Pro-business Obama, Expensive Refreshments, Immigration And The Census

*Obama said what about being pro-business? At first I thought it was an April Fool’s joke, but this happened in February. In an interview with Business Week magazine, President Obama said that he and his top officials are all “fierce advocates for a thriving, dynamic free market.” In fact, the president claimed, his administration has promoted a “fundamentally business-friendly agenda.” Sure, if raising taxes, increasing rules and regulations, taking over of medical care and increasing dependence on subsidies are good for business, I guess you can call him pro-business.

*How much would you pay for a cookie and a Coke? USA Today reports that during a three-day conference for its procurement officials (these are the folks whose job it is to buy things at the lowest possible price); NASA paid $62,611 for the 317 attendees to snack on “light refreshments.” That works out to $66 a day for coffee, soft drinks, bagels and cookies. This is just one more example of how careless bureaucrats can be when it comes to spending your money instead of their own.

*At least they don’t all want to come here. The Pew Hispanic Center conducted a survey of how many citizens of Mexico would prefer to live in the United States. Guess what? The report says 46 percent of the population would move north if they could. Gee, that’s only another 49 million immigrants. I expected the number to be higher. Are we sure they asked the question in Spanish?

*Can we outsource the census? The U.S. Census Bureau reports that it will spend $14 billion to count all of the people in the U.S. this year. With a total population of around 309 million, that works out to $45 a head. India, meanwhile, is also conducting a census of its population. With a total population of around 1.2 billion people, they expect it to cost $1.2 billion to count them all, or about $1 a head. Next time can we outsource our count to them?

—Chip Wood

Davy Crockett and the U.S. Constitution

When you hear the name “Davy Crockett,” what do you think of?

If you’re of “a certain age,” as the more diplomatic among us like to say, you probably think of Fess Parker wearing a coonskin cap. The incredibly popular television program in which he starred had every boy in America (and a few girls, too) clamoring for their own buckskin jacket and coonskin cap.

A few years later John Wayne played Davy Crockett in the film The Alamo, laying down his life at the Alamo for the cause of Texas’ independence. About the same time the Kingston Trio had a hit with a song called “Remember the Alamo.” I can still remember most of the lyrics.

But before the events portrayed in the movie and the television show, the famed frontiersman served for a couple of terms in the United States Congress—from 1827 to 1831 and again from 1833 to 1835.

After his defeat in the 1834 election he said, “I told the people of my district that I would serve them faithfully as I had done; but if not… you may all go to hell, and I will go to Texas.” He eventually did, and died on March 6, 1836, when the Alamo finally fell to Mexican troops after an 11-day siege.

It is an episode from his time in Congress that I want to tell you about today. Davy himself first told the tale, in a speech on the floor of the House that he later reprinted under the title “Sockdolager!”

A “sockdolager” is one of those slap-your-forehead moments, when something suddenly becomes blindingly clear to you. That’s how Davy felt when he came to realize that his understanding of the U.S. Constitution was sadly lacking. Here’s what happened.

Near the end of his first term, Davy decided to visit the western edge of his district to see how much support he’d get if he decided to seek reelection. To appreciate how different campaigning was back then, let me quote the beginning of Davy’s tale:

“So I put a couple of shirts and a few twists of tobacco into my saddle-bags and put out. I had been out about a week, and had found things going very smoothly, when, riding one day in a part of my district in which I was more of a stranger than any other, I saw a man in a field plowing and coming toward the road. I gauged my gait so that we should meet as he came to the fence.”

Can you believe it? No fancy entourage, no public relations flacks paving the way, no reporters covering the scene. Not even a buggy with a suitcase or two; it was just Davy, a horse, and a couple of saddle-bags. Life sure was different back then, wasn’t it?

Davy introduces himself to the farmer and says, “I am one of those unfortunate beings called candidates, and ….”

Before he could continue, the man interrupted and said, “Yes, I know you; you are Colonel Crockett. I have seen you once before and voted for you the last time you were elected. I supposed you are out electioneering now, but you had better not waste your time or mine. I shall not vote for you again.”

