Friday, January 27, 2012

Generous America

America's culture is changing and complex - filled with subcultures and influences from around the globe. One clear feature, however, is that Americans give - they are statistical outliers in their support for charities. Forbes magazine reports that

The Comparative Nonprofit Sector Project at the Johns Hopkins Center for Civil Society Studies compiled a ranking of private philanthropy in 36 countries from 1995 to 2002. Based on giving alone, the U.S. comes first, giving 1.85% of GDP, followed by Israel at 1.34% and Canada at 1.17%. But based on volunteerism alone, the Netherlands comes first, followed by Sweden and then the U.S.
America gives more, both as a percentage of its incomes, and in total dollar value, than any other country. In terms of volunteerism, America ranks third, which isn't bad, when you remember that there are hundreds of countries in the world.

Among developed nations, those with higher taxes and bigger social safety nets tend to have lower rates of giving. In charitable giving as a percentage of GDP, nations with cradle-to-grave welfare systems rank far down the Johns Hopkins list: Sweden 18th, France 21st, Germany 32nd.
There are many possible explanations for America's desire to help the poor. Historically, many of the early settlers were deeply religious, and set a precedent for donating to those in need. In contemporary culture, leaders demonstrate by their own examples that charity is still a core American value:
Dick and Lynn Cheney gave 78% of their income away in 2005.
Cynics point out that movie stars and famous athletes might give to charities in order to gain a tax break. But simple mathematics doesn't support this, showing that
the tax break can't account for most American giving. After all, you still have less money after your donation than you did before - depending on what you earn, the hit to your pocket book is at least 65% of the dollar figure you gave, and more if you're not in the top income bracket. (And while most Americans give to charity, most don't itemize their tax deductions, which would be required to take advantage of the break.)
In fact, many Americans fail to take full advantage of the tax breaks - they simply forget, or don't take the time, to declare all of their charitable giving on their tax forms. This holds true for both rich and middle-income families: all along the income spectrum, we find significant donation to humanitarian causes:
Indeed, America has a culture of giving that goes far beyond tax breaks. While the wealthiest citizens give the most in sheer dollar amounts - the top 10% accounting for at least a quarter of giving, according to Arthur C. Brooks - it's in fact low-income employed Americans who give the highest portion of their income, or 4.5%.
From the richest of the rich, to those who themselves have only a little more than those are receiving charity, Americans have a culture of philanthropy. American institutions, from canned goods collections at Thanksgiving and Christmas, to the year-long flow of groceries to food banks and homeless shelters, have made charitable giving a cornerstone of our societal identity.

Sociological Data

The National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago has been keeping some of the best demographic statistics since 1972. This means that long-term studies with high quality data are now possible. The main instrument for gathering these numbers is the General Social Survey. With information for a forty-year span, sociological patterns begin to manifest themselves:

  • For every additional year of education an individual has, she or he is 15% more likely to attend religious services on a regular basis.
  • Likewise, as educational levels increase, the likelihood of an individual reading the Bible at least occasionally increases by 15%.
  • The probability of not merely attending religious services, but of identifying with a 'mainline' denomination (Lutheran, Presbyterian, Methodist, Episcopal, etc.) or with the Roman Catholic church increases by 9%.
  • These numbers begin to form a picture of the American population in the late twentieth and early twenty-first century. Of course, these data raise as many, or more, questions than they answer:

  • To what extent do people understand and affirm various religious doctrines?
  • How do they interpret the Bible?
  • As faith continues to be a powerful motivator in society, and a significant part of personal quests for meaning, demographics will help to both summarize and interpret people's belief systems.

    Sunday, January 15, 2012

    Unsung Heroes of Civil Rights

    The big picture of how African-American struggled for civil rights goes back over a 150 years. Following the emancipation proclamation in 1863, there was a long-term upward trend in civil rights for Blacks in the United States. But these advances were sadly negated during the "progressive era" in which President Woodrow Wilson introduced segregation into federal departments which had been desegregated, an era in which states in the deep south abandoned the Republican party which had not only opened civil rights to the African-Americans, but which had seen Blacks elected to the Senate and the House of Representatives, and an era in which literacy tests, poll taxes, and grandfather clauses were introduced specifically in order to remove African-American voters from the political process.

