February 27th, 2016 // 7:14 am @ Oliver DeMille
The Real Outsider
“I know what you mean,” the man with the deep voice said. “But I’m seeing something totally different in this election. You’re right that the outsiders like Trump and Cruz are really getting a lot of support. I just don’t think they’re the true outsiders.”
“What do you mean?” the man with the higher voice asked. “Who else is an outsider? Do you mean Bernie Sanders, because he’s a socialist?”
“No, I wasn’t thinking of Sanders,” Deep Voice replied. “But let’s just look at this whole election from a different angle. We’re calling Trump and Cruz outsiders because Trump has never held political office and Cruz is a Tea Party guy who constantly attacks what he calls ‘the Washington Cartel,’ meaning the establishment from both parties. Right?”
“Well, I’m not sure that’s a very good criteria for being an outsider. I think the reason a lot of voters want an outsider this year is because they’re tired of the political establishment, of both parties, and of politicians who get into office and just do more of the same—like the people they replaced. They promise real change, but it doesn’t happen. In fact, a lot of the bad things just keep getting worse, election after election.
“What we need is a real outsider. Not just someone who hasn’t been in office or always attacks other politicians, but someone who is the kind of leader we really want…”
He paused, and Higher Voice asked, “But what do you mean? I’m not sure what your point is.”
Class and Leadership
“Okay,” Deep Voice responded. “I’ll get right to the point. Our politics has become a disaster. The politicians fight all the time. They are constantly attacking each other. Attack. Attack. Attack. And we’re supposed to believe that this is just the way things are.
“But they shouldn’t be this way. We shouldn’t want leaders who are all about attacking people all the time. We vote them into office, and they just keep attacking each other in Washington. That’s not leadership. Not really. If they attacked a lot and then got really important things done, and made a lot of things better, that would be one thing. But that’s not what happens. They attack, and attack, and attack—and that’s pretty much all they get done.
“We need a president who gets the right things done, and who also doesn’t go around attacking people. We need the kind of leader we can look up to, someone who can bring people together in this nation. We’re so divided. So angrily divided. We need a real leader to get the nation back on track.”
Higher Voice replied: “That’s too idealistic…”
“Reagan did it,” Deep Voice interrupted. “He wasn’t the Attacker in Chief. He fought for what he wanted, but he did it with class. Not with name calling. Not with personal attacks. He stayed above that kind of junk. He was too good for it. He fought back, yes. But never by stooping to name-calling and personal vendettas. And that allowed him to lead the nation in big ways, and do big things like bring an end to the Cold War. We need a classy president who is also tough and confident.
“And a truly classy president would be a true outsider, very different from the attacking years of Bush, Clinton, Bush, and Obama. Just look at the 2008 election. We watched Obama and Hillary attack each other mercilessly in the campaign and debates, and we should have realized right then what kind of president Obama would be.
“We need a real change. And I don’t think that means making our politics even more focused on attacks. It means electing someone who isn’t an attacker. A fighter, yes. But classy, like a true leader.”
Higher Voice sighed loudly. “That’s so far from the current election that I don’t know what you’re proposing. What do you want to happen?”
To Act or To Attack
“First,” Deep Voice said, “let’s divide the candidates into those who attack and those who refuse to get down in the muck and act like jerks. Hillary, Trump, Cruz and Rubio are often on the attack—in the debates, in interviews, in their campaign rallies and speeches. They attack a lot. Regardless of how you feel about their politics, or their reasons for such attacks, they are consistently attacking, attacking, attacking. So put them in the jerk category, at least for this discussion.
“Second, the three candidates who usually aren’t on the attack are Bernie Sanders, John Kasich, and Ben Carson. So if we want a classy president, one whose focus is always on building people instead of tearing them down, it has to be one of them. I really dislike Sanders’ politics, so throw him out of the mix. He’s a socialist, and proud of it, and his proposals would drastically hurt the nation.
“So, third, we’re left with Kasich and Carson. Both are classy. And both go out of their way not to attack other people. They focus on building people up. They really do.
“And before you roll your eyes, really think about what I’m saying. If we want our politics to be built on people acting like jerks and fighting each other—and not really improving our nation—we should keep electing people who attack, attack, attack.
“But if we want real change, the kind that we can truly be proud of, we need to change the way our top leader acts. We need class. Depth. Virtue. We need a Washington, a Lincoln, a real leader. Tough, yes. But focused on building others, not attacking them.
“You can call this idealistic if you want, but what I’m saying is true! If we don’t have a true leader, a classy, uplifting Reaganesque example that we can tell our kids to emulate, we haven’t put our best leader in the Oval Office. Imagine telling your 12 year old son: ‘Be like Donald Trump’ or ‘attack people like Ted Cruz—as long as you win, it’s okay.’ Or even: ‘If you get behind, like Marco Rubio, find out everything bad you can about the other person and loudly tell everyone.’
