— Published with Permission of ReNewAmerica.com —
“A true democrat, lowercase ‘d,’ thinks they’re no better than anybody else. That’s what a Democrat is. And the party regains that when white, black, Hispanic people, everybody, starts to think of themselves as one of them instead of being better than them.”
Chris Matthews is almost right about what’s wrong with the Democrats’ Party. But his own words show that the root of their problem isn’t the practice of elitism. It’s the false, un-American understanding of equality he also espouses. True Americans have no qualms about feeling they are better than somebody else, so long as they can prove it. This fair self-respect is one source of the drive that produced individuals fit to brave the wilderness, explore the unknown, risk all their fortune in the belief that they could get the job done better than anyone else.
Its why, as Patton said in his famous speech, Americans have always admired “the champion marble shooter, the fastest runner, the Big League ball players, the toughest boxers….” Today, we would not think of the marble shooter. But we would add others, including the greatest video game players, computer programmers, actresses, singers, rap artists, dancers, filmmakers, and even talk-show hosts to the list. America’s capacity for sincere admiration persists. It can take poor people to riches, and make middle-class kids, tinkering with computers in the garage, into billionaire entrepreneurs – movers and shakers in realms that never would have existed except for their genius and enterprise.
Many Americans have the remarkable virtue of admiring such people without resentment, so long as the achievers reciprocate by treating their admirers without contempt. In fact, if we have an egregious fault, it is to let our admiration verge into worship, so that we hear achievers described as our “idols” without cringing at the servile (not to mention more than faintly blasphemous) implications.
Our politics was once the antidote to overmuch servility, however. It represented the underlying commitment to equality Chris Matthews and his elitist faction fellow travelers consistently misrepresent. People capable of admiring great achievers are too honest about life to think that nobody is better than anybody else. But until our era, they had too much self-respect to forget the realm of excellence in which every human being willing to do so has a chance to shine.
It is the realm in which the widow’s mite places her upon the pedestal of reverence and philanthropy; in which the school janitor’s willingness to lend a hand setting up our science project leads to lasting friendship; and in which the memory of our own all too human shortcomings and failures impels us to reject the assumption that material dearth simply deprives people of all their worth.
Discovered talents and abilities, made fruitful by hard work and sometimes deeply humbling sacrifices, may carry people beyond the need to fret about food, clothing, and shelter. But in their capacity to love and respect the parents who endured such sacrifices, without much material gain, such people show, to heartfelt Americans, the true character of their achievements. This capacity to respect and care for others and to seek ways to lighten their burdens because we owe much to those who helped to lighten our own – this, too, is something Americans have always admired.
Our respect for the capacity to sympathize with others, and on that account make good use of opportunities to help them, may account for what we see as the greatest heroism. It is not in those who serve and aggrandize only themselves. The best heroes – in our comic books and movies, but also on our battlefields; in our courtrooms, schools and places of worship; and on our streets – are those striving to become the best they can be in order to use it all to save the world. And they never forget that every single individual they meet recapitulates the world they long to save.
Not all people with wealth, power, and ability seem willing to indulge this longing to save other people. And many people who have no such material advantages nonetheless prove themselves willing to do so. Rightly understood, this common inclination to do what in our hearts we sense is right represents the common heritage of our God-endowed humanity. In our American creed, we call these sensible inclinations “rights.” Being mindful of them, we also admit that this heritage comes not only by our choice, but by our nature. It comes from the same resource of ordering, power, and unbridled love that sets the stars in place and makes the vast universe a dwelling in which we may rightly believe we have a special place of honor and responsibility, provided we are willing to respect it.
Chris Matthews mistakes (or perhaps, purposefully ignores) this understanding of human equality. For it does not depend on what we have, or even simply on what we do. According to our American creed, it depends on what our Creator, God, has done, for our good, but also for the sake of His glory, reflected into us. One aspect of that glory is our capacity for choice, when used to act according to the inclinations God has programmed into our nature. They take account of our particular good and the common good of all. Therefore, when we choose to do right as the Creator endows it, we positively affect what we are and will become, as individuals and as a species. Our true equality, as individuals, derives from the fact that God holds each of us equally responsible for choosing what’s right.
Democrats like Chris Matthews are not the only ones who forget this God-endowed substance of human equality. In recent years, materialistic Republicans have increasingly set it aside. Do elitists in both parties do so willfully, so that “we the people” will forget the moral basis for our claim to participate equally in sovereign rulership over our nation? I think so. They seek to re-establish the rule of an elitist few, including themselves, of course. Thus, their vaulting and corrupt ambition abandons the whole purpose of America’s experiment in decent self-government.
In service to this oligarchic ambition, they aim to substitute the exclusive worship of material power for our natural admiration of excellence, which latter also embraces the moral virtue rooted in the will to do what is right, according to the transcendent standard of God’s goodwill. Such virtue can be attained even by materially powerless human beings, even when their sole source of power, and their only wealth resource, is adamant goodwill, impervious to adversity. Of course, as Christ is true, they may also count on the approbation of One who listens in their hearts, and prepares for them a hymn of universal praise for what, while hidden in obscurity, they choose to do for goodness’ sake.
© Alan Keyes