    Because of these setbacks, the advancements which Blacks had made from 1863 to the 1890's had to be made all over again. The second wave of the civil rights movement would have to earn those same rights a second time.

    The courage and perseverance of a long list of people made it possible for Blacks to claim, a second time, their civil rights. Among those who created space for African-Americans to enjoy full participation in the governing process were Condoleezza Rice, George W. Bush, Clarence Thomas, Dwight D. Eisenhower, Colin Powell, and Gerald R. Ford.

    President George W. Bush explains President Ford's role:

    Long before he was known in Washington, Gerald Ford showed his character and his leadership. As a star football player for the University of Michigan, he came face to face with racial prejudice when Georgia Tech came to Ann Arbor for a football game. One of Michigan's best players was an African American student named Willis Ward. Georgia Tech said they would not take the field if a black man were allowed to play. Gerald Ford was furious at Georgia Tech for making the demand, and for the University of Michigan for caving in. He agreed to play only after Willis Ward personally asked him to. The stand Gerald Ford took that day was never forgotten by his friend. And Gerald Ford never forgot that day either - and three decades later, he proudly supported the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act in the United States Congress.
    The noble character and ethical integrity which caused Ford to champion civil rights for Blacks also caused him to demonstrate honor in other segments of his political career. President Bush continued:
    Gerald Ford showed his character in the uniform of our country. When Pearl Harbor was attacked in December 1941, Gerald Ford was an attorney fresh out of Yale Law School, but when his nation called he did not hesitate. In early 1942 he volunteered for the Navy and, after receiving his commission, worked hard to get assigned to a ship headed into combat. Eventually his wish was granted, and Lieutenant Ford was assigned to the aircraft carrier, USS Monterey, which saw action in some of the biggest battles of the Pacific.

    Gerald Ford showed his character in public office. As a young congressman, he earned a reputation for an ability to get along with others without compromising his principles. He was greatly admired by his colleagues and they trusted him a lot. And so when President Nixon needed to replace a vice president who had resigned in scandal, he naturally turned to a man whose name was a synonym for integrity: Gerald R. Ford. And eight months later, when he was elevated to the presidency, it was because America needed him, not because he needed the office.

    President Ford assumed office at a terrible time in our nation's history. At home, America was divided by political turmoil and wracked by inflation. In Southeast Asia, Saigon fell just nine months into his presidency. Amid all the turmoil, Gerald Ford was a rock of stability. And when he put his hand on his family Bible to take the presidential oath of office, he brought grace to a moment of great doubt.

    In a short time, the gentleman from Grand Rapids proved that behind the affability was firm resolve. When a U.S. ship called the Mayaguez was seized by Cambodia, President Ford made the tough decision to send in the Marines - and all the crew members were rescued. He was criticized for signing the Helsinki Accords, yet history has shown that document helped bring down the Soviet Union, as courageous men and women behind the Iron Curtain used it to demand their God-given liberties. Twice assassins attempted to take the life of this good and decent man, yet he refused to curtail his public appearances. And when he thought that the nation needed to put Watergate behind us, he made the tough and decent decision to pardon President Nixon, even though that decision probably cost him the presidential election.

    Gerald Ford assumed the presidency when the nation needed a leader of character and humility - and we found it in the man from Grand Rapids. President Ford's time in office was brief, but history will long remember the courage and common sense that helped restore trust in the workings of our democracy.

    There is a connection between Ford's demand for racial equality in the 1930's, his support for civil rights in the 1960's, and the total fabric of his political career. Ford was a member of the House of Representatives when, as a Republican, he voted for the Civil Rights Act of 1960, against the opposition of the Democrat Party, and the Act was signed into law by President Eisenhower. Likewise, Ford and the Republicans overpowered the Democrats in Congress to pass the Civil Rights Acts of 1964. Gerald Ford and President Eisenhower crafted powerful legislation to bring about equality and full participation in the governing process for African-Americans.