“Ridiculous. We need a real president. And both Carson and Kasich are the kind of men you can tell your children to emulate. To be proud of. To follow—even into battle and death if necessary to defend our nation. To admire.
“We’ve become so used to something less that the highest character in our leaders that we seem ready to accept mediocrity in character and behavior and simply shrug it off. We need to do better than that!”
The Question of Class
Higher Voice interrupted: “I just don’t think Carson has enough experience in doing the kinds of things a president has to do.”
“Maybe he doesn’t. Or maybe he does. His understanding of freedom principles is deep, like Cruz or Rand Paul, and he might surprise you. But let’s say you’re right, just for the sake of argument. That still leaves Kasich…
He paused. Then he spoke a bit more quietly, and I noticed people leaning forward to hear. “John Kasich is everything you would want a president to be in terms of character. He’s classy to the core. He’s a man of principle and morals. And he never attacks others to tear them down or try to get himself ahead. Not ever. When others attack him, he answers their charges, clarifies the truth, and then turns to the policies our nation needs. Like Carson.
“Kasich doesn’t do what Trump, Hillary, Cruz and Rubio frequently do in the same situations—start counter-attacking whoever attacked them. When the media tries to get him to attack, he refuses. He consistently calls us to our better angels, as Madison put it.
“Kasich is classy like Reagan. He’s above petty name-calling and attacks like Reagan. He focuses on building people. Pretty much always. Yet his history proves that when it’s time to fight—against real enemies, like terrorists—he doesn’t shrink or back down. He is deeply principled. Again, like Reagan.
“But here’s the real kicker. Kasich is actually the most experienced leader out of everyone running for president. He was the architect of balancing the U.S. budget in the 1990s. He led it, and he planned out the details. He knows how to balance our national budget! He’s already done it once. Nobody else can say that. Bill Clinton and Newt Gingrich took credit for negotiating it, but John Kasich ran the numbers and developed the plan.
“He also balanced the budget of Ohio as governor. He started out with a major deficit, and turned it around very quickly. And made it last. Nobody else in the race has ever done that—with a state, or with the United States. Only Kasich has done it. Twice!
“He also served on committees that oversaw military and international affairs, and has more national defense experience than anyone else running for president, including Hillary Clinton. And beyond all this, he’s a true conservative, and has been for decades. He also worked many years in private business as a leader—he’s not just some lifetime politician.”
America The Great, Again
Higher Voice asked: “Why hasn’t he caught on with the voters?”
“I’m not sure,” Deep Voice replied. “Part of it is probably that he’s not loud and constantly attacking people. Part of it is probably that a lot of voters don’t really know much about him. I’m not sure. He did do well in New Hampshire, and the race is far from over.”
He paused. Then kept talking: “Kasich has class. He has dignity. He is the kind of person we can look up to and tell our kids to look up to—and mean it. He’s tough. He’s a proven leader. But he’s really, really nice. And, again, he’s the only person in the race who has ever balanced a major government budget, and he’s done it at both the state and the national levels. That’s huge!
“I’ve really given this a lot of thought and research. Go back and read Kasich’s speeches. He’s the kind of man who would tell Mr. Gorbachev (or Putin) to ‘Tear down this wall!’ He’s the real deal.
“Conservatives need to step back, take a deep breath, and give Kasich another look. If we want the kind of America that truly is great again, we need the right kind of leadership. And that means the right kind of leader! A true leader, one who isn’t just going to get the job done but who’ll get it done with class, dignity, and an infectious smile.”
I left the restaurant mentally kicking myself. In all my reading and watching of the election, over many months, I hadn’t done what I always tell others to do—really go study the records, writings, and speeches of all the candidates. Really get to know them. At least, I hadn’t done this with Kasich. I’m remedying that.
February 19th, 2016 // 4:30 pm @ Oliver DeMille
A Big Picture Look at the World in Twenty Years
For more than a century America has enjoyed the luxury of strong allies in Europe. When problems came, as they always do, many European and North American nations relied on each other for strength, leadership, even rescue.
This was certainly the case in World Wars I and II and the Cold War from the 1960s thru the 1990s. Nobody alive today remembers a time when America was alone in the world.
Yet such a world is rapidly emerging. The main reason for this dangerous development is the massive and truly tragic decline of Europe. Most people don’t realize this is occurring, or just how significant it is.
