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Constitution

An Obama, Adams, and Jefferson Debate

June 1st, 2015 // 6:15 pm @

(Should Presidents be Treated Like Royalty?)

by Oliver DeMille

News and Fans

Obama_FamilyA strange thing happened recently. President Obama visited my state, just a quick flight and a few meetings. But to watch the state news reports, you would think the most important celebrity in all of history was visiting. The media simply fawned over the president. The news channels broke into all the nightly television programs and gave special reports. Not on some major announcement, but on…wait for it…the President arriving at his hotel.

Reporters were on the scene. Anchors cut back and forth between the reporters and expert guests opining on how long the President’s day flight been and how much longer before he would arrive at the hotel. This went on and on. No news. No policies. No proposals. No events. No actual happenings.

Just a president and his entourage arriving in a plane, being driven to the hotel, and staying overnight. The reporters and other news professionals—on multiple channels—were positively giddy.

I shook my head in amazement. The American founders would have been…well, upset. At least Jefferson would. Adams? That’s a different story altogether. In fact, it got me thinking.

John Adams, the second president of the United States, made a serious mistake during his term in office. He had served for a long time as ambassador to the English crown, and he picked up some bad habits in London. He witnessed the way members of Parliament treated the top ministers in the British Cabinet, and how the ministers themselves fawned over the King.

He had, likewise, watched how the regular people in England bowed and scraped to the aristocracy. Almost everyone in Britain saw every other person as either a superior, an inferior, or, occasionally, an equal. This class system dominated the culture.

And, as an ambassador of the American colonies, Adams had been pretty low on the pecking order in London. He had seen how this aristocratic structure gave increased clout to the King, to Cabinet members, and to the aristocrats. So when he became president, he wanted the U.S. Presidency to have this same sense of authority, power, and awe.

In fairness, reading between the lines, I think president Adams’ heart was in the right place: He thought this would help the new nation gain credibility in the sight of other nations. He wanted the president to be treated like royalty.

But Adams forgot something very important.

Aristos and Servants

Americans weren’t raised in such a class system. They found such bowing-and-scraping to the aristos both offensive and deeply disturbing. For them, this was one of the medieval vestiges of the old world that America (and Americans) had gratefully left behind. The principle behind this was simple: if we treat leaders like aristos and kings, they’ll start acting like aristos and kings, and our freedoms will be in grave danger.

lawyers 1Moreover, Americans felt that such “prostration before their betters” was especially inappropriate where government officials were concerned. “Government leaders work for us,” was the typical American view. And if the citizens start acting like their leaders are aristocrats and royalty, they’ll stop thinking and acting like fiercely independent free citizens.

But still Adams wanted the people to treat the president like royalty. Jefferson was appalled at Adams’ words and behavior in this regard, and his criticisms of President Adams’ on this matter fueled a rift between these two men that lasted almost two decades. At times, the biting rivalry and harsh words bordered on hatred—if not of each other, certainly of the other’s behavior.

Jefferson believed in a democratic culture, where each person would be judged by his choices and character—not by class background. Even more importantly, he believed that, in fact, government officials do work for the people—and the higher the office, the more they are servants of the people.

As president himself, Jefferson went out of his way to avoid and reject any “airs” or special perks of office. He saw himself as simply a man, one of the citizens, who had the responsibility to serve all the other citizens. He wasn’t superior to them—he was the least of them, their servant, their humble servant.

After 8 years as president, Jefferson had established this as the way each president should be viewed: a regular citizen, serving as president while elected, but not treated as inherently royal, superior, or in any way better than anyone else. No perks, no special treatment. Yes, security for the Commander in Chief obviously needed to be different than for the average person. But other than that, no aristocratic fawning was appropriate.

Madison followed the same model, and after him Monroe. So did John Quincy Adams and other presidents through the eras of Andrew Jackson, Abraham Lincoln, Teddy Roosevelt, and FDR. Truman angrily rejected any attempts to put him on an aristocratic pedestal.

