John Feehery: Speaking Engagements


Stand and Deliver

Posted on April 1, 2010
As I read the New York times this morning, for some reason my thoughts turned to Ayn Rand.

Rand, famous objectivist philosopher and author of the influential books Atlas Shrugged and The Fountainhead, would have nodded her head in appreciation to the life described in this obituary:

“Jaime Escalante, the high school teacher whose ability to turn out high-achieving calculus students from a poor Hispanic neighborhood in East Los Angeles inspired the 1988 film “Stand and Deliver,” with Edward James Olmos in the starring role, died Tuesday at his son’s home in Rosedale, Calif. He was 79 and lived in Cochabamba, Bolivia.

Success, acclaim and the celebrity status that came with “Stand and Deliver” brought strife. Mr. Escalante butted heads with the school’s administration and fellow teachers, some jealous of his fame, others worried that he was creating his own fief. The teacher’s union demanded that his oversubscribed calculus classes be brought down in size.

In 1991, Mr. Escalante left Garfield to teach at Hiram Johnson High School in Sacramento. Without him, Garfield’s calculus program withered. In 2001 he retired and returned to Bolivia.”

Escalante is the embodiment of John Galt, the hero in Atlas Shrugged who led an organized "strike" against those who use the force of law and moral guilt to confiscate the accomplishments of society's productive members, and Howard Roark, who struggled in obscurity rather than compromise his artistic and personal vision.

But of course, the Bolivian teacher didn’t necessarily struggle in obscurity.  He got the job done, by browbeating, inspiring and motivating kids who didn’t think they could figure out complicated mathematics to become first-rate mathematicians.

Escalante upset the apple cart.  He provoked jealousy from teachers who didn’t want to work that hard and administrators who didn’t want to deal with his stardom.  They put their own self-involved collective interests above the interests of the students that they were supposed to be promoting.

It is interesting to note that Escalante was an immigrant.  I have long been a proponent of legal immigration because I believe that what makes America unique is the role that immigrants play in our society.  They are hungry.  They are competitive.  They keep the melting pot boiling.  They bring in their ideas and their culture, but they don’t, usually, bring in their expectations of place in society.  They don’t come to America to sit on their laurels and because of their expectations, they strive to do better for themselves and their children.

That is how it has always been in America, from the very beginning.

Barack Obama is, in many ways, an immigrant.  While, of course, his mother was American, his father was African, and he himself spent most his early life off the continental United States, first in Hawaii and then in Indonesia.  Obama, who struggled early on to define his own identity, came to the conclusion at some point in time that he could capture the ultimate prize of the immigrant.  He became President.

Obama’s ability to win the White House really was a triumph of individualism over collectivism.  He didn’t just go along to get along.  He shook up the political establishment.  He dared to present a different vision for what a President could be.  He not only had a strange name, but he also had an odd upbringing, a checkered past (his cocaine use portrayed in his autobiography), controversial connections (Jeremiah Wright, William Ayres), and political philosophy well outside the mainstream of American history (we are going to spread the well around).

Obama promised to bring about a Howard Roark/John Galt kind of transformation, change we could all believe in.  But unfortunately, he has not governed with a sense of authenticity or with an integrity of vision that glorifies individual achievement.  Instead, he has governed as a conventional liberal politician. He is not Howard Roark.  He is Peter Keating.  Obama is a second-rate architect of washed-up liberal bromides.

America is reacting sharply to this new President who offered us all so much hope for the future during the campaign, but has instead delivered only the warmed over collectivism of the past.

The President has not stood and delivered a new path to American greatness, based on individual achievement and a commitment to excellence.  He instead has stood and watched as Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid passed laws that enhanced the power of the government, diminished the power of the people, raised taxes, increased wasteful spending, and put our nation on a perilous path towards collective bankruptcy.

I never thought that Mr. Obama was a secret objectivist nor did I think that he was a true believer in the marketplace and individual liberty.  But I do think that his election victory was an inspiring example of what one person can do to rise above humble beginnings to achieve great things.  Let us hope someone else – someone who actually believes in freedom and the free market – can be inspired by Mr. Obama’s journey and run against him in two years.