August 19th, 2015 // 2:36 pm @ Oliver DeMille
Steps to Freedom
I read another great book today, and it rekindled my sense of hope for the future. If you care about freedom, you’ve got to read it! This new classic is Liberty’s Secrets by Joshua Charles, and it is…
But I’m getting ahead of myself. There’s a story here, an important one. And I need to tell it in order to do justice to this book. In a world of brief sound bites and too frequently shallow media and educational conversations, a great book is easily overlooked. Such greats all too often go unnoticed because we live in an era of constant—aggressive—distraction. So to introduce a genuinely great book, we need to get this right. Here goes…
I. The Great Books
I was a young boy when first it happened, old enough to ride my bicycle to the library on hot summer afternoons and find interesting books to read, but young enough that high school sports and summer trainings weren’t yet part of my daily routine. One day under the memorable breeze of the town library’s large swamp cooler I came across a long shelf of books that boldly called themselves “The Great Books”. I stopped and stared. I re-read the title, then pondered.
“These can’t be the only great books,” I reasoned to myself. “There must be others.” Intrigued, I pulled out a volume and perused the title page, then skimmed through several chapters at the beginning of the book. I was impressed by the small print, the columns and footnotes, and the sheer quantity of big, unfamiliar words. They were downright intimidating.
I marveled a bit, rubbing my fingers along the cloth-covered bindings. I knew I would read these books some day. I just knew it.
I remember nothing specific about which volumes I investigated that day, but I skimmed many of them, reading a sentence here and another there. The afternoon passed, and I eventually returned the last volume I’d removed to its place on the shelf and went to the front counter to check out the L’Amour novel I’d selected for the week’s reading.
We lived in the desert, and it was a very hot summer, so during the exertions of my bike ride home I forget about the “Great Books”. But each time I returned to the library, I noticed them again. It seemed like none of them were ever checked out, and I could well believe it. They were truly daunting, with their gold foil lettering, fancy author names, and massive domination of shelf space.
II. Fast Forward
Today I just finished reading a truly great book on freedom, and I smiled widely as I completed the last few lines and closed the book. I removed the dust jacket and ran my fingers over the sleek black hardcover with the red foil print. “I was right, that day,” I thought to myself.
Then I realized I had been right on both counts. I would, in fact, come to read the whole set someday. I couldn’t have known at the time that I would re-read The Great Books many times, teach them extensively in multiple university, high school, and graduate level courses, and spend many hours discussing their content with colleagues, business executives, students, professionals, family members, and friends. The Great Books volumes have become dear friends over the years, and I have returned to them often for heated debates with their authors or to rehash unfinished questions in the “Great Conversation”.
But I was right about the other thing as well: there are great books beyond those in Britannica’s 54 volume set. And when I encounter an additional great book, I always feel a sense of excitement. Great books are great because they are important. That’s the major criterion. They have to be truly significant, to add meaning to our world—to innovate something that wasn’t there before the book brought it to life.
III. What Makes “Great”?
Over the decades I’ve experienced several great books beyond those from the “official list,” and they always leave an impression. Like The Closing of the American Mind by Allan Bloom, The Third Wave by Alvin Toffler, or The Five Thousand Year Leap by W. Cleon Skousen. Such books, like those by Bastiat or Austen, simply must be added to list. Along with Solzhenitsyn’s works.
In recent years I’ve come across several additional great books, like Andy Andrew’s The Final Summit, Chris Brady’s Rascal, Stephen Palmer’s Uncommon Sense, Orrin Woodward’s Resolved, Judith Glaser’s Conversational Intelligence, or Henry Kissinger’s On China. I also studied an old great book I hadn’t ever read before, The Early History of Rome, by Livy, and found greatness in its pages as well. When you read a book that is truly great, it’s a moving experience.
Such books come along rarely, so when they do it is important to pay attention. But what makes a book genuinely great? After all, greatness is a very high standard. It can’t just be good. As Jim Collins reminded us, good is too often the enemy of great.
Nor can it simply be well written. It can’t merely be accurate, detailed, beautiful, or interesting. More is necessary. It can be one, a few, or all of these things, but to be truly great, it must be also be transformational. It must change you, as you read.
IV. A New Great Book!
When I started reading Joshua Charles’ book a few days ago, I didn’t know I was in for such a treat. I had already enjoyed his earlier bestselling work, so I was ready to learn. I got my pen and highlighter out, and opened the cover. But as I read I realized that this book is truly very important. Needed. And profound.