Needless to say, the young congressman is surprised and asks the man why on earth not. The farmer replies, “You gave a vote last winter which shows that either you have not capacity to understand the Constitution or that you are wanting in the honesty and firmness to be guided by it. In either case, you are not the man to represent me.”

As Davy says, when he later related the story on the floor of Congress, “This was a sockdolager!” I told the man, “There must be some mistake, for I do not remember that I gave my vote last winter upon any constitutional question.” The man replies, “No, Colonel, there’s no mistake. Though I live here in the back woods and seldom go from home, I take the papers from Washington and read very carefully all the proceedings of Congress. My papers say that last winter you voted for a bill to appropriate $20,000 to some sufferers by a fire in Georgetown. Is that true?”

Crockett replies, “Certainly it is. And I thought that was the last vote for which anybody in the world would have found fault with.”

Then comes the classic denouement: “Well, Colonel, where do you find in the Constitution any authority to give away the public money in charity?”

Let me pick up the rest of this part of the story, exactly as Davy Crockett told it on the floor of Congress: “Here was another sockdolager; for, when I began to think about it, I could not remember a thing in the Constitution that authorized it. I found I must take another tack, so I said:  ‘“Well, my friend; I may as well own up. You have got me there. But certainly nobody will complain that a great and rich country like ours should give the insignificant sum of $20,000 to relieve its suffering women and children, particularly with a full and overflowing Treasury, and I am sure, if you had been there, you would have done just as I did.’

I’d love to share the farmer’s entire response with you, but I don’t have room here. Instead, let me do two things. First, let me direct you to Davy Crockett’s complete speech. Personal Liberty Digest has created a special link to “Sockdolager!” by Davy Crockett. To see it, just click here. (And while you’re there, why not send it to a few dozen of your friends?)

Second, let me go right to the farmer’s concluding remarks. He told the congressman, “When Congress once begins to stretch its power beyond the limits of the Constitution, there is no limit to it, and no security for the people.”

Davy has no choice but to acknowledge the truth of what he’s heard. He tells the man, ‘“Well, my friend, you hit the nail upon the head when you said I had not sense enough to understand the Constitution. I intended to be guided by it, and thought I had studied it fully. I have heard many speeches in Congress about the powers of Congress, but what you have said here at your plow has got more hard, sound sense in it than all the fine speeches I ever heard.

“If I had ever taken the view of it that you have, I would have put my head into the fire before I would have given that vote, and if you will forgive me and vote for me again, if I ever vote for another unconstitutional law I wish I may be shot.”

What are the chances, ladies and gentlemen, that your congressman would ever make such an admission—or such a speech—today?

You really should read the rest of the story. You’ll be delighted to learn that when Congressman Crockett gets back to Washington, the House has taken up a bill to appropriate money for the wife of a distinguished naval officer. Everyone who has spoken about it has declared himself in favor. It looks like it will pass unanimously when Davy Crockett takes the floor.

To read what he says, and what happens next, please click here to enjoy Davy Crockett’s “Sockdolager!”

And remember the story the next time your congressman votes to take your money for some government activity that is nowhere to be found in our Constitution.

Until next Friday, keep some powder dry.

—Chip Wood

America’s Greatest Generals, Lee And MacArthur

In one of those coincidences that history seems to love, the two greatest generals the United States has produced—Robert E. Lee and Douglas MacArthur—both came to the end of their long and distinguished careers this week… separated by almost a century.

On April 9, 1865, the not-so Civil War ended at Appomattox, Va., as Confederate General Lee surrendered his sword and the 28,000 men under his command to Union General Ulysses S. Grant. The two generals agreed that all Confederate soldiers were to be pardoned. After being given a generous portion of rations, the Southern soldiers were permitted to mount their horses and return to their homes.

With that meeting the bloodiest conflict in U.S. history was over. At least the official fighting had come to an end. In the former Confederacy there’s still a huge market for “The South Shall Rise Again,” “Forget, Hell!” and other mementos of the War of Northern Aggression, as it’s frequently referred to below the Mason-Dixon Line.

