Sunday, February 14, 2016

The Legacy of Antonin Scalia

By Michael Johns

When I first became engaged in national public policy and politics in the mid-1980s, the conservative movement had a saying, which I believe originated with former Heritage Foundation president Edwin Feulner: “People are policy.” In essence, the phrase represented our collective recognition that success (or lack thereof) ultimately rested with the people of our movement. Without capable and committed conservatives, little was possible. But with them, nearly anything was.
In the years since, we have lost a number of American conservatives who were more than just capable and committed. They were and are conservative icons whose work helped shape and develop American conservatism—and our Tea Party movement—as the major global political and intellectual force it is today.

Who are these icons?
  • Austrian school economist Ludwig von Mises, who provided much of the intellectual foundation of today’s free market economic thought, left us in 1973 at age 93.
  • Prominent anti-communist Whittaker Chambers, who fled the Communist Party, went on to articulate fundamental truths about communism and ultimately outed State Department employee Alger Hiss as a Soviet agent, died in 1961 at age 60.
  • Author and intellectual Russell Kirk, who helped define many of the enduring principles of conservatism, died in 1994 at age 75.
  • Ayn Rand, whose individualist fictional writings have proven hugely inspirational to our national Tea Party movement, died in 1992 at age 77.
  • William F. Buckley, Jr., who inspired many of today’s most prominent conservative intellectuals and writers, died in 2008 at age 82 (read my 2008 tribute to him here).
  • And of course (most prominent of all), our 40th president, Ronald Reagan, who proved that conservatism can win and succeed as a governing political force, died in 2004 at age 93.
This weekend, sadly, we add one more icon to that list: U.S. Supreme Court Associate Justice Antonin Scalia, whose extensive legal opinions and thinking were rooted in the conservative view that the “original intent” of the U.S. Constitution’s authors must guide modern law, has died at age 79.

Scalia deserves his place among conservative icons that have helped shape modern conservatism. Appointed to the Supreme Court by President Reagan in 1986, Scalia was a reliable conservative presence on the Court for three decades. He defended the rights of the unborn on a Court that largely did not. He opposed affirmative action as antithetical to the principles of equality under law. He defended the death penalty as legally permissible. At the core of these and many other rulings and opinions was a simple yet vastly critical concept: That the U.S. Constitution should be taken for what it says and what its authors intended—and nothing more or less.

Scalia’s written opinions on the Supreme Court rival those of liberal Thurgood Marshall as the most consequential legal opinions of modern times.  In Boumediene v. Bush in 2008, Scalia correctly dissented from the Court’s majority view that terror suspects at Guantanamo Bay were afforded legal rights of due process essentially indistinguishable from those of American citizens. The Court’s ruling, Scalia wrote in his dissent, “will almost certainly cause more Americans to be killed.”

In the critical Second Amendment case District of Columbia v. Heller also in 2008, Scalia wrote for the majority that the right of Americans to keep and bear arms was to be taken, as it is written in the Constitution, literally. “What is not debatable,” Scalia wrote, “is that it is not the role of this Court to pronounce the Second Amendment extinct.”

And most recently (and prominently), it was Scalia, in Obergefell v. Hodges last year, whose scathing dissent on this same sex marriage case argued that religious liberty was stomped on in the Court’s ruling. In his dissent, Scalia wrote: “The opinion in these cases is the furthest extension in fact—and the furthest extension one can even imagine—of the Court’s claimed power to create ‘liberties’ that the Constitution and its Amendments neglect to mention. This practice of constitutional revision by an unelected committee of nine, always accompanied (as it is today) by extravagant praise of liberty, robs the People of the most important liberty they asserted in the Declaration of Independence and won in the Revolution of 1776: the freedom to govern themselves.”

In addition to his defense of original intent on the Court, it should be remembered, Scalia never shied away from his Christian faith in a city and Court that increasingly shuns it. When one of his law clerks once refused to attend church with him, Scalia emailed the young clerk: “I shall tell the Creator of the Universe you were too busy to see him.”

As our national Tea Party movement enters its seventh year, our work, values and political positions benefit from being rooted in the thinking of some of the greatest conservative minds this nation has ever produced.

Antonin Scalia, we must remember, was one of them.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

This November, Remember the Benghazi Four

As far as cemeteries go, Fort Rosecrans National Cemetery in the Point Loma area of San Diego is likely among the most beautiful and pristine. Its bright green grass extends to the deep-water San Diego Bay on one side and the vast Pacific Ocean on the other. Over 100,000 upright, identical marble headstones lie in meticulous order, marking the final resting places of brave American veterans from the Mexican-American War of 1846-1847 through the present.

