A commission unlike any other

By Hugh Hewitt

Let me call this, modestly, Hewitt’s First Theory of Influence: Influence equals Audience times Impact divided by Originality.

Audience equals the sum of direct audience and those to whom others communicate your views.

Impact is defined as the net effect your view has on the views of others. The network anchors have huge audiences, but they do not explicitly attempt to prompt action or change minds in a direct fashion. Rush, on the other hand, has a huge audience and attempts consciously and transparently to change the way they think.

Originality means exactly that – unless you are the president, you don’t get total credit for disseminating views that you pronounce unless they are your own. There is some influence in repeating the ideas of others, but dramatically less than in advancing your own ideas.

Use the former vice president’s speech Monday as an example of this theory.

Al Gore gives a speech that draws national attention. He gets a huge audience via dissemination of his remarks on the tube, over the airwaves and on most front pages. But the tide toward war continues to flow and the votes in Congress continue to line up behind the president. And upon examination, there isn’t an original thought in the speech, just the usual assortment of cliches one gets from the wacky left opposed to the use of force. Gore’s real influence is thus revealed as almost zero.

The reality of how influence works should affect the make-up of the new commission that Congress will shortly establish to investigate the intelligence failures that led to America’s vulnerability on 9-11. The membership should be composed of genuinely influential Americans because this is an enormously important undertaking. The members should be well known for their integrity, and they ought to have original influence, not some borrowed sort. When this group speaks, it should be believed. And, crucially, it should be in a position to move public opinion.

There will be a temptation to appoint mere celebrities of the Al Gore variety – big names based upon old deeds. But as Gore’s prat-fall in San Francisco shows, having been a contender doesn’t guarantee anything like influence today.

There are very serious people about with reputations for intelligence and truth-telling and with wide, if discrete, audiences. Folks like Professor James Q. Wilson of the University of California at Los Angeles, Dr. Albert Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Professor Joseph Nye, dean of Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, and former commandant of the United States Marine Corps, Charles Krulak – all represent the sort of leaders from various communities that ought to be called to serve on this commission.

When the commission renders a judgment, it must be believable. Given the stakes, the appointing authorities ought to recognize that overt partisanship lingers from service in elected office and, thus, should strike from their lists the names of folks who have appeared on ballots.

“Stature” is hard to measure, though immediately recognizable, and this undertaking needs as much stature as possible. Author Colleen McCullough has spent nearly a score of years studying the Roman Republic for her “First Man in Rome” series of books. She repeatedly uses the Latin term “dignitas.”

She leaves the term untranslated in her novels because it “has connotations not conveyed by the English word derived from it, ‘dignity.’ It was a man’s personal clout in the Roman world, rather than his public standing, though the public standing was enormously enhanced by great dignitas. It gave the sum total of his integrity, pride, family and ancestors, word, intelligence, deeds, ability, knowledge, and worth as a man.”

Today the term “stature” is most closely related to the ancient term of “dignitas,” but stature is harder to find today than dignitas was 2,000 years ago. But this commission will need stature in vast amounts, no matter how hard it is to find.

The commission will also need a chair, an individual of great stature and experience, and about whom there is bipartisan agreement concerning independence and fairness. Justice Sandra Day O’Connor has completed two decades on the United States Supreme Court and is widely recognized as the center of gravity on the court. She is also widely believed to be close to retirement, and would bring unquestionable authority and tact to this undertaking. Someone should give her a call about a last assignment.