When I succeeded Senator John C. Stennis in 1989, I asked his advice. I expected him to give me some poetic, profound words of wisdom, but what he told me was unexpected. He said two simple things: “Buy a house in Washington. It will be worth a lot more when you leave the Senate,” and “travel around the world.” Surprisingly, Senator Stennis hadn’t visited other nations, and he regretted it.
Well, my wife Tricia and I do have a small row house in Washington, and I’ve been to many other countries, as well as to 49 of the 50 states. I understand why Senator Stennis lamented not seeing other cultures firsthand. Through my travels, I’ve learned that a lot of the world’s problems are focused on money, religion and power – gold, gods and glory. The more we Americans try to observe and really understand other nations’ approaches to these, the better we understand the world and ourselves.
Gold: Our dependence today on black gold, or foreign oil, has allowed some pretty shady figures to gain power and status well beyond their own ability and devices. I’m talking about dictators like Hugo Chavez in Venezuela and Iran’s Ahmadinejad. I believe much of the violence in Iraq right now is being generated by some Sunnis and Shiites posturing over potential oil revenue there.
America must wean ourselves off foreign oil. For years I’ve advocated an energy policy that includes more domestic oil and gas production, more nuclear power, and more alternative fuels. This is not an either / or choice, we must do all three simultaneously.
Not only should we question what the “big oil” folks are doing to cause gas prices to bounce from $2 to $3 and back to $2 again. We’ve also got to hold the environmental special interests accountable for our dangerous dependence, too. They’ve kept us from producing more domestic oil in Alaska and along our coasts. They’re now even opposing expansion of the Port Gibson nuclear plant.
America’s energy independence lies somewhere between extremes of greed and green. This month I’ll be helping break ground in Vicksburg on Mississippi’s first ethanol plant. We need to make sure it’s not the last, and we need to expand America’s nuclear, coal, natural gas, hydropower and oil producing capacity, too. Energy independence can protect Americans from many desperate despots.
Gods: It’s hard for most Americans to understand why people kill each other over religion. Americans generally are raised in a Judeo-Christian tradition marked by many sharp theological and denominational differences but none over which we employ violence.
But, in much of the Middle East, there are fanatics who really believe the way to heaven is paved with the blood of “infidels,” or anyone who doesn’t share their exact belief system. Make no mistake, our War on Terror is directed at these merciless, murderous people. >From the 1979 Iranian hostage crisis through the 9/11 attacks until today, they’ve made it clear that they want to kill Christians, Jews, moderate Muslims and anyone they disagree with. Even if the Israelis left Palestine and America withdrew to our borders, terrorists would still march toward us. We have no choice but to stop them in Iraq, Afghanistan, or inside the United States before they kill. We must stay on the offensive.
Glory: Many nations have emerged from bureaucratic and militaristic power. Napoleonic France comes to mind. In our lifetime, the Soviet Union spent almost a quarter of its resources on military hardware, while its people owned nothing. But America, though strong, has never been about brawn. In fact, my travels have reinforced the fact that America is not a place but an ideal. Our Founding Fathers knew that “absolute power corrupts absolutely.” Today as leaders of other nations swear allegiance to “the people,” our leaders swear allegiance to that everlasting set of principles embodied by our Constitution. America’s system goes beyond just democracy. Our Framers knew that democracy without freedom is meaningless, so our Constitutional government goes a step further than representative government. As Americans we should always seek true freedom as articulated and guaranteed by our Constitution.
Senator Stennis was a wise man who knew America must always see the world not for what we’d like it to be, but for what it really is. When we do, we come to fully appreciate how privileged we are to be Americans and what being American really means. That’s good advice for a Senator and for every American.
Senator Lott welcomes any questions or comments about this column.
Write to: U.S. Senator Trent Lott, 487 Russell Senate Office Building, Washington, D.C. 20510 (Attn: Press Office) or Email