Paul Greenberg


"Facts are stubborn things; and whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations, or the dictates of our passion, they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence."

--John Adams

That quotation may be among the best known in Adamsiana. Not as well known is that John Adams would utter it years before he became a wise old man, and was still a brilliant young one.

He would become, in succession, Founding Father, president of the United States, and unpopular old fogey as his Federalist Party dissolved under him. Mr. Adams saw many a change in his time, but he himself remained unchanged. Perhaps the most unchanging thing about him was his stubborn refusal to court the fickle goddess Popularity.

Mobs drew only his contempt, talk of democracy his suspicion. A country lawyer, John Adams knew the people too well to shift with its every passing mood.

The man seemed constitutionally, congenitally, completely allergic to doing the popular thing. No wonder he was outdated in his own time, let alone how he would appear in ours, when politicians and political buffs follow the polls not just daily but hourly. He'd never have made it to the White House today, or even a governor's mansion.

John Adams would coin his famous phrase about facts being stubborn things in the course of pursuing the most unpopular of causes at the time, which was 1770, when he found himself picked to defend the British soldiers involved in the Boston Massacre. The very name of that incident indicates how public opinion was running at the time.

New Englander to the core, Mr. Adams would do his duty as a member of the bar and stick to his convictions, come hell or high water or revolution, even a revolution he would lead. A thinker rather than a zealot, he refused to cut and trim his beliefs to fit the ideology of the moment.

Nothing is more offensive to ideologues than a fact that doesn't jibe with their slogans. Leading the list of those slogans at the moment is Occupy Wall Street's mantra about the greedy 1 percent who are exploiting us poor 99 percent. Oh, the injustice of it all!

No need to go into detail, like the fact that the grabby 1 percent, who account for 20 percent of the national income, pay 37 percent of the federal income tax.

As for the disappearing American middle class that today's protesters mourn, its death may be greatly exaggerated. The distribution of American wealth, according to Jim Pethokoukis at the American Enterprise Institute, is pretty much the same as it was 20 years ago. Or even 20, 60 or 80 years ago. Even as that wealth has increased prodigously -- for all.

Paul Greenberg

Pulitzer Prize-winning Paul Greenberg, one of the most respected and honored commentators in America, is the editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.