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Jesse Jackson at Michigan State By: Bruce S. Thornton
FrontPageMagazine.com | Monday, September 23, 2002


Jesse Jackson is at it again, this time in a speech given at Michigan State University. The content of his talk was nothing new-- just the same unsavory stew of bad history, victim politics, and naked racism. The American Founders, Jackson preached, were nothing but a "bunch of white men." Democracy didn't really exist until the Voting Rights Act was passed. Bush is a warmonger who "wants to rule the world," the last statement tipping us off to Jackson's role as shill for the Democrats.

This is the sort of stuff one expects from a traffic-island panhandler, not a lecturer at a major university. That such ignorance of history was put on display before an audience of college students is appalling. What is remarkable historically is not that democracy, either ancient Greek or American, when instituted wasn't immediately extended to everybody. The real miracle was that it was invented at all. The natural condition of human societies historically has not been freedom and equality, but rule by a tiny elite that monopolizes force and hence resources. The idea of political freedom first had to have a beginning, and then it had to fight for its survival against the natural tendencies of humans to monopolize power and resources and exclude others from both.

But once the genie of freedom and equality was out of the bottle, once the American Founders wrote "all men are created equal," it was only a matter of time before that idea, no matter what its original limits, was extended to everybody no matter what the race or sex. The process of widening the scope of this idea was indeed slow and often bloody. That it took so long, however, is testimony to the stubborn flaws of human nature; that is happened at all is testimony to the power and goodness of the idea that the Founders articulated.

Perhaps worse than the historical ignorance is the blatant racism of Jackson's speech. To say that the Founders were "white" is to state a banal fact. Why not say they were rich too? Or property owners, if you want a marxiste spin? What else would they have been at that time and place? Their ethnicity has nothing to do with the powerful ideas they formulated and encoded in a form of governance that has given the most freedom to the greatest number of ordinary people in the history of the planet. To refer to the Founders' race is nothing more than crude racial stereotyping, as if to imply that selfish exclusion is innate to "white men." Such a statement is as obnoxious as a white person referring to the civil rights movement as run by a "bunch of blacks and Jews."

This speech illustrates the intellectual and moral bankruptcy of grievance politics. Jackson and his ilk have made careers and fortunes out of grieving the numerous racist sins of white America. But as time has passed and the condition of blacks has improved, the grounds for grievance dissolve. One response is to redefine "racism" to cover behaviors or conditions whose nature and roots lie elsewhere. Another is to up the ante, to make the standard of "equality" or "inclusion" a utopian one that will never be achieved, as in the demands for proportional representation in every aspect of political, cultural, and economic life. Still another is to rummage through the past and recycle ancient sins in a simplistic melodrama of victimhood that has less and less to do with the complex reality of most black Americans' lives. What's the purpose of brooding continually over Jim Crow lynchings when the greatest threat today to a black man's health and well being is not a Klansman but another black man?

The greatest scandal of this speech, however, is that it was given at a public university, illustrating once more the iron control over ideas the left wields on American campuses. David Horowitz's survey of commencement speakers, eight out of ten of whom are liberal or worse, points to a much larger problem. Just about all the paid speakers invited to American campuses preach the same liberal-leftist gospel that the students already hear daily in most of their courses. When a "conservative" does appear at a campus event, he or she is usually there to function like Emmanuel Goldstein in Orwell's 1984, the Enemy of the People and star of a Two Minutes Hate upon whom the orthodox can vent their self-righteous anger.

It's bad enough that the media are ideologically slanted, but most are businesses subject to market forces, as the success of Fox News and conservative talk radio demonstrates. Universities, on the other hand, are supposed to be different: they enjoy more autonomy and insulation from the larger society that finances them because they are supposed to pursue the truth and examine ideas of all sorts, to engage in what Matthew Arnold called "the free play of the mind on all subjects." Yet most today have betrayed this calling and instead represent a monolithic ideology that brooks no dissent, that closes off rather than opens up debate, and that uses its immense authority and influence over young people's lives to impose its own narrow prejudices and superstitions.

Thus the issue isn't Jesse Jackson per se. Despite the distribution of 2000 free tickets, only 600 students showed up. Jackson is obviously fading, and probably would have long disappeared if not for the artificial respiration given him by the media and the Democratic Party. The real scandal is that once more public universities use public money to betray their public trust. Students, parents, alumni, and donors all need to demand from our colleges and universities not the censorship of even wacky or ugly ideas, but a balance of views that exposes students to as many sides of as many issues as possible.


Bruce Thornton is the author of Greek Ways and Decline and Fall: Europe’s Slow-Motion Suicide (Encounter Book}. He is 2009-2010 National Fellow at the Hoover Institution.


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