Eisenhower rebuffed aristocratic perks both as a general and later as president, and Kennedy did the same in many ways—leaving his expensive upper-class clothes at home and dressing more like the people he worked with each day while in Washington. Reagan openly pushed against any aristocratic airs; as a movie star he was accustomed to celebrity, but clearly avoided it as president. He wanted to be a man of the people, a servant.

Generational Visions

And even while Adams tried to promote a higher level of fawning over the president, at least the media of his era had the good sense to criticize him for it. To take him to task. To note that such is not the American way.

But something changed, somewhere along the way. Was it because Kennedy was considered American “royalty” even before the presidency, or because Reagan was already a Hollywood celebrity before he occupied the White House? Or did the change come during the Clinton era, or the Bush years? (Ironic that such fawning of the Chief Executive came after Nixon.)

Or was it the way Hollywood portrayed presidents—with actors like Michael Douglas or Martin Sheen glibly spouting a sense of arrogant power and aristocratic entitlement? Did entertainment capture our national imagination?

When did we start seeing the world as classes of royals, aristos, and “regular” people? When did “celebrity” become an accepted reason for special treatment in America?

Should we respect the offices held by our political leaders? Absolutely. Should we honor those who serve? Absolutely. Too often the level of civic discourse today is coarse and angry. More respect is needed. And, just as importantly, less aristocratic fawning is needed.

I once wrote about experiencing this trend firsthand while hosting a visiting dignitary many years ago. After an evening event, we went to a restaurant. The dignitary and I naturally walked to the back of the line, but one of the other hosts hurried to the front of the line and arranged for a “VIP table.” As we walked past the rest of the line, people vocally grumbled. We heard words like: “Hey, don’t cut in line,” and “You can wait your turn, just like the rest of us.”

When the other host responded by telling the people in line the dignitary’s title and name, the frustration grew louder. “We’re Americans too,” one man said. “We don’t worship titles in this country. Wait your turn.” A number of similar words were exchanged. The dignitary demanded that we go back to the end of the line just like everyone else.

Fast forward over two decades later. A similar scene. I walked with a dignitary to the back of a large restaurant line, and someone in our group arranged for us to go straight to our table. As we passed the line, people asked, “Who’s cutting in line?”

But these voices weren’t angry. They were just curious. “It’s a celebrity,” someone said. “Oh, okay,” was the general consensus. “Of course. Let him ahead, then.” Apart from trying to see if they recognized the person, everyone in the line seemed totally content to let a celebrity pass.

The earlier line had been made up mostly of people from the Greatest Generation and the Boomers, while the second line consisted mainly of Gen X and Millennials. The U.S. clearly changed during the two decades between these experiences. But is the change a good one?

It’s an important question: Can we maintain a democratically free society when the broad culture sees people as “superiors,” and “inferiors”? When we as Americans have come to see celebrities as naturally deserving special perks, and government officials as people to be submitted to? Won’t that change how we vote?

Indeed, it already has.

Focus and Fawning

Would John Adams like the way Americans now treat their presidents and other celebrities? What would the British aristos of the American Founding era think of Americans today? Are we just as “domesticated” as the London populace of their time? We don’t exactly “bow” yet, but have we become a nation that “bows and scrapes” before people we see as “our betters?”

And if this applies to “power celebrities,” meaning government leaders, what does that say about the American people as wise stewards and overseers of freedom? Politeness is good, no doubt. But which is classier:

  1. A people who move aside for aristos, craning their necks to catch a glimpse of celebrity and snap a photo on their phones, or,
  2. A people who think everyone is an important leader because we are all citizens of a great, free nation?

John_AdamsWhatever Adams would think of the way many Americans now turn giddy in the presence of political leaders, Jefferson, Washington, Franklin and Madison would not like it. Jefferson would certainly call foul. This is not the way to maintain a true democratic republic.

Treat everyone like aristos, or no one. Period. That’s the only way to be equal and fair.

Don’t treat some like aristos and others like commoners. Because if we do, freedom will quickly decline. (It will decline more for the commoners than the aristos, by the way.) Even Adams hated such obsequiousness when he witnessed it in Europe.

