Worried about Mrs. Cheney
Scripps-Howard News Service 11.14.01
Lynne V. Cheney is something of a national icon and married to
a powerful man, our current vice president. Their combined influence
is immense, anchored in genuine admiration which I share.
To be critical of Mrs. Cheney takes exceptional circumstances,
such as her remarks to the Dallas Institute of Humanities and Culture
on October 5, delivered at a crucial time in the life of this nation.
Early in the speech she touted authors Chinua Achebe, Naguib Mahfouz,
Wole Soyinka, Octavio Paz and Jorge Luis Borges. Given the current
abyss of ignorance engulfing essential literature, advocating the
foregoing roster is a clear nod to multiculturalists. But then came
something even more troubling. While acknowledging that the U.S.
Constitution was best described as a miracle, Mrs. Cheney said:
"What we tend to do nowadays is tell about the failures of
the Constitution, and, to be sure, we should. The document did not
end slavery. It did not provide women the right to vote."
Red herrings. The Constitution has done all that. Just not on the
day it was signed.
Our generation will be remembered primarily for its inability to
maintain standards of education. For us to speak of "failure"
when referring to the legacy of the greatest single collection of
minds is unseemly. The word "failure" ought not to be
invoked in the same year, much less in the same speech, with the
One cannot speak of failure relative to other peoples. No tribe,
nation, principality, or empire came close to the record of comprehensive
success achieved by all who had sought and found protection, assurance,
opportunity under those seven articles and their amendments. In
fact, the world has seen failures everywhere else, except in America,
between 1787 and the present.
So let us look at the Constitution in absolute terms. Its immediate
purpose was to establish a country, a nation - new not only in the
sense of no previous existence, but one based on entirely new concepts.
The very idea of establishing a nation through an act of deliberation,
and based on a supreme law, was unprecedented, untested.
To blame a document for not delivering instant perfection is irrational.
Before all else, the Framers needed to form a union. Everyone's
future depended on that.
Contrary to the assumptions of the many who don't read the Constitution,
it does not deal with individual voting rights for men or women.
And, given the date, addressing women's voting rights would have
been similar to trying to design an automatic transmission before
there was an automobile. Incredibly, feminists talk as if by 1787
the entire world, except for the detestable American white male,
had instituted voting rights for women. A survey of then-prevailing
conditions is strongly recommended.
As for slavery, the best its opponents could have done under the
circumstances was precisely what they did. They successfully incorporated
the slave-holding states into a union of which the majority opposed
slavery. It was then only a matter of time before the institution
would become unsustainable everywhere.
Resisting the temptation to detail America's monumental sacrifice
for ending slavery, I challenge anyone to propose articles that,
in 1787, could have done away with slavery and still succeed in
forming a union. Even based on our present attitudes, no one, I
submit, could draft such articles. Those speaking loudest are long
on criticism and exceedingly short on assessing reality.
The first reality is that, 150 years after freeing the slaves,
complete integration still is a challenge, and only the most bigoted
can blame it solely on bigotry. The second reality is that, in time,
the people of Africa have been afforded opportunities simply not
available to them in any other land, least of all in Africa.
Fate played a cruel trick on Mrs. Cheney when she became godmother
to the destructive "National Standards for U.S. History,"
by handing America-hater Gary Nash the money, and the blessings
of the National Endowment for the Humanities she then chaired.
Mrs. Cheney has struggled to make amends ever since. Her intentions
are above reproach. But now she has permitted herself to recite
what I know first-hand to be the standard "laundry list"
used by America's detractors across this land. Instead, she - and
all of us - need to shout from the rooftops that the Constitution
of the United States, with its unique capacity to update and renew
itself, has been the source of freedom and prosperity for every
man, woman and child in America - no ifs, ands or buts.