Paul Kengor is professor of political science and executive director of the Center for Vision & Values at Grove City College. These articles are republished from V & V, a web site of the Center for Vision & Values. Paul Kengor is author of God and Ronald Reagan: A Spiritual Life (2004) and The Crusader: Ronald Reagan and the Fall of Communism (2007). His latest book is The Judge: William P. Clark, Ronald Reagan's Top Hand (Ignatius Press, 2007).
Editor's note: A longer version of this article appears in American Thinker.
Each time President Obama addresses America's inalienable rights, I get emails. "Did you see Obama left out 'Creator' again?" began the latest.
The most recent occasion was a June 17 presidential statement responding to a U.N. resolution on sexual orientation. Obama stated that "LGBT persons are endowed with the same inalienable rights - and entitled to the same protections - as all human beings."
I can imagine why Obama and his speechwriters excluded the Creator in this particular statement. To say that "LGBT persons," meaning lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender Americans, have inalienable rights is one thing. After all, in the Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson affirmed that "all" human beings are endowed with "certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness."
I take the Founders at their word. "All" means "all." And this, wrote Jefferson, with the hearty approval of John Adams, Ben Franklin, and the entirety of the Continental Congress, is a "self-evident" truth.
No one should argue that "LGBT persons" don't have inalienable rights.
And who endows those rights? The Creator does.
President Obama and his speechwriters and staff surely knew that to bring the Creator into this statement on sexual orientation would generate a firestorm over origins - from the origins of man and marriage to the origins of sexual orientation, from the ancient words of Genesis to the modern text of the Defense of Marriage Act.
That said, this is far from the first time President Obama has been selective with inalienable rights and, more tellingly, with their preeminent author. As CNS News reported, this was the third time this year alone that Obama used the language of "inalienable rights" but omitted the "Creator."
In fact, this tendency by Obama began literally at the very start of his presidency. In quoting what seemed to be an amalgam of the American Declaration of Independence and the French Declaration of the Rights of Man, our new president excluded "life" among the inalienables, as well as the "Creator" that endows that right to life. It was quite a statement for his first presidential statement.
What to make of all of this? It's hard to say, but it's surely no accident.
Presidents have speechwriters. They write speeches with carefully crafted words that the president wants to say. Those speeches go through an exhaustive review. Exclusions like "Creator" and "life" from America's sacred inalienable rights (or "unalienable") don't happen causally - or shouldn't.
In truth, one cannot separate our Declaration's inalienable rights from their Creator. The Founders understood this, knowing that Americans must realize that these inherent rights come not from man or government but God.
Is President Obama's repeated failure to overtly link the two an attempt to separate them in a deeper sense? Or is he simply assuming they're intertwined, with no need to openly acknowledge God as the source? I don't think we can assume the latter, especially given Obama's consistent omission of the source, but - to be fair - I can't say for certain.
Nonetheless, something is going on here. And this much I can say:
President Obama and his administration pride themselves as modern progressives. The progressive project, for 100 years and counting, has been about reshaping and redefining the very essence of American thinking. The Constitution itself has been the obvious target. Progressives eagerly reinterpret the Constitution, declaring it a "living document" subject to their unceasing, always-evolving "changes" and "reform."
So, given their liberties with the Constitution, why wouldn't progressives do the same with the Declaration of Independence?
With Obama's statements, are we witnessing larger symptoms of a progressive push to reshape and redefine the Declaration's inalienable rights and, more fundamentally, their very source? Are we observing an attempt to remake these rights in the progressives' own image, with the Creator out of the process?
Progressivism is moral relativism at the political level. Truth is never constant, with no fixed starting point, whether (theologically) in Sacred Scripture or (politically) in sacred political documents like the Constitution and Declaration. Truth is determined not by an absolute authority but by individuals - or, here, progressive individuals en masse - who are always marching and ever-advancing toward evolving truths revealed somewhere down the road. There is no goalpost set in concrete. Progressives themselves cannot tell you their ultimate endgame because they are constantly progressing.
Is this an exasperating ideology? You bet it is.
What does this mean as America again prepares to mark the Declaration of Independence? Does it mean our "inalienables" - or, more so, their fountainhead - are not so self-evident, or at least subject to reinterpretation?
To citizens of a "progressive" mind, yes, I'm afraid so. Is our president among them? I fear so.
And I'm even more afraid that few Americans know or care.
Chesterton's Stars & Stripes
Among those doing excellent work on G. K. Chesterton is Joseph Pearce, the brilliant Brit who is a scholar at Ave Maria University in Naples, Florida. Pearce, like Dale Ahlquist, is unearthing all sorts of gems from Chesterton's writings.