Clearly, as mentioned, the security of top leaders is very important. So is the security of everyone else, but it is true that top officials and celebrities often face more frequent threats. Also, more respect in our civil discourse is needed. But the servile toadying to political celebrity by many in our current populace and even media is a disturbing trend.

Again, we should certainly be respectful of important office. But sycophancy isn’t the American way—as Adams learned when the “commoners” refused to give him a second term. In fact, they instead entrusted the presidency of their nation to the leading voice of democracy and equal treatment for all citizens: Thomas Jefferson.

We should be so wise. Give us a president who stands what matters—boldly, openly, and effectively—while simultaneously rejecting the perks and “airs” of aristocracy, or worse, an Americanized royalty.

Give us a president who vocally reminds us that he or she is just one of the citizens. And who openly remembers and operates on the principle that we, the people, are the real leaders of the nation. It’s time for the media servility and simultaneously smug superiority of the White House to be replaced with what our nation actually needs—quality, grown up, leadership by someone who truly understands what makes freedom tick. The people.

As for the media, focus more on policy and principles, less on ratings and the “royals who lead us.” And none at all on what hotel somebody stays in. There are people with real needs in this country, and current policies are hurting millions of American citizens. Let’s fix them. Starting with spending our media airtime on what really matters.

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Darn Statistics!

April 17th, 2015 // 8:33 am @

(How the White House is Touting Misleading Economic “Recovery” Numbers)

by Oliver DeMille

Lies and Facts

decline_graphMark Twain popularized the idea that there are lies, darn lies, and then statistics. The implication is that statistics are often the worst lies of all, because most people don’t really understand what they mean.

Lenin added that when money is part of the equation, very few people understand the numbers and what is really going on.

To bring this home, the White House keeps assuring us that the Great Recession is over, and that the U.S. economy is now doing much better. In the 2015 State of the Union Address, for example, President Obama tried to put the nation at ease about the economy. He told us that the economy is in recovery, the worst is past, and we can turn our thoughts to other topics.

Since that speech, the White House has repeatedly reassured us that the economy is now doing well.

But the facts simply don’t tell the same story. In fact, they tell a different tale indeed.

Recovery and Disaster

One of the biggest statistical “lies” is that unemployment is now under control. But this a purely statistical fiction, based on the way the government calculates unemployment numbers.

Officially, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the unemployment rate is now down to 5.5. To compare, the average unemployment rate under the Bush Administration was 5.3, and under the Obama Administration it has averaged 8.3. So getting down to 5.5 is good. But it’s also misleading.

The 5.5 rate is this low only because the Labor Participation Rate (the number of people who have a job or are actively trying to get one) is way down. It’s currently only 62.7%, matching the lowest since 1978, which means that a lot of unemployed people have given up trying to get a job.

As columnist George Will put it: “If the work force participation today were as high as it was on the day Barack Obama was inaugurated, the unemployment rate in this country would be 9.7%.” That’s not a recovery, it’s a major economic disaster. And it’s getting worse, because the participation rate is going down.

Numbers and Reality

Also, a large number of those who are now “employed” according to the government statistics are actually working in jobs that pay much less or offer a lot fewer hours than those they had before the downturn. Such people don’t consider themselves out of the Recession—and won’t until they get back to making as much as they did before.

For example, counting a person who lost his or her $32,000 a year job and is now making $11 an hour for a shorter work week as “employed” might make sense on the statistical report, but it’s not good for the worker or his/her family. They’ve taken an almost 50% pay cut, while the cost of living is still going up. And given the new Obamacare regulations, the number of hours isn’t likely to go up for these people.

The current unemployment statistics may look good on television, or play well in White House press briefings, but only because most people don’t know what the statistics actually mean or how they are configured.

A lack of real, widespread education makes a people easy to sway, and easy to control. Too many of today’s citizens are accustomed to simply accepting whatever the experts and officials say without really thinking or even questioning. This reality makes freedom a lot more difficult to maintain.

