from the Congress Action newsletter

The American Crisis

by: Kim Weissman
April 29, 2001

America's Constitutional republic, and along with it our individual liberty, is balancing precariously on the tip of the Washington monument, buffeted by political and cultural winds that threaten to smash them both to bits on the pavement below.

For four decades the ideology of the radical left has held sway in this nation, and it has become more extreme by the year. It is an ideology that provokes divisive confrontation in order to advance its goal of collectivism. It is an ideology that combines the techniques of socialist thought control with the brute force of Marxist state power. It is an ideology that daily uses fear and the creation of a crisis mentality in order to stampede thoughtless citizens into ceding more power to government. It is an ideology that uses lies and demagoguery — and occasionally on the fringe, terrorism — in order to advance its agenda of totalitarian rule.

Let no one be deluded into thinking that the election of George W. Bush to the Presidency, and the retention of the razor-thin republican margins in the Congress, has set our nation on the course to Constitutional recovery. Now is not the time for complaisance. In the words of Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, written nearly a century ago, there is today "a clear and present danger" to the survival of our Constitution and our individual liberty. The radical left has mobilized all its energy to the goal of retaking control of the government as soon as possible. Democrat congressional leaders still have the political power to play the role of obstructionism, which they are doing quite well, and they are willing to sacrifice the good of the nation in order to regain that control. They will block meaningful tax and regulatory relief without the slightest regard for the economic harm they cause to average Americans. And the radical left still has the massive societal power that comes from its dominance of the cultural institutions of the nation — in particular, its control over the dissemination of information to the public through the media, and its overwhelming domination of the education of future generations.

Despite the proliferation of information from cable and the internet, large numbers of Americans still get their only "news", from the major television networks (24%) and left-leaning newspapers (31%). Astonishingly, ten percent of all Americans, and nearly half of those under 30, rely at least occasionally on late night talk shows, with more than one-third getting their political "news" from late night comedy shows and MTV. This is ignorance run rampant, accompanied by no small amount of propaganda. If the left's latest scheme to stifle alternate opinion is successful (the scheme that is called the McCain-Feingold campaign finance reform act), the percentages of people being misinformed by the major television networks and left-leaning newspapers are sure to increase.

Under the Federal Election Commission Act (U.S. Code, 2 U.S.C. Sec. 431 (9)(B)(i)), the McCain-Feingold spending limits will not apply to "any news story, commentary, or editorial distributed through the facilities of any broadcasting station, newspaper, magazine, or other periodical publication". If the federal election laws are not assaults on freedom of speech and the First Amendment, then why does the media need a special exemption so that their First Amendment rights are not impaired; and conversely, is there any doubt about why the media advocates so vociferously in favor of passage of McCain-Feingold? It will, quite simply, create a monopoly in their favor and shut everyone else up — except them.

Then there is the most dangerous aspect of leftist control over our culture — the dumbing down of the education of the young. In 1998, the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) assessed the knowledge of 4th, 8th, and 12th graders in, among other topics, civics (the results from the newest NAEP assessment are due this spring). One question asked was the primary purpose of the Bill of Rights. Among high school seniors, about to graduate and very close to having the right to vote on the issues that will determine the future of our nation, only 26% rated proficient, and only 4% rated advanced, even when given multiple choice answers to the question.

This abysmal ignorance about the basic structure of our government and our Constitution was first revealed in 1997, when the National Constitution Center released data indicating that 83% of those questioned admitted that they know only "some" or "very little" about the specifics of the Constitution. Only 5% could correctly answer 10 rudimentary questions about the Constitution, and 6% were unable to answer even one question about the Constitution correctly. Among teenagers, only 41% could name the three branches of government, but 59% could name all of the Three Stooges; 94.7% knew the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, but only 2.2% knew the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court; and 75% knew which city has the zip code 90210, but only 25% knew the city in which the Constitution was written. Most appallingly, 20% of the people of this country believe that only lawyers can understand the Constitution.

This is significant, because anyone who believes that is likely to accept, without question, any lies and any misrepresentation of the Constitution propounded by any lawyer, judge, politician, or special interest group. People that ignorant will read propaganda that totally misrepresents the Constitution and Bill of Rights, will listen to politicians lie about those documents, and will believe that they cannot dispute those lies because our founding documents are beyond the comprehension of ordinary people.

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To what do we owe this dismal state of knowledge about the most important and fundamental structure and organization of our government? Can it possibly be that such widespread and systematic ignorance came about just by chance? The areas most misrepresented and misunderstood coincide with some of the key items of the left-wing agenda: the curtailment of property rights, limits on free speech, gun control, the expansion of government power, and the process by which policy is supposed to be implemented in our representative republic. And it is in public schools that children would be expected to learn about those fundamental concepts. James Madison, in a letter to Thomas Jefferson, explained the purpose of public education: "It is certainly very material that the true doctrines of liberty, as exemplified in our Political System, should be inculcated on those who are to sustain and may administer it." It is obvious that our schools have failed miserably at Madison's stated task, essentially ignoring those "true doctrines of liberty". Big government leftists benefit when people are ignorant of the purpose of the Constitutional limits on government, and teachers' unions — organizations with a powerful influence over the content of education — are among the core supporters of the big government leftists who control the modern Democrat Party. Mere coincidence?

So we have come to the present dismal state of knowledge in our nation, and that is the real crisis that faces America — not some phony environmental "crisis", not some overpopulation "crisis", not some arsenic-in-the-water "crisis", not some too-much-money-in-politics "crisis". That ignorance about our fundamental Constitutional structure — not foreign enemies or terrorism or Chinese missiles or stolen nuclear secrets — is the real threat to our individual liberty in America today. The widespread ignorance about the structure and founding documents of our nation, and about the essential prerequisites of liberty, did not happen by chance. It came about due to the shameful neglect of basic Constitutional education in American schools.

This is not to suggest that teachers are intentionally trying to destroy liberty. Most are well meaning, overworked, underpaid, want the best for their students; and probably very few have considered the stark implications of what they teach — and fail to teach. Most would be rightly offended by any suggestion that they are advancing the socialism that is at the core of the modern left. Yet it is also true that most teachers eagerly embrace any big government programs that come along; their attitudes and course content, when ideological at all, are for the most part pathetically left-wing; and the majority have failed at their most important task — instilling the "true doctrines of liberty" in future generations. Lenin said that the communist world will largely be built by non-communist hands, by persons who do the work of the socialists unwittingly. He called them "my useful idiots."


Center for Civics Education:

National Assessment of Educational progress (NAEP):

National Constitution Center:

United States Code:

The above article is the property of Kim Weissman, and is reprinted with his permission.
Contact him prior to reproducing.

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29 apr 2001