Pearce recently came to Grove City College in Western Pennsylvania, where he offered an intriguing European perspective on American exceptionalism. Among the Europeans that Pearce was sure to include was Chesterton - and what he said is fascinating. In my view, it's as poignant as the richest lines on America from Frenchman Alexis de Tocqueville.
Pearce notes how when it came to America, Britain, the West, and Christianity, Chesterton, as usual, was ahead of his time. He foresaw a faith in rapid decline in Western Europe, and felt it might be left to America to pick up the torch for Christendom. Hilaire Belloc, a friend of Chesterton, famously remarked that Europe is the faith and the faith is Europe. That was true then, but not today.
As a stunning symbol of Chesterton's thinking, Pearce highlights what he dubs Chesterton's "salute to the American flag," a salute signifying Chesterton's hope that America might become a beacon of Christianity worldwide. Lamenting that "the English have often forgotten the cross on their flag," Chesterton hoped that "the crossless flag" of the United States "may yet become a symbol of something; by whose stars we are illumined, and by whose stripes we are healed." (G. K. Chesterton, Collected Works, Vol. XXI, Ignatius Press, 1990, p. 591.)
Wow. Think about that line: "by whose stars we are illumined, and by whose stripes we are healed." Have you ever thought about your flag that way - so Christ-like? G. K. Chesterton did. It's a stirring interpretation of America and its mission.
America and Europe have gone in opposite directions faith-wise. Despite our serious problems - the Death Culture chief among them - the vast majority of Americans remain believers, and Christians, and we provide more missionaries than any country; including to Europe.
As we again mark the birth of America's Founding, may those stars still illumine, and may those stripes still heal.
This Fourth of July: ?Confirm Thy Soul in Self-Control?
I encourage you to set aside the burgers, dogs, soda, and beer for a moment this Fourth of July and contemplate something decidedly different, maybe even as you gaze upward at the flash of fireworks. Here it is: Confirm thy soul in self-control.
What do I mean by that? Let me explain.
The Founders of this remarkable republic often thought and wrote about the practice of virtue generally and self-control specifically, two things long lost in this modern American culture of self. Thomas Jefferson couldn't avoid a reference to one of the cardinal virtues - prudence - in our nation's Founding document, the Declaration of Independence, which, incidentally, ought to be a must-read for every American every Fourth of July (it's only 1,800 words). Our first president and ultimate Founding Father, George Washington, knew the necessity of governing one's self before a nation's people were capable of self-governance. As Washington stated in his classic Farewell Address, "'Tis substantially true, that virtue or morality is a necessary spring of popular government."
A forgotten philosopher who had an important influence on the American Founders was the Frenchman, Charles Montesquieu, whose work included the seminal book, The Spirit of the Laws (1748). Montesquieu considered various forms of government. In a tyrannical system, people are prompted not by freedom of choice or any expression of public virtue but, instead, by the sheer coercive power of the state, whether by decree of an individual despot or an unaccountable rogue regime. That's no way for human beings to live. There's life under such a system, yes, but not much liberty or pursuit of happiness; even life itself is threatened.
Montesquieu concluded that the best form of government is a self-governing one, and yet it is also the most difficult to maintain because it demands a virtuous populace. As noted by John Howard - the outstanding senior fellow at the Howard Center for Family, Religion, and Society - Montesquieu noted that each citizen in a self-governing state must voluntarily abide by certain essential standards of conduct: lawfulness, truthfulness, honesty, fairness, respect for the rights and well-being of others, obligation to one's spouse and children, to name a few.
"Each new generation must be trained to be responsible citizens . . . to be virtuous and conscientious," writes Howard in The St. Croix Review.
Once the free society is well-established, the daily life of the family and the society is such that becoming virtuous is not a monstrous chore for the young people.
Sadly, becoming virtuous has indeed become a monstrous chore in a society not only lacking virtue but eschewing virtue - fleeing virtue like a vampire fleeing a cross. Living life in a good way - what Benedict Groeschel calls The Virtue Driven Life - becomes so alien that the people prefer darkness over light. When virtues are not taught - whether at home, at school, or by America's educator-in-chief, the TV set - they become unknown and ignored, unfulfilled, desiccated and dead upon the national landscape.
And perhaps saddest of all, as John Howard notes, virtue is something that can be acquired, like learning to speak a culture's language. Once inculcated, however, it needs to be continuously reinforced by the cultural elements of the society. Virtue needs to be nourished, like fruitful plants need water and sunlight. Says Howard emphatically: "I want to repeat. . . . Virtue must be continuously reinforced by the culture."