A few pundits warn that this may be Europe’s last century as a great power—as leadership shifts from the Atlantic powers (Britain, France, Germany, Italy, the United States, Canada, etc.) to the Pacific Rim nations (China, Russia, India, North America). This shift is inherently problematic—the U.S. and Canada are trading European allies (nearly always friendly) for more belligerent and totalitarian foes in Moscow and Beijing.
Huge difference. And this will undoubtedly bring even greater difficulties whenever problems arise and help is needed. Russia and China each see themself as the top emerging superpower. India is a close third.
In times of trouble, where will America turn for support?
The truth is even worse than the pundits let on, however. The idea that this is Europe’s last great power century is overly optimistic. If current trends continue, no nation in Western Europe is likely to act as a major power after 2030. Certainly not beyond 2050, and possibly not even after 2020.
This will catalyze a tectonic shift in global affairs, and the ramifications of the change are already beginning.
But what exactly is happening in Europe to bring about such rapid decline? The answer is a warning to Americans, if we will heed it.
Terrorism has taken root in Europe. European nations are quickly becoming like Israel, Saudi Arabia, Yemen or other Near Eastern and North African states in terms of an underground but steady terrorist presence. This will only deepen and grow, unless something drastic occurs.
The influx of refugees last year, this year, and likely for the next few years ahead will only exacerbate the incidence and proximity of terrorism. Certainly not all, or even most, of the refugees are terrorists. But a few are. That’s a major problem. The whole point of terrorism is that a very few can drastically impact the many.
3) Population Decline
Birthrates are rapidly changing the European electorate. Birthrates for traditional Europeans are down—in some cases negative—while birthrates for immigrants living in Europe are high. Democratic institutions are quickly changing as a result.
Debt is skyrocketing in the poor European nations, roughly two-thirds of the continent. The pattern of Greece is spreading.
5) Societal Decline
A general lack of innovation has settled over the continent. This is reinforced by a widespread and growing belief in high levels of government regulation in nearly every sector of society. Financial capital is moving elsewhere, increasing unemployment and further convincing voters to elect big-regulation candidates.
6) Leadership Gap
As a result of the fifth problem above, Europe is experiencing an era of lackluster leadership. Private sector leaders of all types are increasingly powerless in a big-government environment, and those in government were elected to regulate rather than lead. The bureaucracies are swelling (along with the costs), but strategic national thinking has become rare. This further fuels debt problems.
All of this was avoidable at one point, but we have long since passed the likelihood of any kind of serious turnaround. It now appears to be a downward spiral.
A New Path
Again, the United States and Canada aren’t far behind Europe in this pattern. Perhaps a decade, if the U.S. stays on its current path. Two decades at the most. But we still have time to reverse course.
Will we? The answer is very much in doubt.
In any case, Russia and China are attempting a major rise just as Europe is losing much of its vitality and strength. This puts North America in a tight spot.
If the U.S. needs strong, committed allies ten or twenty years from now, we may be out of luck.
Perhaps it is time for an entirely new strategic approach toward Mexico, Brazil, Argentina and the rest of Latin America. This may be source of future allies. It is certainly time—past time—for a serious return to the principles of freedom and free enterprise, along with a renewed adherence to the U.S. Constitution, in the United States.
At this point, the U.S. is charting a European-style course to join Britain, France, Germany, and Italy in their decline. President Obama has been an open proponent of a more Europeanized governance.
It goes without saying that this is a bad choice. Likewise, following the Chinese or Russian strategy is also the wrong approach.
It is time for America to chart its own direction, one based on a major refocus on freedom, free enterprise, and Constitutional values, as mentioned. Any other direction—any other direction —is a sure path to our decline.
Interested in Oliver’s works on freedom, forms and how to mend society?
Check these out:
- 1913: The Year We Failed America…And How to Recover Her for Good
- We Hold These Truths to be Self-Evident: 12 Natural Laws of Freedom, Progress and Success
- Freedom Matters: The Connection Between Career, Business and Freedom
- The U. S. Constitution and the 196 Indispensable Principles of Freedom: Writing Constitutions in the 21st Century
- The Freedom Bundle
December 8th, 2015 // 7:51 am @ Oliver DeMille
Need to Know
This is going to be a bit wonky. Comparing tax plans of various candidates isn’t something most people do just for fun. But it’s important because a candidate’s tax plan says a lot about how the person is picturing himself/herself in the White House, and how he/she approaches fiscal and economic issues.
This is vital knowledge for voters. Next to how the next president will deal with national security, knowing how he’ll approach finances is the most important thing voters can know.
The top proposals can be separated into three main categories: Little Changes, Big Changes, and Major Changes.
