They're Beginning to Get It

December 15, 1993|By CAL THOMAS

NEW YORK — New York.--How predictable. After the carnage on the Long Island Railroad commuter train last week, politicians called for more laws to address the growing incidence of crimes against innocent humanity.

Congress and the 50 state legislatures pass more laws every year than used to be passed in the lifetime of an average citizen. Each anti-crime bill is styled as tougher than previous ones -- yet crime increases and people are more afraid. The lawless do not respect laws. If they did, crime would have declined by now in the legislative and rhetorical avalanche.

Amazingly, some liberals and conservatives are starting to sing the same tune on the causes of crime and societal collapse. Though they don't agree on the treatment, they concur on the diagnoses.

Television producer and political activist Norman Lear addressed the National Press Club last week, and a lot of what he said could have come from Bill Bennett or Dan Quayle. ''At no time in my life,'' said the 71-year-old Mr. Lear, ''has our culture been so estranged from spiritual values . . . our problems lie beyond the reach of politics alone.''

Mr. Lear blamed materialism and ''a numbers-oriented culture based on what we can grasp and count. We have lost touch with the best of humanity -- the inner life.''

Charles Colson, Richard Nixon's tough-on-crime ''hatchet man,'' is in harmony with Mr. Lear when he writes of the most terrifying thing that can happen to a society: the death of conscience in its young people.

''Crime is a mirror not just of a community's families,'' writes Mr. Colson, ''but also of its moral state. A society cannot long survive if the demands of human dignity are not written on our hearts.''

The Clinton administration's initial response to the Long Island commuter train massacre was more money for more police and more gun control laws. But Mr. Colson correctly notes: ''No number of police can enforce order; no threat of punishment can create it. Crime and violence frustrate every political answer, because there can be no solution apart from character and creed.''

No government program can solve America's core problem, which is, as Norman Lear put it, ''a hunger for connectedness.'' Our problems are not economic and political. They are moral and spiritual -- and must be addressed on that level if real solutions are to be found.

Both President and Mrs. Clinton have been experimenting with the rhetoric of the spirit in recent months. Even if they are not right about everything, they (and Norman Lear) are on to something that all of us know to be true. We are missing the link of virtue that holds a nation together. It is not a crisis in government -- it is a crisis in us.

Virtue, morals, respect for law and other people are not concepts that are caught, like a strain of flu. They are not acquired by human nature. In fact, they must be taught, even imposed. Today, tragically, our culture, steeped in the deviant and the base, seems to create sick souls, who kidnap and kill children in California and Missouri and mow down innocent commuters in New York.

Cal Thomas is a syndicated columnist.

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