Replacing the Irreplaceable

2008 is becoming a year in which we must replace the irreplaceable.  The recent death of Alexander Solzhenitsyn is a reminder of how much we have lost and how hard it will be to find truly great men again.  When Ronald Reagan died four years ago, huge crowds of Americans waited for hours to pay their last respects to the greatest American president of the last 150 years.  When Pope John Paul II died one year later, the whole universe of decent souls understood the loss we all suffered.  This year, the mortality of moral greatness was not proven with brief rainstorms but by a constant deluge.

William F. Buckley died this year.  This brilliant, decent, devout, and kind man overshadowed everything that the conservative movement in America represented.  When no other voice cried out in the wilderness of establishment Leftism, his voice not only was heard but was heard singing the truth.  Joy with genius, courage with compassion - these were the irreplaceable traits of Buckley.  Do we make men like this anymore?   If we do, these men are invisible.

The same month, Tom Lantos died.  Congressman Lantos was wrong on nearly every public policy issue.  When God chats with Lantos, as He doubtless has, then Lantos will learn his mistakes.  But his mistakes were not sins.  This very liberal congressman, who survived the Holocaust - the only member of Congress with that background - devoted his life to making sure that no other holocaust happens anywhere to any people for the rest of time - that included Christians in Islamic nations, Hungarians under the boot of the Kremlin, Burmese and Tibetans, and anyone else.  Does the Left turn out men like Lantos anymore?  If it does, these men are invisible. 

In May, Charlton Heston died.  A gentle man whose ego could have grown into a monster, instead Heston accepted heaps of ridicule and abuse for standing up against the vile lies of the Left in the entertainment business.  Among the giants of Hollywood who openly confronted its war on decency and commonsense, only Reagan took as many risks as Heston.  He suffered for it, but that did not stop him.  Heston was as resolute as Moses, who he portrayed so perfectly on scene.  Does Hollywood make unbreakable souls like Charlton Heston anymore?  If so, these souls are invisible.

One month later, Tim Russert died.  Like Lantos, Russert was often wrong on his politics.  He was, at best, a moderate.  But Russert was also a real journalist.  He studied.  He worked.  He asked tough questions.  When no one else had the guts to ask Hillary a tough question, Russert did.  He took lots of abuse for that, but Tim Russert appeared completely unfazed.  Russert, like most of the giants who died this year, loved his family.  The deep love and respect for his father, a sentiment so utterly absent from a narcissistic culture which proclaims the irrelevance of males, reminded us that men matter in the lives of children.  Uniquely, Russert was able to live and to thrive in the totalitarian mainstream media.  Is there another man like Russert who could work for NBC or CBS or the New York Times?  If such men live, they are invisible in the effete newsrooms of the mainstream media.

Weeks after Tim Russert died, Jesse Helms followed him.  Conservatives who wonder where we will find the next Ronald Reagan should think in the same instant about where we will find the next Jesse Helms.  The Left will never allow us to know about the profound goodness of Jesse Helms, the man.  He was married to the same wife for sixty-six years.  They adopted a nine year old orphan with cerebral palsy.  His staff, his family, every single person who knew Helms personally, recalled his absolute decency.  The Left, of course, loathed him for being consistently conservative when everyone else in politics at least flinched at the lash of the Left.  Helms never flinched.  He defied the Republican establishment by supporting Ronald Reagan in 1976, and few people can lay as much claim to putting the Gipper in the White House as Helms.  Do conservatives still wonder why we do not have a Ronald Reagan today?  If the conservative movement has great lions like Jesse Helms, these lions are invisible.

One week after Jesse Helms died, Tony Snow died too.  Goodness, grace, diligence, courage, humor, seriousness, moral purpose, love of his fellow man -- those words scarcely cover the only man who could have replaced Rush Limbaugh and done so successfully.  Tony Snow was such an extraordinary talent and an equally extraordinary mensch that it is hard to imagine how we will ever find in our shallow, silly, and scared society any man who faced His Maker with more calm assurance or who could charm, through the bile of Leftism hatred, any mainstream media bureaucrat like Snow.  If God has placed any young men in our midst like Tony Snow, He must have made them invisible.

And Solzhenitsyn is gone too.  His opus magnus was called by establishment periodical, Time Magazine,  "the most important book of the Twentieth Century."  William F. Buckley called Solzhenitsyn the "noblest man alive."  Before Reagan spoke of an "Evil Empire," Solzhenitsyn was speaking of an evil world, even of the evil in American society, which has bloomed into a grotesque flower during the last three decades.       