Bush promotes at least two very good ideas in his tax plan:
- Repeal Obamacare and replace it with an expanded Health Insurance Account and insurance market where policy rates stop skyrocketing, and policies are portable across state lines (further decreasing rates over time).
- Provide tax credits to people without employer-provided insurance coverage.
Bush’s plan cuts taxes from the current top rate of 39.6% down to a top rate of 28%, and a corporate rate of 20%. This is a little change, an improvement. But consider the other plans below.
Rubio released a plan that is similar to the Bush plan in many ways, including repealing and replacing Obamacare (like nearly all the other plans), with the top tax rate cut from 39.6% down to 35%, and the corporate rate down to 25%. Rubio promotes a number of cuts to government programs and closed tax loopholes, with an overall cut of around $11.6 trillion of taxes over time.
Rubio’s rates are higher than Bush’s, but he actually makes a bigger total cut to taxes because he provides fewer loopholes. Rubio’s plan gives a huge boost to low income families, as does Cruz, and also Trump (Trump proposes a zero tax rate for couples making up to $50,000.)
Paul, as you might expect, proposes a 14.5% flat tax for everyone. The idea is to expand the tax base, while lowering all rates in ways that will stimulate business, jobs, and more capital flowing into the United States. This model also stimulates increased freedom and entrepreneurship by simplifying the tax code and collections process. Paul also wants to significantly reduce the size and cost of government.
Carson provides another alternative for significant change, promoting a 15% flat tax (he wanted 10%, but decided that 15% was needed). This is similar to Paul’s proposed tax rate, but it is unclear what Carson would cut in order to balance the budget. Carson doesn’t want to outline a full plan right now, preferring to wait until elected and negotiate the costs of government down in real time. This leaves his specifics a bit hazy, but his principles on taxation are clear: lower taxes, and reduce the size of government.
Cruz proposes a 10% flat tax for individuals income, and a 16% tax business flat rate, which will most likely be a VAT (value-added tax), meaning that businesses will pass it on. This will drastically improve business investment, jobs, and economic stimulus in the U.S. economy—but it also increases consumer prices across the board. Of course, like the other plans, Cruz includes repealing Obamacare, cutting certain loopholes, and aggressively scaling back the size of the U.S. government. The Cruz plan has been criticized because it gives a major tax break to upper income families, but it is second only to Rubio’s plan in giving tax relief to the bottom 10% of households.
Trump released a plan that includes:
- A simplification of the tax code (from seven tax rates to three, and all of them at lower rates). Compared to the flat tax, this plan ensures that high income businesses and people will pay at higher rates than the working class—but pay less than they would in other advanced nations (and less than they were under President Obama). This incentivizes major money flow to the U.S. economy, businesses, and jobs.
- A significant reduction of taxes for most Americans. For example, Trump’s plan provides a zero tax rate for a person making up to $25,000 a year (or $50,000 per year for a couple). It brings the highest earner rate of 39.6% down to 25% for a person earning over $150,000 ($300,000 for a married couple), and brings similar cut for households earning between $50,000 and $300,000 a year. This is an immediate raise and economic boost for most American workers, families, and businesses.
- An elimination of the estate tax and the marriage penalty, providing a huge financial benefit to families and small businesses.
- A reduction of corporate tax rates (from 35% down to 15%) to below those of China and other major economic competitors. This is long overdue, and like the Paul, Carson, or Cruz plans, would bring a lot of businesses (and jobs) to the U.S., and boost the American economy.
- A one-time, low-rate repatriation plan that encourages companies to bring their trillions of dollars held in foreign banks back to the U.S. economy (and keep these funds here long term). Again, this will spur a major jobs and investment increase in our economy.
- Overall tax cuts of close to $12 trillion over time. (By comparison, the Bush and Cruz plans each cut approximately $3.7 trillion over time.)
- Trump’s plan gives by far the biggest tax relief to the middle class (while Rubio helps the bottom 10% the most, and Cruz’s plan is best for the very top earners).
Fiorina takes an even stronger approach to changing tax policy than Trump, Cruz, Carson, or Paul. She proposes a 3-page tax plan, and an overhaul of the way the government budgets, not just what rates of taxes are applied. Under her plan, every government agency and program would start at a budget of $0, and would be required to make the case for how good their programs are, how well they work, and how much money they need to keep flourishing—or improve.
Based on an outline of all such government programs, the administration would decide to keep or cut any agency or other government program, and to fund it only to the extent that it is worth the cost—when compared with all other government operations and the real needs of the nation.
Once such a budget is outlined, the tax needs and rates would be determined. This would very quickly balance the budget, Fiorina proposes, and immediately cut or downsize government programs that aren’t needed or simply aren’t working.
Whatever candidate(s) you like, or don’t like, this quick overview can help us get a sense for what kind of fiscal leader the candidate might be.