One of these graves belongs to an American hero, Tyrone S. Woods, who should still be alive. Woods, who served the United States for over two decades in the U.S. Navy Seals, the State Department’s Diplomatic Security Service and ultimately as a Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) contract agent, was killed in an attack by Islamic militants in Benghazi, Libya on the evening of September 11, 2012. Three other U.S. officials, U.S. Foreign Service officer Sean Smith, fellow CIA contract agent Glen Doherty, and U.S. Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens also were killed.

The story of Benghazi, like many of the Obama administration’s other policy failures, is tragic and angering for many reasons, but especially because it was preventable. Prior to the attacks, the Obama administration, including then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, was warned repeatedly that the Benghazi compound was highly vulnerable to such an attack and in urgent need of additional security.  The requests for additional security never came.  Then, on the evening of September 12, the Obama administration was asked repeatedly by U.S. officials in Libya for permission to intervene against the Benghazi terrorists. Like the additional security, that request also was denied. And then, following the attack, the Obama administration lied to the American people about the fact that Benghazi was undeniably a terrorist attack (coming, in fact, on the 11th anniversary of the September 11, 2001 attacks).

On January 15, encouragingly, the true story of Benghazi was unveiled in brilliant detail in the new film 13 Hours, directed by Michael Bay (who directed TransformersArmageddonPearl Harbor and other successful films).

Americans should make a point of seeing this extraordinary film—and for many reasons. On the most basic level, 13 Hours tells the story of Benghazi with granular accuracy. On a deeper level, though, it’s really the story of the heroic instincts of five Americans in Libya who compassionately and heroically sought to intervene to save their fellow Americans under siege that day and the Obama administration, which found such an effort a political inconvenience two months prior to the 2012 presidential election and refused their requests.

In the days following the attack of Islamic extremists in Benghazi, the Obama administration misled the American people repeatedly, stating that the Benghazi attack was unrelated to terrorism when they knew undeniably it was terrorism. “Two of our officers were killed in Benghazi by an al-Qaeda-like group,” then Secretary of State Clinton emailed her daughter Chelsea at 11:12pm the night of the Benghazi attack. The following day, Clinton told Egyptian Prime Minister Hesham Qandil that “the attack had nothing to do with the film. It was a planned attack, not a protest.”

These were the lies of Benghazi. But there also were lies about the War on Terror more generally, which the Obama administration sought (for political expediency) to say was being won.  It was a theme (and a lie) central to Obama’s 2012 campaign—and one the administration continues to tell to this day.

As we’ve learned painfully in the years since Benghazi, al-Qaeda, ISIS and other terrorist movements around the world have expanded significantly on the Obama administration’s watch, largely because the administration set arbitrary, self-imposed deadlines for the removal of American troops in Afghanistan and Iraq and because it failed (and still fails) to have the fortitude necessary to confront radical Islamic terrorism decisively, or even to utter its name.

In recent months, following attacks in Paris and San Bernardino and just a few weeks ago in Philadelphia, the Obama administration has continued to go to great lengths to deny the reality that these and other terrorist incidents are connected, coordinated and conducted in the name of Islam.

The story of 13 Hours tells how they did the same in Benghazi, ordering American officials to stand down in their effort to save fellow Americans under siege and then lying about Benghazi’s etiology, seeking to depict it as some spontaneous outrage against an anti-Islamic film that never happened. The American people were sold these lies by U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice, who promptly took to Sunday talk shows to say Benghazi was not an act of terrorism and ultimately by then U.S. Secretary of State and current presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, who brazenly lied to the families of these four fallen American heroes as their remains were returned to Andrews Air Force Base three days after the attack.

Politically, the Obama administration ultimately succeeded in permitting enough doubt to surround Benghazi that it became largely a non-factor in Obama’s November 6, 2012 reelection. But reality has a way of fighting back, and the reality of Benghazi is now reaching the American people with one of this year’s greatest films, communicating with impeccable accuracy the betrayal of the Benghazi four. 

Monday, January 18, 2016

Why Our Tea Party Movement Honors MLK

By Michael Johns

In the early 1980s, as my interest in politics and my now three-decade alignment with American conservatism first began, I distinctly remember one of that time’s prominent public debates: Should a federal holiday be developed and named for American civil rights icon Martin Luther King, Jr.?
Like now, issues then often became quickly contentious and polarizing.  Conservatives and liberals saw the world and nation ultimately in very different ways and each held their views with self-righteous adamancy. So it was, at least initially, with the King debate.

Newly elected conservative President Ronald Reagan initially opposed the holiday, not on the basis that King did not hold a special place in United States history but that the cost of a federal holiday in his name would prove prohibitively costly to the nation. But the real opposition, espoused by then U.S. Senator Jesse Helms and others, cut more to the definition of King as a person. In 1983, when legislation that would have authorized the holiday reached the floor of the U.S. Senate, Helms argued that King held views that he then labeled “action-oriented Marxism.”