Four score and nine years later, on April 11, 1951, General Douglas MacArthur was removed from his position as commander of United Nations forces in Korea by then-President Harry S Truman. MacArthur’s firing followed his public disclosure that the president refused him permission to bomb the bases and supply lines in Manchuria. It was from these lines that Communist China was supplying our enemies in North Korea.

Upon his return to these shores MacArthur enjoyed a hero’s welcome in San Francisco and New York. The following week he addressed a joint session of Congress, concluding his remarks by saying, “Old soldiers never die; they just fade away.” And that’s basically what Generals Lee and MacArthur—two of the most honorable men to ever put on the uniform of their country—both did.

—Chip Wood

That Cornhusker Kickback Will Cost You Plenty

Remember when Nebraska Senator Ben Nelson cut a deal with the Obama Administration to deliver the 60th vote in favor of Obamacare? To the ever-lasting shame of both sides, the result was an embarrassment that came to be known as the Cornhusker Kickback.

Basically, Big Ben asked for some special help so Nebraska could cover the increased costs of Medicaid when Obamacare finally passed. Barack and his buddies said “done” and—viola!—suddenly there was an additional $100 million for Nebraska buried deep in the legislation.

When news of this sweetheart deal got out, I’m delighted to report that a mighty outcry went up around the country. No one was willing to defend this crass example of Washington payola—not the folks who arranged it or even the voters who benefited from it.

In a sane world such overt bribery would never make it past a conference committee. But fiscal sanity—or even outright honesty—hasn’t been much of a factor in Washington politics for years. Instead of slicing $100 million out of Obamacare, the wheeler-dealers in charge of spending your money decided that “the only fair thing to do” was to give the same benefits to the other 49 states.

All of a sudden a special subsidy that was going to cost us $100 million—pocket change when you’re talking about a $870-billion piece of legislation—soared to $30 billion. Even by Washington’s spendthrift standards, we’re starting to talk about some real money here, folks.

What happened next shouldn’t have surprised me: The powers that be decided to cover the costs by slapping a new tax on well-off Americans. After all, as President Obama keeps reiterating, it’s only right that the wealthiest among us pay “their fair share.”

So that’s how a brand-new tax on what the redistributionists like to call “unearned income” became the law of the land. Starting next year, if you earn more than $200,000 a year, expect to see another bite taken out of anything you’ve managed to save. The new tax will cover interest on your Certificates of Deposit and other savings accounts; any dividends you make on stocks or mutual funds, rental income on any real estate you own, and anything else our masters in Washington can classify as “unearned” income.

Excuse me for a moment while I let out a primal scream or two about the Marxist misnaming of my so-called unearned income.  I worked mighty hard to earn every penny I’ve managed to save. There were a lot of 80 and 90 hour weeks when I was younger and just starting in business. I had to do the work of two or three people every week to keep my company’s doors open. And I’ll bet a lot of you who will be hit by this new tax can say the same thing.

Even Ben Nelson is now in full retreat from the monstrosity he helped create. No sooner had the Senate version of Obamacare finally been approved in the House than he became the first Democrat in the Senate to denounce “reconciliation.” He said he was especially troubled by the new tax he helped foist on us. He also denounced all those other add-ons that have pushed “the total cost of health reform up billions of dollars.”

Gee, does anyone think the senator is trying to curry favor with the voters back home? I hope a lot of Nebraskans will remember all of this when they go to the polls this November.

By the way, while I’m on the subject, may I ask for a show of hands of all of you who feel you don’t pay your fair share of taxes? And yes, Mr. Buffett, if by any chance someone sends you this column, we would love to publish your reply. I’ve seen reports that you think you should pay more. So why don’t you? There’s no law against Berkshire Hathaway adding a zero to every check it sends Uncle Sam.