    The Voice of NBC News

    Thomas Brokaw was one of the more influential voices in news reporting in the last quarter of the twentieth century. Born in South Dakota in 1940, he studied at the University of Iowa and the University of South Dakota. He began as a local TV news announcer in Sioux City, Iowa. He began doing national news for the NBC network, and was assigned to cover the White House shortly before the Watergate scandal began; this would be his rise to fame. Concerning President Gerald Ford, Brokaw said that Ford had
    no hidden agenda, no hit list or acts of vengeance. He knew who he was and he didn't require consultants or gurus to change him. Moreover, the country knew who he was and despite occasional differences, large and small, it never lost its affection for this man from Michigan, the football player, the lawyer and the veteran, the Congressman and suburban husband, the champion of Main Street values who brought all of those qualities to the White House.
    Brokaw observed both sides of President Ford: the national and international leader, and the simple but honest human being, subject to the problems of all ordinary mortals:
    We could identify with him - all of us - for so many reasons. Among them, we were all trapped in what passed for style in the 70s with a wardrobe with lapels out to here, white belts, plaid jackets and trousers so patterned that they would give you a migraine.
    Despite being captive to the bad clothing fashions of the 1970's, President Ford was an international leader: a "world-historical" personage in the true sense of the phrase:
    To be a member of the Gerald Ford White House press corps brought other benefits as well as we documented a nation and a world in transition, in turmoil. We accompanied him to audiences with the notorious and the merely powerful. We saw Tito, Franco, Sadat, Marcos, Suharto, the shah of Iran, the emperor of Japan, China with Mao Zedong, Zhou Enlai and Deng Xiaoping all at once, what was then the Soviet Union and Vladivostock with Leonid Brezhnev, and Helsinki at one of the most remarkable gatherings of leaders in the 20th century.
    Yet this pivotal figure in twentieth-century geo-politics found an unlikely incubator in which to nurture his leadership skills: the University of Michigan football team. Gerald Ford was not only a football player, but was the MVP (most valuable player) on the team. During his career in Ann Arbor, the University of Michigan football team had two seasons in which they were undefeated and won back-to-back national championships (1932 and 1933). Attempting to connect Ford's football career as center and linebacker to his decisive role in Western Civilization, Brokaw said:
    In many ways I believe football was a metaphor for his life in politics and after. He played in the middle of the line. He was a center, a position that seldom receives much praise. But he had his hands on the ball for every play and no play could start without him. And when the game was over and others received the credit, he didn't whine or whimper.
    Although it is easy to criticize Brokaw, like any other TV news reporter, as a "talking head" often reading what others have researched or written, it is apparent from the intellectual honesty and integrity with which he spoke about President Ford that Brokaw is indeed able acknowledge honor and greatness, even when they are found in a "politically incorrect" form.

    Saturday, January 7, 2012

    Kissinger Remembers Making Foreign Policy with Ford

    Henry Kissinger was Secretary of State when Gerald Ford became President in 1974. Ford retained Kissinger in that office until the Ford Administration ended. Ford's high regard for Kissinger is clear, because Ford did not automatically keep cabinet-level appointees in their offices when he took over the White House. Kissinger had earned Ford's respect, and so Ford kept Kissinger in his important foreign policy role.

    Many years, speaking at Ford's funeral in 2006, Kissinger recalled:

    In recent days, the deserved commentary on Gerald Ford's character has sometimes obscured how sweeping and lasting were his achievements.

    Gerald Ford's prudence and common sense kept ethnic conflicts in Cyprus and Lebanon from spiraling into regional war.

    He presided over the final agony of Indochina with dignity and wisdom.

    In the Middle East, his persistence produced the first political agreement between Israel and Egypt.

    He helped shape the act of the Helsinki European Security Conference, which established an internationally recognized standard for human rights, now generally accepted as having hastened the collapse of the former Soviet empire.

    He sparked the initiative to bring majority rule to southern Africa, a policy that was a major factor in ending colonialism there.

    In his presidency, the International Energy Agency was established, which still forces cooperation among oil-consuming nations.

    Gerald Ford was one of the founders of the continuing annual economic summit among the industrial democracies.

    Throughout his 29 months in office, he persisted in conducting negotiations with our principal adversary over the reduction and control of nuclear arms.