Nonetheless, it was Reagan who, on November 2, 1983, ultimately signed a bill creating the day as a federal holiday. “Let us not only recall Dr. King, but rededicate ourselves to the Commandments he believed in and sought to live every day,” Reagan said on November 2, 1983, following his signing the bill creating the holiday.

Placed in comparative context, it’s an extraordinary recognition.

Other than King, George Washington is the only person who has a U.S. federal holiday in their honor (and even that holiday, celebrated the third Monday of February, omits his name and is instead labeled more generally as "Presidents' Day").  While we honor Christopher Columbus with a federal holiday the second Monday of every October, several states (Alaska, Hawaii, Oregon, and South Dakota) refuse to commemorate it.  There is no federal holiday for Thomas Jefferson, who authored our Declaration of Independence and helped lead our nation’s independence, nor Lewis and Clark, who spearheaded the first American expedition of the American West, or Abraham Lincoln, who preserved the nation amidst civil war and effectively abolished slavery, nor Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who guided the U.S. to victory in World War II and ushered the nation through the Great Depression, nor Reagan himself, who most have come to conclude brought an end to the multi-decade Cold War without firing a shot.

Yet, just as Reagan ultimately came to support and sign legislation supporting the King holiday, the Tea Party movement today has good reason to recognize this great man’s leadership and the holiday named in his honor for at least four significant reasons:

1.)    King’s vision was to end racial identity: While the civil rights issues of the time required King to appropriately lead the crusade for equal representation of African Americans, close scrutiny of his words and deeds  reveal his underlying objective was to ensure race would never be used to separate Americans.  Despite a modern Democrat party that bases almost its entire political strategy on selfishly dividing the American people by race, religion, gender, and sexual orientation, and a liberal political culture that still champions affirmative action on many levels, King never sought special privilege for African Americans or any race. As King famously said in his “I Have a Dream” speech at the Lincoln Memorial on August 28, 1963, “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.” Were he alive today, King almost certainly would reject the tactics and messages of Jesse Jackson, Al Sharpton, and others who wrongly represent that they are carrying on King’s message and activism.

2.)    King believed that people, even more than laws, defined our nation: While much of the civil rights debate at the time understandably centered around what were and were not federal governmental responsibilities and how to protect the civil liberties of all in rule of law, King equally believed that the character of the American people were just as influential and impactful. King was a devout Christian who was on record at the time advocating many of the traditional values the conservative and Tea Party movements support today. He supported the traditional family and vehemently opposed abortion and saw both positions as vital to the social fabric of African Americans and the nation as a whole.

3.)    King championed fiscal and personal responsibility: Just as it is seldom recognized today that King almost certainly would have been a vehement opponent of the abortion industry and culture that has developed in our nation, so too are we rarely told that King was a significant champion of personal responsibility. In the last book he authored before his death, Where Do We Go from Here: Chaos or Community, King praised hard work, thrift and self-reliance. Were he alive today, he likely would see merit in many of the same messages our Tea Party is advocating and communicating about the limits of government’s responsibilities and the self-destructive nature of its punitive policies toward industriousness and productivity.

4.)    Like the Tea Party today, King was targeted by government for peacefully challenging unjust policies: Just as the Internal Revenue Service, almost certainly at the direction of the Obama White House, has illegally monitored and targeted our Tea Party movement because it feels threatened that our common sense message may inhibit their ability to control and mislead the American people, King too was targeted for his peaceful opposition to the country’s then unjust laws. As the Obama administration fears the Tea Party movement’s peaceful organization and message, the Kennedy and Johnson administration feared King. Then Federal Bureau of Investigation Director J. Edgar Hoover famously kept King under surveillance and maintained an active FBI file on the civil rights leader. 

As we close the 30th consecutive Martin Luther King holiday today, the trepidation to embrace King among some conservatives and Tea Party members, I believe, is not rooted in any lack of recognition for the bravery and ultimate success of his constructive efforts, but that his period of U.S. history is used so frequently by American liberals to challenge our contention that our nation is both exceptional, unique, and divinely guided. But how can that be, liberals like to ask, when our government, a mere few decades ago, denied basic civil rights to both African Americans and women?

The answer is this: Unlike totalitarian nations that crush human and civil rights crusaders who threaten their power structure, or European nations that continue to inhibit individual rights and organize their societies predominantly on familial, hierarchical societal structures, our nation has been one of ongoing progress led by individual and collective crusades to improve our nation and expand liberty with each consecutive generation, to make it more just and successful and to enhance individual opportunity for all Americans. American exceptionalism lies not just in our nation's unequaled and exceptional founding on a set of extraordinary ideas and ideals, but in our continued commitment to perfecting and promulgating these principles in each subsequent generation.

The Tea Party movement most certainly carries on in this great tradition, just as King did with his civil rights leadership that we properly commemorate today.