For the sake of this discussion, I’m willing to grant that every American who is worth more than $50 billion should pay more in taxes than I do. Not just more total dollars, but I’ll compromise my principles enough to tolerate the plank in the Communist Manifesto that calls for a progressive income tax being levied against them.

But for the rest of us, let’s get real, as my kids would say. The canard that well-off Americans aren’t paying “their fair share” is one of the biggest of the Big Lies that socialists have used for decades to foster the culture of envy that dominates almost all of our politics.

Let’s look at the numbers to see what the truth really is. The last year for which the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) has released figures is 2007, so what follows is a bit out of date. But I can’t imagine that the percentages have changed much in ’08 and ’09. Look at what the government’s own figures show:

  • The top 1 percent of taxpayers in this country pay 40.42 percent of all income taxes.
  • For the top 5 percent, the percentage is even higher. The 7.1 million taxpayers who fit this description pay 60.63 percent of all Federal income taxes.
  • The bigger the net, the greater the discrepancy. The top 25 percent of taxpayers (35.3 million of us) can take pride in knowing that we contribute 86.59 percent of federal taxes. And the top 50 percent (70.5 million of us) pay 97.11 of the total taxes collected.

In comparison, the bottom 50 percent of filers—some 70.5 million of Americans with any kind of income—pay a minuscule 2.89 percent of federal tax dollars.

By what possible rationale can anyone say that the “rich” in this country don’t pay their fare share? You tell me. If the 71.22 percent that the top 10 percent in this country pay isn’t “their fair share,” then what is? I’d really like to know how you Obamaites (and yes, there are lots of you who read this column) justify urging government to confiscate more of our earnings.

With tax-collection day now less than two weeks away (Tax Freedom Day won’t happen for nearly two more months; I’ll write about that as it gets closer), I’ve been thinking a lot about our rapacious government and what it will take to put it on a diet.

As we’ve just seen, asking nicely ain’t gonna do it. Even yelling loud and long won’t be enough.

We’ve got to run the rascals out of office. Not all of them, I’m happy to say. Get rid of the worst 10 or 15 percent and the rest of the crowd in Washington will move to the right so fast the loony left won’t know what hit them.

Remember, most legislators aren’t dedicated to making government bigger. They aren’t dedicated to making it smaller, either. They’re just dedicated to staying in office. And if sounding (and voting) like a new Sarah Palin is what it will take to protect their careers, most of them will move right so fast all you’ll see is a blur.

In this country, we can still “throw the rascals out.”  But it will only happen, as I’ve said before, if those of us who work for a living become as devoted to the battle as those who vote for a living.

Until next Friday, think about what you’ll do to make a difference. And keep some powder dry.

—Chip Wood

A Crowd For Hire, Barbies, Airport Scanners and Hobgoblins

*Why didn’t we think of this? There’s a resourceful entrepreneur in Kiev, Ukraine, who’s come up with a great idea. The English translation for Vladimir Boyko’s new company is Easy Work. Here’s what it does. For a small sum, he’ll get as many demonstrators as you want, cheering or jeering whatever you wish, wherever and whenever you want. “Ideology doesn’t matter to us,” he explains. “It matters even less to most students. They will rally only for money.” Strange to see a former communist country become so mercenary, isn’t it?

*More nasty discrimination from Wal-Mart. Here’s the latest cause célèbre that will soon have Al Sharpton, Jesse Jackson and their ilk parading in front of the TV cameras. ABC News found a Wal-Mart store that is selling black Barbie dolls for half the price of white ones. After consulting sociologists, psychologists, child development specialists and other experts, ABC News offered several explanations for this nefarious discrimination. One they apparently missed, however, is that the store had too many black Barbies in inventory and wanted to sell them.

