thank you for the
lecture on Virginia's constitution last week,
and for that stirring recollection of Patrick
Henry's famous line about liberty and death uttered
on Church Hill, in the old part of Richmond, at St.
John's Church on March 23, 1775.
In fact, let me begin there. When Henry declared,
"Give me liberty or give me death!" what
do you suppose the slaves standing in the churchyard
holding the mules and horses must have made of that?
Probably didn't raise up quite the same thrill for
them as it did for those inside, you think?
Most constitutions are a lot like that speech,
Patrick. Perspective makes all the difference in the
world. Generally, the writers of them have the upper
As luck would have it, I do have some passing
acquaintance with Virginia's constitution and its
evolution through history. The writers have always
had the upper hand with it, too. Still do.
I certainly don't claim to be any authority on the
state constitution, but the version that always
fascinated me the most was not Jefferson's original,
but the 1902 rewrite and adoption.
Now, brother, if you haven't looked at that one
lately, give it a thumb through. As far as I am
concerned, that was the mother of wicked legislation
in this state.
Among other things, it set us up on
"pay-as-you-go," established the State
Corporation Commission and entrusted its three
unelected and unaccountable- to-the-public
commissioners with vast, vast powers, divvied up
state revenues between Richmond and local
governments, took the vote away from Virginia's
black Americans, and made "Jim Crow" the
social law of the commonwealth.
Patrick, you said last week: "We have a
wonderful tradition here in Virginia of leaving
voters and taxpayers in control." We had that
same tradition in 1902. Tradition can be such a
lovely thing, no?
Now, good sir, in the matter of public spending, you
took some gentle umbrage with my contention that
public spending on "societal
infrastructure" spurs growth in the private
sector. I stand by that assertion. (My guess is that
you, being no doubt familiar with a countervailing
view sometimes referred to as "trickle
down" economics, would concede that point if
such concession would not force you to also concede
so many others. But I digress.)
Why have we, as a species, inevitably instituted
government among ourselves? I don't know the answer
to that. But I am glad we have. And I suspect you
are. We both have certainly benefited from it. I
think the difference between us is mostly a matter
of perspective, sort of like that speech Henry made.
It was a fabulous thing. I've been to the church and
stood where Henry stood when those immortal words
were spoken. But the whole time I'm standing there,
I can't quite get my mind off of those standing out
in the yard, holding the mules and horses. The truth
is that it would have been a better speech if the
words had applied to them, too. It would have meant
more to me.
One thing I have noticed, Patrick, is that those who
quite often benefit most from government are its
You know, we're restricted in length to about 600
words in these columns. So I'm sitting here
wondering if I can articulate the core difference
between Democrats and Republicans with the space I
have remaining. I think I can.
When Democrats make it up the ladder in America,
they reach back and pull someone else up behind
them. When Republicans make it, they reach back and
pull the ladder up.
Why is that?