Note that all of them, even the Bush plan, are significantly better than the Clinton or Sanders plans (which raise taxes and add numerous government programs). At least the leading Republican candidates seek tax reductions and the downsizing of Washington–some more than others.
Regardless of who replaces Barack Obama in the White House, some of the key points in the Trump, Cruz, and Fiorina tax plans are downright excellent. The United States needs them, and the sooner, the better. Ideas from the Bush, Rubio, Paul, and Carson plans also have merit. Some of the plans from other candidates have important policy ideas as well (research, for example, the balanced budget plan by John Kasich).
Whoever we elect in 2016 should promote the best parts of these plans and help rekindle our struggling economy.
But this brings us to a significant roadblock. No matter what tax and budget plan the next president wants to follow, the White House will have to get it through Congress. On the one hand, Congress is accustomed to budgeting a certain way and is often resistant to major new ways of doing things—regardless of what candidates promised during their campaign. On the other hand, the right kind of executive leadership could certainly make a difference in getting Congress to act.
Consider Fiorina’s proposal to give the president power to move money around to different agencies and programs—taking from those that aren’t working or aren’t really needed, and giving those funds to programs that are very effective and highly important. In many ways, this is an excellent idea.
But it has one major flaw: every time a new party enters the White House, the president could just shift a ton of money from, say, the military to environmental programs, etc.
This is a significant downgrade of the Constitutional format. On the other hand, if we combine Fiorina’s zero-budgeting program where each agency starts from zero and the president proposes major cuts, and then Congress does its own zero-based budgeting, it’s a real winner. We need this. But we need it in the Constitutional way (which seems to be what Fiorina is proposing, after all).
Ultimately, none of these plans are going to sail through Congress unscathed. Nor should they. The Constitution works, when we follow it. Checks and balances are a good thing. (Note that other plans beyond taxes, like Trump’s promise to deport all illegal aliens, would undoubtedly face serious blocks in the courts.)
But the candidates’ tax plans do give us some excellent ideas on how to slow and stop Washington’s overreach. The next president should study them and adopt a number of things contained in these plans—the best of each.
Correction, 12/12/15: A previous version of this article stated that Ted Cruz’s tax plan included a 16% sales tax. This language has been clarified to read: “… a 16% tax business flat rate, which will most likely be a VAT (value-added tax), meaning that businesses will pass it on.” Thanks to the couple of readers who questioned this detail so I could revise for accuracy.
November 23rd, 2015 // 6:02 am @ Oliver DeMille
Confusion and Concerns
In the last couple of weeks I’ve heard the words “baffling,” “ridiculous,” “out of touch,” “unhinged,” and “I just don’t understand what he could possibly be thinking”—all directed at President Obama’s response to the tragedies in France and Mali. “It’s just like his answer to people shooting police officers,” many people are thinking, “His tone is all wrong. He thinks the good guys are the bad guys, and that the bad guys are the good guys.”
Actually, that’s exactly right. It’s a little more complicated than that, however. It boils down this: for seven years many pundits have been saying that President Obama is a centrist and a pragmatist, a Democratic centrist, yes, but not part of the far Left. But he’s acting like he is part of the far Left, now more than ever.
For example, if President Obama is a member of the far Left, this would easily explain his responses to the French massacre. The far Left tends to see the world as broken into two groups: the Oppressors and the Oppressed. Also, in this view, the Oppressors typically look and act a certain way: they hold positions of institutional power, they dress in expensive clothes, and they tend to talk for a living. Moreover, the Oppressors generally promote more power for themselves and others like them—and less for everyone else.
As president, a person with this view of the world (a place made up of Oppressors vs. Oppressed, always battling each other), is going to struggle when it comes to terrorism. Specifically: where most Americans see terrorists as the bad guys, the far Left sees people on Wall Street, big banks, the Right, K Street, Madison Avenue, and big business as the bad guys.
Likewise, where many Americans tend to see a police shooting (in, say, Ferguson, or Baltimore) as law enforcement officers protecting the Oppressed, the far Left sees it exactly the opposite—the police as tools of middle- and upper-class Oppressors, using their power to hurt the Oppressed under-classes.
The far Left tends to see terrorists as the Oppressed just looking for a way to get out from under the controls and dominating systems put upon them by Oppressive rich nations and their banks, rules, borders, etc. In this view, these things keep the poor poorer, and allow the rich to get richer.
It’s a matter of cultural dissonance. The two sides simply see the world very differently. In fact, many people see some of the elites as the bad guys. But the far Left takes it to an extreme: everyone is either helping the Oppression, often by mere inaction, or actively fighting against it.
