged us to return to “the principles that made America, America.” But too many of us don’t know what those are, or think they can’t work.
Yes, Americanism evolves, and by all means let’s change our minds when we ought to. We should always be marching toward the American ideals of freedom, equality and democracy, as we did when we ended slavery, granted women the right to vote, and finally buried Jim Crow. But if we forget our basic ideals or shrug them off, as we are doing today, we no longer deserve to be great. Without our history and culture, we have no identity.
Almost no one believes that our public schools are doing a passable job of teaching American and Western civilization. Modern humanities education starts from the bizarre premise that students must be cured of the Europe-centered, misogynist, bigoted ideas of the past. Many American children have never heard a good word for the United States, the West, Judaism or Christianity their whole lives.
Who are we? Dawdling time is over. We have failed a whole generation of children. As of fall 2012, let all public schools be charter schools, competing for each tax dollar and student with every other school in the country. Of course this is a local issue—but a president’s or would-be president’s job is to lead. There are wonderful teachers, principals and schools out there, and a new public-school system based on the American ideal of achievement will know how to value them.
No principle is more American than equality. Every generation has strained closer to the ideal. We have seen the near eradication of race prejudice in a mere two generations—an astounding achievement. We are a nation of equal citizens, not of races or privileged cliques. Affirmative action has always been a misfit in this country. A system that elevates individuals because of the color of their skin, their race or their sex has no place in America.
Yet a boy born yesterday is destined to atone (if he happens to be the wrong color) for prejudice against black women 50 years ago. Modern America is a world where a future Supreme Court justice, Sonia Sotomayor, can say publicly in 2001, “I would hope that a wise Latina woman with the richness of her experiences would more often than not reach a better conclusion [on the bench] than a white male who hasn’t lived that life.”
Once a justice has intuited, by dint of sheer racial brilliance, which party to a lawsuit is more simpatico and deserving, what then? Invite him to lunch? Friend him on Facebook? This is not justice as America knows it.
Next Independence Day let’s celebrate the long-overdue end of affirmative action, and our triumphant return to the American ideal of equality.
Modern American culture is in the hands of intellectuals—unfortunates born with high IQ and low common sense. Witness ObamaCare, a health-care policy, now somehow deemed constitutional, that forces millions of Americans to buy something they don’t want.
Bilingualism was the intellectuals’ response to one of the best breaks America ever got, a common language to unite its uncommon people. Resolved: The federal government will henceforth conduct its business and publish its statements in English, period. There is plenty of room in this country for new immigrants of all races and religions who want to learn America’s culture and be part of this people; none for those who dislike all things American except dollars. Resolved: The federal government will henceforth enforce its own immigration laws.
America’s creed is blessedly simple. Freedom, equality, democracy and America as the promised land, the new Jerusalem. What Thomas Jefferson had in mind when he invoked “the favor of that Being in whose hands we are, who led our fathers, as Israel of old, from their native land and planted them in a country flowing with all the necessaries and comforts of life.”
President Obama rejects this creed. He doesn’t buy the city-on-a-hill stuff. He sees particular nations as a blur; only the global community is big enough for him. He is at home on the exalted level of whole races and peoples and the vast, paternal power of central governments.
The president has revealed no sense of America’s mission to move constantly forward “with malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right.” Lincoln’s sublime biblical English uses the parallel stanzas of ancient Hebrew poetry. That is who we are: a biblical republic, striving to live up to its creed. The dominion of ignorance will pass away like smoke and we will know and be ourselves again the moment we choose to be. Why not now?
This op-ed appeared on the WSJ on 7/2/12