I'll admit it to you now: Although a lot of Americans think of me as "Mr. Conservative" or some kind of "Moses of the Republican Party," I wasn't always a Republican or, for that matter, what people at the time would have called a "Conservative." Some would have called me "liberal" -- but the meaning of that word has changed profoundly since then.
I've covered much political ground in my 75 years, and in those travels I've seen a lot. But never have I seen a political environment so toxic, so inflamed, so devoid of the fresh air of open debate, as I see in America today.
And I've come to realize our nation is engaged in a great cultural war...a war between the cynical and the sincere...between the principled and the duplicitous.
It's a war waged with intolerance, dishonesty, intellectual tyranny and hatred...a conflict that could lead to actual tyranny the likes of which our young nation, thank God, has never endured.
And it's a war your generation must fight or lose. So you'd better know what you're up against.
I know I don't have to tell you something is terribly wrong in our society today.
In his book "The End of Sanity," Martin Gross says "blatantly irrational behavior is rapidly being established as the norm in almost every area of human endeavor. There seem to be new customs, new rules, new anti-intellectual theories regularly foisted on us from every direction. Underneath, the nation is roiling. Americans know something without a name is undermining the nation, turning the mind mushy when it comes to separating truth from falsehood and right from wrong. And they don't like it."
I believe that in your heart you already know something is profoundly wrong. When bartenders are responsible for the acts of drunken drivers, when women are to blame for rapists' attacks, when gun makers are responsible for criminals' acts, and nobody is responsible for O.J. Simpson's acts, something is radically wrong.
An insidious form of dishonesty and false thinking is permeating our culture. In politics, in the press, in every institution of the American experience, lies are being accepted as the legitimate currency of debate.
So, we have an American President who didn't inhale, who "never had sexual relations with that woman," and who doesn't know what "is" is.
We have a vice president who learns fast...so fast indeed that he invented the internet -- at the ripe old age of 12. Just last week, Vice-President Gore claimed, falsely, that children "can walk into any gun shop, any pawn shop, any gun show, anywhere in America and buy a handgun."
Now I don't know what Vice President Gore wasn't inhaling, because the fact is, it's been illegal for anyone under the age of 21 to go into a gun store and buy a handgun since 1968. But I suppose that in 1968, Al Gore was too busy inventing the Internet to know the current law!
Deception, lying, dishonesty and cheating are now epidemic in America. Whether it's a 9th-grade geography test, or a driver's exam, or SATs, job tests, term papers or recruitment exams -- or before a grand jury -- cheating is rampant. Three out of four college students now admit to cheating on tests.
Meanwhile, many in politics and the press have adopted that same duplicity in their words and deeds. And the routine of their stage-show productions is so predictable that it's become a cliché.
In a classic rendition of the quick bait-and-switch, politicians find non-problems to solve with their non-solutions. Their media cheerleaders work the crowd, repeating the lies as if reciting a school "fight" song.
For example, Gun control has gotten obsessive top media billing for weeks as many newspapers, networks and self-serving politicians pushed new anti-gun laws in the wake of the tragedy at Columbine High School. Fortunately, last week, many members of the House had the integrity to cross party lines, reject their President's agenda and defend Second Amendment freedom.
But what's so disheartening about all this is that, even as the authors of this legislation were pushing it on the floor of the Congress, they admitted that none of it could have prevented the killings in Littleton. Worse, now that the legislation has been defeated, the media will claim, by and large, that America's schools are more dangerous as a result. And too many of the American people will buy into the lie.
The claim that the Brady law has turned away 400,000 prohibited persons, such as felons, makes everyone feel safer. But wait a minute. Those criminals can go get guns anywhere. What matters to you is how many of those 400,000 were arrested on the spot and prosecuted for the federal ten year felony of trying to buy a gun? The answer -- not one.
It's made-for-TV lawmaking at its best. Scripting and selling new laws based on polls and focus groups with absolutely no intention of enforcing any of them. It's all just words, with no action to back it up.
Meanwhile, getting little media billing if any, is no less than the colossal larceny of our country's national security. All of our nuclear secrets were shoplifted out the back door by the world's biggest bully. The consequences are unimaginable. But they say, "Oh, let's just move on."