Want a Founding Fathers-style Education to perpetuate freedom? Join the Black Belt in Freedom mentoring program today >>

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The Hillary Clinton Emails (A Different View) by Oliver DeMille

March 16th, 2015 // 12:30 pm @

The Curve

hillary ClintonIf you follow my articles on a regular basis, you’ve probably noticed that I seldom write about topics that are in the current news cycle. I usually address such issues a week or more after they stop dominating the nightly news. There is an important reason for this.

The way the television news presents many political topics can be very emotional. This often leaves watchers strongly influenced and emotionally geared up—one way or another.

Instead of jumping into that emotional boiling pot, I prefer to take a more reasoned approach. And waiting a few days or weeks can allow people to absorb the news, think about things, and then take a fresh look at the topic once emotions have calmed a bit. This usually leads to deeper thinking and more wisdom.

The topic of the Hillary Clinton emails is just such an issue. Here’s my take on it, and though I think you’ll find it quite different than the various news reports on the subject, I believe this view is well worth considering. So, here goes…

Reality Politics

Our current “gotcha” method of politics is a stain on our society. Watch the national news on almost any given evening, and a politician or potential candidate is being attacked for his or her latest weakness, mistake, or controversial choices. And in presidential politics, the din is even more constant.

The latest series of commentaries and diatribes against Hillary Clinton’s emails is yet another example of this problem. News programs clamor to break the latest development, talking heads line up to add their two cents of criticism, and potential 2016 Republican candidates jockey to call for the strongest censure.

Is it any wonder that most Americans don’t like politics very much? Or that many of those who do enjoy it too often treat it all like a reality show—a la Bachelor, Survivor, Celebrity Apprentice, the tabloids, or even the latest Kardashian saga? No surprise that independents shake their heads in disgust. Whichever party is the target of the latest news, the critics from the other side seem to pop up in droves.

Just once I’d love to hear a serious presidential contender step forward and take the high road. “I don’t really care about these allegations,” he or she would say. “I’ll leave that to the press and to people who are interested in these things. For me, they’re just a distraction.

A Better America

“The real question is a lot more important: Is Mrs. Clinton the best person for the job of President? Are her values, goals, and vision for this country what we want to lead us into the years ahead? Will her policies get us where we truly want to go? Because I believe in something I think is better for America, and I’d like to focus on that.

“I believe in an American future where…

“I see the United States making the hard choice to…

“If America is going to get back on track, and really live up to our great potential, every citizen needs to…

“Free enterprise is the hope for our future because…

“What really matters most to America’s next decade is the genuine, heartfelt decision to…

“…and that’s the kind of nation I want to pass on to our children and grandchildren. The policies I’ve outlined will get us there. So I’m not going to get sidetracked by these attacks on my opponent. There is too much at stake. No leader is perfect. Everyone in public office can be attacked by those who have nothing better to do.

“But that’s not really what this election or this nation is about. Not at all. There’s something much more important going on. If Mrs. Clinton is the best leader to take America into the future, then you should vote for her. The rest is mere distraction. If you share her vision and goals, then support her. If not, if you share the vision and direction I’ve outlined today, vote for me.

“These other things may be important, or not, but they aren’t as important as the real challenge—not by a long shot. The true question we should be addressing today is what kind of America do we want, how are we going to get there, and who is the best leader to make it happen? That’s the real issue. And ultimately it’s the only issue that really matters.”

Of course, both parties like to point fingers, make accusations, and jump on the bandwagon when they spot a potential weakness. But that’s not what America is about. Or, if it is, then we’re going to continue into decline. Period.

Taking a Stand

I’m convinced most Americans don’t like the negativity. Yes, it seems to influence elections. And that’s sad. Because it shows a certain lack of independent thought, a missing element of leadership on the part of some voters. A nation dedicated to an ongoing game of gleeful whack-a-mole against the latest candidate’s foibles simply isn’t all that serious about its own future.

I’m not suggesting that the media shouldn’t report the news. Journalists have a job to do, and the nation is more informed when they do it accurately. But voters, candidates and party leaders shouldn’t give in to every temptation to jump into the muck, get happily worked up over every personal flaw in their opponents, or go negative whenever a glimmer of opportunity to criticize someone presents itself.

