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A July 4th Slap in the Face

Like most, I felt a passion for our great country on the morning of July 4th. This feeling was heightened because of the many affronts our country has endured recently–both from without and within. I found myself searching for reinforcement in the editorial section of the Austin American Statesman. I imagined that if I could find it there, I could find it almost anywhere. My eye went to an essay entitled "Preserving Our Democracy" by Gary Chapman, director of The 21st Century Project at the LBJ School, University of Texas. It showed promise.

Chapman wrote about the obvious threats to our society, including terrorism and the epidemic of immorality in business. He quoted James Madison - "The essence of Government is power; and power, lodged as it must be in human hands, will ever be liable to abuse." And because of this, said Madison, "The advice nearest to my heart and deepest in my convictions is, that the Union of the States be cherished and perpetuated." I thought this was good stuff - worth rereading, this time more carefully. That turned out to be my undoing.

As I read through the editorial again, I realized my eyes had skipped over several words that changed the whole tone of the essay. Chapman wrote, "The discouraging but unsurprising news that the dishonesty and deceit at Enron can be found at many other companies in the United States, combined with the almost daily revelations about how greed has corrupted elite leaders, leads to the unavoidable conclusion that there is something deeply rotten in our system."

Wham! I felt that slap across my face. What kind of cheap shot was this about America's free enterprise system?

Chapman went on to say, "Modern culture and politics favors the wealthy at the expense of the majority." But, why did he blame the system for the criminal behavior of individuals? What became of simple logic and truth? His invalid syllogism went something like this:

People make up the system.

Some people are rotten.

Therefore, the system is rotten.

Putting logic aside, perhaps Chapman was influenced by the prose in Shakespeare's Hamlet: "Something is rotten in Denmark". Or, maybe he was guided by the old wife’s tale that one rotten apple spoils the entire barrel, which is organically true. Regardless, when the apple turns bad it is removed. The same holds true for society. Therefore, blame deficient protoplasm, secular deviants or plain stupidity-but not our free enterprise system supported by our constitution and heritage.

Anyway, in defense of logic and truth, I e-mailed him the following:

Dear Mr. Chapman,

I liked your 4th of July editorial until I hit the center paragraph that begins "On the other hand." Here you show your true colors - and they are not red, white and blue. Many like you find it convenient to blame our free enterprise system for the improper acts of individuals. This is faulty logic and a cheap political shot, especially on the 4th of July. Our system rewards excellence and hard work. You shouldn't want it any other way. When hubris and greed lead to unlawfulness, the system is designed to deal with the bad guys. You were right about immorality in all walks of life reaching epidemic proportions. To identify the true blame would take volumes, beginning with the Boomer's 1960s attack on social institutions, the erosion of the traditional family and the failure of our public schools and colleges. Our free enterprise system is not perfect and never will be. Nevertheless, I believe it's the greatest system going. History demonstrates this. I fear your political bias and perverse logic burden your UT students.

Chapman answered my complaint immediately with his e-mail rejoinder:

Dear Mr. Harrell,

"Thank you for taking the time to write me. We obviously disagree on issues of what constitutes patriotism or being truly "red, white and blue". Conservatives like you believe that criticizing a system stacked to reward the privileged is incompatible with patriotism; progressives like me believe that the only true patriotism is the kind that attacks such concentrations of wealth and power. You have George W. Bush; we have a long list of American heroes: Martin Luther King, Jr., Barbara Jordan, Cesar Chavez, and even some Republicans, like Theodore Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln. You suggest that celebrating a system that is routinely manipulated by the wealthy and powerful for their own advantage is being a true American. I would argue the opposite. I can't understand why there hasn't been a political backlash against the wealthy in the U.S. In any case, our ability to hold very different points of view and still live peaceably in the same country is what is worth celebrating in the United States. People died for that, not for your opinion or my opinion to win out over all others."

I let the matter drop. Utopians are visceral by nature and not especially analytical. No amount of e-mails would have impressed Chapman. He identified me as a conservative because I questioned his logic and patriotism. This was the same paradigm shift that Dan Rather used when O'Reilly asked if he agreed that the New York Times was a liberal newspaper. Rather answered "No, it's middle-of-the-road." The liberal elite think of themselves as being centrist. Two recent books, "Bias" by Bernard Goldberg and "Slander" by Ann Coulter, expand on this observation.

Yes, people died for Chapman's right to denounce our system. However a person in his position should have more respect for simple truths and logic.

Unlike Chapman, his list of heroes supported our system, for the most part. Their profound contributions were in championing those that were subjected to economic exploitation and inequalities. This is the American way. Most Americans see through the ad hominem attempts to foment class hatred; on the contrary, they admire success, and the wealth that often comes along with it. This helps motivate entrepreneurs that begin with little more than a dream. Their collective efforts remain the main growth engine of our system.

Most understand that the wealthy, not the politicians or academics, have provided the means to sustain the many entitlements that utopians take for granted. The top 32.0 million taxpayers, about 25% of the population, provided 83% of all income taxes collected. The wealthiest or the top 1.0% contributed a whopping 29%. Progressives like Chapman keep insisting on still higher tax rates for the wealthy. Utopians should have enough sense not to kill the Golden Goose. Chapman is correct, however, to demand serious punishment of corporate criminals. He may not realize that in doing so he is actually supporting our wondrous but besieged free enterprise system. Clear thinking is often encumbered by "progressive" teachings inside the cloister.
Copyright © 2003, Robert D. Harrell, all rights reserved

To contact Robert Harrell, Email Robert at harrell@zeecon.com
Horseshoe Bay, TX
June, 2003

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Robert Harrell was born in the early 1930's. An avid sailor and golfer, he lives in Horseshoe Bay, Texas.

Robert Harrell