So here we are...the state-beholden media telling us our schools are safer when they're not, telling us the Brady law is making us safer when it's not, and all but ignoring devastating Chinese espionage. So we switch over to Letterman or Leno and fall asleep thinking the world's a safer place -- when it's more unstable than ever in our lifetimes.
Yet when someone stands up to correct the lies, or reveal the truth, they're routinely shouted down or shut out of the debate.
Over the years, when various anti-gun bills have been debated in Congress, and the national-media political-complex was pushing them through with all its might, the NRA has been routinely, repeatedly denied a place in the political debate. When we tried to get our points across to the newspapers or networks, our words were edited down to a soundbite or two of meaningless fluff. And when we tried to buy a place at the table through commercials or ads that explain our side, we were often denied airtime or column space at any time for any price.
Just weeks ago, when President Clinton convened a "Juvenile Violence Summit" at the White House in the wake of the Columbine killings, he invited entertainment executives, clergy, video game manufacturers and gun makers -- yet he publicly rejected and humiliated the NRA by specifically excluding us from participating in discussions.
This same suppression of evidence is going on throughout our society. Right now at more than one major university, Second Amendment scholars and researchers are being told to shut up about their findings or they'll lose their jobs. Why? Because their research findings would undermine big-city mayors' pending lawsuits that seek to extort hundreds of millions of dollars from firearm manufacturers.
Now, many of my examples concern the issue of firearms, but this isn't just about guns. If your views on any issue aren't "politically correct" to our cultural elites, you'd better just sit down, shut up, and get out of the way -- fast.
I know -- I've spent my share of time in the crosshairs.
For example, I marched for civil rights with Dr. King in 1963 -- long before Hollywood found it fashionable. But when I told an audience last year that white pride is just as valid as black pride or red pride or anyone else's pride, they called me a racist.
I've worked with brilliantly talented homosexuals all my life. But when I told an audience that gay rights should extend no further than your rights or my rights, I was called a homophobe.
I served in World War II against the Axis powers. But during a speech, when I drew an analogy between singling out innocent Jews and singling out innocent gun owners, I was called an anti Semite.
Everyone I know knows I would never raise a closed fist against my country. But when I asked an audience to oppose this cultural persecution, I was compared to Timothy McVeigh.
From Time magazine to friends and colleagues, they're essentially saying, "Chuck, how dare you speak your mind. You are using language not authorized for public consumption!"
But I am not afraid. If Americans believed in political correctness, we'd still be King George's boys subjects bound to the British crown.
Unfortunately, the collusion of deception between so many in politics and the press has grown so pervasive and so profound that our national media are beginning to resemble the state-managed propaganda machinery that fueled tyranny elsewhere this century.
Make no mistake: We're almost there. Political correctness tells us what to think, so the polls tell the press what to say in order to reflect what we think, so we'll feel normal when we're watching TV because we believe what we're being told because it's what we asked them to tell us.
This is Clinton's legacy to American culture. Leadership by looking in mirrors. Poll-plug-'n-play pretending. Closed-circuit confirmation of self-affirming, self-gratifying, self-delusion. And an audience that plays along.
The Clinton-Gore White House runs the ship of state like a carefully choreographed, painstakingly plotted movie script. And all the bit players are there: Clinton and Gore are the conquering heroes. And whoever happens to oppose them on any particular day, is characterized as "extreme, on the fringes, out of touch with the American people or part of a vast right-wing anti-Clinton conspiracy."
This all would be laughable if it weren't so often effective, and if the press didn't parrot it in every story they wrote.
Let me give you an example: If you read nearly any major newspaper over the past few weeks, you would have thought Congress was debating whether or not to outlaw the NRA. In the headlines, the soundbites, and throughout the body of every story, the NRA was more prominent than the policies and positions in question.
The reason for this is that they need a demon. As any good propagandist knows, the best way to discredit an idea is to personify it in an individual, then sow hatred against that individual.
Sarah Brady, the head of Handgun Control Incorporated, endlessly appeals for "common sense" gun laws. Who couldn't be for "common sense"? The underlying, not-so-subtle message is that, if you oppose their "common sense" gun bans, you not only don't have common sense you're also somehow allied with evil, and as such, subject to societal hatred.
A recent episode of the "Rosie O'Donnell Show" serves as a perfect example. Actor and NRA member Tom Selleck agreed to appear on the show to promote his new movie. But once he was on stage and the cameras were rolling, Rosie attacked him for promoting the NRA, as if he or the NRA were to blame for the Columbine High School killings.
