“End of discussion” won’t occur if Centennial Institute can help it

As chairman of the annual Western Conservative Summit, I was pleased to invite back for this year's edition our longtime friends and political allies, Mary Katharine Ham and Guy Benson, to talk about their important new book, End of Discussion: How the Left’s Outrage Industry Shuts Down Debate, Manipulates Voters, and Makes America Less Free. Both have spoken at several previous Summits, and Guy has road-tripped to places like Grand Junction CO and Scottsdale AZ on behalf of the Institute’s freedom message. Why the invitation? Because I see timeliness and urgency in Ham and Benson’s defense of the American ideal of open, spirited, civil debate in the public square, and in their case studies of assaults on that ideal by progressives. Their book valuably reinforces our mission at Centennial Institute, as Colorado Christian University’s think tank, to equip citizens "to be seekers of truth [and] to debunk spent ideas” (quoting from the CCU Strategic Objectives).

It is precisely for that reason, because America needs better citizenship and lots of it, that any good citizen with a thoughtful message is always welcome on our speaker platform. We’ve had Marxists, Darwinists, Freudians, Muslims, Jews, atheists, and gays, not in most cases to present a worldview we reject, but to further the discussion on great issues of the day, worldview aside. That open forum, all comers given a hearing, has been and will remain our policy.

Thus when Guy Benson recently stated he is gay — putting it on record for intellectual honesty and putting it in perspective as a mere footnote at the back of his and Mary Katharine Ham’s book — we viewed the disclosure as immaterial to our reasons for having invited the two authors months before. Neither is coming to the Summit to speak on gay marriage or on gayness in any way. They are coming to speak on keeping the public square open. What a surrender if Centennial Institute moved for its closure by suddenly declaring them unwelcome.

We program the Western Conservative Summit by weighing our invited speakers’ capability as advocates and the merits of their civic vision, not by appraising their personal lives. We’re not confident how well any of us could stand such an appraisal ourselves, if the secrets of all hearts were known. Rather, as followers of Jesus and servants of a Christian university, in our dealings with every individual, we want to live out what St. Paul called “the Gospel of God’s grace” (Acts 20:24).

Benson and Ham’s book title calls out one side of the political divide, the Left, for trying to shut down debate and thus make America less free. But neither side is guiltless. Centennial Institute, committed as we are to freedom, faith, and family, will not waver on those core truths as biblically proclaimed. Nor will we yield to anyone’s ad hominem call to end discussion, be it from Left or Right. Let the discussion flourish unafraid, we say. Let truth and error freely contend. We’re certain the truth will prevail.

end discussion book cover

Summit felt revolutionary

By Jay Ambrose (Scripps Howard Syndicate, June 13) Just maybe, possibly, conceivably we've come to a non-violent revolutionary moment in America, and here's one reason I think so: A Denver area conference. Called the Western Conservative Summit 2010, it impressed me not just because of the recitation of principles to which I subscribe -- individual liberty, limited government, constitutionalism, strength in the face of our enemies -- but because of the mood conveyed by both the audience of some 600 and more than a dozen speakers. Their disposition struck me as cheerful, positive and informed more by an idea of mission than anger at the other side.

Dennis Prager, a radio talk show host, told the crowd that liberals were mostly good people, that many people in his own family were liberals. Don't attack them, he said. It's their fallacious arguments you want to deal with. He spoke of the great slogan on coins, "E Pluribus Unum," meaning of course that out of many different people, we are still one as a nation.

Republican Rep. Michele Bachmann of Minnesota talked about self-sacrifice, unity and dedication to one another as Americans. She ended her speech with the true story of four chaplains in World War II, a Jewish rabbi, a Roman Catholic priest and two Protestant pastors. Aboard a ship that was hit by a torpedo, they did everything they could to help the men aboard survive, even taking off their own lifejackets to give to others. They went down with the ship, their arms linked together.

Putting such earnestly conveyed feelings of purposes beyond the narrowly partisan together with various acute analyses, I had an image of an emotionally balanced, powerful, alert, energized, morally informed, widely inclusive force awakened from slumber by an overly leftist administration and marching toward something pretty big.

I don't mean just possible conservative control of the House after the November election, but rather long-term, significant efforts to subdue the threat of runaway statism while maintaining this country as "the last, best hope of earth," in the words of Abraham Lincoln.

Of course, one regional gathering does not a revolution make. In and of itself, it proved nothing, though quite a bit, it seems to me, in the context of the town hall and Tea Party protests, of radio, cable TV and Internet commentary coming on top of what is being said in more traditional media and of polls telling us that increasing numbers of Americans are frightened about the direction of government.

It is extraordinary to see the Tea Party rallies involving everyday, middle class Americans. Bashed, of course, as racists -- unlike Prager, many liberals cannot live without the ad hominem slur -- they are nothing of the kind. What set them off as much as anything was a new, ill-conceived, vastly controlling, misrepresented health-care entitlement that will cost hundreds of billions over the years on top of other entitlements that could be economically ruinous all by themselves.

If you think the Tea Party represents just a tiny slice of America in its disenchantment with almost all things concerning Barack Obama, check out a recent Washington Post-ABC News poll saying close to six in 10 voters think the president is more apt to be wrong than right in policies. Most would agree with the Tea Party that the president's handling of the economy is better described as a mishandling of the economy. The public has even less use for both parties in Congress, as it should, given the irresponsibility of so many Republican and Democratic members.

Some might think conservatives are still too unrepresentative of the whole to have long-term sway. But consider, first, that the latest Gallup poll says 42 percent of Americans call themselves conservatives while only 20 percent say they are liberal. Then consider estimates that no more than 40 to 45 percent of American colonists were clearly behind the independence movement while 20 percent remained steadfastly loyal to Great Britain.

Remember who came out on top?

Jay Ambrose, formerly Washington director of editorial policy for Scripps Howard newspapers and the editor of dailies in El Paso and Denver, is a columnist living in Colorado. He can be reached at

Come to 5/1 Media Panel

What forces in America's economy and culture are threatening the survival of newspapers and diverting audiences to other information sources? What are the consequences for us as citizens in a free society? How can we take charge in the emerging new paradigm; or can we? Discuss all this with Centennial Institute panelists at Issue Friday, May 1, 10:00-11:00 am, on the Colorado Christian University campus. Where: CCU School of Business Room 102

What: "Rocky Times for Colorado News Media"

Who: David Kopel & Jason Salzman Former Media Critics for the Rocky Mountain News Panel & Open Forum Moderated by John Andrews

Reservations recommended * RSVP to or call 303.963.3424

Directions to CCU Campus in Lakewood: From Garrison, go east two short blocks on Cedar, park on your right. Continue east into the campus, toward flagpole. School of Business is the 2nd low building on your right.

The Centennial Institute, directed by John Andrews, was established in 2009 as a project of Colorado Christian University. We sponsor research, events, and publications to enhance public understanding of the most important issues facing our state and nation. By proclaiming Truth, we aim to foster faith, family, and freedom, teach citizenship, and renew the spirit of 1776.