    Kissinger indicated that although Ford was a man of the highest integrity, and most noble character, it took more than integrity and character to make good foreign policy. President Ford had long experience with negotiation, and a personal acquaintance with important diplomats. Ford's strong analytic mind allowed him to retain focus on central issues amid a sea of details. He used his brief "honeymoon" period as a new president to ask for, and get, an unprecedented concession from the usually-inflexible Soviet Union. Kissinger recalls:
    Gerald Ford was always driven by his concern for humane values. He stumped me in his fifth day in office when he used the first call made by the Soviet ambassador to intervene on behalf of a Lithuanian seaman who four years earlier had in a horrible bungle been turned over to Soviet authorities after seeking asylum in America. Against all diplomatic precedent and, I must say, against the advice of all experts, Gerald Ford requested that the seaman, a Soviet citizen in a Soviet jail, not only be released but be turned over to American custody. Even more amazingly, his request was granted.
    Ford knew that results like that wouldn't always arrive so quickly or easily. But he did continue to get good results like that by means of hard work and patient negotiation. For the rest of his presidency, he continued to do well in foreign policy:
    Throughout the final ordeal of Indochina, Gerald Ford focused on America's duty to rescue the maximum number of those who had relied on us. The extraction of 150,000 refugees was the consequence. And typically Gerald Ford saw it as his duty to visit one of the refugee camps long after public attention had moved elsewhere.

    Gerald Ford summed up his concern for human values at the European Security Conference, when looking directly at Brezhnev he proclaimed America's deep devotion to human rights and individual freedoms. "To my country," he said, "they're not clich├ęs or empty phrases."

    Historians will debate for a long time over which president contributed most to victory in the cold war. Few will dispute that the cold war could not have been won had not Gerald Ford emerged at a tragic period to restore equilibrium to America and confidence in its international role.

    Henry Kissinger was Secretary of State during some of America's most complex foreign policy situations. He earned a Nobel Prize for his diplomacy, diplomacy created in teamwork with President Gerald Ford.

    One President Honors Another

    In 2006, as the nation mourned the death of President Gerald Ford, his friend and colleague, President George H.W. Bush (the elder of the two Bush presidents) spoke to the nation, explaining that it was Ford's honesty, trustworthiness, and promise-keeping which not only made Ford a great president, but also preserved the republic in a time at which political scandal threatened to destroy our government:
    Well, as the story goes, Gerald Ford was a newly minted candidate for the United States House of Representatives in June of 1948 when he made plans with a reporter to visit the dairy farmers in western Michigan's Fifth Congressional District. It was pouring rain that particular day and neither the journalist nor the farmers had expected the upstart candidate to keep his appointment. And yet he showed up on time because, as he explained to the journalist, "they milk cows every day and, besides that, I promised."

    Long before he arrived in Washington, Gerald Ford's word was good. During the three decades of public service that followed his arrival in our nation's capital, time and again he would step forward and keep his promise even when the dark clouds of political crisis gathered over America.

    Ford lent his personal honor to the office of the presidency, at a moment in which that office had little left, and in manner of Cincinnatus, embodied virtues which can benefit the republic:
    A decade later, when scandal forced a vice president from office, President Nixon turned to the minority leader in the House to stabilize his administration because of Jerry Ford's sterling reputation for integrity within the Congress. To political ally and adversary alike, Jerry Ford's word was always good.

    And, of course, when the lie that was Watergate was finally laid bare, once again we entrusted our future and our hopes to this good man. The very sight of Chief Justice Berger administering the oath of office to our 38th president instantly restored the honor of the Oval Office and helped America begin to turn the page on one of our saddest chapters.

    As Americans we generally eschew notions of the indispensable man, and yet during those traumatic times, few if any of our public leaders could have stepped into the breach and rekindled our national faith as did President Gerald R. Ford.

    History has its long stretches of 'status quo' and its decisive moments. A precise Providence supplies the human being with the proper qualities to match a decisive moment: Ford was an example of this. President George H.W. Bush, who had worked for Ford - first as a diplomat to China, then as director of the CIA - explains Ford's place in American history:
    History has a way of matching man and moment. And just as President Lincoln's stubborn devotion to our Constitution kept the Union together during the Civil War, and just as F.D.R.'s optimism was the perfect antidote to the despair of the Great Depression, so too can we say that Jerry Ford's decency was the ideal remedy for the deception of Watergate.

    For this and for so much more, his presidency will be remembered as a time of healing in our land. In fact, when President Ford was choosing a title for his memoirs, he chose words from the book of Ecclesiastes.

