John Feehery: Speaking Engagements


On statues and statutes

Posted on June 30, 2020
It’s far easier to tear down statues than to enact statutes.

Sam Rayburn, the former Speaker of the House, once said, “Any jackass can tear down a barn, but it takes a good carpenter to build one.”

There are a lot of jackasses out there and not nearly enough carpenters.

Statues stand only as a beacon to history. They can’t fight back if angry activists choose to tear them down.

Washington, the town known for making statutes, is filled with all kinds of statues dedicated to all kinds of people. There are more than a hundred outside of the Capitol building, ranging from Albert Einstein to Kemala Attaturk, from Winston Churchill to Robert Emmett, from Abraham Lincoln to George McClellan, from John Marshall to Nelson Mandela.

If you get a chance to walk into the Capitol, you see even more statues. Each state gets a chance to remember two people from its history, many of whom have been obscured by time.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) has taken aim at erasing some of the history found in the nation’s Capitol. She wants some of the statues removed and has taken to removing the portraits of former Speakers of the House who presided over the chamber when America was a far different place.

She would be better off making better laws and not whitewashing our history, warts and all.

Instead of trying to find common ground with the House minority on police reform, she advanced a partisan piece of legislation meant to die a certain death in the upper chamber. She coordinated closely with Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), who successfully filibustered a police reform effort authored by Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina.

Scott has a vested interest in improving policing in America, because, unlike Pelosi or Schumer, Scott has actually been racially-profiled in his real life, both before he became a senator and after.

But the idea that the hated Donald Trump would sign a new statute right before the election wasn’t going to fly in partisan Washington. Let’s tear down some statues instead of erecting new statutes.

Historians ought to judge this moment in our nation’s history harshly. But I have no illusions about any of our academic elite these days.

They have become so partisan, so angry, so incoherent and so scared of honest debate that they are probably among the crowd calling for these statues to come down.

When I was in college, I had some professors who were more than willing to teach about the evils of communism. That was back in the day when George Orwell was read not as a guidebook but as a cautionary tale. Arthur Koestler’s “Darkness At Noon” was taught as an example of the evils of totalitarianism, not as a way to educate students about the finer points of cancellation culture.

Back in my day, the threat of communism was real and there was a general consensus that America was right to try to stop its spread. That consensus was shared by most, but not all historians.

These days, finding any professors who find any redeeming qualities about America is a challenge. And that cynicism about the American experiment in democracy and our reliance on free-market capitalism has had an impact on many students who now are most insistent on tearing that history down.

In 1969, Roy Medvedev, a dissident Russian, wrote a searing indictment of Joseph Stalin (who murdered up to 40 million people in his reign as Soviet dictator) called “Let History Judge.” For his trouble, he was jailed, harassed, and exiled from the Communist Party.

It’s hard to judge history if your leaders are going out of their way to destroy it.

We shouldn’t let Democrats -- who condone the tearing down of statues as they refuse to enact common-sense statutes -- get away with it. America has a great history, warts, and all. That history should be valued, not dismembered, piece by piece.