*A friend of mine avoids these airports. Mark Skousen, the producer of FreedomFest, the Las Vegas conference I’ve written about before, says from now on, he won’t go through security at any airport that uses the new full-body search machines. He calls them an outrageous invasion of privacy. I’ll add that the hugely expensive machines are also totally unnecessary. There are newer X-ray machines that are far more effective at spotting metals and other objects, without revealing private body parts. According to the Transportation Security Administration, the airports with the scanners in place are Alburquerque International Sunport, Baltimore/Washington International Thurgood Marshall, Boston Logan International, Chicago O’Hare, Dallas-Ft. Worth International, Detroit Metro, Denver International, Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International, Indianapolis International, Jacksonville International, Kansas City International, Los Angeles International, McCarran International, Miami International, Phoenix Sky Harbor International, Raleigh-Durham International, Richmond International, Ronald Reagan Washington National, Salt Lake City International, San Francisco International, Tampa International and Tulsa International.

*Great quotation. Pat Buchanan says that global warming hysteria is the hoax of the 21st century. He says it reminds him of H.L. Mencken’s classic warning, “The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed—and hence clamorous to be led to safety—by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary.”

—Chip Wood

The Remarkable Pony Express

The “help wanted” ad in the newspaper didn’t mince words:

“Wanted. Young, skinny, wiry fellows. Not over 18. Must be expert riders. Willing to risk death daily. Orphans preferred.”

Through this and similar advertisements, several hundred riders were recruited for a remarkable venture that began 150 years ago this week. On April 3, 1860, the Pony Express began delivering mail and other vital documents from St. Joseph, Mo., to San Francisco. The service charged $5 to carry a half-ounce letter across the continent, a price that was later reduced to $1.

The logistics were impressive. Relay stations—190 in all—were established an average of 10 miles apart across the West. Ten miles is the most a horse can gallop without pause. Riders, who could not weigh more than 125 pounds, were permitted 20 pounds of personal gear (most of it water, plus a rifle and pistol) and carried 20 pounds of mail.

The riders raced all-out to the next station, changed mounts on the run, and continued on for nine more stations, or another 90 miles. It took nearly 100 horses and a dozen riders to cover the 1,966 miles from the Missouri River to the Pacific Ocean. But with the advent of the Pony Express, mail delivery that previously took 25 days by stagecoach (and prior to that, nearly six months by ship) took just 10 days.

A mere 19 months after the Pony Express began, it ceased to exist. It was forced out of business when telegraph wires linked California with the East. As a result, messages could be transmitted for pennies instead of dollars and arrive in minutes instead of days. The Pony Express name and facilities were sold to Wells Fargo, a bank that used the symbol for most of the next century.

In the 19 months that it existed, the Pony Express suffered the loss of only one rider and one mail pouch. But the achievements of those incredibly brave riders became a legendary part of the settlement of the West.

—Chip Wood

Clint Eastwood, Tips From a Bankrupt Ball Player and a Disgraced Economist

*What makes Clint’s day. There’s a new coffee-table book out on Clint Eastwood’s film career, from the 1959 western Rawhide to his most recent directorial duties on Invictus. The book includes 325 photographs and movie stills and some wonderful quotes, such as this one from the time he had the romantic lead in The Bridges of Madison County. Said Clint, “This romantic stuff is really tough. I can’t wait to get back to shooting and killing.”

*Stock tips from a bankrupt ball player? Former Phillies baseball great Lenny Dykstra has hit a tough patch, financially speaking. He declared bankruptcy last year, lost his multi-million-dollar home to foreclosure and even auctioned off his World Series ring. So what’s he doing to stage a comeback? Selling investment advice. For $999, you get three weekly forecasts, a monthly conference call and a signed baseball. No thanks. I can think of lots of better ways to spend my money.

*An intellectually dishonest economist. New York Times columnist and former Enron advisor Paul Krugman penned yet another article last week in which he lambasted Republican opposition to government giveaways. He quotes Senator Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) as saying that unemployment relief “doesn’t create new jobs. In fact, if anything, continuing to pay people unemployment compensation is a disincentive for them to seek new work.” Krugman scoffs that “To me, that’s a bizarre point of view—but then, I don’t live in Mr. Kyl’s universe.” Ah, but he used to. In a textbook he wrote called Macroeconomics, Krugman said, “In other countries, particularly in Europe, [unemployment] benefits are more generous and last longer. The drawback to this generosity is that it reduces a worker’s incentive to quickly find a new job.” Seems Krugman isn’t an economist anymore; he’s an apologist for Big Government.

