Truth or Consequences
Yale University April 16, 1999
Well, here I am still in the chariot. I am pleased to be among political thinkers, and I hope, political activists ... fellow charioteers, if you will.
My life has always been pretty active. I marched with Martin Luther King in 1963, long before Hollywood found it fashionable. Supporting civil rights then was about as popular as supporting gun rights is now. Yup, I'm currently the President of the National Rifle Association.
Clearly, my views are not bound by political correctness. The thought police do not frighten me. I hope I frighten them.
Since your Political Union debates follow traditional structure, my resolution would go something like this: Be it resolved that societal dishonesty can kill you. That is to say, a world without consequences is a world without truth, and that you can die from that lie.
I believe that in your heart you already know something is profoundly wrong. When bartenders are responsible for drunk drivers' acts, and gunmakers are responsible for criminals' acts, and nobody is responsible for O. J. Simpson's acts, something is wrong.
As students, you should search for truth. Your brain evolved to demand reality. It can best process information against an unchanging backdrop of certainty.
But that's hard to find. Your world is all spin. Actions are further and further removed from consequences. Cause and effect are, at best, theoretical. Equal and opposite reactions are no longer PC.
The Dow tops ten thousand, but our lives are not enriched. We enjoy unprecedented affluence, but our souls are impoverished. Our lungs inhale the rarefied air of prosperity, but our hearts yearn for nourishment. You lack that invisible anchor that tethered your grandparents to reality -- you know what I'm talking about.
Our nation's abundance is like a narcotic that masks our malady -- we feel too good to acknowledge that we're sick. We're like the cocaine-snorting rock star, who dares not look in the mirror -- the ghoulish reflection would ruin the buzz.
In his book "The End of Sanity," Martin Gross says, "blatantly irrational behavior is rapidly being established as the norm in almost every area of human endeavor. There seem to be new customs, new rules, new anti-intellectual theories regularly foisted on us from every direction. Underneath, the nation is roiling. Americans know something without a name is undermining the nation, turning the mind mushy when it comes to separating truth from falsehood and right from wrong. And they don't like it."
Let me give you two good examples: This Administration's approach to crime and to war. Our government's duplicity proves my point.
If you drove into Richmond, Virginia, today, you'd be greeted by billboards with giant words that say, "An illegal gun gets you five years in federal prison." These warn all felons that Project Exile is in effect. Project Exile simply enforces existing federal law. Project Exile means every convicted felon caught with a gun, no matter what he's doing, will go to prison for five years. No parole, no early releases, no discussion, period.
My, my -- incarcerating armed felons. What a novel idea. It works, like no other anti-crime policy ever proposed. Project Exile, in its first year in Richmond, cut gun homicides by 62 percent. And as you'd expect, related gun crimes like robbery, rape and assault also plummeted. That means hundreds of people in Richmond today are alive and intact who, without Project Exile, would be dead or bleeding.
For years the NRA has demanded that Project Exile be deployed nationwide. Makes sense, huh? The laws are already on the books. Just enforce them.
But Bill Clinton won't do it. When he says he's serious about fighting crime, consider that as a matter of policy -- as a matter of policy - the Clinton Administration is not prosecuting violations of federal gun law. In fact, they reversed the Bush Administration's policy of prosecuting felons with guns. Instead, with plea bargains, a wink and a nod, they've been letting armed felons off the hook. From 1992 to 1998, prosecutions have been cut almost in half.
So while Project Exile was saving lives in Richmond, federal prosecution for gun law violations everywhere else dropped by 46 percent.
Such fraud could not happen without the news media's alliance in the dishonesty; it goes utterly unreported. Here are more examples.
Everyone remembers the press's podium-pounding for Clinton's Crime Bill and its "urgently needed" juvenile gun transfer provisions. It became law. But nobody is reporting that, out of thousands of certain offenders, his Justice Department bothered to prosecute only five people in 1997 and six in 1998.
Everyone remembers all the press support for his "desperately needed" semi-auto gun ban -- that outlawed guns based solely on their appearance. But nobody is reporting that, out of thousands of certain offenders, the Clinton Administration prosecuted four people in 1997 and four in 1998.
Everyone remembers that media love-child, the Brady Bill. Mr. Clinton repeatedly claims that a quarter million handguns have been prevented from falling into the hands of convicted felons. But nobody is reporting what matters to you: How many of those quarter million people were convicted and taken off your streets for the federal crime of being a felon trying to buy a gun? Try nine!
It's surreal. Mr. Clinton stands in the Rose Garden with his ten prop cops, lip-biting in pained support of some new law. The press does its best to get it passed. It becomes law. Then everybody forgets about it. And Americans buy it over and over and over again.
Maybe you think a politician's lies can't hurt you. But let me tell you, armed felons can.
Passing laws is what keeps politicians' careers alive. Enforcing laws is what keeps you alive. But nobody's getting arrested, nobody's going to jail, it's all a giant scam. It's not real life. It's a big lie, packaged by an alliance between this Administration and a media that systematically propagates its doctrine. Forgive my severity, but that's precisely the definition of the Soviet propaganda machine of the '50s and '60s.
