“Contrition is BS.” Press secretary Ronald Ziegler’s acid tone shocked me and he didn’t use the initials. It was 1973, a bad year in a bad decade for America. I was a young speechwriter in the Nixon White House, assigned to gather input from Ziegler and national security advisor Henry Kissinger for a TV address that we hoped would put the president’s Watergate troubles behind him.
But the press secretary, channeling Nixon’s own defiance, wanted no part of Kissinger’s scenario: a contrite chief executive asking for the American people’s forgiveness as JFK had done after the Bay of Pigs. No apology would issue from the Oval Office. RN would tough it out. Right.
The 1970s were a dark time. Only a couple of years out of the Navy myself, I had earlier shared the disgust that most Americans felt when dissident naval officer John Kerry protested the Vietnam War by throwing away his medals and accusing the United States of war crimes. Yet millions in the country’s “silent majority,” as President Nixon called us, had to watch as events spiralled against all that we hoped and believed in.
Nixon resigned in disgrace. Helicopters evacuated a defeated US remnant from Saigon. Oil prices soared and the economy flatlined. Soviet adventurism spread. Jimmy Carter wrung his hands and proclaimed malaise. Was America washed up?
Within a decade, however, America was back. The resilience of our free institutions, the toughness and nobility of our national character, the honest self-criticism and self-correction of our open public square, together disproved the diagnosis of terminal decline from a demoralized left.
Uncle Sam, his head again held high, signaled the world that our best days were still ahead. They were then, in Reagan’s time, and they still are today despite the ascendancy of a president more lawless than RN ever was and the travesty of that same John Kerry directing foreign affairs. Don’t write off America. We haven’t peaked yet.
My post-Watergate road brought me from the ethical swamps of the Potomac to the bracing air and wider horizons of the West. Here in Colorado we’ve raised our kids, buried our parents, sunk roots in a caring community, lived the ups and downs of grassroots government.
I gravitated to education and to think tanks, convinced that culture is upstream of politics. Without winning the argument we’ll never win the vote. In 2009, after leaving elected office, I joined former Sen. Bill Armstrong, president of Colorado Christian University, in establishing Centennial Institute as CCU’s think tank. It’s been a good ride.
His personal connection to the GOP, and mine, are no secret. But parties or candidates have nothing to do with the university’s academic mission and our institute’s policy mission. Rather we seek to impact the culture in support of such standards as traditional family values, sanctity of life, compassion for the poor, a biblical view of human nature, limited government, personal freedom, free markets, natural law, original intent of the Constitution, and the heritage of Western civilization.
It’s from these wellsprings that renewal has been nourished in America’s comeback since the bicentennial nadir in 1976. And from them equally, even amidst all the country’s difficulties today, free citizens can draw the strength and purpose to bring the sweet land of liberty through undreamed challenges in the 21st century.
What of 2076, our next centennial year? The 300-year milestone is one that few great nations have attained, human folly and fallibility being what they are. We at the Centennial Institute, true to our name, focus intently on this long-term vision much more than we focus on short-term battles at the legislature or the ballot box, important as those may be. We’re very much in the debates of today, and we educate our students for the demands of today. But we never take our eye off the opportunities (and dangers) of tomorrow.
Nor do we accept the presentism that would discard timeworn landmarks: the Bible, the American Founding, “the permanent things,” as T.S. Eliot called them. We know that if America is to be a nation at all, she must forever be a nation under God. The USA must define its future by faith, family, and freedom or have no future.
From this unfashionable but unyielding stance, we have seen CCU’s core curriculum honored in the top 2% nationally by the American Council of Trustees and Alumni. We’ve placed our graduates in positions of influence across the spectrum of careers, from business to law to health care, from politics to education to ministry. We’ve fought the HHS abortifacient mandate in court. And we’ve created high-impact national outreach programs like the annual Western Conservative Summit.
No one knows what peaks of greatness and valleys of struggle and vistas of human betterment await this “almost-chosen people” in a new century. But Colorado Christian University and Centennial Institute are all in for America’s grand adventure.
John Andrews (firstname.lastname@example.org) is director of the Centennial Institute, former president of the Colorado Senate, and author of Responsibility Reborn: A Citizen’s Guide to the Next American Century.