This isn’t anything new, of course. It’s been around for centuries. Greek, Roman and European history is full of this disconnect. It shows up in Biblical history and in ancient Egypt and Babylon. But what would be new, and different, is a president in the White House who generally sees things from the far Left viewpoint.
Such a president would see terrorism, and he would know it is wrong. He would say so. But he would also see in terrorism a fight of the Oppressed against their Oppressors, and he would view them as people trying to overcome the plight of the Oppressed.
Such a president would be willing to fight against terrorism, even sending troops and drones. But when he saw Republican rhetoric against refugees, or immigrants, would he view people who speak this way as the bad guys or the good guys? Clearly, he would think Republicans are the Oppressors, not the good guys.
Thus he would be able to stand in a press conference and unemotionally talk about the misdeeds of the terrorists in France, and only seem to get really emotional, really upset, when the topic turns to Republicans or reporters who question his motives. The Republicans and media seem like the bad guys, because they seem like Oppressors.
They would appear to be everything the far Left teaches about Oppressors—smug, educated, sure of their own righteousness, wealthy, powerful—while many of the terrorists fall into the category the far Left describes as desperate, misguided people seeking to throw off Oppression.
Where most people see terrorism as pure evil, a president with a far Left view would believe: The terrorists have the right goals (to overcome oppression), but use the wrong methods (terrorism). In contrast, the same president would believe that the Republicans and media have the wrong goals and the wrong methods, even though their methods are less extreme.
And, from the far Left view, the efforts of conservatives, bankers, middle class voters, media pundits and other Oppressors are downright wrong—and they must be stopped. Not violently, but stopped nonetheless. As a result, those on the far Left stop the terrorists because it is their duty, but they gleefully want to stop the middle class and elite “Oppressors” because they represent what in the far Left’s opinion is really, truly wrong with the world.
This view would also show up when a far Left president was speaking about police shootings. He/she would be seldom on the side of the police, often on the side of the non-police. Oppressors vs. Oppressed. Another example would arise when such a president addressed religion: often taking the side of Muslims, seldom siding with Christians. From the far Left viewpoint, this isn’t an issue of religion at all, but rather the ideal of always siding with the Oppressed minority against the Oppressive majority.
I don’t know if this critique is an accurate portrayal of the current president. I don’t know him, so I’m left with what the media shares. But this critique certainly explains a lot of his behaviors, and many of his words. It is indicative of many on the far Left. For example, when asked who her worst enemies were, Hillary Clinton mentioned terrorists as a problem but ended up calling “Republicans” her worst enemies.
She later said it was a joke. But the fact that she and many others laughed at the joke, and found it funny, is telling. People on both sides of the political divide frequently make this mistake, thinking that other Americans are really the great enemy, when so many worse enemies are out there (e.g. terrorists, Iran, Russia, China, North Korea, etc.).
What are the Solutions?
In all this, the real issue for most Americans is one of leadership. We are a nation divided. Divided about who the good guys are, and who the bad guys really are.
A nation where the majority of people don’t assume that the police are the good guys is in deep trouble. Very deep trouble. Yet our current President has seemed to signal this very thing on numerous occasions. This is a big problem.
Perhaps just as big, if not even bigger, is the President’s inability to passionately call out terrorism and unite the nation in defeating it. His attacks on terrorism seem half-hearted. For example, during the first Gulf War the allies sent out an average of nearly 1200 bombing sorties a day. In contrast, during the anti-ISIS attacks over the past 18 months, the Obama group has sent on average 6-8 sorties a day. That’s not a typo. It’s 1200 a day, versus 6-8 day. That’s a huge difference!
In short, those on the far Left aren’t really interested in foreign issues. They are focused on reformatting America, using government to transfer more and more power, money, and influence from the “Oppressive middle and upper classes” to the “Oppressed” under classes. Foreign policy is a distraction for them. They are annoyed when foreign policy problems come up at all, and wish they would just go away. For example, the President truly seems more passionate about taking away guns from law-abiding American citizens than he is about stopping terrorists.
With that kind of fuzzy leadership, not much is going to get done. The next time we elect a president, we need to look for someone whose words are crystal clear about what’s really important. Above all, the main purpose of the national government is national defense. And the main purpose of state and local governments is protection from murder, rape, theft and other violent crimes. Stopping these things is the reason government was invented in the first place.
Perhaps part of the reason political leadership has become so fuzzy is that our elected officials are doing far too much. If they focused on excellent national defense, and true public safety, and ensured freedom for all, we’d be in a much better place. That shouldn’t be too much to ask—a simple focus on protection of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
The good news is that our national problems aren’t insurmountable. But without real leadership, things just struggle and worsen. This doesn’t mean that more bombing is the only answer. There are other options. But one thing is certain: Our nation desperately needs true leadership right now.