While this Administration weaves reality spun from empty air and heavy breathing, the NRA is helping fund Project Exile to keep it alive. I submit to you that the consequence of what we're doing saves people ... and the consequence of what they're doing kills people.
It's a certain consequence that if you choose not to prosecute criminals, people will die. It is also a certain consequence that if you choose to go to war, people will die.
Consider Kosovo. Though undeclared, the war is real. What is unreal is Bill Clinton's grasp of its consequences ... and perhaps yours.
From the outset it appears nobody anticipated that first, human consequence of war called refugees, that first stream of tragedy that spills from armed conflict. It seems our leadership is surprised and unprepared, caught short on tents, food, clothes and medicine for tens and tens and tens and tens of thousands of refugees.
Now, I am not one of those conservatives who reflexively opposes everything Bill Clinton does with knee-jerk uniformity. Whether or not we should have gone is irrelevant. That debate is over.
So let's discuss what reality demands of us now. The only good war is a fast and decisive war, with overwhelming military might that results in quick victory.
But that chance is lost. Instead we're doling out cruise missiles like popsicles in a popularity-poll-guided war, conducted by a man who did not display the will to fight as a younger man, whom I doubt would go fight now, and who would not offer his own loved ones to march on Kosovo.
Warfare experts grasp the truth that Mr. Clinton doesn't: now we're in it, we must win it. That means that ground troops -- daddies, neighbors, classmates, uncles, husbands, and good friends -- are going to die. Are you willing to send yours?
More important, are you willing to take a round in the gut? I mean you here tonight. You, and you, and you. You're the flesh that fills uniforms. You may say that's melodrama; but this actor filled a uniform for two years overseas.
You there, listening politely while you plan your next date and your first million, are you willing to put that all aside -- just as thousands of good men did 60 years ago -- and go fight?
Or are you thinking, as I suspect, that it's some lesser person's job? Or that, nestled safely in our distance and abundance, we can just wiggle joysticks on remote control missiles and win this ... Gameboy war?
If you believe that, you have lots of equally naive company. A CNN/Gallup poll three days ago reported that 2 out of 3 Americans think we have a moral obligation to fight Milosevic. But an equal number, 2 out of 3, were unwilling to agree that casualties are an acceptable consequence. So we're all for moral obligation, alright ... as long as there is no pain, no price, no consequence.
No, the truth is, life has consequences and must be lived in that reality, not as it is pretended to be lived by people who aren't honest. We have an arrogant Administration and conspiring media who are getting us into events that have genuine consequences.
But then, this President has long seen himself as free of consequences.
There is something wrong with a government that purposely, as a matter of policy, ignores the consequences of letting armed felons go free, or of going to war.
To me, that disappointment is the grand tragedy of the Baby Boomers. For all the dreams we had for the generation that now runs this country -- my generation's children and your generation's parents -- for all the Baby Boomers' achievements in communications and space and medicine, it is all for naught if you inherit and perpetuate societal dishonesty.
So what can you do?
I learned the answer 36 years ago on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C., standing with Dr. Martin Luther King and two hundred thousand people.
You simply refuse to go along. You disobey. Peaceably, yes. Respectfully, of course. Nonviolently, absolutely.
But when you're asked to live their lies, you practice civil defiance. You refuse to go along with the spin and facade and vacant language of dishonest people.
I learned the awesome power of disobedience from Dr. King ... who learned it from Gandhi, and Thoreau, and Jesus, and every other great man who refused to go along. Racial discrimination was illegal, but violation had no consequences. Segregation was illegal, but prosecution of offenders was not a policy. So Dr. King taught us to defy societal dishonesty with action -- and changed our country.
Disobedience is in our DNA. We feel innate kinship with that defiant spirit that tossed tea into Boston Harbor, sent Thoreau to jail, refused to sit in the back of the bus, and protested a dishonestly fought war in Viet Nam.
Our uniquely American genes naturally defy political posturing. For example: Who's conducting the greatest intellectual rebellion in history right now? It's not the likes of the New York Times or Washington Post or other traditionally crusading journals of American opinion. No, it's the Internet, built by and for the minds of young people like you, people yearning for truth.
In that same spirit, I'm asking you to disavow cultural dishonesty with massive civil defiance against a government spoiled by prosperity ... against wishful thinking masquerading as leadership ... and against news media who perpetuate the untruth that action can occur without consequence.
I ask you, in Lincoln's words, "so that this nation may long endure, "please ... do what you must to reveal, and then revere, truth ... expect and accept the consequences of your actions and those of your nation ... and every day, test what you see with what you know is right.
And when it's dishonest, defy it. Follow in the hallowed footsteps of the great disobedience movements of history that freed exiles, founded religions, defeated tyrants, and in the hands of an aroused rabble in arms and a few great men, by God's grace, built this country.
If Dr. King were here, I think he would agree. Thank you.