I know, that’s just politics. But that’s the problem. Politics should be better. “It’s not,” the experts say. But let’s not listen to them. Candidates can choose the high road. If that brings about their loss, they should be proud to lose. To paraphrase Thoreau, if being petty, vindictive, and/or negative is what it takes to get elected, anyone who wins an election should be deeply ashamed.

Besides, we’re tired of candidates who really want to win. We want a candidate who really wants to stand for a great America, and to do so regardless of how many votes such a stand garners or repels. Yes, that might seem naïve to those inside the Beltway, but it’s still true. We want a leader. Really.

Finally.

Moreover, voters can stop boosting the ratings of those who feed on the negative. If this is idealistic, it’s only because the ideal is worth supporting.

I, for one, am going to just pass on muckraking politics. I’m no fan of Hillary Clinton’s suggested policies, and I won’t be voting for her, but the candidates who jump on the bandwagon to attack her over every new potential negative—I just don’t respect them. Get a platform, take a stand, make us support you because of what you represent, stop grasping at straws and throwing rocks at Hillary. Or at anyone. Stop going on every television program you can and talking about your opponent’s flaws. It makes you look small. It is small, in fact.

I’ll vote for the candidate who takes a stand—not only for the issues I support, but also for the dignity to be professional, classy, positive, and optimistic. And yes, even idealistic and noble in the way he or she treats opponents and those who disagree.

Past, Present and Future

Leaders like George Washington, Winston Churchill, and Ronald Reagan didn’t win by tearing down the other guy, relying on distasteful personal invective, or playing “gotcha” games. These tactics were too petty for them. They laid out a bold vision for their nation, made a case it for it, and let the voters decide whether or not to support it.

And they stayed on message. (For example, Washington spread his influence and vision mainly through letters, not by campaigning. Churchill was notoriously congenial with opponents, and Reagan was famously optimistic even in addressing controversial topics.) They didn’t let the media, polls, or ratings set their talking points.

I want to vote for a candidate with a powerful vision for America’s future and a new era of greater freedom and prosperity, a realistic and principle-based plan to achieve these things, and a firm stand against wasting time attacking others. And I want to live in a nation of voters who turn off the TV or stop watching programs full of angry jabs about little issues.

It’s time for us to get real. Let’s finally get to the big things: Like what we truly want to be as a nation, what policies will take us there, and which leaders can effectively help it happen. Anything less is a vote for more of the status quo—a nation of bickering, blaming, backbiting, and decline—and that’s a bad decision for all of us.

We can do better.

Call for Greatness

So when candidates or their campaigns join the petty negative attack bandwagon, like a group of mean girls bullying on Facebook, instead of just leading us in a Reagan-esque focus on what we need to truly make America great again, I’m going to scratch them off my list. I don’t want a finger-pointing president, or one whose main goal is to win the White House. We’ve had those—from both parties—and they made things worse, not better.

We need a great president. Just look at our economy, the rising national debt, Russia, China, the Middle East, race disputes in our cities, etc. We face real problems, and many of them are incredibly dangerous. No mediocre president will do.

Whoever you are, we need you to be great. And the surest way to be a great president is to be great, to do great, to simply act great. Starting by focusing on your great plan for America rather than trying to win by exposing the flaws in your opponents. We’re tired of small-minded, petty candidates and “leaders.”

I hope a lot of voters will join me in this watch for a real candidate, one whose bold vision, effective plan, refusal to go negative, and deep understanding of freedom and prosperity will make us all proud to be Americans again. If there’s no such candidate out there, then I really don’t care who wins. Anything less just guarantees further decline.

We need a great president, or bust…

Literally.

And “great” includes positive, optimistic, and unswervingly focused on the big things that really matter.

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How Freedom Might Win in 2016

February 14th, 2015 // 8:18 pm @

 The New Field

20111125_rockwellFreedomSpeechI was wrong. I thought Mitt Romney would run in 2016, but he declined. Where does this leave the election? More importantly, with a large field of potential candidates, is there a path for freedom? Meaning, can someone like Rand Paul who really believes in applying the Constitution in our modern times actually win?