Then, as I kept reading, I noticed that I was feeling something. A change. A different perspective. A re-direction. I was experiencing…the feelings that always accompany greatness.
Charles notes in several places that as a member of the Millennial generation he felt compelled to share this book with the world. Why? Because, in his words: “I wrote this book for one reason, and one reason only: to reintroduce my fellow countrymen to the Founders of our country and the vision of free society they articulated, defended, and constructed, in their own words.”
As a member of Generation X, I was thrilled to see a Millennial take this so seriously—and accomplish it so effectively. Even more importantly, as I read I noticed something very important, subtle but profound. Charles doesn’t make the mistake of so many modern authors who write to the experts and professionals in a field. His scholarship is excellent, and he goes a step further. He has a more important audience than mere political or media professionals. He writes to the people, the citizens, the voters, the butchers and bakers and candlestick makers—the hard-working people who make this nation go, including the artists, scientists, teachers, executives and leaders.
In so doing, he is a natural Jeffersonian, speaking the important principles of freedom, culture, economics, and leadership to a nation of people—not merely to politicos or aristos, but to everyman. To underscore this (and I doubt it was a conscious decision on his part, but rather his core viewpoint), his word choice refers not to “the American voter” but rather to “we the people.” He considers himself not merely the expert, but one of us, one of the people.
I could have hugged him for this, had he been here in person. We have far too few freedom writers today who see themselves truly as part of the citizenry. When they do come along, albeit rarely, I feel a sense of kinship and I know that their hearts are in the right place. Jefferson would be proud. For example, Charles wrote:
“We no longer know where we came from, the grand story we fit into, and the great men and women who inspired the noble vision which birthed the United States of America, the first nation in history to be founded upon the reasoned consent of a people intent on governing themselves….
“Additionally, few of us are well-read enough (a problem our educational system seems blithely unconcerned with) to discuss the lessons of the human experience (often simply called ‘history’)…”
Freedom, the classics, voracious reading, leadership, and the future—all rolled into one. “This is my kind of author,” I realized, once again. “These are the themes I emphasize when I write.” So did Jefferson. And Skousen, and Woodward. No wonder I love this book.
The Current Path
More than profound, Charles’ book is also wise. Belying his Millennial generation youth, he speaks like an orator or sage from Plutarch when he warns:
“Liberty is difficult work. It is fraught with risks, with dangers, with tempests and storms. It is a boisterous endeavor, an effort for the brave and the enterprising…”
These latter words have stayed with me since I read them several days ago. I keep remembering them. Boisterous. Brave. Enterprising.
These are the traits of a free people. In classical Greece, among the ancient Israelites, in the Swiss vales, the Saracen camps, the Anglo-Saxon villages, and the candlelight reading benches of the American founders—wherever freedom flourished. Yet today we train up a nation of youth to be the opposite. To fit in (not boisterous). To avoid risk (not brave). To focus on job security above all else (not enterprising).
If this trajectory continues, our freedoms will continue to decline.
Where and When
Speaking of freedom, Charles calls us to immediate action with his characteristic humility, depth, and conviction: “We either pass it [liberty] on to our posterity as it was passed down to us, or it dies here and now.”
Here and now? Really?
Is it that immediate? Is it truly this urgent? Is it really up to us?
The answer is clear: Yes.
Yet, it is.
“He gets it.” I smile and take a deep breath. Then I whisper to myself: “Another great book!”
I hold the book sideways and look at the many pages where I have turned down the corners. Dozens of them. Just for fun, I open one of them and read:
“…we have every reason to be doubtful of, skeptical about, and disdainful toward the notion that Caesar [government] can solve all our problems.”
I nod. When freedom is under attack, leaders rise up from among the people. This book is part of that battle.
“The Great Books indeed.” I grin as I say the words.
I turn to another page with a dog-eared corner and read Charles’ words:
“‘Society is endangered not by the great corruption of the few, but by the laxity of all,’ Tocqueville had noted, and on this he was in complete agreement with the Founders.”
And now, I note, with at least one Millennial.
I feel a sense of building hope for the future. “The Millennials are beginning to lead,” I say with reverence.
“This is big. And if this book is any indication of what’s to come…
“It’s about time,” I say aloud.