    Ford's autobiography was entitled A Time to Heal, and the word 'heal' appeared many times in the different speeches, essays, and books written about him. The presidency of Gerald Ford, in the consensus of a diverse group of texts, was about healing the nation from the wounds of Vietnam and Watergate. The providence which guided Ford into the Oval Office preserved his life in the midst of assassination attempts. Perhaps no president had so many attempts against his life when measured against his relatively short stint in the office (James Garfield comes to mind).
    It is plain to see how the hand of providence spared Jerry in World War II and later against two assassination attempts. And for that we give thanks. It is just as plain to see how the same hand directed this good man to lead a life of noble purpose, a life filled with challenge and accomplishment, a life indelibly marked by honor and integrity. And today we give thanks for that, too.
    As the nation mourned the loss of a great leader, speeches by President George H.W. Bush and many other leaders gave us material for meditation on the topic of what we can learn from President Gerald Ford.

    One VP Honors Another

    As Vice President of the United States, Richard ("Dick") Cheney had occasion to give a speech in honor of President, and former Vice President, Gerald R. Ford. In addition to both having been vice presidents, Cheney and Ford had worked together on a number of occasions; Cheney began working for Ford when Ford became Vice President in 1973. Ford had been a member of the House of Representatives for over twenty years when he was tapped to be VP. Cheney recalled:
    In his congressional career, he passed through this Rotunda so many times—never once imagining all the honors that life would bring. He was an unassuming man, our 38th President, and few have ever risen so high with so little guile or calculation. Even in the three decades since he left this city, he was not the sort to ponder his legacy, to brood over his place in history. And so in these days of remembrance, as Gerald R. Ford, goes to his rest, it is for us to take the measure of the man.
    Cheney explained that Ford moved forward through life by working, not by getting lucky:
    Jerry Ford was always a striver — never working an angle, just working. He was a believer in the saying that in life you make your own luck. That's how the Boy Scout became an Eagle Scout; and the football center, a college all-star; and the sailor in war, a lieutenant commander. That's how the student who waited tables and washed dishes earned a law degree, and how the young lawyer became a member of the United States Congress, class of 1948. The achievements added up all his life.
    Of Ford's many achievements, the earliest ones were perhaps the most telling: he was an Eagle Scout, and he played football for the University of Michigan. Both required focus, self-discipline, and effort. He
    belonged to a generation that came early to great duties, and took up responsibilities readily, and shared a confidence in their country and its purposes in the world.
    Most of the men who have served as President of the United States wanted the job, and worked hard to get it. Gerald Ford never wanted the job, and made no effort to get it. His goal was to serve in Congress, and he
    aspired only to be Speaker of the House, and by general agreement he would have made a fine one. Good judgment, fair dealing, and the manners of a gentleman go a long way around here, and these were the mark of Jerry Ford for a quarter century in the House. It was a Democrat, the late Martha Griffiths, who said, "I never knew him to make a dishonest statement nor a statement part-true and part-false, and I never heard him utter an unkind word."
    The fact that President Ford frequently earned praise from members of the opposing political party demonstrates the strength of his character. Being forcing into the presidency without having been elected to it, he was keenly aware that no political power was his permanent possession, but rather that it had temporarily been entrusted to him. Desiring to show himself a good caretaker of that which did not belong to him, he rose above the angry political phrases which - then and now - people hurl at each other:
    Sometimes in our political affairs, kindness and candor are only more prized for their scarcity. And sometimes even the most careful designs of men cannot improve upon history's accident. This was the case in the 62nd year of Gerald Ford's life, a bitter season in the life of our country.

    It was a time of false words and ill will. There was great malice, and great hurt, and a taste for more. And it all began to pass away on a Friday in August, when Gerald Ford laid his hand on the Bible and swore to preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States. He said, "You have not elected me as your President by your ballot, and so I ask you to confirm me as your President with your prayers."

    Perhaps the most controversial decision Ford ever made was to pardon Richard Nixon. At the time, many wondered if Ford had bad motives for issuing the pardon: if it was the price he paid to become president. But historians have discovered, in the following decades, that what seemed like a bad move at the time was probably a great benefit to the nation, and perhaps an action which preserved the republic. Had Ford not pardoned Nixon, the ensuing impeachment trial would have dragged that nation through even more pain and scandal, and potentially destroyed our form of government. Ford endured the withering criticism, and paid an additional price by being rejected at the polls in 1976. He knew that sacrificing his personal political career might be the necessary price to preserve America's honor. Cheney said:
    What followed was a presidency lasting 895 days, and filled with testing and trial enough for a much longer stay. Even then, amid troubles not of his own making, President Ford proved as worthy of that office as any who had ever come before. He was modest and manful; there was confidence and courage in his bearing. In judgment, he was sober and serious, unafraid of decisions, calm and steady by nature, always the still point in the turning wheel. He assumed power without assuming airs; he knew how to treat people. He answered courtesy with courtesy; he answered discourtesy with courtesy.