Yet while Tom Selleck volunteered his time and effort to help promote the NRA -- and bore the brunt of attacks from anti-gun zealots like Rosie O'Donnell -- Rosie cashed in on her endorsement of K-Mart, the largest firearm retailer in America. Unfortunately, some don't see that as hypocrisy.
Now, at the beginning of my speech, I said that the meaning of "liberal" has changed -- and it has. Liberal used to mean discussing issues objectively, on their own merits, with intellectual honesty and -- above all -- an openness to any viewpoint.
But liberals like O'Donnell today aren't liberal -- they're militant. And their intolerant demands for "politically corrected," censored speech produce only hypocrisy and ridiculous revisions of history. Get this: Right after attacking Tom Selleck, O'Donnell reportedly told the cast of "Annie Get Your Gun" to rewrite a 53-year-old song from the musical before performing it on her show. According to cast members, O'Donnell wanted to remove the words "I can shoot a partridge with a single cartridge" because of her hatred for firearms.
If Rosie had her way, we'd have to remove "the rockets' red glare, the bombs bursting in air" from the Star Spangled Banner. While we're at it, let's remove the arrows from the eagle's talons in the Great Seal of the United States. After all, in O'Donnell's rosy view of the world, the mere mention of weapon-related words can conjure evil spirits.
Yet in this same climate, where "firearm" is suddenly a verboten word, hate speech against gun owners is now not just accepted, but encouraged as a catalyst for positive social change. Personal attacks, name-calling, character assassination and even real assassination are apparently now acceptable to these "liberal" free-thinkers.
I know. Soon after the Littleton massacre, singer Lorna Luft wrote to me and said, "I hope you're happy now." Worse, soon after Rosie's attacks on Tom Selleck, influential filmmaker Spike Lee told the New York Post that the solution to violence in America was to disband the NRA. Asked about me and my role as president of the Association, Lee reportedly said, "Shoot him with a .44 caliber Bulldog."
Now, I don't mean to make more of this than it is, but imagine if the shoe were on the other foot. If I had said the same thing or anything even remotely resembling it about Spike Lee, the backlash from our political police would have been deafening. But because I belong to a group whom it's culturally correct to hate, no one utters a word about this inflammatory and hateful speech.
Now: What's the answer for all of this? How can we stop the slide into total intellectual tyranny and the extinction of debate?
The answer's been here all along. I learned it 36 years ago, on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington D.C., standing with Dr. Martin Luther King and two hundred thousand people.
You simply...disobey. Peaceably, yes. Respectfully, of course. Nonviolently, absolutely. But when told how to think or what to say or how to behave, we don't. We disobey social protocol that stifles and stigmatizes personal freedom.
I learned the awesome power of disobedience from Dr.King...who learned it from Gandhi, and Thoreau, and Jesus, and every other great man who led those in the right against those with the might.
Disobedience is in our DNA. We feel innate kinship with that disobedient spirit that tossed tea into Boston Harbor, that sent Thoreau to jail, that refused to sit in the back of the bus, that protested a dishonestly-thought war in Viet Nam.
In that same spirit, I am asking you to disavow cultural correctness, reject the lies, denounce the hatred for exactly what it is, and refuse to be silenced by those who would extinguish all debate in this country.
But be careful...it hurts. Disobedience demands that you put yourself at risk. Dr. King stood on lots of balconies.
You must be willing to be humiliated...to endure the modern-day equivalent of the police dogs at Montgomery and the water cannons at Selma. You must be willing to experience discomfort. You must be willing to act, not just talk.
When politicians and the press feed you lies and deceit, expose them and embarrass them with the white-hot light of the truth.
When your city sues the firearm industry because it refuses to control criminals...jam every switchboard in the mayor's and district attorney's offices.
When someone you elected is seduced by political power and betrays you ... expose them, petition them, oust them, banish them.
When the political elites try to silence or exclude you, stand loud and proud with confidence in your views ... and sooner than you know it, others will follow in force.
So that this nation may long endure, I urge you to follow in the hallowed footsteps of the great disobediences of history that freed exiles, founded religions, defeated tyrants, and yes, in the hands of an aroused rabble in arms and a few great men, by God's grace, built this country.
If Dr. King were here, I think he would agree.