Then, slowly, “Everyone needs to read this book.”
*Liberty’s Secret by Joshua Charles is available on Amazon
August 19th, 2015 // 2:10 pm @ Oliver DeMille
The Three Republican Parties
There are now three Republican parties. One is the Republican Establishment, a group that basically stands for maintaining the status quo (with one change: a Republican White House). This is the party of Nixon, Ford, Bush I, Dole, Bush II, Romney, Chris Christie, and Bush III.
This group can best be described as fiscally conservative, internationally aggressive, moderate about immigration, supportive of Common Core and other centralized plans for education, and socially moderate. It is also a group that will increase spending and the size of the federal government.
A second group in the GOP is made up of Deep Conservatives: fiscally frugal on the surface, focused on limited government, aggressive on conservative social issues, strongly supportive of Israel, against Washington-run education plans, and hawkish on national security and immigration. This is the party of Mike Huckabee, Marco Rubio, Scott Walker, Rick Perry, and Bobby Jindal.
It is the Eisenhower/Reagan wing of the party. If the historical pattern holds, this group will unwittingly increase the cost and size of government, though it will likely shift spending a bit from liberal programs to more conservative priorities. It tends to talk a lot about fiscal responsibility, but when in office it just can’t seem to reverse federal spending—it always increases the debt. People in this group are often referred to as “the Republican base.”
The third segment of Republicans could be called the “Coalition of Change”. Members of this group are deeply frustrated with the status quo, with Washington’s refusal to do what the voters want, and with the fact that government grows and grows under both parties—Republicans just as much as Democrats. They dislike Common Core, No Child Left Behind, and the Department of Education, and are split on immigration and international interventionism.
This group includes the Tea Parties, a lot of other people who feel that Republicans have repeatedly promised to repeal Obamacare and reduce the national debt but never actually do it, and also a lot of non-Republicans who don’t like the GOP brand very much and prefer to be independents (but typically vote for the Republican presidential nominee rather than the Democratic candidate).
Numerically, the third group has the most voters—and the most passionate voters of the bunch. This advantage is based largely on the enthusiasm of Tea Partiers and also the large number of independents who vote Republican during presidential elections.
But this third segment of the GOP isn’t big enough to determine the election all on its own. All three groups will be needed for any candidate to win the White House.
The bigger story is that an interesting trend is now part of the Republican landscape: over the past two decades, this third group is growing. Between 1952 and 2004, GOP primaries were a battle between groups 1 and 2 (the Republican establishment versus social conservatives); but in 2008 the third group had significant influence. Its power grew in 2010, 2012, and 2014, and it is now largely driving the Republican primaries in 2015.
What this third group will accomplish in 2016 remains to be seen. But few people are clear about what, exactly, these “different kind of Republicans” actually want. What do they really stand for? Most Americans, even most Republicans, aren’t sure.
What Group 3 Really Wants
There are two things to consider here. First, in what ways are this third group of voters like the other two major segments of the Republican Party, and second, how are they different?
All three groups agree on the following: fiscal conservatism and strong national defense. Only group 1 is generally happy with the status quo, as long as Obama can be replaced by a Republican. Only group 2 cares deeply about social issues as a central part of the presidential race, and only group 3 fully intends to cut entitlements and drastically reduce government spending. These are the major policy differences.
But the real divide between group 3 and the others is found on matters of tone and scale. This third, largest, group that votes Republican wants the following:
- To actually, significantly, reduce the national debt and see the debt clock going backwards. Not just more fiscal responsibility, but a literal and lasting reversal of the debt.
- For the number of federal departments, programs, and employees to decrease. A lot. But even a little change would be a good start.
- For states to stop giving more and more power to Washington, and for the federal government, in fact, to send a number of powers back to the states. Not in a merely symbolic way, but in tangible, practical, realities.
- To reduce the amount of job-killing, business dis-incentivizing regulations from Washington and state governments, in order to attract more investment into the U.S. economy, spur the entrepreneurial sector and catalyze a new era of American small business innovation, and boost sustained economic growth and better jobs for American workers. This includes actually repealing and replacing Obamacare. Nothing less than real results will do.
- To change the regulatory mess that has put U.S. businesses on unfair footing with their international competitors. And to put America back in its superpower role by drastically improving our economy—as a direct competitive victory against China, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Brazil, Mexico, Iran, ISIS, and the European Union.
