Sunday, November 18, 2001

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 Oct. 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 about 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 U.S. Constitution.

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 have succeeded 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.

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 firsthand 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.

Balint Vazsonyi is a concert pianist and director of the Center for the American Founding and is a nationally syndicated columnist.

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