—Chip Wood

Cramming Obamacare Down Our Throats

Well, they finally did it. By a vote of 219 to 212, the House of Representatives approved Obamacare Sunday night. By the time you read this, President Obama will have signed this monstrosity into law.

The only thing “bipartisan” about the measure was the opposition to it. Thirty-four Democrats joined every Republican in the House in voting against it. But even this doesn’t capture the nationwide opposition to the bill. Every single survey taken in the past two months showed massive public opposition to the measure.

“So what?” was the Democrats rejoinder. “Once this sucker becomes law, people will learn to like it.”

The Left thinks they have won the most important victory yet in the political wars. But they’re about to discover that, like John Paul Jones before us, we have just begun to fight.

Let’s hope that this November plenty of voters will remember what our leaders just did to us.

I’ll spare you a litany of all the “dirty deals, open threats, broken promises and disregard for democracy” that were used to shove this 2,400-page monstrosity down our throats. Even with all the last-minute vote-buying and arm-twisting, I hoped the measure would come up short. And it almost did.

In the week before the vote, Barack Obama held private meetings or telephone conversations with 64 different congressmen. At least one of them, Rep. Jim Costa (D-Calif.), bragged publicly that he used his face time with the president to demand some “special consideration” for his Central Valley district. On March 16, the Interior Department came through, announcing that the water allocation there would be increased from 5 percent to 25 percent. On Saturday, Costa—a former no vote—said he had flipped to yes. But deal-doing had nothing to do with it, of course.

The president also hopped aboard Air Force One and flew to rallies in states where wavering House Democrats resided. He showed up in Pennsylvania (home to five uncommitted votes), Missouri (three wavering Democrats), Ohio (eight undeclared congressmen) and Virginia (four).

The president’s advance men made sure Obama would be talking to friendly crowds. And of course the local media was out in droves. So the Left could be assured of plenty of favorable coverage.

One person who would be missing from the show was the local congressman. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi wasn’t about to allow members of the House to go home until a vote was taken. No Spring Break for those guys and gals! The speaker knew she didn’t dare risk letting representatives go home then. Otherwise, too many would see first-hand just how opposed most of their constituents were to the measure.

While the president used the honey of his rhetoric and the promise of government largesse to win votes, political heavies such as the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) and Moveon.org used threats. Their message was short and simple: Vote no on Obamacare and we’ll find someone else to take your place in Congress.

But all of the bullying, bluffs and bluster wasn’t enough. Kimberley Strassel, who writes the Potomac Watch column for the Wall Street Journal, had been following this story for months. The day after that fateful vote, she reported, “By the weekend, all the pressure and threats and bribes had left the speaker three to five votes short.”

As it happened, there were half-a-dozen votes just waiting to be plucked. All the House leadership had to do to get them was agree to include a line in the legislation saying that no Federal funds would be used to provide abortions. The danger was that if they agreed they’d lose more than six votes among the pro-abortion crowd in the House.

I don’t know who came up with the compromise, but it was a dandy. The language of the legislation wouldn’t be changed—but the president promised to issue an executive order afterwards, stating that no Federal funds provided by the bill could be used for abortions.

That was all it took for Rep. Bart Stupak (D-Mich.) to fold like an accordion. On Sunday afternoon he announced that he and five other colleagues would now support the legislation.

Pro-abortion supporters chortled that such an executive order wouldn’t change a thing. Bart and his buddies had been duped. One pro-life congressman was so upset that he shouted out “baby killer!” during the debate on the House floor.

But, no matter. The dirty deed was done. And within hours, the most radical healthcare legislation in history had been approved by the House of Representatives.