- Real change, something genuinely different in Washington–not just more growth of government and debt that has occurred for nearly thirty years under both Democratic and Republican administrations.
This can all be summed up in the phrase: “Make America Great Again.” (This phrase isn’t original to Donald Trump, but he saw its popularity and adopted it. Many in group 3, and a lot in group 2, appreciate this and agree with him.)
Members of group 3 want these things for real—not just as campaign promises that are forgotten after election day. They are tired of empty promises. They want action, and they want results.
Moreover, they are increasingly convinced that the typical brand of Republican candidates will never get us there. They want something different, led by someone different than the historical mass of normal politicians, and they want it now.
The Two Wings of Group 3: Thinkers vs. Fighters
At an even deeper level, Republican group 3 voters—and quite a few in group 2—are divided into two main camps: those who want an anti-big-government Fighter to lead the change, and those who believe a truly conservative Thinker will be more likely to actually bring genuine change.
The “Thinker” wing of group 3 tends to support the following candidates:
Ben Carson. If Trump weren’t in the race, it is likely that Carson would perform much higher in the polls. Or, possibly, he is benefiting from the growing sense that an outsider might actually have a chance. Many Trump supporters cite Carson as their second choice. His non-political background and soft-spoken, articulate defense of freedom and common sense principles are alluring to many group 3 voters. He also has significant group 2 support. He is definitely not a status-quo candidate. Carson would certainly be a different kind of president, a plus for those in group 3.
John Kasich. The Ohio governor is painted as a group 1 Establishment Republican by the media (based on his resume in Washington and Columbus), but he touts himself as a strong “Federalist” whose main focus is reducing the power of Washington and sending health care, education, law enforcement, tax funds, and other issues back to the states—getting the federal government out of our lives. Whether this can catch on in an electorate conditioned to think about everything in national terms remains to be seen, but if any Americans can get behind this “Federalist” change it is group 3 voters. Kasich is also seen as a fighter as well as a thinker, and an optimistic fighter to boot. He could be a formidable general election candidate, and could appeal to some voters in all 3 groups. He is also a proven budget balancer at both state and federal levels. But many in group 3 worry that he is too much like other group 1 candidates, too much the normal politician, and they worry that his conservative talk will turn to Bush-like establishment governance once in office. For this reason, he probably won’t get a lot of group 3 votes.
Rand Paul. In the tradition of his father, Ron Paul, the medical doctor and more recently Kentucky Senator cites the Constitution on numerous issues and appeals to those who care deeply about the future of freedom. On the “Thinking” basis, he is in the top tier of freedom supporters, right along with Ben Carson. On the other hand, Paul’s emphasis on national defense over global interventions weakens him with groups 1 and 2, and many in group 3. His words are often more popular to group 3 voters than his persona—many wish he were more effective as a fighter. Others think his Constitutional approach is exactly right. Paul has also worked hard to appeal to a number of voters outside the traditional Republican tent in a general election.
As for the “Fighter” wing of group 3, the most popular candidates are:
Donald Trump. His talking points and stump speech are a point-for-point summary of what many in group 3 want. And he’s been saying the same kind of things for thirty years. In addition, his intensity, unscripted candor and clear passion for American exceptionalism and America’s future are exciting to many group 3 voters—and some in group 2. The big challenges for Trump are that (1) many voters are put off by his brash approach (though this is exactly what many of his supporters like), and (2) he’ll probably get very few, if any, group 1 votes during the primaries. His success or failure in the Republican primaries will likely depend on how many group 2 and group 3 voters he can sway to his side. Major threats in international affairs could also increase his popularity among such voters.
Carly Fiorina. She has struggled to get her message across and gain wide name recognition, but like Carson and Trump she is a non-politician who focuses on real change in Washington. Fiorina is also popular among conservative policy wonks and some policy-oriented major donors. She is gaining a reputation for being succinct, articulate, and master of the issues.
Ted Cruz. The Texas Senator was the pre-Trump “extreme” candidate, but with the intensity of Trump’s run Cruz is now considered more mainstream by the media and many in group 2. Trump’s involvement could be a real benefit to him. If Trump drops out (doubtful), Cruz could become a favorite of many group 3 voters—and he’ll be more appealing to some in group 2 than Trump. (Neither is likely to appeal to group 1.) He is outspoken, reveres the Constitution, and in many ways is both a “Fighter” and a “Thinker.” Like Trump, he sometimes comes on very strong and makes enemies at the same rate that he attracts support. Whatever happens in this election, Cruz is likely to be a rising star in group 3.