The definite answer is “maybe.” But, more than any election since at least the 1980s, there is a narrow chance of this happening in 2016.

To explore this, we need to clearly understand two important points.

Charisma and Coolidge

First, in every presidential general election the most likeable candidate wins. Always. And in presidential politics “likeable” means both “fun, cool, engaging” and also that a majority of voters believe the candidate really cares about them.

This reality isn’t negotiable. The U.S. electorate always chooses the most likeable candidate for president. So if a Republican candidate isn’t more likeable to the general electorate than Hillary Clinton, he or she won’t win.

Second, there are two major groups of Republicans running for the White House: Establishment Republicans and Serious Freedom-Lovers. It’s been over thirty years since a Serious Freedom-Lover won the presidency. Since 1988, Republican nominees have been a long list of Establishment Rep’s: Bush I, Dole, Bush II, McCain, Romney. And before Ronald Reagan, Republican presidents were all Establishment Rep’s through Ford, Nixon, Eisenhower, and all the way back to Freedom-Lover Calvin Coolidge in the 1920s.

In the 2016 Republican primaries, Establishment votes will naturally split between candidates such as Jeb Bush, Chris Christie, and John Kasich.

Likewise, Freedom-Lover votes will be divided between people like Ted Cruz, Rand Paul, Mike Huckabee, Ben Carson, etc. And a few potential candidates might appeal to both sides, like Scott Walker, Marco Rubio, and Carly Fiorina.

Where the Votes Sit

So what does this all mean for the Republican primaries as they select a nominee to face Hillary Clinton in the general election? While it’s still early, a few things are becoming increasingly clear:

  • The Establishment Rep’s will tend to centralize their support behind one of the following: Jeb Bush, or perhaps Chris Christie, John Kasich, Scott Walker, or Marco Rubio. It is most likely Bush’s to lose, or Kasich’s, Rubio’s, or Walker’s to win.
  • The Freedom-Lover wing of the GOP will most likely split between various candidates, not concentrating strong support for any one person.
  • But the only path to victory by a Serious Freedom-Lover is for voters in this wing of the party to centralize support behind one or at the most two candidates.

Currently, based on the polls, Republicans with a reasonable chance of becoming president are Bush, Rubio, Christie, Paul, and Walker. Let’s compare how each of these do on likeability in the general election:

 

Candidate Youth  Independents Latinos Swing State Voters Overall GeneralElection Likeability
Bush Weak Medium Strong Medium Medium
Christie Medium Weak Weak Medium Weak
Paul Strong Strong Medium Strong Strong
Rubio Strong Medium Strong Strong Strong
Walker Weak Medium Weak Medium Medium

 

These can, of course, change as the election unfolds. But the problem for Republicans, as it has been since 1992, is that the factors that make a candidate strong in the GOP primaries are very different than those that make them strong in the general election. Compare:

 

Candidate Likeability in Most GOP Caucuses and Primaries Likeability in General Election
Bush Strong Medium
Christie Strong Weak
Paul Medium Strong
Rubio Medium Strong
Walker Strong Medium

Chains…and Weak Links

In other words, the Republicans have a structural problem. They look for different things in selecting a nominee than the general electorate looks for in choosing the president. Using this system, candidates who are Strong in the GOP primaries are usually Weak or Medium in the generals, while candidates who are Strong in the generals are Medium or Weak in the GOP primaries.

In contrast, the Democrats look for the same things in the primaries that the voters look for in the generals. This is a significant advantage for the Democrats. If Hillary Clinton were added to the chart above, for example, and the heading were changed to “Electability in the Democratic Primaries,” she would rate Strong in both the primaries and the general election. Elizabeth Warren would rate Strong in both as well. Joe Biden would rank Medium in the primaries and Weak in the general—which is why Democrats won’t make him their nominee.

In 2008 Barack Obama rated Strong in both, while McCain (in normal Republican fashion) was Medium in the primaries and Weak in the generals. Romney in 2012 ranked Medium in the primaries and Weak in the general among women, youth, swing state voters, independents and Latinos.