Because the powers-that-be decided to use a sneaky parliamentary procedure called “reconciliation” to pass the measure, that was all it took. There would be no chance for opponents to stop it in the Senate, despite the victory of Scott Brown in Massachusetts. (Click here to see my tirade two weeks ago, called Hey Washington—Reconcile This)

During and after the debate I collected a basketful of quotes by people on both sides of the issue. I’ll spare you all of the gleeful smugness of the victors and most of the dire warnings from the losers. But let me share with you my favorite, which comes from Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas):

“It was truly a sad weekend on the House floor as we witnessed the further dismantling of the Constitution, disregard of the will of the people, explosive expansion of the reach of government, unprecedented corporate favoritism, and the impending end of quality healthcare as we know it….

“Of course, the most troubling aspect of this bill is that it is so blatantly unconstitutional and contrary to the ideals of liberty. Nowhere in the Constitution is there anything approaching authority for the Federal government to do any of this.”

In the aftermath of the bill’s passage, attorneys general in 13 states joined together and filed suit in Florida Tuesday to have the bill declared unconstitutional. Virginia sued separately. Officials in at least 15 other states said they are preparing legal and constitutional challenges to the legislation. We’ll see how far they get. I’m not optimistic, since most Federal judges pay absolutely no attention to constitutional limitations on the reach and power of the Federal government.

No, the only way we’re going to win back our lost freedoms is at the ballot box.
I believe that those of us who work for a living still outnumber those who vote for a living. It’s just that the other side has spent far more time and money getting their side elected.

Are we willing to do what it will take to change things? As I said at the beginning of this column, we’ll find out this November.

Until next Friday, keep some powder dry.

—Chip Wood

Dr. Jonas Salk and the Polio Vaccine

On March 26, 1953, Dr. Jonas Salk made a momentous announcement: He had invented a vaccine that would prevent a child from catching one of the most feared contagions at the time, poliomyelitis.

Today, with polio virtually unknown in the West (the last case in the U.S. occurred in 1979) it is difficult to imagine the panic that took place half a century ago when a child was diagnosed with the disease. Playmates were forbidden to visit. A swimming pool he used would be empty in the middle of the summer. Parents would worry for weeks that one of their children might become crippled for life.

I witnessed the awful consequences of the disease because a family friend was infected in childhood. For the rest of her life, Eleanor was forced to don a metal harness every morning. There was a metal girdle around her waist, with steel braces running down each leg, ending in a pair of heavy black shoes.

Wearing this device and using crutches, Ellie could make her way slowly from room to room. Without it, she was totally immobile. But Ellie was determined to have as normal a life as possible. She and her husband Ken adopted two children and did everything families did back then—go on picnics, play in the pool, participate in the PTA. In the 50-some years I knew Ellie Hawthorne, I never heard her complain about her infirmity.

Thinking back on what she endured it seems almost miraculous that, thanks to the pioneering work of Salk, Dr. Albert Sabin and their colleagues, most children today will never see a case of polio, much less be afflicted by it.

Salk refused to patent his discovery or receive any money for it. He insisted that, “like the sun,” the vaccine should be free to everyone.

—Chip Wood

There Are A Lot More of Us Than They Think

Thirty-three years ago I was in the forefront of a cultural revolution that would change the face of politics in America. And I didn’t even know it.

Here’s what happened. I was living in California at the time, when a friend of mine in Atlanta told me he knew of a job that would be perfect for me. He was the manager of the local CBS radio station and they were experimenting with a new format—talk radio.

“We’re looking for a conservative with a sense of humor,” he said. “Why don’t you come to Atlanta and give it a try?” As it happened, I had an excellent reason to visit Atlanta. At the time, a small book-publishing company I had founded had released a book called We Hold These Truths. It was a study of the United States Constitution by Congressman Larry McDonald.

The book was a big hit for our small company and I wanted to talk with Larry about doing a second one. Instead of staying in town a day for that meeting, I changed my schedule to be there a week. One of the on-air hosts was going to be on vacation that week and the plan was for me to sit in for him. If I did a good enough job… well, we’d cross that bridge when we came to it.

