I learned a lot of things this week. I learned that you can buy birth control pills at Target, and-despite what Sandra Fluke says-they’re really cheap. I learned that Rush Limbaugh can be intimidated by something other than a divorce lawyer. I learned that President Obama is capable of slashing health costs on the backs of veterans. I learned that liberals do speak ill of the dead, even on the day that they’ve died. And I learned that Rick Santorum still has a shot at becoming president. Sure, it’s a long way to November and Karen shouldn’t start measuring the drapes in the East Wing just yet. But regardless of what ultimately transpires and who snatches that political brass ring, the most important thing I learned this week is that Americans are much better, much stronger and much braver than you’d think after being bombarded with the complaints of aggrieved feminists, envious Occupiers and patronizing academics. If you move away from the networks with their smirking pundits, the glossy weekly magazines that glorify shallow celebrity and the cacophony of talk radio, you will hear the voices of our brothers and sisters in the Midwest. From them I learned the most important lesson this week. I learned about courage.
During the Depression when this country was ravaged by economic disaster, our great-grandparents “made do.” In fact, they survived and in surviving, triumphed. So did our grandparents, during World War II, adapting to a life of ration cards and curfews. They survived in part because of FDR’s New Deal and the war effort. But mostly, Americans prevailed over hunger, unemployment and enemy threats because they understood one simple principle that had been pounded into their immigrant brains: character is forged through adversity. Rick Santorum channeled that philosophy Tuesday night in Ohio, when he reminded us that we are greatest when we sacrifice. In an ironic twist, our ex-senator paid implicit homage to another of John F. Kennedy’s famous speeches, the one in which he said “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.”
The people of Indiana, Kentucky and Ohio embody that principle. When tornados shredded their landscape, they didn’t reflexively put their hands out for money or cry about how the government hated them. They didn’t sit helpless on rooftops (partly because there were none left to sit on.) They didn’t blame poverty and circumstance for their tragedy. This is what they did the morning after disaster: they went back to the places where their homes used to be and hunted through the wreckage for pieces of their lives. They looked for pictures and pets, clothing and utensils. And they came back to help neighbors and look for family. One young woman was interviewed from her hospital bed, and thanked God for giving her the strength to save her two sons. In protecting those babies from the catastrophic storm, she lost both of her legs when they were sheared off by a fallen beam. And yet, she focused on her gratitude and not her monumental physical loss. That is the kind of person that makes me proud to be American, and easier to ignore the whining demands and whimpered complaints of those who blame someone else for their troubles.
Whether it be health care or subsidized education or jobs or free lunches, we’ve traveled so far from that Depression era mentality where sacrifice and self-determination now seem to be quaint artifacts of a simpler time. The hands are out, the mouths open and the fingers ready to point at whoever denies us our ‘fundamental rights.’
So when flesh-and-blood Americans like those in the Midwest straighten their backs and move forward with amazing grace, the contrast between them and a self-aggrandizing Georgetown law student is striking. When a family comes together to mourn the death of a two-year old toddler killed in a trailer park, the overwrought tributes to a drug-addicted musical icon seem obscenely out of place. When a mother cares more about her babies than her ability to ever walk again, the attention we pay to a Jersey Shore slut (there, I said it, so boycott me) intent on selling her pregnancy to the highest bidder shames us all.
There are a lot of reasons to wonder what has happened to this country, and how we ever reached a place where the only religion allowed in the public square is that of the secular trinity: Me, Myself and I.
And yet, as I learned this week, there are still places in this great and glorious land where JFK’s words still continue to resonate. As long as there is Indiana, there’s hope for us all.