A Man In A Dress, The New Editor Of “Time” Magazine And Some Lawless Spending Of Your Federal Tax Dollars
By John Lofton, Editor
For some time now I have wanted to tell you about James Stengel. And now I will since he has just been named Managing Editor of “Time” magazine. I interviewed Stengel when he was still the boss at the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia. Here’s a slightly edited version of that interview:
JL: Why don’t you begin by telling us a little bit about yourself.
RS: Well, I am now president and CEO of the National Constitution Center, this fabulous institution on Independence Mall in Philadelphia. I came directly here from TIME magazine, where I was the national editor in supervising our domestic news coverage, and I’ve been a writer and editor at TIME for many years before that.
JL: Is the Center living up to expectations in terms of visitors?
RS: Well, visitation has been wonderfully robust — we had about 800,000 visitors our first year and we will probably surpass that slightly in our second year, even though most institutions in their second year have a sophomore slump, because they’re not new anymore, but we’ve, you know, we’ve been doing well with that. We have a Lincoln show that opened a few weeks ago which is bringing in visitors so — we need to get more folks who are just down the block looking at the Liberty Bell, and Independence Hall and am optimistic that we will be able to do that.
JL: In my research I’ve seen several different figures that say how much federal money has gone into the center. Do you know the exact figure?
RS: We had a $185 million dollar capital campaign to get the place built up, of which 40 million was ear marked for an endowment, the original grant from the Federal government was for the interior and that was for $60 million dollars. And that was what got us launched as a result of the “Constitutional Heritage Act” which was passed in 1988 under President Reagan.
JL: I think, ironically, the Federal expenditure on the Constitution Center is un-Constitutional. Where in the Constitution do you see Congress authorized to spend money to build your Center?
RS: (laughing) Well, if you looked in the Constitution for what Congress has authorized on a day to day basis, since 1787, I’m sure you wouldn’t find a Constitutional basis for it. What’s your argument John?
JL: Well, Article I, Section 8, lists maybe 18 categories of activities where Congress can appropriate money, what they can spend money on. The Constitution has enumerated powers. In other words if the Constitution doesn’t say you can do it — the Federal Government, it can’t be done.
RS: You’re saying all of the expenditures allocated and passed by Cngress since 1791 have been un-Constitutional?
JL: What I’m saying, and this is my understanding of the Constitution, but I’m interested in yours, otherwise I wouldn’t want to talk to you — is that we have a government with limited powers, enumerated powers. I’ve looked at Article One: Section eight and I can’t see a category there where your Center or anything like your Center fits in. I just wondered if you’ve thought about the question of whether or not the Federal funding for your —.
RS: Well, no, I haven’t
JL: Fair enough.
RS: And we’re built and we’re a wonderful museum which I would urge your listeners to come to it. You know, we opened two years ago and we will be here for a long, long time to come. Of course, because we are about supporting the Constitution, we pride ourselves on having as many different opinions about anything Constitutional under the sun, and I welcome your opinion.
JL: All right, fair enough. By the way, you asked if I was saying everything since 1787 that Congress has done was un-Constitutional. A friend of mine, Steven Moore, who was a budget expert at the CATO Institute, told me that he thought that 90% of what Congress does is un-Constitutional!
RS: Well, we live in the world we live in, John.
JL: We sure do.
RS: And that’s good. I mean practically speaking, what are the practical consequences of that?
JL: [The practical consequences of 90 percent of all Congress does being un-Constitutional] are that these actions would be a crime. I mean these people take an oath to abide by the Constitution. [Another practical consequence of such lawless government would be that it has caused] a government now that’s $500 billion dollars in debt in just one year because it’s doing all kinds of things that are un-Constitutional and we have a national debt that goes into the trillions of dollars.
RS: Oh, I don’t disagree with that. I don’t disagree with the notion of a wise and frugal government, and I don’t think anyone would accuse our government of being frugal.
JL: (laughing) Well, that’s one thing we agree on. Have you seen your Bill of Rights exhibit for the children?
RS: I have.
JL: Do you remember the Third Amendment part, the little skit about quartering troops in American homes?
RS: Well, I’m familiar with the Third Amendment, yeah.
JL: I saw it, took pictures of it, a video of it. You say you did see it? Do you remember — let me get to the point. In that skit there’s a “woman” pushing a vacuum cleaner and there’s a little kid — looks like a little girl — in a camouflage outfit and she asks her “Mom” if she could build a fort in the living room and her mother says “No, no, no troops in the house.” Are you aware that the “woman” is a man in a dress?!
RS: I — you know, I have a vague recollection of that part of the show, but I don’t recall that specifically, no.