Can a Candidate Gain Support From All 3 Groups?
There may also be some crossover candidates, those who appeal to group 3 and also to one of the other main segments of the GOP. But first, let’s make it clear that Jeb Bush will never appeal to group 3, simply because he’s not seen as a “Fighter” or a “Thinker.” He’s establishment all the way. Many voters in group 3 would vote for him if it came down to Bush vs. a Democrat, but many others would vote Democrat or even “write in” someone else.
If given a serious third party option versus Bush, many in group 3 would vote for, say, an independent Trump bid for office, even though they know that the “Ross Perot effect” would sweep a Democrat to victory. Still, in their mind, “This might teach Republicans a lesson, and Bush isn’t much better than the Democratic nominee anyway. In fact, he may be worse than a Democrat because with a Bush-style Republican in office we’ll have little support for real change in the midterm Congressional elections.” Few in group 3 believe that Bush would seriously repeal Obamacare or reverse the national debt.
Chris Christie scores strong on “Fight,” but group 3 sees him as just another establishment candidate. He’ll get very little support from group 3.
Group 1 or 2 candidates who could get some crossover support from group 3 voters include Mike Huckabee and, perhaps, Scott Walker, who are seen as “Fighters.” Another candidate who might be able to garner some group 3 support as a “Thinker” is Marco Rubio. Rubio has two other things going for him from a group 3 viewpoint: 1) the fact that he’ll likely appeal to a lot of young voters (who have supported Democrats in recent elections) and 2) his strength with Latino voters (who will likely determine who wins the general election in the tightly-contested swing states).
Group 3 would discount these things if Rubio were more of an Establishment Republican, but his Tea Party roots give him some street cred and he would likely receive strong group 3 support in a general election. Indeed, the Clinton and other Democratic campaigns have expressed a real concern about running against Rubio as the Republican nominee. But in the primaries, Rubio sometimes comes across too “establishment” to many in group 3.
How the 3 Groups See Each Other
Group 1: Establishment Republicans want to win the White House, rebuild and maintain America’s military and spread U.S. power and presence in the world, promote centralized controls over education, and increase the fiscal responsibility of the federal government. They are moderately concerned about the border.
Group 2: Deep Conservatives want to re-strengthen the military, and tackle budgets and debt. They also promote significant conservative social changes in the nation (desiring to alter regulations concerning abortion, gay marriage, anti-religious policies, etc.). They are against Common Core, and want to effectively secure the border with Mexico. Most of them are more interested in national defense and support of our allies (especially Israel and Britain) than in aggressive international military outreach.
Group 3: Republicans who want major change, Tea Parties, and Right-leaning independents who desire real change in America. They want to actually cut government departments, spending, and programs in significant ways, stop Common Core and secure the Southern border, reverse the national debt clock, and catalyze a major boost to the economy by changing anti-growth regulations and encouraging more entrepreneurship and investment. They want to make America great again.
Group 1 tends to see group 2 as too idealistic and too distracted by social issues, and group 3 as too extreme in both policy and tone.
Group 2 tends to see group 1 as too focused on winning (victory above principles), and group 3 as too revolutionary (not realistic about what can get done). Group 2 also considers both other groups too lukewarm on important social issues.
Group 3 tends to see the other two groups as “politicians,” “the status quo,” “more business as usual,” “more talk than action,” and “never going to actually change things.” Group 3 voters are tired of Republican campaign promises that don’t bring any real change after the election. Many of them consider group 1 voters to be closer to Democrats than to themselves.
In short, group 3 voters (and an increasing number of voters in group 2) are only going to support a candidate who is actually different from the norm. (Thus the strong support for Fiorina, Carson, Trump, etc.) The media, on the other hand, tends to think that only candidates with traditional government resumes should be considered for the presidency. This view is shared by most professional politicos, and by many centrist voters in both parties.