    This President's hardest decision was also among his first. And in September of 1974, Gerald Ford was almost alone in understanding that there can be no healing without pardon. The consensus holds that this decision cost him an election. That is very likely so. The criticism was fierce. But President Ford had larger concerns at heart. And it is far from the worst fate that a man should be remembered for his capacity to forgive.

    Ford lived long enough to hear both historians and former political opponents reassess the decision to pardon Nixon. He lived to be thanked and honored by the people who rejected him:
    In politics it can take a generation or more for a matter to settle, for tempers to cool. The distance of time has clarified many things about President Gerald Ford. And now death has done its part to reveal this man and the President for what he was.
    Cheney made these remarks at one of several funerals given for Ford, who died in December 2006. Cheney noted that it was more than Ford's approachable personality which made him great:
    He was not just a cheerful and pleasant man — although these virtues are rare enough at the commanding heights. He was not just a nice guy, the next-door neighbor whose luck landed him in the White House. It was this man, Gerald R. Ford, who led our republic safely through a crisis that could have turned to catastrophe. We will never know what further unravelings, what greater malevolence might have come in that time of furies turned loose and hearts turned cold. But we do know this: America was spared the worst. And this was the doing of an American President. For all the grief that never came, for all the wounds that were never inflicted, the people of the United States will forever stand in debt to the good man and faithful servant we mourn tonight.
    In the end, it was more than Gerald Ford's friendly, humble manner which made him a great leader: it was his courageous determination to do the right thing, and the inner moral compass which directed him toward what is good, right, and noble.

    Ted Kennedy Looks Back

    Senator Edward M. Kennedy, better known as "Teddy", near the end of his life, was able to see the historic moments in his life from the vantage point of many years later. It is a good thing, to be given a life long enough to allow one to look back and have the luxury of revising one's views or statements. Senator Kennedy did exactly that, following a long line of both politicians and historians who revised their estimates of President Gerald R. Ford, and specifically of his controversial decision to pardon former President Richard M. Nixon.

    Although Ford's 1974 decision to pardon Nixon was criticized at the time, and its unpopularity cost both Ford and his political party dearly, it has since been seen as an act which strengthened the government and the public's view of it. Had Ford not pardoned Nixon, the nation would have been dragged through a painful impeachment process, which could have only resulted in less confidence in our Constitution. At the time, some saw potential impropriety in the pardon, but in hindsight, it was very appropriate. Kennedy commented:

    At a time of national turmoil, America was fortunate that it was Gerald Ford who took the helm of the storm-tossed ship of state. Unlike many of us at the time, President Ford recognized that the nation had to move forward, and could not do so if there was a continuing effort to prosecute former President Nixon. So President Ford made a courageous decision, one that historians now say cost him his office, and he pardoned Richard Nixon.

    I was one of those who spoke out against his action then. But time has a way of clarifying past events, and now we see that President Ford was right. His courage and dedication to our country made it possible for us to begin the process of healing and put the tragedy of Watergate behind us. He eminently deserves this award, and we are proud of his achievement.

    Both Ford and Kennedy are now dead, but Kennedy earned respect by finally acknowledging the greatness of Ford's action.

    Harry Reid Honors a Noble Leader

    Nevada Senator Harry Reid has had more than his share of trouble. Criticized for shaping a federal road project in way which enhanced his personal real estate investments, discovered as having improperly used campaign funds, exposed as engaging in cronyism while assisting the development of golf resort, receiving tainted contributions from Indian tribes related to casino business and Jack Abramoff, shocking the African-American community by evaluating President Obama as being fit for office because he is a "light-skinned" Black who speaks with "no Negro dialect", and finally saying "I don't know how anyone of Hispanic heritage could be a Republican" - Reid has gotten himself into trouble over and over again.