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Sunday, January 10, 2016

13 Hours of Heroism

By Michael Johns

“By the rude bridge that arched the floor, their flag to April’s breeze unfurled. Here once the embattled farmers stood, and fired the shot heard round the world.” 

The words are from the introduction to The Concord Hymn by Ralph Waldo Emerson, and they capture the heroism that was at the heart of the American Revolutionary War launched by American patriots at Lexington and Concord, Massachusetts on April 19, 1775.The “shot heard around the world” was an act of heroism. Without it, there may never have been a United States. Without hundreds of individual and collective acts of American heroism since, our nation likely would never have persevered.

Several years ago, our national Tea Party movement began referring to themselves as “the three percent.” It referred to the fact that, among the American colonists of the 1770s, the battle for liberty was not waged by all, or even most. A mere three percent of the population participated in the Revolution, even though many more (roughly 40 to 45 percent supported it).This has largely been our nation’s experience with heroic acts since. While the nation embraces these acts in theory (especially once they prove successful), they are acts of heroism precisely because not everyone has done, or could do, them.  After they unfold, we typically look back with a largely revisionist sense that all Americans embraced these causes and selfless acts at the time.  In fact, it’s seldom the case.

Roughly fifteen months after Lexington and Concord, heroism again manifested with the signing of the U.S. Declaration of Independence. It was signed by a mere 56 Americans and written almost exclusively by one, Thomas Jefferson.  In retrospect, the 56 founders who signed the Declaration actually had every reason not to sign it.  Most lived lives of relative tranquility and luxury for the time and were not ultimately the primary beneficiaries of the liberty and independence the Revolution achieved.  Yet, they acted—as did the unknown patriot who fired the “shot heard round the world”—out of principle over practicality, and this also made them heroes who pledged their lives to a cause that they likely knew at the time could have failed miserably and (in the case of the American Revolution) was not even embraced by a solid majority of citizens.

Every generation of American history to date has had its heroes.  The iconic ones, of course, are etched in stone: Washington and his soldiers at Valley Forge in the brutal winter of 1777-78, Lincoln and his perseverance as the nation threatened to fracture, and the political and military commitment to victory over fascism and later communism by a series of American leaders and patriots.Throughout what ultimately proved to be the final days of the Cold War, I saw firsthand the depth of commitment of American-led rebellions against Soviet hegemony in Africa, Asia and Latin America that comprised the foundation of the so-called "Reagan Doctrine."

As was the case with the American Revolution itself, these efforts were both supported and opposed by many but carried out by only a few. Sadly, many of those few never lived to see the post-Cold War world they helped create.  They were killed in action, as was the case with Angola's Jonas Savimbi, or they were assassinated, as was the case with Afghanistan's Ahmad Shah Massoud and Nicaragua's Enrique Bermudez.  But had the Soviet Union not encountered the brave resistance of these leaders in places like Afghanistan, Angola and Nicaragua, former Soviet General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev likely never would have reached the conclusion that retreatment and reconciliation, not continued investment in Cold War conflict, was in his nation’s best interest.  Had that proven the case, what world might exist today?

In very recent months, of course, ths tradition of American heroism has continued.  When an Islamic terrorist from Morocco entered their train car with an AK-47 machine gun and 300 rounds of ammunition in France last summer, it was three brave Americans (Anthony Sadler, Alek Skarlatos and Spencer Stone) who jumped immediately to the passengers’ defense, likely saving the lives of many.  “Your heroism must be an example for many and a source of inspiration,” French President Francois Hollande later said of their efforts.

And this past week, in Philadelphia, police officer Jesse Hartnett, who sustained multiple gun shots from an ISIS-inspired terrorist, heroically persevered against the terrorist, even in his bloodied and bullet-ridden state.  “Shots still…shots fired. I’m shot. I’m bleeding heavily. Get us another unit out here. 6-0 and Spruce,” Hartnett can be heard saying in a chilling Philadelphia police radio call as he stumbled from his car to pursue the terrorist, who was apprehended.

This Thursday (January 14) evening, the ongoing story of American heroism continues with the national release of 13 Hours, an exceptional and historically accurate film that compellingly tells the story of six brave Americans who navigated the Obama administration’s political trepidation and intervened in defense of American personnel under attack by al-Qaeda-affiliated terrorists at the U.S. compound in Benghazi, Libya on September 11, 2012.

Release of the film is prompting broad Twitter use of the hashtag #AHeroIs, as Americans reflect on the many other acts of heroism they have witnessed in their own lives or interpreted in their assessment of America's bold history.

While four Americans, including the U.S. ambassador to Libya, were killed in the Benghazi attack, the efforts of these five American heroes over the 13-hour conflict in Benghazi likely saved the lives of many others.  

13 hours tells this compelling story of Benghazi, a continuation of the long-standing tradition of American heroism.  It's an important story, and one all Americans should make a point to see.

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