2016 could prove unique because two of the top five potential Republican nominees rank Strong in general election likeability. This is especially significant because they are both strong in the Serious Freedom-Lover camp. But winning the nomination will certainly be an uphill battle for them.

******************

odemille The Bedrock of Freedom: The Ben Carson vs. Rand Paul Debate by Oliver DeMille Oliver DeMille is the New York Times, Wall Street Journal and USA Today bestselling co-author of LeaderShift: A Call for Americans to Finally Stand Up and Lead, the co-founder of the Center for Social Leadership, and a co-creator of TJEd.

Among many other works, he is the author of A Thomas Jefferson Education: Teaching a Generation of Leaders for the 21st Century, The Coming Aristocracy, and FreedomShift: 3 Choices to Reclaim America’s Destiny.

Oliver is dedicated to promoting freedom through leadership education. He and his wife Rachel are raising their eight children in Cedar City, Utah.

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The Bedrock of Freedom: The Ben Carson vs. Rand Paul Debate by Oliver DeMille

February 13th, 2015 // 9:27 am @

Measles, Vaccinations, Common Core,
and the Deeper Issue We’re All Experiencing

randpaulThe disconnect right now is tearing our nation apart. Over and over, people engage in the Surface argument, while the Deeper issue is actually a lot more important.

For example, consider the national discussion of whether the government should mandate vaccinations against measles and other similar diseases. The Surface issue is whether vaccinations are safe, or whether in some cases they are hurtful to a child. But the Deeper issue is much more important: Who should make the decision about vaccinations for your children? Government? Or you as the parents?

I recently watched two interviews with U.S. presidential hopefuls that clearly illustrate this point. In the first interview, Ben Carson was asked about measles and vaccinations. He stated that vaccinations should be firmly mandated by government for all children. Period.

Rand Paul took a slightly different approach. He said that vaccinations work and that children should be vaccinated, but that the more important issue is this: Government doesn’t own such decisions about children, parents do. Parents should have the final say.

Both of these men are medical doctors, and both have a history of commitment to the principles of freedom. But in this case, one called for government mandates and the other called for sticking with freedom. Very interesting.

Force and Reason

Ben Carson went on to say that the idea that vaccinations are widely damaging has been debunked, but then he added an interesting point. He said that of course a few children are allergic or otherwise react poorly to vaccinations, but overall the benefits of widespread vaccination are worth it.

That’s reasonable. But, if reason is to be our guide, which of the following is more reasonable:

1-Educating the populace about the scientific facts, then using government force to mandate what parents must choose for their children?

2-Educating the populace about the scientific facts, then letting parents make choices for their children?

This illustrates the current growing division between those who generally trust the government and those who usually distrust it. This disconnect is now a major feature of our nation. It shows up in numerous important issues, including:

1-The government should mandate Common Core across the nation to raise standards for schools and students.

   Vs.

2-Parents should have the final say on whether or not Common Core is good for their specific children.

Or:

1-The police are justified in using deadly force as needed, because law enforcement is paramount and force is frequently necessary—and police and government agents are nearly always in the right.

   Vs.

2-The community should be very vigilant about any use of force by the police to ensure that it was truly justified, because police forces and governmental agencies sometimes overstep their bounds and aren’t held accountable.

To Trust or Not to Trust

America is split, more each year, by these two major perspectives: “We almost always trust the government to do the right thing,” versus “We don’t usually trust the government to do the right thing.”

Through most of the 20th Century, by the way, an average of 78% of Americans held the first view (trust), while today only 23% of Americans believe the government will do the right thing most of the time. That’s a huge change.

And clearly the disconnect isn’t partisan. It divides both major parties, and it also divides independents. Just look at Common Core, for example. Rand Paul and Ted Cruz are strongly against it, while Jeb Bush is a firm supporter. Bobby Jindal and Mike Huckabee supported it at the state level and then opposed it when it became a federal program. And all of these men are leading Republicans.