    The last two instances are worth closer examination - Reid's analysis of Obama is startling because of its blatant racism: by any reasonable standards, it is a transgression to evaluate a President of the United States by his skin color. Reid's comment about Hispanic voters and their party affiliations reveals a thickheadedness almost beyond comprehension: Reid is the Senate Majority Leader, and to either not know, or not care, that some of his fellow Senators are Hispanic Republicans, is moronic beyond calculation.

    To Reid's credit, however, he does some things well. On January 8, 2007, he spoke words which attracted unanimous concurrence. On the floor of the Senate, he said, concerning President Gerald Ford, that

    as a Member of Congress, he was outstanding. He was praised by people who served with him. He served for about 25 years in the Congress and became the Republican leader. He, of course, was Commander in Chief as President of the United States.
    Reid noted that it was Ford's character which earned such praise:
    Gerald Ford was, above all, a man of integrity, a man of honesty, and, ultimately, a role model for all of us who serve in Government.
    President Ford was a role model because history has proven the salutary effects of his actions:
    time and time again, he proved himself the right man at the right time, healing the Nation after the scars of Watergate and moving our country forward.
    Harry Reid saw in Gerald Ford's personal life the same noble character which the nation saw in Ford's presidency:
    World War II veteran, star athlete, even an Eagle Scout - Gerald Ford was the core of what America is all about, a shining example of what we hold best in America. He took office at a dark time in our country's history and shepherded this Nation through the trials of Vietnam and Watergate, with a bipartisan spirit of reconciliation and grace, a shining example to us all. He reminded a wounded Nation of the honesty and decency of its leaders.
    Reid concluded by noting that whatever amount of honor is left in this nation, it is here due in part to President Ford:
    This Government, this Nation, this world are better from Gerald Ford's life and service to our country.
    History may well see to it that Reid's words about Ford outlast the memory of Reid's scandal and missteps.

    Even Criminals Recognize Honor

    History provides us ironic examples of scoundrels who acknowledge the greatness which they not only lack, but even oppose. Nixon campaigning for Eisenhower, the corrupt Cicero praising the virtues of Roman Republican gravitas and humility, or President Bill Clinton appreciating both Mother Theresa and Pope John Paul II. Noble character can be recognized even by those without it.

    Such was the case when Rahm Emanuel rose to speak in the House of Representatives in January 2007. Emanuel is widely-known for questionable and unethical behavior. But 'questionable' and 'unethical' are not words with great precision and clarity, and are subject interpretation. More clearly, Rahm Emanuel is a criminal: someone who violates laws. Beyond the actual text of legislation and statute, Emanuel also violated the written ethical guidelines of the various positions he has held in the legislative and executive branches of the federal government.

    But even a miscreant like Rahm Emanuel can recognize both goodness and greatness, perhaps all the more, given the contrast of these qualities to his own nature. He spoke to honor President Ford:

    I am honored to rise with my colleagues today in support of House Resolution 15, honoring the late Honorable Gerald Rudolph Ford, the 38th President of the United States.

    Here in this Chamber, President Ford served dutifully for 24 years, representing the people of the Fifth District of Michigan from 1949 until his ascension to the Oval Office. As a Congressman, Gerald Ford's warmth, approachability, and affability made him one of the most highly regarded Members of his day.

    It was these qualities which would shape Gerald Ford into an excellent House floor leader for his party, a position he held for 8 years until his appointment as the 40th Vice President. During his tenure as minority leader, Gerald Ford set a standard of fairness, diplomacy, and cooperation to which all of us can aspire.

    As both Vice President and President, Gerald Ford was called to serve in positions of great responsibility during a troubled time in our Nation's history. Ford accepted his powers and responsibilities with the same steadfast composure and patience for which he had became known as a Congressman.

    As a man known for his ability to create consensus, compromise, and conciliation, he was well suited to take the helm of America and navigate the turbulent storm it faced. President Ford's gentle nature helped soothe the deep scars America faced after an arduous period of strife at home and abroad.

    Emanuel's speech about President Ford was accurate and fitting. It is a lesson that even a villain like Rahm Emanuel can rise to the occasion to honor nobility. He concluded his speech:
    Gerald Ford served our country with a patient hand, an understanding mind, and a reassuring voice. His time in Congress and in the White House leave behind a legacy of commitment, passion, and comity that we will all remember.
    History may yet smile more kindly upon Rahm Emanuel. A rogue who humbles himself to honor greatness cannot be dismissed as pure evil.

