Being Faithful to a Founding
A college professor talks good sense.


You may remember Carol M. Swain. She may go down in history as one of those who played it straight on a witness panel with comedian Stephen Colbert on Capitol Hill last year. She talks with National Review Online’s Kathryn Jean Lopez about some of what she was discussing that morning — immigration — as well as other controversial issues facing our country, topics covered in her recent book, Be the People: A Call to Reclaim America’s Faith and Promise.

: “As one of twelve children living in the rural South in a four-room shack with no running water, I experienced poverty and racism,” you write. “Yet even when I was a high school dropout and teenage mother, I still trusted in the American Dream.” How? Could a kid in the equivalent situation today have the same dream?

CAROL M. SWAIN: I guess I was too naïve to know that the odds were stacked against me. Success starts with a dream. Any child can dream and sometimes those dreams meet with success. I think it is important that we don’t encourage young people to focus on the negative odds or to see themselves as helpless victims of oppression. The negativity can prove crippling to some people.

LOPEZ: How important is this upward-mobility dream and is it still a live one? Occupy Wall Street suggests that it isn’t, right?

SWAIN: The upward-mobility dream is essential for encouraging people to put in the sweat and tears that are essential for success. I don’t know about others, but I want America to continue to be a society where people who work hard can overcome the disadvantages of their birth. Many of the Occupy Wall Street protesters strike me as elites who have done nothing but go to school and spend and borrow money for material things that they didn’t necessarily need. I agree with Rudy Giuliani, who suggested that they should go out and occupy a job. There is something transformative about hard work.

: Why did you write Be the People? Just how do we do that?

SWAIN: I wanted to wake up a segment of the American public to a deception that I believe comes from trusted authorities who have largely concealed political and social agendas. We can “be the people” once we reclaim the authority granted us under the Constitution. I want people to reflect on the fact that it is we the people who elect the politicians that enact policies and programs on our behalf. Therefore, we are responsible for the direction of the country and the failure of politicians to be responsive to our needs. To really “be the people” we must be transformed from the inside out. Our broken institutions are a reflection of the state of our minds and hearts.

: Why do you take offense when a politician ends his speech with “God bless America”?

SWAIN: Okay, I am cynical, and I think that most of the politicians are pandering to the public. I’m offended because, when I look at America, I see very little that I think would warrant God’s blessings. I would like nothing better than to see our political leaders become God-fearing and our nation blessed and restored to prosperity as a result.