Recently I ran across two quotations that, at first glance, didn’t appear to be connected in any way. The first, from John F. Kennedy, was:
The written Chinese symbol for “crisis” is the combination of two other symbols: “danger” and “opportunity”.
The second was something said by Thomas Edison:
Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work.
As we look around at the political, economic, social, foreign relations and military conditions in Washington and elsewhere today, most rational people agree that this period in our history is a time of crisis. And nearly everyone also agrees that we have to do something, perhaps something drastic. In other words, we have to find our opportunity.
During the 1960’s it was very fashionable for colleges to stage “teach-ins”. You have to be of a certain age to have actually experienced a teach-in, but most of us have at least read about them. These teach-ins fed the Liberal/Progressive/Democrat fantasies of diplomacy being able to defeat armed conflict so that no military was needed, that enormous reductions in fossil fuel usage were not only possible, but necessary (even before the Arab oil embargo) and in general the supremacy of a statist approach to governance over one of personal responsibility and self-reliance.
As ridiculous as these ideas were (and still are) the idea of a teach-in may have come again, if for no other purpose than to annoy the L/P/Ds who remember the originals. These “retro” teach-ins would obviously not be pushing the original agenda, but one that teaches the importance of America’s founding principles, the necessity and benefits of a limited government based on specifically enumerated powers, and the importance of two of Benjamin Franklin’s many succinct phrases. The first being:
Those willing to sacrifice their freedom for security will soon find that they have neither freedom nor security.
And the second would be what he told a woman as he left the Constitutional convention who had asked him what sort of government had the convention decided upon. Franklin responded:
A republic, madam, if you can keep it.
For myself, I am unwilling to give up neither my freedom nor my republic. But one person alone is insufficient to the task.
The Tea Parties would be an ideal group to set up a structure for conservative / constitutionalist teach-ins to spread this message in a way that doesn’t involve marches, demonstrations or bull horns, but rather through actually teaching someone something. At the very least it would be a novel experience for those who were pushed through our public school system without ever having encountered actual teaching. As I envision it, this would truly be an effort to teach, in small groups, as many as possible why the constitution is critical to their freedom, how liberals actually lie on a continuous basis claiming that they will give voters something for nothing, and that their primary goal is control over everyone and everything they can see. Expose people to the idea that a much smaller government will be able to only concentrate on the basic issues that impact all of us, and not delve into the design of taxi cabs (as Eric Holder’s DOJ is currently doing in NYC).
It was with that thought that the two quotations suddenly linked for me. There are forces within our country that pose existential dangers to our republic. But each of these dangers represents a great opportunity. The problem for many of us is that the opportunities look like a lot of work.
Naturally it’s a huge effort when you look at it nationally, but if implemented through the local Tea Parties, each individual “class” could be a manageable size. There wouldn’t be any massive demonstrations like those that marked the original teach-ins. That would only allow the effort to be demonized by progressives and distorted by the MSM. The goal would truly be classes with a purpose of making clear the dangers that can come from a government that rules by whim and ignores Constitutional restrictions. Perhaps Hillsdale college could be encouraged to join in with their on-line classes on the Constitution.
There are at least 14 million Americans who are unemployed or under-employed. I suppose their jobs weren’t “saved” nor were any new ones created with the infamous stimulus money. That’s 14 million potential (and potentially angry) foot soldiers who could be persuaded to join in this project. First as students, and then as teachers. But these folks need to put on their overalls.
Too many of the unemployed and under-employed blame the wrong people and the wrong institutions for their plight. For example, there seems to be little blame attached to Congress for the so-called housing bubble, yet the Community Reinvestment Act is the root cause of many of the problems that we are dealing with today. Congressional demands that private sector banks use funds provided by the private sector and risk large amounts of capital to fund home ownership for people that would not normally qualify for a private sector mortgage was doing what Liberal / Progressive / Democrats do best – use someone else’s money to buy votes. It might be helpful to cover basic concepts su ch as explaining that if you want to have a house of your own, you need to pull on your overalls and not expect some governmental entity to buy it for you.
Seriously, how tough would it be to explain that the CRA is the proximate cause of a lot of our economic problems? The final exam would only need two questions that would hammer the idea home. Just ask the students, “If it was YOUR money, would you loan it out to people who might not pay you back? Or would you loan it out only if Congress threatened you with serious penalties if you didn’t?”
How difficult would it be to teach people that the old joke “How can you tell when a politician is lying? Their lips are moving!” is much more than just a cynical punch line? Obamacare would be a fantastic example of this. Not one member of Congress apparently read the bill before voting for it. Most if not all members of Congress still do not understand what’s in it, but they all claim (using talking points provided by Democratic Party apparatchiks) that they really gave us something wonderful. They’re just not quite sure exactly what.