We Americans might not think about this much, but we actually sing it fairly often, even if the words don't sink in. Consider this line from one of our sacred political hymns, America, the Beautiful:
God mend thine ev'ry flaw,
Confirm thy soul in self-control,
Thy liberty in law.
That's the ticket: Confirm thy soul in self-control. Our liberty is enshrined in our laws, but liberty should not be license for opportunities for the flesh. Our liberties, protected and permitted as they are, should not be exploited to do anything and everything we want, including things harmful to oneself, to one's family, to one's neighbors, to one's culture, to one's country. That misunderstanding and abuse of freedom is what Pope Benedict XVI calls a "confused ideology of freedom," one that can engender "the self-destruction of freedom" for others.
In truth, a genuine freedom requires responsibility. As the song says - and as Washington and Montesquieu intimated - we must successfully govern ourselves in order to successfully govern our nation.
It's a timeless concept worth remembering this Fourth of July and every day going forward.
Obama vs. the Bushs: Comparing Costs and Coalitions from Libya to Iraq
The Libya situation is complicated. I envy no president stuck with the task. Among the complexities, the most daunting unknown is what's behind the opposition. We would all like to see Moammar Gaddafi tossed to the ash-heap of history, but the rub is who, or what, would replace him. What a tragedy it would be if America intervened only to see Gaddafi replaced by an Ayatollah.
President Obama has a tough situation in Libya. I was more certain about what to do with Saddam, in 1990-91 and 2003, under two presidents named Bush, than Libya now.
That said, it's disappointing to see liberals rally behind Obama in Libya in a way they refused under the Bushs in Iraq. I won't go through all the maddening double standards, but there are two that really struck me after President Obama's speech on Libya, and seem to mount by the minute, namely: coalition size and cost.
President Obama stressed that America has not "acted alone" in Libya, and is joined by a "broad coalition," a "strong and growing coalition." He named 11 countries: the United Kingdom, France, Canada, Denmark, Norway, Italy, Spain, Greece, Turkey, Qatar, and the United Arab Emirates.
Obama used the word "cost" several times. He assured us that "real leadership" meant working "with allies and partners so that they bear their share of the burden and pay their share of the costs." He gave no numbers.
Now, these were two areas - coalition and cost - where the American Left vilified both Bushs, especially George W. Bush, literally accusing him of acting "unilaterally" in Iraq in 2003. The accusations were outrageously, irresponsibly absurd. And yet, when comparing Obama to the Bushs, Obama falls way short.
For the first Gulf War, George H. W. Bush assembled a multinational coalition that (depending on varying sources), ranged from 27 to 34 nations, with as high as one-third of troops stationed in the Persian Gulf by December 18, 1990 provided by U.S. allies. Also contributing were 11 Middle East Muslim nations - they alone equaled the total of President Obama's current coalition partners - and even members of the still-existing Soviet Warsaw Pact.
The vast majority of the costs were provided by U.S. allies, especially Kuwait, Japan, and Germany. A March 2003 Associated Press analysis determined that the Gulf War initially cost the United States $61 billion, with all but $7 billion reimbursed by allies with cash or other contributions like fuel.
For the record, other accounts have been more generous, claiming Uncle Sam was reimbursed entirely.
As for the Iraq War in 2003, that, no doubt, was far more costly. The Bush team had a handle on initial costs; costs rose not with the initial invasion, which went far better than planned, but with the nasty occupation and reconstruction that followed.
Yet, one aspect of the 2003 war that again far surpasses Obama's work in Libya is the coalition George W. Bush put together.
Remarkably, by March 18, 2003, Secretary of State Colin Powell announced a coalition of 30 to 45 nations. That number depended on the form of support, which ranged from a vocal 30 nations to a discreet 15 nations, the latter largely Arab. This Bush coalition was one of the biggest in history. Such a multilateral stamp of approval was precisely what critics had clamored for, and Bush delivered. It even included Afghanistan, a nation once run by the Taliban, and once Osama Bin Laden's home.
And yet, rather than commend the Bush team, Democratic Congressmen like Lloyd Doggett ridiculed the coalition. He sneered that "the posse announced today is mighty weak." It included "such military powerhouses as Eritrea and Estonia," two nations the administration considered a sign of the worldwide opposition to Saddam. The coalition, said Doggett, was "embarrassing" and signaled a "foreign policy failure."
The day after Powell announced the vast coalition, Thomas Friedman wrote in the New York Times: "We're riding into Baghdad pretty much alone and hoping to round up a posse after we get there."
The frustrated president said repeatedly that the coalition was multinational, but to critics it didn't matter.
