This thought occurred to me as I witnessed the recent “2006 Bradley Prizes Ceremony” sponsored by the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation. The evening was an extraordinary one, from the singing of the “National Anthem” to the spectacular concluding musical performance by Della Reese, Ronan Tynan, and the Shiloh Baptist Gospel Choir. Every speaker — including TBF chairman Thomas L. (Dusty) Rhodes, TBF President and CEO Michael W. Grebe, and Master of Ceremonies George F. Will — every performer, and every recipient emphasized the words and music of freedom.
The deserving recipients — Fouad Ajami, Clint Bolick, Hernando de Soto, and Shelby Steele — could not have been more inspiring and instructive as they addressed the origin, defense, application, importance, and preservation of freedom.
In the interest of full disclosure, I was a recipient of a “2005 Bradley Prize.” For this reason, I am vulnerable to the accusation that I have a bias about this event. I plead guilty, and commit this fault in the interest of sharing what I gleaned from that evening spent with others who host talk shows, write columns, conduct research, give speeches, monitor legislation, or perform any number of activities for one of the “think tanks” or publications that seek to effect public policy. The sum of the parts is Freedom.
By evening’s-end, one thought had been deeply implanted in my brain: all that we do is for the sake of freedom, and if we don’t do it, it won’t get done. If Clint Bolick, Milton Friedman, and others in the school-choice movement don’t provide leadership to advance school choice, it won’t happen. If Shelby Steele, Tom Sowell, and others who want to change our nation’s destructive policies about race don’t stick their necks out, nothing of significance will change.
The political parties have either been reduced to irrelevance in the fight for freedom or have become a direct threat to it. For example, when Steele made the observation that the Michigan Civil Rights Initiative (MCRI), which constitutionally guarantees equal treatment for all and preferences for none, was on the “front lines” of the fight for personal freedom, I could not help but think about the fact that the Michigan Republican Party and its nominees for governor and the U.S. Senate oppose MCRI. Instead of supporting freedom, they support “diversity.”
Who would ever have imagined that the party of Lincoln and Reagan would be opposing a ballot initiative that would eliminate “discrimination and preferential treatment” based on race, sex, color, ethnicity, or national origin? Who would ever have believed that a Republican president and that Republican United States senators would need to be persuaded to secure America’s border? Who would ever have believed that the political party most identified with patriotism and values such as freedom and liberty would lose its way and become essentially an echo of the party that for generations has been a shrill captive of identity politics?
And so it is left to the “vast right-wing conspiracy” to do the heavy-lifting for freedom. For me, the “2006 Bradley Prizes Ceremony” was an important way to muscle up for the task.
–Ward Connerly is chairman of the American Civil Rights Coalition and a 2005 Bradley Prize recipient.