October 20th, 2015 // 4:09 pm @ Oliver DeMille
“Why can’t the two parties in Washington just get along?”
“Why can’t the politicians just stop bickering and work together?”
“With the factional divides in the Republican Party, no Speaker of the House can get anything done.”
“Shutting down the government is a failure of leadership.”
“I wish Washington would just stop fighting all the time.”
Sound familiar? I’m amazed at how often I hear these words. At the barbershop. At the store. Waiting for my car to get serviced. At a family party. Granted, not every conversation is about politics. Most aren’t, in fact. But when politics does come up in casual conversation, you can usually count on hearing these sentiments—or something very much like them.
Yet every one of these phrases shows a serious lack of understanding. The people who utter these words either don’t understand the Constitution, don’t like it, or have decided not to openly show that they understand the Constitution.
In a cultural sense, these words are false. They’re wrong. They’re ignorant. These statements are the opposite of the Constitutional culture established by the Founding Fathers and ratified by our forefathers. And this misunderstanding is literally a much bigger problem for America than anything happening in Washington. In fact, many if not most of Washington’s problems are rooted in this broad misunderstanding.
Specifically: If a lot of the regular people don’t understand the Constitution, our government will be dysfunctional. But not in the way the media portrays. In fact, the problem is almost precisely the opposite of what the media typically tries to spin.
I. Why the Framers Wanted Lots of Tumult
and Conflict in Washington
The U.S. Constitution is based on separations of power and checks and balances. The Framers clearly saw that, through human history, political power has been abused. Almost always, and by every kind of government. And this abuse takes a certain form: Power centralizes in one political entity (sometimes the executive of the nation, whether king or dictator or president; sometimes in the legislative or parliamentary branch of the government; and other times, in judges), and then the bearer of that centralized power abuses it.
This is the story of ancient Greece and Israel, of both the Roman Republic and the Roman Empire, and of the various Germanic, Asian, African, and pre-Columbian American tribes. The same plot is repeated numerous times in the island nations around the world, and in dynasties, feudal eras, and nomadic cultures. James Madison made special note of how this pattern played out in Western Civilization, particularly various Greek city-states and alliances, and a number of German, French and other European princedoms and commonwealths (Federalist 18,19,20).
Madison’s conclusion, which was adopted by most of the Framers, was that no single branch of government should have too much power, and that the only way—the only way—for a people to remain free is for the branches to have the power and duty to effectively check and balance each other (Federalist 47,51).
Madison warned that the people wouldn’t stay free unless such ongoing checks and balances, tumultuous and intense at times, were part of America’s regular fare (Federalist 37,38,53)–what we might call our cultural DNA. In fact, if the three branches of the federal government ever became less than jealously in conflict with each other, Madison warned, the people should be very concerned about their freedoms (Federalist 47,48,51).
In addition, the three major parts of the federal government were created to provide certain vital functions, based on different strengths. They were meant to be:
- The Decisive Branch (executive), to stop foreign aggression
- The Protective Branch (judicial), to maintain the inalienable rights of the people, especially against government abuse of power
- The Chaotic Branch (legislative), to argue, debate, disagree, deliberate, and ultimately pass only a few limited laws that nearly everyone can agree upon
This is the crux of the Constitutional culture the Framers established. Today it remains central to maintaining our freedoms.
II. The Constitutional Culture
the Framers Wanted
Under this system, freedom is in jeopardy if the executive, legislative, and judicial branches aren’t actively checking each other (ibid.).
One of the leading Founding Fathers, St. George Tucker of William and Mary College, called any government where the three branches weren’t at odds and actively fighting each other by the name “tyranny.” Madison said the same in Federalist 47.
The people can only remain free if each branch uses its checks and balances to keep the other branches in line (Federalist 47,48,51).
When the branches do this, it is chaotic. But it’s the kind of chaos that happens when the branches fight each other, which is much better than what happens when the branches stop bickering and work together to reduce the power and freedoms of the regular people.
In short, chaos in Washington usually means that the branches are attacking each other, instead of the freedoms of the people. That’s a good thing!
The major checks of each branch were, and are:
- executive veto
- judicial decisions concerning constitutionality
- legislative purse strings
Again, the Framers knew that the use of these checks would be hotly contested, turbulent, divisive, and often very upsetting to those on the receiving end of such checks.
The Framers realized that sometimes a presidential veto would feel disastrous to some people. They also knew that a Court decision of “unconstitutional” or “constitutional” would at times trigger a lot of frustration, and that the Congress using its power of the purse to shut down government if necessary would cause real discomfort.
