By Steve Wolfgang
Footnote: Peggy Noonan, What I Saw At the Revolution: A Political Life in the Reagan Era (New York: Random House/Ballantine Books, 1990, 1991), pp. 28-30.
Peggy Noonan is a former newswriter for Dan Rather on CBS Radio news who in 1984 became a speech-writer for Ronald Reagan and, later, George Bush. She wrote some of the more memorable speeches delivered by Presidents Reagan and Bush, including the Reagan speech at Pointe du Hoc in Normandy in 1984, the January 1986 speech following the space shuttle “Challenger” disaster, as well as George Bush’s nomination acceptance and Inaugural addresses.
Although not a “religious” book, it contains some enlightening passages about issues where politics and religion frequently intersect, and provides some insight into the often anti-religious bias of our public news media. I offer several of these passages for your consideration, and hope you will profit from them as I did.
A few months later I walked in Rather’s office and found him pacing the floor. It was the morning after John Hinckley had been found not guilty by reason of insanity. Rather was astonished and angry. We did a piece on it that became somewhat controversial. A radio editor wanted to pull it because it was more like an editorial than a commentary, which was true. But sometimes you have to do an editorial and not a commentary.
“There was a dreamlike quality to what happened in the courtroom yesterday. It was a dark dream full of movement: the jury walks in and hands up the verdict, the judge mouths the words on the paper, the assassin nods his head forward and backward and closes his eyes. The parents cry in happiness, and the government lawyers are struck dumb. The spectators look at each other in astonishment and turn to each other with words, and the judge snaps, ‘There will be order here!’
“The dream jumps. In a suburban home sits a witty and competent man whose life was quite ruined by the young man who nods and closes his eyes and hears that he is not guilty of committing ruin. The dream ends with a question: Who tells James Brady?”
Break for a commercial then:
“The jury has spoken, their judgment is final, and that is as it should be. But something is wrong here. Years ago Clarence Darrow made a speech to the inmates of a Chicago prison, and he told them, ‘You are here because you do not have money.’ Oh they wanted to hang him for telling the truth. But money talks, and in the Hinckley case money yelled and banged on the table and won the day. The cleverest lawyers were hired, the most expensive psychiatrists. The Hinckley’s committed a considerable part of their considerable wealth to the case, and when it was over, the victorious defense attorney smiled and said, ‘Another day, another dollar.’ There’s a legal maxim for you.
“Something is wrong here. America’s prisons are full of poor blacks and whites and Hispanics, and their crimes are the usual assortment of human transgressions. What does the Hinckley verdict say to them? It says, ‘Your big problem, boy, is that you are not a millionaire’s son, and you went after a grocery clerk. Next time go after a president. This will help you with your insanity plea, because this is what the plea can mean: If you commit a big crime then you are crazy, and the more heinous the crime the crazier you must be. Therefore you are not responsible, and nothing is your fault.’
“The insane are among us, it is true. But so are the calculating. And what they learn from this verdict is that you can do anything; you can wait like a jackal and shoot a man in the head and leave him for dead and buy your way out with clever lawyers and expensive psychiatrists.
“Something is wrong here. If John Hinckley has the will (and he has shown he is willful) and the way (and his family is rich), he will probably down the road ask to be released from St. Elizabeth’s on the grounds that he is no longer dangerous. And sooner or later a panel of experts may nod and say yes, yes, because of the logic of his request. An expert will testify, ‘Hinckley only shot people to become famous and now he is famous so he no longer has a reason to shoot people so he’s no longer dangerous so we can let him go.’
“Something is wrong here. Wrong about this age of millionaire assassins and high-powered lawyers and cool talk about the secrets of the mind – and no talk about old abstractions like responsibility and punishment and sin.”
Well, all right. It was the day after the verdict and we were hot under the collar. But we were engulfed by telephone calls from people saying thank you for caring about this and voicing how we feel. They were appreciative for unalloyed, unexpected passion on a subject that was not, for once, a matter of left and right.
Guardian of Truth XXXV: 11, p. 332
June 6, 1991