The president said yesterday that the tragedy at Columbine should make
us look critically at ourselves as a society and as a nation. That
should search out our obvious weaknesses and failings as a people and as a culture. The president saw Tuesday as a day of national shame.
I don't see it that way at all. I look at Columbine and I am proud to be an American. I am touched and inspired by the goodness and courage of average people, and the extent to which decency and faith spring from the American breast.
I mean no disrespect, and I am not overlooking the great pain Tuesday's carnage wrought on so many lives and families, but as I look at what happened in Littleton I see proof not that things are going wrong in America, but that things are going right.
Countless people, from Joe and Betty America to their politicians and commentators, have waxed gravely about what the Columbine murders "say about us." A Utah state legislator said it all started when "they took prayer out of schools." Rosie O'Donnell ranted angrily that we just "stand up to the NRA." A minister at a Denver memorial service said "gun manufacturers must be held accountable for this tragedy."
For two days on my radio show I have heard from people who blame abortion, poor parenting, a lack of personal responsibility, Bill Clinton, liberals in general and a growing lack of spirituality in our society. Each of them has seen some great flaw in the American heart that gave rise to the butchers of Columbine. And each of them has been wrong.
Because to see the two murderers and the evil they did as a product of our national soul, and then to simultaneously ignore the hundreds of heroes and the goodness they did is to misrepresent the truth. If the tiny evil minority is a product of this society, so too is the overwhelming good majority.
If you look at our failures, you must also look at our successes. I'm humbled to belong to a society which produced a hero teacher who, shot through the chest, his lifeblood glugging away, led a group of students to the barricaded safety of a classroom. For three and a half hours, as he knew he was dying, he calmed the students, and gave them direction.
I am proud to know that my country raised the youngsters who clustered
around that teacher, tending his wounds as best they could, keeping him
conscious, using a cellular phone to call paramedics for advice.
I am honored to share citizenship with the boy who thought to pull out the teacher's wallet so that he might look upon pictures of his family as he fought to stay alive.
It was this culture which produced another teacher, his charges hiding in a room, brave enough to stand with nothing more than a fire extinguisher to drive away a threat to his students' safety. The teen-agers who knelt to shield and comfort their wounded classmates grew up in this society. As they carried the injured to safety and stopped to pray with the frightened, they were acting out of a set of values they learned as Americans.
One boy in the library threw himself on top of a fellow student, whispering to her to be calm, saying he would protect her body with his own. That boy, that hero, grew up in a world with legal guns, violent video games, hateful rock'n'roll, no prayer in schools, countless abortions, grizzly movies, Bill Clinton in the White House and record divorce rates. Yet he, and hundreds of others, acted with the purest of human virtues and in a noble and selfless fashion.
What does that "say about us?"
It says we are a good people. And while we have weaknesses and challenges, we are fundamentally strong. Our heart is essentially good, our children are raised with natural decency. Lunch ladies shouted directions for students to flee, ninth-graders organized into groups for protection, children's cell phones told cops where the shooting was and when it had died down. And in the wake of it all, children with shattered lives stood before cameras and politely and clearly told a nation what they had seen. Strong enough to care, strong enough to endure, strong enough to witness.
As the tears are wiped away and the shock and grief begin to fade,
Columbine will leave me with pride. Pride in the students and teachers
suburban school, one little community that represents us all.
With dignity, compassion and courage. The America those kids grew
up in helped them to be some of the best and strongest people in the world.
They are not the product of a failed society, they are the offspring of the greatest culture and nation on earth.
The president who saw no flaw in himself is too quick to see a flaw in us. Those who hate our way of life, or who seek to use tragedy to advance their political causes, will see deep trouble in the American soul. But their perception is not true. It doesn't reflect us, it reflects them.
This is a good land. We are a good people. The children we raise
are overwhelmingly decent and pure. For us to mistakenly assert
otherwise is to deny them and their virtue. It is to deny the testament
of the heroes of Columbine.