Or look at the vaccination issue. Some of the strongest supporters of government mandates are top Democratic politicians, while many of the communities with the lowest rates of vaccination (and highest levels of anti-vaccination activism) are university neighborhoods dominated by progressive faculty and administrators.

On the Right, many Republican voters demand that everyone get vaccinated, while a vocal opposition calls mandatory vaccination a socialistic plot. Ben Carson versus Rand Paul, so to speak, but spread through the population regardless of party.

Now, change the Surface issue, from, say, vaccinations to police use of deadly force in Ferguson, Cleveland, or New York, and the sides quickly shift.

Bad Comparisons

Here’s another example:

1-The government should regulate and then force the education of all children ages 5-16.

   Vs.

2-Parents should have the right to make the final educational decisions for their family.

This one clearly hits very close to home, but the divide is still there. Ben Carson said something really interesting while he was making his case for mandatory vaccinations. He compared them to seatbelt laws and also laws against texting while driving. I like Ben Carson, so this surprised me because these two things shouldn’t be treated the same. (He probably would have clarified this if he had time to elaborate.)

The main intent of “don’t text while you drive” laws is to protect other people from bad driving, while the focus of seat belt laws is to protect the driver.

In the case of Common Core, supporters often speak as if their major goals are to improve society, while many parents who dislike Common Core care mostly about the education of their own children. And pro-vaccinators often cite public health statistics at the same time that anti-vaccination parents point to anecdotal examples where specific children were harmed.

Simplicity and Standards

This all makes sense, if we take the time to really consider it. In short, those thinking in terms of the mass population naturally overlook the specific, individual cases (“they’re just anecdotal”) while many a concerned parent logically ignores the statistical tables (“my son isn’t just a number”) and focuses on the potential danger if her child just happens to be one of those who is harmed.

Both views have merit. Both are reasonable. Both make sense. But back to our original question: To whom are we going to give the final say?

The answer depends on what level of society is best equipped to deal with each specific situation. Consider:

  • If it’s a question about nuclear attack or foreign invasion, the federal government was designed to deal with it.
  • If it’s a question of crime or direct danger to everyone, it’s a state or provincial issue.
  • Or, if anything in level B can be handled more effectively at a local level, it should be.
  • If it’s about what’s best for an individual’s education, prosperity, or health, let the individual choose. This is the essence of freedom. If it’s about children, let’s trust the parents.

This simple little system is essential to freedom. Without such standards, freedom is quickly lost.

The Level

So, let’s get specific. Do the measles meet the “danger to everyone” level in B or C above? No. So leave such health decisions to the parents. Same with Common Core. Of course, if Ebola is the issue, level B kicks in because it truly is a “direct danger to everyone.” It may even be level A, depending on the circumstances. But Common Core and the measles are nowhere near level A. Not even close.

In fact, this system of doing things at the right level, and only at the right level, is the key to maintaining freedom and applying wisdom on nearly every issue. For example:

-Seat belts? Level D.
-Drunk driving or text-driving? Level B. (It would be level C if people didn’t travel very much, but in our current world conditions, if every local area has a different law, far too many drivers will be confused and the laws will be ineffective at protecting the life and liberty of others.)
-Police using deadly force? Level B.
-Oversight of any use of deadly force? Levels A-D.
-Compulsory school laws? Level D only. Seriously, leave to families those things best handled by families.
-Dedicated study and wise oversight of all laws? Level D.

This isn’t just the Deeper level; it is the bedrock of freedom.

******************

odemille President Obamas Free College Tuition Plan Oliver DeMille is the New York Times, Wall Street Journal and USA Today bestselling co-author of LeaderShift: A Call for Americans to Finally Stand Up and Lead, the co-founder of the Center for Social Leadership, and a co-creator of TJEd.

Among many other works, he is the author of A Thomas Jefferson Education: Teaching a Generation of Leaders for the 21st Century, The Coming Aristocracy, and FreedomShift: 3 Choices to Reclaim America’s Destiny.

Oliver is dedicated to promoting freedom through leadership education. He and his wife Rachel are raising their eight children in Cedar City, Utah.

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