Madison warned in Federalist paper 1 (the introduction to the Constitutional system) that during such periods of “great national discussion”, the following would happen in America:
“A torrent of angry and malignant passions will be let loose.”
Yet such checks—including vetoes, Court decisions, and Congressional tumult and government shutdowns—were the very basis of the U.S. Constitution. As Madison put it: “Ambition must be made to counteract ambition.” (Federalist 51)
This bears repeating. The Founding Fathers knew the use of a check by one branch of government on another would bring controversies and adversarial contentions. Indeed, “controversy” is mentioned 25 times in the Federalist, and “adversaries” and “contentions” are discussed 40 times.
But for the Framers, the real worry, the big danger, was the “ambition” of people holding government offices. Forms of the word “ambition” appear 62 times in the Federalist. The Founders were willing to allow angry feelings about checks and balances, in order to stop abuses of power by government officials and agencies.
This is the very foundation of the U.S. Constitution. As mentioned above, it is firmly based on the idea that government officials, agencies, and branches that spend lots of time fighting each other will find less time to over-govern or over-regulate the people. Those who understand this reality understand our Constitutional culture. Those who don’t, do not.
III. When You Hear that “Government is Gridlocked,”
Remember that Jefferson and Madison
are Somewhere Cheering!
Today, however, when a discussion about Washington or politics arises, it often turns in the direction of politicians not getting along, or not getting much done. But let’s be clear: if the politicians start agreeing on a lot of things, our freedoms will be voted away more quickly.
The Founders knew this, and in response they purposely established separations of power with checks and balances to keep us free.
As Madison said, quoting Montesquieu, in Federalist 47:
“‘There can be no liberty where the legislative and executive powers are united in the same person, or body…’ or ‘if the power of judging be not separated from the legislative and executive functions.’”
That’s pretty straightforward. “There can be no liberty…” if the checks and balances aren’t used.
Unless government is frequently gridlocked, freedom quickly declines.
The checks and balances matter.
Yet when the House uses its Constitutional power of the purse to withhold funds or shut down the government to keep the president or Court in check, many Americans today somehow think that Congress isn’t doing its job. The truth is the opposite. If the House isn’t using its power of the purse to keep the president and Court checked, then Congress isn’t doing its job.
If the campaigns and debates to elect a new Speaker of the House aren’t heated, passionate, and tumultuous, then Congress isn’t doing its job very well.
If sections of the House aren’t fighting each other, Congress isn’t doing its job. Same with the Senate. Same with all the branches of the government.
IV. The Constitution Works—
We Should Try Following It
When did the majority of citizens stop understanding the Constitution? When did so many of us stop seeing that the separations, checks, and balances are key to our freedoms? Or forget what the actual checks and balances are?
For example, if your Congressman/Congresswoman won’t use the Constitutional power of the purse to fight for freedom, you should elect a new one.
Ultimately, the majority of American citizens have somehow stopped understanding the Constitutional culture the Framers outlined—with its intense, passionate, turbulent and rowdy conflicts between the three branches of government (and even within Congress). Somehow many voters have been swayed by the modern media view that everything should be smooth, friendly, and without struggle, that politics should be professional, gentlemanly, and efficient.
Indeed the media has convinced too many of us to see the latest political fights and shake our heads in frustration or disgust, when we should be smiling and carefully watching to ensure that the branches of government keep fighting each other—except when the national security is legitimately at stake.
That’s how our Constitutional system is designed, and the result is more freedom for the regular people. Most nations of the world, and of history, would give nearly anything to have such a Constitutional structure with its checks and balances and the freedoms and prosperity they engender.
If we ever actually adopt the type of civil, tranquil, administrative politics many in the media envision, we’ll live in a nation that has lost its freedoms. The fact that serious, vigorous debate and intense disagreement in Congress and other parts of Washington is seen as somehow…bad…is a national tragedy. Such fervent skirmishes and struggles are what the Framers wanted when they designed the Constitution the way they did. This is precisely what is needed to ensure that no one group or elite upper class controls everything.
Furthermore, the emasculation of Congress and its Constitutional power to check the president and Court by withholding funds as needed and shutting down the government on occasion is a major step in the direction of losing our freedoms.
If only more people understood the Constitution.
Next time you hear about chaos in Washington, smile. Smile widely. Grin and take a deep breath. The Framers got it right.
But if you ever hear about a lack of gridlock in the government and laws sailing through Congress in gentlemanly civility, you’ll know that we’re experiencing a massive loss of freedom.
We all need to help more people understand the Constitutional culture of freedom the Founding Fathers gave us, based on lots of chaos and bickering in Washington.