The highlight of last month’s scenes from Kiev was the image of jubilant Ukrainians toppling and decapitating a statue of Vladimir Lenin. My heart swelled with joy to see the old Bolshevik yanked from his pedestal.
The primary reason to relish the demise of Lenin’s image is because he was the founder of what was properly called the Evil Empire. But there was another reason to cheer: because creating god-like images out of men is not healthy for anyone.
When I see a famous general cast in bronze, gazing out from atop his mighty steed, I get a little nervous. Does anyone really deserve this kind of veneration?
Elevating our leaders to mythical status requires us to overlook their failings. We refuse to hear a word of criticism of our beloved heroes, preferring to lash out at their critics instead. We attribute ulterior motives to the critics because they tell us things we aren’t inclined to hear. Hero-worship makes liars out of all of us because it compels us to despise dissident truth-tellers.
The original American Idol was George Washington. There was a time in this country when hardly a negative word could be spoken of him. That consensus was shattered during the turbulent 1960s when hundreds of thousands of university students, most of whom were either black or sympathized with their struggle, began to question our national reverence for a man who owned slaves.
And they had a point.
Washington survived the 1960s but not unscathed. He is still honored on our money and in the name of our nation’s capital, but today we can talk about him critically. He hardly seems like the invulnerable giant who supposedly threw a silver dollar across the Potomac. He’s just a man whose legacy can be debated.
The black students who humbled Washington had an idol of their own—Martin Luther King, a very flawed character who could never live up to the messianic image created for him. King counted an unusual number of Communist Party members as friends and trained for “social justice” at the Highlander Folk School, a communist-linked training center in Tennessee. Stanley Levison, a former top-tier member of the CPUSA, served King as a behind the scenes mentor, as well as his trusted speech writer and financial benefactor. Levison’s association with the CPUSA stretched back to the Stalin era, and his departure, timed almost exactly to coincide with the Montgomery bus boycott, looks suspiciously like a ruse.
It’s no surprise that King concealed his mentor/protégé relationship with Levison and partnerships with other communists. In a country with a strong Judeo-Christian heritage it’s much more effective to cite Jesus as your inspiration rather than Marx. No one, after all, had any civil rights in communist hell holes like the USSR, not even white Russians. They were limited in their speech, worship, and right to assemble. What moral authority would a communist or fellow traveler have to preach to the rest of us?
The Atlanta preacher was also an illegitimate “reverend” and “doctor.” In 1990, Boston University conducted an investigation into allegations that a young MLK had plagiarized portions of his thesis while a divinity student at BU. The panel of scholars found validity to the charges though they declined to revoke the degree. King is so untouchable that he can plagiarize his doctoral thesis and the university that awarded him the degree doesn’t care. No one on the panel could bring themselves to use the “f” word to describe this secular saint: fraud.
We conservatives have our own idol: Ronald Reagan. The GOP primaries have become a contest in who can reverently invoke the Gipper’s name the most times in ninety minutes. But it was Reagan who gave us amnesty for illegal aliens in 1986. He committed troops to Lebanon, then pulled them out after suicide bombers killed 241 of our Marines. He probably should have kept our troops out of Lebanon in the first place but, once committed, slinking away in shame was the exact wrong thing to do. Osama bin Laden witnessed our retreat and concluded that America is weak.
Worst of all, Reagan opened the door to legalized abortion. As governor of California, Reagan was confronted with a bill that would change the course of history—the Therapeutic Abortion Act. He signed it, though later regretted it, blaming it on his inexperience as an inexperienced governor; a sorry excuse if you ask me. Governor Reagan’s signature opened the flood gates for Roe v. Wade.
In Reagan’s defense, the law was supposed to be very narrowly focused, allowing abortion only in the case of rape or incest, or when maternal life or health was threatened. Of course, the “health” loophole was abused and the law became what it was always destined to be: abortion on demand. If Reagan didn’t see this coming he was a fool. Or maybe he did see it coming and he just didn’t care.
While we’re at it, let’s smash a few more idols. Nelson Mandela was a terrorist and a communist. Harvey Milk was a schoolteacher with an appetite for underage boys. Ron Paul wrote his own wing-nutty newsletters despite his cockamamie theories about mysterious unnamed ghost writers. Abraham Lincoln suspended habeas corpus and imprisoned congressmen for opposing the war. Franklin Roosevelt confiscated Americans’ private gold and tossed Japanese-Americans unceremoniously into internment camps. Charles Darwin was deeply racist and sexist. Martin Luther harbored a burning hatred for Jews.
Every political or ideological movement has an idol in need of obliteration. And obliterate them we should. None of our heroes, when properly examined under the microscope, ever really passes inspection. They are flesh and blood, stricken with all the failings that come with being human. No social taboo should restrain us from talking about those failings. We’ve demystified George Washington, thank goodness, but we still have a few dozen more idols who need to be smashed. Pick up your hammer and follow me.