Early Monday morning I got a crash course in the mechanics of talk radio: How to put a caller on the air and how to turn down his volume if I wanted to get rid of him; how to go into commercial breaks; what to say at the top of the hour, when we went live to CBS News. And most important of all, how to use the five-second delay in case a caller said something inappropriate. An hour later, the “on air” light went on and Chip Wood became a talk host.

The star at WRNG Radio was an outspoken libertarian you may have heard about: Neal Boortz is now a nationally syndicated talk host who reaches millions of people every week. A young Englishman who went to work on a competitor station around that time has become even better known: Sean Hannity has his own TV show, a syndicated radio show and several best-selling books to his credit.

For the past decade or two talk radio has been credited (or accused; it depends where you are on the political spectrum) with becoming one of the most influential forces on the political scene in the United States. Thank you Rush Limbaugh, Neal and Sean and the many other pioneers. And thank you to the tens of millions of listeners and callers who made talk radio so successful.

But I’ve got to admit, back in the late 1970s none of us involved in talk radio had any idea this would happen. Our ratings at WRNG Radio weren’t exactly in the basement but we weren’t anywhere near the top, either. In 1981, the station’s owners decided to turn off the mics and switch to a more popular format. I went back to my first love, publishing. Sean went to New York to seek his fame and fortune. And Neal stayed in Atlanta and started yakking for WSB Radio, the most powerful and most popular station in the South.

I believe that talk radio succeeded because, for the very first time, conservatives and libertarians knew they weren’t alone. There was an entire country full of people who felt the same way they did about the issues and personalities of the day. And we could finally say so!

For the previous 30 years the liberal media in this country had a virtual monopoly. Their views were all that you were allowed to hear on radio and TV or read in the most popular newspapers and magazines. Conservatives were made to feel isolated and alone. We were told our opinions didn’t matter and that our efforts were ineffectual. “Why bother opposing us?” was the unspoken message; “It’s hopeless.”

But thanks to talk radio, we could prove them wrong. And boy did we.

Today, talk radio still reaches and influences millions of people every day. But there’s another phenomena that has passed it in reach, influence and importance. That is the Internet, which has enabled millions of people to read what they want, write want they want and campaign for what they want.

The column you’re reading now is a perfect example of what I mean. More than 500,000 people have signed up to receive Personal Liberty Alerts where this column, Straight Talk, appears every Friday morning. PLA is just one of hundreds, no, thousands, of outlets on the Internet where conservatives and libertarians can communicate with each other—and often, have at it with liberals.

Ain’t it fun to be heard?

Thanks to us, Fox Television has become the most-watched TV network in the country. (And don’t you know this fact drives the brass at all of the “original” networks absolutely crazy?)

A small conservative book publisher in Washington, D.C., called Regnery, has more best-selling books to its credit than any of the major New York houses: Which proves that we conservatives not only can read, we want to read!

Thanks to us there are Tea Parties being held in communities big and small across the country. More than 10,000 conservative activists gathered in Washington, D.C., last month, where they enjoyed baiting liberals and boasting that the right would take back Congress this November. (We’ll see.)

Talk about heating things up: Later this summer, some 2,000 conservative and libertarian activists will gather in Las Vegas for “a really big shew” called FreedomFest. C-Span will be there to record several hours of the proceedings. The subsequent rebroadcasts will reach hundreds of thousands more people.

I’ll be the Master of Ceremonies at FreedomFest and will have the honor of introducing people like Steve Forbes, Charles Gasparino, Rick Santelli, John Mackey, Doug Casey, Mark Skousen and dozens of others to an enthusiastic crowd. If you’d like to be part of the fun, go to www.freedomfest.com and sign up. (Note that the early-bird special expires April 15.)

But enough of a shameless plug. The larger point I wanted to make is that the people who share our values and our views make up the majority of people in this country. But we could never prove it before this. Now, thanks to talk radio, the Internet and all the alternative forms of communication that we’ve created, there can be no doubt.

To paraphrase a wonderful line from one of my favorite movies, we’re mad as hell. And we don’t have to take it anymore.

Until next Friday, keep some powder dry.

—Chip Wood