What did these men have in common?  Not politics, per se.  Tom Lantos was very liberal and Tim Russert was a Democrat who leaned Left.  Reagan was a Roosevelt Democrat.   Heston actively campaigned for Adlai Stevenson and JFK, he opposed the Vietnam War, he supported gun control (at one point), he was an early champion of civil rights, and he was approached by Democrats to run for the Senate in 1969 -- the last decades of his life, Heston held the morally correct political views, but many of his political positions before that were wrongheaded. 

These irreplaceable men moved from Left to Right, but there is no reason to believe that Reagan or Heston, as young Democrats, were not as noble as they were at the end of their life.  They just watched, learned, and changed.  What the seven lost to us this year had in common was an uncompromising interest in moral truth and a willingness to defy any mortal force in pursuit of that truth.

It is superfluous to speak of the moral courage of Solzhenitsyn, Heston, Helms, Snow, or Buckley, but what of someone like Lantos?  Well, like Snow, Lantos faced imminent death with great courage.  Some of his last public statements show his profound gratitude for America as a true land of opportunity.  When Yahoo executives, pressured by Communist China, released email lists of dissidents, Lantos held congressional hearings in which those Yahoo corporate amoralists were forced to sit in the House committee room with the weeping mother of one of those dissidents.  Lantos told these bought men:  "While technologically and financially you are giants, morally you are pygmies."  Amen.

All seven of these men were giants, and none of them much cared what anybody else thought about them or spoke about them.  They were visible men in a society in which, increasingly, the souls and consciences of men are invisible, masked in craven surrender to whatever is advantageous, whatever is chic, whatever is easy.  Too often, these men were literally invisible too -- despite his transcendent moral stature, I know many people who never heard of Alexander Solzhenitsyn.  It is appalling.  Sadly, however, it is also true.

We live in an age filled with convenient platitudes.  Presidential candidates say even less than usual, and what they say is tested by focus groups and polling data.  Every institution of society genuflects to popularity, to wealth, to acceptance, to pleasure, and to banal notions of a successful life.  We can no longer smell the stench of sin or of dishonor.  We have lost our sense of moral purpose in life.  We can replace almost anything in our lives -- human organs, currency and credit, electronic records and documents - but ultimately these things do not define life. 

What matters in life is the yearning of the human spirit for goodness and truth and the courage and grit to make that yearning into deeds and words that matter.  Men who personify these values, unlike hearts and dollars, are irreplaceable.  It is not they who have died:  They are immortal.  It is rather us who die each time one of these rare few leave this world.  We have forgotten, in our busy rush to nowhere, how to replace the irreplaceable.
2008 is becoming a year in which we must replace the irreplaceable.  The recent death of Alexander Solzhenitsyn is a reminder of how much we have lost and how hard it will be to find truly great men again.  When Ronald Reagan died four years ago, huge crowds of Americans waited for hours to pay their last respects to the greatest American president of the last 150 years.  When Pope John Paul II died one year later, the whole universe of decent souls understood the loss we all suffered.  This year, the mortality of moral greatness was not proven with brief rainstorms but by a constant deluge.

William F. Buckley died this year.  This brilliant, decent, devout, and kind man overshadowed everything that the conservative movement in America represented.  When no other voice cried out in the wilderness of establishment Leftism, his voice not only was heard but was heard singing the truth.  Joy with genius, courage with compassion - these were the irreplaceable traits of Buckley.  Do we make men like this anymore?   If we do, these men are invisible.

The same month, Tom Lantos died.  Congressman Lantos was wrong on nearly every public policy issue.  When God chats with Lantos, as He doubtless has, then Lantos will learn his mistakes.  But his mistakes were not sins.  This very liberal congressman, who survived the Holocaust - the only member of Congress with that background - devoted his life to making sure that no other holocaust happens anywhere to any people for the rest of time - that included Christians in Islamic nations, Hungarians under the boot of the Kremlin, Burmese and Tibetans, and anyone else.  Does the Left turn out men like Lantos anymore?  If it does, these men are invisible. 

In May, Charlton Heston died.  A gentle man whose ego could have grown into a monster, instead Heston accepted heaps of ridicule and abuse for standing up against the vile lies of the Left in the entertainment business.  Among the giants of Hollywood who openly confronted its war on decency and commonsense, only Reagan took as many risks as Heston.  He suffered for it, but that did not stop him.  Heston was as resolute as Moses, who he portrayed so perfectly on scene.  Does Hollywood make unbreakable souls like Charlton Heston anymore?  If so, these souls are invisible.

One month later, Tim Russert died.  Like Lantos, Russert was often wrong on his politics.  He was, at best, a moderate.  But Russert was also a real journalist.  He studied.  He worked.  He asked tough questions.  When no one else had the guts to ask Hillary a tough question, Russert did.  He took lots of abuse for that, but Tim Russert appeared completely unfazed.  Russert, like most of the giants who died this year, loved his family.  The deep love and respect for his father, a sentiment so utterly absent from a narcissistic culture which proclaims the irrelevance of males, reminded us that men matter in the lives of children.  Uniquely, Russert was able to live and to thrive in the totalitarian mainstream media.  Is there another man like Russert who could work for NBC or CBS or the New York Times?  If such men live, they are invisible in the effete newsrooms of the mainstream media.

