- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 18, 2000

As the Re-Elect America national bus tour rolls across the states of the Union, panelists at our town meetings we

call them We the People Forums often justify their limited enthusiasm for the Constitution by noting that it was written a long time ago. So much has happened, they say; so much is different, they say; how could anything so ancient retain its relevance for our fresh, vibrant, forward-looking times?

One is tempted to ask them about the wheel, still going strong after more than 5,000 years, but that might be seen as a cheap shot.

And yet …

The day after a professor of history in Topeka, Kan., recited the standard mantra about the shortcomings of the Constitution, my wife and I were partaking of the legendary fried chicken at Stroud's in Kansas City.

They have been serving it since 1933.

As we drove back to Topeka, we stumbled into the live broadcast of a concert over the radio. The overture had just finished, and the soloist for the concerto was about to be announced. We were delighted to hear the name of violinist Joshua Bell, who had first walked into my studio at Indiana University as a 12-year-old, partnered by one of my piano students. The experience was unforgettable: The youngster could not put a foot wrong, as the saying goes, neither in the technical nor in the musical sense. On this occasion, he was playing the violin concerto of another child prodigy, the one by Felix Mendelssohn. As is often the case, we arrived at our destination the parking lot of a shopping center unable to turn off the radio in the middle of all that loveliness.

"All that loveliness," we said to each other, realizing how much has been written for the violin during the 156 years since, yet nothing to compete with the loveliness of the Mendelssohn Violin Concerto. Chances are, nothing ever will. As generations of violinists who have gone before, generations of violinists to come will be measured by the way they display their art in playing the Mendelssohn concerto and a handful of others.

Neither the age of a work, nor that of an artists, seems to be of interest in the real world. How great the composition, how worthy the artist these are the only considerations.

As if to chime in, the parking lot began to fill up with cars as we sat in ours, listening. Not ordinary cars, but vintage ones, going all the way back to a Ford Model A. We had never seen that many oldies, all in showroom condition, glistening in the sunset, proudly displaying engines clean enough to touch with a white glove, perfection in every department.

Their owners appeared to glisten as well.

Obviously, the material world of motor cars makes poor comparison with the spiritual world of music. Yet the object, the instrument from which the magical sounds had emanated, is older than the cars; older than Mendelssohn's concerto; older, even, than the Constitution of the United States.

The violin, that strangely shaped box of wood, varnish, and thin strands of cow's gut known as strings, reached its finite, perfect form of existence nearly four centuries ago. Not only have the violins of Italy's master builders retained their unassailable supremacy while just about everything around them has changed, changed, and changed again; they have also resisted every modern technique of analysis. No one knows, perchance no one will ever know, what makes them inimitable.

There is only so much time we have been allotted on Earth. We ought to spend it in the company of the best. Yes, there still is according to the dictionary good, better and best. The idea of school used to mean being exposed to the best. (Otherwise why not grow up on street corners?)

We still have people among us who know the best. How much longer?

Some of the best is old and very old, some of it is new. More of it is old, less of it is new. That may not be progress, but it certainly is reality.

Apparently, President Coolidge anticipated some of our panelists on the Re-Elect America tour. He spoke of our founding documents on July 5, 1926. "It is often asserted," he said, "that the world has made a great deal of progress since 1776, that we have had new thoughts and new experiences which have given us a great advance over the people of that day, and that we may therefore very well discard their conclusion for something more modern. But that reasoning can not be applied to the great charter. If all men are created equal, that is final… . If governments derive their just powers from the consent of the governed, that is final. No advance, no progress can be made beyond these propositions."

Which is why I keep wondering about the word "conservative," generally applied to people who are committed to America's founding documents. Perhaps they are old like the wheel, Stradivarius's violin, Mendelssohn's concerto.

But, for the time being, they remain the best. Those who know should simply be called "the well-informed."

Balint Vazsonyi, author of "America's 30 Years War: Who Is Winning?", is director of the Center for the American Founding and its Re-Elect America bus tour.

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