    What Pelosi Said About Ford

    History is constantly evaluating the individuals of the past; news media and ordinary conversation are constantly evaluating the individuals of the present. The difference is that history can sometime - but not always - make these evaluations in calmer tone.

    Current events have cast House Speaker Nancy Pelosi in dim light: removed from her position as Speaker of the House by the voters, her party and her ideologies are rejected by the majority of educated voters, even if her partisans retain a significant degree of damaging control over the American economy.

    But history may judge Pelosi in a kinder light. Historians, more than contemporary analysts, are capable of acknowledging that Pelosi may have had benign intentions and an honest desire to help the country, whatever the devastating effects of her incompetence. Further, historians are more careful in their analysis of text than are news media, and more able to appreciate the products of Pelosi's speechwriters. In her speech praising "the character, courage, and civility of a former Member of this House, President Ford," Pelosi gave a serious appraisal to Ford's achievements:

    He healed the country when it needed healing. This is another time, another war, and another trial of American will, imagination, and spirit. Let us honor his memory.
    Historians will readily agree with Pelosi's estimation of Ford. In perceiving Ford's pivotal role in U.S. history, Pelosi earns agreement. She continued:
    I have great respect for the fair and reliable leadership that President Ford displayed throughout his service in the House. He was effective and respected on both sides of the aisle. He recognized that however much we may disagree on political questions, we serve the people of the Nation, the great institution, the House of Representatives.
    Pelosi pointed out that the characteristics which made Ford honorable in the Congress also made him honorable in the White House. Indeed, although the word 'honor' is used frequently, a serious meditation on honor is rare, but is likely to include Gerald Ford:
    He assumed office during one of the greatest times of challenge for our Nation and provided the American people with the steady leadership and optimism that was his signature.
    Almost fifty years after he left office, "President Ford's character, courage, and civility" are still foundational to whatever amount of decency is left in this country.

    Friday, January 6, 2012

    The Violent 1960's

    A variety of radical groups dominated the attention of the nation in the 1960's - the Weathermen, the Black Panthers, the SDS, and the ADA, among others. But the situation on the campuses of America's colleges and universities was more complex: a majority of students simply wanted to get their educations and move on; another segment of the student body was interested in socially liberal politics, but not interested in bombing and violence like the radical groups; a third group was conservative, and refused to be intimidated by the radicals, instead creating the student-fueled political career of Barry Goldwater; and finally, the fourth group was indeed a violent and radical fringe.

    There were many famous leaders of campus terrorism: Jane Fonda, Tom Hayden, Malcolm X, Stokely Carmichael, and dozens of others who advocated rioting and murdering as a legitimate path to political power. Although they mentioned equality, their goal was not civil rights, but rather killing and terrorizing. They did not like Martin Luther King, because he advocated non-violence, and worked for truly civil rights and social harmony.

    In 1969, a group of leaders from Washington wanted to learn more about the violence on America's campuses; they toured several universities. Dick Cheney recalls what happened when they arrived in Madison, Wisconsin:

    On the night the congressmen arrived, Students for a Democratic Society was holding a campus rally with a the controversial Black Panther firebrand Fred Hampton as the guest speaker.
    Hampton had been connected with thefts and the murders of policemen. The congressmen attended the rally, and although some of the students there at first threatened to attack them,
    Everyone was too busy shouting support for the increasingly inflammatory rhetoric of the speakers leading up to the guest of honor.
    Oblivious to the congressmen because of their violent frenzy, the radicals were rewarded by the main speaker:
    Hampton turned out to be a skillful orator and a very charismatic individual. He distanced himself from the students who wanted a black studies department, declaring that revolution had to be the goal - and violence the means. He worked the crowd into a frenzy by shouting about how satisfying it was to "kill pigs" and how much more satisfying it was to kill a lot of them.
    Rejecting the peaceful ways of the true civil rights movement, Hampton was an example of those whose goal was violence and murder - for any reason or for no reason. Although they were a very small percentage of the total population, they attracted much media attention, and their existence explains why the the 1960's weren't merely about "peace and love and flower power"!