Weeks after Tim Russert died, Jesse Helms followed him.  Conservatives who wonder where we will find the next Ronald Reagan should think in the same instant about where we will find the next Jesse Helms.  The Left will never allow us to know about the profound goodness of Jesse Helms, the man.  He was married to the same wife for sixty-six years.  They adopted a nine year old orphan with cerebral palsy.  His staff, his family, every single person who knew Helms personally, recalled his absolute decency.  The Left, of course, loathed him for being consistently conservative when everyone else in politics at least flinched at the lash of the Left.  Helms never flinched.  He defied the Republican establishment by supporting Ronald Reagan in 1976, and few people can lay as much claim to putting the Gipper in the White House as Helms.  Do conservatives still wonder why we do not have a Ronald Reagan today?  If the conservative movement has great lions like Jesse Helms, these lions are invisible.

One week after Jesse Helms died, Tony Snow died too.  Goodness, grace, diligence, courage, humor, seriousness, moral purpose, love of his fellow man -- those words scarcely cover the only man who could have replaced Rush Limbaugh and done so successfully.  Tony Snow was such an extraordinary talent and an equally extraordinary mensch that it is hard to imagine how we will ever find in our shallow, silly, and scared society any man who faced His Maker with more calm assurance or who could charm, through the bile of Leftism hatred, any mainstream media bureaucrat like Snow.  If God has placed any young men in our midst like Tony Snow, He must have made them invisible.

And Solzhenitsyn is gone too.  His opus magnus was called by establishment periodical, Time Magazine,  "the most important book of the Twentieth Century."  William F. Buckley called Solzhenitsyn the "noblest man alive."  Before Reagan spoke of an "Evil Empire," Solzhenitsyn was speaking of an evil world, even of the evil in American society, which has bloomed into a grotesque flower during the last three decades.       

What did these men have in common?  Not politics, per se.  Tom Lantos was very liberal and Tim Russert was a Democrat who leaned Left.  Reagan was a Roosevelt Democrat.   Heston actively campaigned for Adlai Stevenson and JFK, he opposed the Vietnam War, he supported gun control (at one point), he was an early champion of civil rights, and he was approached by Democrats to run for the Senate in 1969 -- the last decades of his life, Heston held the morally correct political views, but many of his political positions before that were wrongheaded. 

These irreplaceable men moved from Left to Right, but there is no reason to believe that Reagan or Heston, as young Democrats, were not as noble as they were at the end of their life.  They just watched, learned, and changed.  What the seven lost to us this year had in common was an uncompromising interest in moral truth and a willingness to defy any mortal force in pursuit of that truth.

It is superfluous to speak of the moral courage of Solzhenitsyn, Heston, Helms, Snow, or Buckley, but what of someone like Lantos?  Well, like Snow, Lantos faced imminent death with great courage.  Some of his last public statements show his profound gratitude for America as a true land of opportunity.  When Yahoo executives, pressured by Communist China, released email lists of dissidents, Lantos held congressional hearings in which those Yahoo corporate amoralists were forced to sit in the House committee room with the weeping mother of one of those dissidents.  Lantos told these bought men:  "While technologically and financially you are giants, morally you are pygmies."  Amen.

All seven of these men were giants, and none of them much cared what anybody else thought about them or spoke about them.  They were visible men in a society in which, increasingly, the souls and consciences of men are invisible, masked in craven surrender to whatever is advantageous, whatever is chic, whatever is easy.  Too often, these men were literally invisible too -- despite his transcendent moral stature, I know many people who never heard of Alexander Solzhenitsyn.  It is appalling.  Sadly, however, it is also true.

We live in an age filled with convenient platitudes.  Presidential candidates say even less than usual, and what they say is tested by focus groups and polling data.  Every institution of society genuflects to popularity, to wealth, to acceptance, to pleasure, and to banal notions of a successful life.  We can no longer smell the stench of sin or of dishonor.  We have lost our sense of moral purpose in life.  We can replace almost anything in our lives -- human organs, currency and credit, electronic records and documents - but ultimately these things do not define life. 

What matters in life is the yearning of the human spirit for goodness and truth and the courage and grit to make that yearning into deeds and words that matter.  Men who personify these values, unlike hearts and dollars, are irreplaceable.  It is not they who have died:  They are immortal.  It is rather us who die each time one of these rare few leave this world.  We have forgotten, in our busy rush to nowhere, how to replace the irreplaceable.