How hard would it be to show that the more complex the regulations on business, the fewer people bother to start a business? How difficult is it to explain that if no new businesses are started, then no new jobs are created, and if no new jobs are created then no people are hired? Actually, teaching that could be discouraging. As almost any instructor of economics will tell you, keeping the class awake is often their biggest challenge.
How tough would it be to show that the Constitution of the United States is not a letter to Santa Claus, but a piece of paper that was written to protect their freedoms by explicitly preventing the government from trying to take them away? People must be exposed to the idea that the Constitution provides their opportunity for a better life, a life that they have to work for, surely, but theirs, not the deranged dream of some Harvard-trained, self-proclaimed Liberal / Progressive / Democrat elitist?
Would setting up teach-ins be a walk in the park? Of course not. Universities, even local community colleges would hardly be enthusiastic about being associated with such an effort. After all, these 21st century teach-ins would be an effort to communicate ideas about freedom, personal responsibility and personal independence which is the only source of real hope for Americans. Sadly, those concepts are totally anathema to the teacher’s lounge lizards that lurk in many colleges and universities.
So the local organizers would inevitably have to find other venues. Many communities have meeting rooms and so on that are made available to the public. Some churches and synagogues might offer their own meeting rooms, or space might be available for use in the local VFW hall, or American Legion, Knights of Columbus and so on. As a last resort tents could even be rented like a revival meeting. Not even close to a walk in the park, true, but not nearly as difficult as a walk on the moon.
No, it wouldn’t be easy. Very few worthwhile things are. It would take creativity in finding venues. It would take effort to raise funds to pay for teaching materials. Teaching materials would probably not be a free copy of Hayek’s The Road to Serfdom for every student, but even just providing a photocopied list of suggested additional reading will still cost something. In addition to suggestions about which books would help them educate themselves, the teach-in staff could provide a list of links to sites such as Pajamas Media, American Thinker, the Cato Institute, the Heritage Foundation and others.
Would finding speakers who are not only knowledgeable, but skilled enough to communicate these truths which are (to use Jefferson’s words) “self-evident”, be a simple task? Not a chance. After all, based on recent standardized test results, it seems that it is hard enough finding teachers competent to teach middle school math classes. Keep in mind that the “smartest” president ever (so we have been told) used to teach the Constitution, and based on Mr. Obama’s performance so far in terms of actually following that document, I think his students were probably short-changed.
It would take effort (a lot of effort to be truthful) to get potential students to show up. But outreach to local organizations, churches, synagogues, the Chamber of Commerce, the Elks, Moose, and other fraternal organizations such as the VFW, for example, might be fruitful, but in all honesty, the leadership of any of these groups might also be resistant to the idea depending on their personal political orientation or because they fear adverse comments from the main stream media. But remember how the Tea Parties themselves started.
A friend whose opinions I respect told me that the Tea Parties were spontaneous. I had to disagree with him. The Tea Parties were not exactly spontaneous. Rick Santelli’s rant on CNBC was simply the trigger that caused an effect similar to dropping a grain of salt into a supersaturated solution. All the feelings of the people who make up the Tea Parties, and a lot of others were given a focus because of his rant. The feeling of frustration, the feeling that things were headed off a cliff, that we had lost our country to people we didn’t trust had built up to a point that it created that supersaturated effect. Then Santelli’s rant gave ordinary people a point of focus, a rallying point, and that was the original impetus of the Tea Parties, and why they grew so rapidly, and effectively.
That energy is still here in the country, but it needs a new rallying point, and this teach-in project might be part of re-energizing not just the Tea Party folks, but a lot more who have added themselves to the rolls of the disenchanted and are building up internal pressure to do something — they just need a focus.
We, as a people, see the dangers facing us. These dangers leer at us every day, in living color. But we also have opportunities to reduce those dangers. Perhaps we even have a few opportunities to nullify some of those dangers completely and permanently. But it will require work. A lot of work.
The most important question for each of us will ultimately be “Are you willing to pull on your overalls?” We have an opportunity now, but it won’t be without work.
A conversation where only one person is speaking is not an exchange of ideas, it’s merely a lecture…or worse, it is just a sermon.
Please feel free to use the comments section or even rate this particular blog entry. I can’t improve without honest critiques, and only the reader can note where I might have gone wrong, or where I should have expanded the ideas.
Thanks for reading and I hope you’ll join the conversation.