Nonetheless, these are facts. In both cases, the Bush coalitions were far superior to President Obama's in Libya.
Frankly, that doesn't matter much to me. I supported President Reagan's unilateral run on Tripoli in April 1986. This multilateral thing isn't my standard.
But it is the standard of the American Left; or at least when the Bushs are in charge.
And as I kept reminding my liberal friends when the Bushs were in charge: be careful about the standards you're demanding to demonize the Republican president, because someday your guys will be back in charge.
Thirty Years Ago: When President Reagan Was Shot
On March 30, 1981, Ronald Reagan, president for merely 10 weeks, stepped outside the Washington Hilton. What happened next was an image millions would soon witness on their TV screens: America's 40th president raised his arm to ward off a question from a reporter and then, seconds later, bullets crackled the air.
Chaos ensued. More than one man hit the ground. The president was thrust into his limousine by a secret service agent who immediately ordered the driver to nearby George Washington University Hospital, where emergency surgery discovered a dime-shaped, razor-thin bullet centimeters from Reagan's 70-year-old heart. He nearly died.
Yet, there was one image we never saw, which Ronald Reagan privately shared several times in the days to come, always with sources he knew to be devoutly religious: his son, Michael; his new pastor at the National Presbyterian Church, Louis Evans; and, among others, some high-profile Catholics - Mother Teresa, Pope John Paul II, New York's Terence Cardinal Cooke.
The Cooke moment was particularly poignant. It was Good Friday, April 1981, and Reagan sensed a feeling of rebirth. He was certain his life had been spared for a special purpose, one that, he discerned, struck at the epicenter of the Cold War conflict: the epic battle against atheistic Communism. Marx had called religion the "opiate of the masses." Lenin called it "a necrophilia." Communists everywhere pursued what Mikhail Gorbachev described as a "wholesale war on religion."
Ronald Reagan always knew that about Communism, and didn't like it one bit. Maybe God had intervened to ensure Reagan might intervene.
So, that Good Friday, back in the saddle at the Oval Office, Reagan felt a need for something more. His aide, Mike Deaver, summoned Cardinal Cooke to the White House. "The hand of God was upon you," Cooke told Reagan. "I know," a solemn Reagan replied. "I have decided that whatever time I have left is for Him."
Two days after this encounter with a prominent Catholic, Reagan met with a prominent Presbyterian on Easter Sunday. He asked Pastor Louis Evans to serve him communion in the Yellow Room. Evans agreed, and did not speak of the moment for 25 years, until he called me one day in February 2006.
As the president gazed out the Yellow Room window toward the Jefferson Memorial, he told Evans that as he struggled for breath on that ER table, he felt that if he did not forgive his would-be assassin at that very moment, he would not be healed. He forgave John Hinckley on the spot.
Ultimately, struggling with conflicting emotions - a feeling of grand calling and the inheritance of his mother's faith-based humility - Reagan would conclude that God had chosen his "team" to defeat Soviet Communism. It was a sense of larger purpose he possessed since he was a boy sitting next to his mother in the pew at Rev. Ben Cleaver's First Christian Church in Dixon, Illinois, not to mention as he sat perched at a lifeguard stand at the Rock River in Dixon, where he assumed a duty of rescuer that never left him.
For the record, Reagan committed himself to the great moral good of taking down a genuinely Evil Empire responsible for the deaths of tens of millions, infused by an ideology that killed over 100 million worldwide in Reagan's century. It's a moving story of one convicted man vs. one pernicious ideology.
In retrospect, Reagan seemed to first publicly telegraph that private ambition in a major speech at Notre Dame University on May 17, 1981, where, among other things, he sent his best wishes to Pope John Paul II, who had been shot four days earlier, and likewise nearly died, surviving to become a vital Cold War partner to the president. "The years ahead are great ones for this country, for the cause of freedom and the spread of civilization," promised Reagan:
The West won't contain Communism, it will transcend Communism. . . . It will dismiss it as some bizarre chapter in human history whose last pages are even now being written.
Although no one else said it, certainly as audaciously, nor expected it, those last pages were at that time being written. In fact, that statement foreshadowed Reagan policy: he would not seek to contain Communism; he would undermine Communism.
For Reagan, this was a cause and a calling inseparable from a faith that carried him from February 1911 to June 2004, both outliving and transcending the atheistic ideology that Lenin and his Bolshevik minions had thrust upon the world and the 20th century. Ronald Reagan's religion was at the crux of his crusade for freedom and against a very real evil.
And for Reagan, it was a bullet fired 30 years ago, March 30, 1981, that provided sharp clarity to that sense of direction and purpose. *