JL: Yeah, I was, and am — shocked by this. The minute the “woman” spoke I knew it was a man’s voice. And then they have a grand finale number where everybody’s facing the audience and it’s obvious that this “woman” is a guy in a dress, with curlers in his hair! You don’t remember that?!
RS: I saw it a long time ago, John, I mean — what is so, tell me what your point is?
JL: (laughing) Well, I guess my point is that a.) Men ought not to wear dresses and (b) why in the world would this be in a skit where children see it? — or anybody for that matter?
RS: John, your interpretation of the Constitution is it un-Constitutional for a man to wear a dress?
JL: Let’s see now — is it un-Constitutional for a man to wear a dress? It…certainly is un-Biblical. Deuteronomy 22:5 says that men ought not to —.
RS: Well, un-Biblical is different than un-Constitutional.
JL: Well, I think it’s a little higher law, don’t you?
RS: I — what else would you like to talk to me about?
JL: So, if it is a man in a dress, you don’t really care about that?
RS: I’m not, uh, we — we have many things you and I could talk about the Constitution, about the National Constitution Center. To worry about a fleeting image — in something, which I don’t even know if it’s true — it’s not something that’s very high on my radar I have to say.
JL: What can I say? Maybe you need more sensitive radar. I don’t know. That’s my opinion. One of the things I thought is that the way the Bill of Rights were taught in that exhibit — with all the skits and everything — this might leave the impression with children that the Bill of Rights is not a bery serious subject. But, quartering troops was a very serious thing. It’s listed in the Declaration of Independence. British troops raped our wives and daughters, stole food. It’s just not a joking matter.
RS: I don’t think it is either. This is a show for small children, about the Bill of Rights, something that most children don’t even know about at all. One of our visions of our place is to entice interest amongst school children to learn something about American history, that — you know that there’s a historical illiteracy in American and we are trying to combat that. I think if we were talking about that to six-year olds in a very serious and somber way, we could assure ourselves that they’re not going to learn anything about it. So the whole idea of the show is to package it in an appealing way that they’re used to from television, and cartoons so that they might begin to understand some of those individual liberties that many men and women sacrificed for for hundreds of years. That is a privilege of living in the United States. That’s what we’re trying to accomplish.
JL: Oh, absolutely. And I don’t in any way dispute your goals. I guess I was questioning the method of teaching — that if it’s taught in the kind of frivolous jokey, cartoonish manner that maybe that doesn’t impart the degree of seriousness that ought to be taught.
Finally, I thought the Christian origins of our country and our form of government and our founding documents was pretty much given short shrift and pretty much ignored [at your Center.]
RS: Well, I would again, disagree with you. I think that there’s plenty about the religious views of the framers throughout the Constitution Center and again, that’s a subject of judgment and I’ve never had any complaints from visitors saying that that was given short shrift.
JL: You mean [this information is] scattered all over the place? I don’t recall an exhibit that dwelt on the way the religion of the founders actually determined their political views. Did I miss something?
RS: A separate exhibit just on that idea? No, there is not a separate exhibit on that idea but there isn’t a separate exhibit on freedom of expression, nor freedom of the press or the right to bear arms. It’s all filtered throughout the museum. I mean, we tell the story of the history of America as told through the Constitution — on the great Constitutional moments and figures. It’s not divided up into, into categories like that.
JL: When you asked me just a second ago, about whether or not well, you know, was I saying was there one exhibit somewhere where people could see about the religious view, the tone in your voice sounded like maybe that’s a crazy idea. But I don’t know of anything more important to dwell on, do you?, than what is it that motivated our founders, that made them divide the government, that determined why we have a First Amendment and all these others. I think that they believed the religious area is the most important thing about them, don’t you?
RS: No, not necessarily.
JL: What would be more important?
RS: What would be more important than what?
JL: Than their religious views which determined their politics, by the way.
RS: I am not saying that — giving short shrift to that, what is more important is the vision that they had for this country — for the people of this country, and yes it was infused and animated by their religious views, but certainly they, their religious views were not the thing that made them right. The Constitution and what they put in the Constitution, and as you know they don’t refer to the deity in the Constitution.
JL: I believe it’s signed in the year of our Lord.
RS: Well, (laughing) John, if you were to take a four-page document and site their, that the reference to their religious views as signing in the year of our Lord, then you know, I think you’ve made your own argument there.
JL: So, you think that was just a figure of speech, huh? It had no meaning, really.
RS: John, I’ve really enjoyed talking with you and I urge your uh, listeners to come and visit the Constitution Center.
JL: I think that’s a good idea particularly since millions of their Federal tax dollars have gone into it.