The Coming Future
It is these two views that are on a history-making collision course with each other:
(1) “A Republican in the White House”
(2) “Make America Great Again”
For group 3 voters, this means Typical Politicians vs. Anti-Politician candidates. Group 3 wants a true, authentic change in what kind of person leads this nation. They don’t care all that much about what policies the candidates say they support, because they’ve heard good policies from candidates before—and then watched the same candidates change their views once elected. Instead, they want a different kind of person in office. This includes the non-politicians and also, depending on who you talk to in group 3, anti-Washington candidates like Cruz, Rubio, Huckabee, and possibly Walker or Kasich.
This is very difficult for the media or mainstream to grasp, but it is real. And support for this change is growing.
Whether this gets worked out in 2016 will depend on how much traction Donald Trump, Ben Carson, Carly Fiorina, Mike Huckabee, or structural reformers like Rand Paul, John Kasich, or Ted Cruz can get—and maintain. Together these candidates are receiving well over half of Republican support in the polls, and Trump himself gets the highest numbers. In contrast, Bush and Christie combine for less than 10% in many polls.
Here’s the main point, and anyone who is interested in America’s future would do well to consider it carefully: If we don’t elect someone very different, a non-politician or at least a very different kind of politician, the growing sense of frustration with our government will only deepen and spread.
This is real, and it is a major cultural phenomenon. In fact, it is as powerful on the Left as on the Right (e.g. Bernie Sanders, the Occupy Movement, the passion for words like “Hope and Change,” etc.). At some point, if not in 2016 then in the years ahead, this drive for a real change in Washington is going to gain enough momentum to fundamentally alter our government. It has already won major victories in 2006 and 2008 (by Democrats), and in 2010 and 2014 (by Republicans). If current growth continues, it will eventually dominate one of the parties, or create a bigger third party that ends the reign of either Democrats or the GOP.
If this passion ever builds enough support to take the White House along with Congress, it will mark a new era in America. The key words of this movement are quintessentially American: innovative, pioneering, entrepreneurial, fighter, free-enterprising, tough, exceptional, great, strong, chutzpah,…and free.
July 28th, 2015 // 8:12 am @ Oliver DeMille
by Oliver DeMille
I don’t mean it. I’m going to propose it, but I don’t really want it. Or think it’s a good idea. This proposal is meant to be ironic. But it still needs to be said, because there is far too much truth to it.
Supreme Parliament of the United States
In the wake of recent Supreme Court decisions, it’s clear that the Court doesn’t just try cases. It now writes law. It isn’t only a Supreme Court, it’s the de facto Supreme Parliament of the United States as well.
The Court uses some decisions to simply rewrite the laws of the nation, including the laws of the states. It’s been doing that for some time,[i] of course, but now it’s taking this approach to a whole new level. It has decided that the 9th and 10th Amendments are outdated, and it just ignores them.
For example, the Court labels Obamacare a “tax”, even though the Congress and President who proposed and passed it never called it that, and even though it skirts many state laws. The Court just makes up its own way.
Forget the actual case at hand; the Court is convinced that it has the power to create whatever it chooses out of thin air. Whatever the Court says, goes. Call it a “tax”. And call marriage a Constitutional right, even though the word “marriage” and the concept of marriage are never even mentioned in the Constitution or any of the Founder’s commentaries on the federal Constitution.
The Framers specifically left any and all decisions about marriage to the states. The Court has amended the Constitution without even using an official amendment.[ii] Many times. Just because it wants to.[iii] I’m not saying the Court got any of these recent decisions wrong, or right. That’s not my point. In fact, my point is much more important than any of these cases. I’m saying the Court has no authority in the Constitution to make many of its decisions.[iv]
It gave itself the power to do these things.[v] It just took the power. Such power didn’t come from the people or the Constitution.[vi] Such power isn’t legitimate authority. It is, to use the precise, technical word that the Founding generation used for this exact behavior: “tyranny”.
Whether you love the current Court’s decisions, hate them, or fall somewhere in the middle, the bigger picture is beyond the cases. The Court is now boldly and fully engaged in Judicial Tyranny.[vii]
The new rules of the Court: Just do whatever you want. You’re the Court, after all. Oh, and that pesky reality that the Constitution doesn’t give the Court the authority do more than half of what it now does? No problem. Since you’re the Court, just announce that the Constitution does, in fact, give you such authority. In fact, decree that the Court has the Constitutional authority to do whatever you decide to do.
Jefferson warned that this very thing was the biggest danger to the Constitution and to American freedoms. And his prediction has come true. The Legislative Court has become one of the greatest dangers to our freedoms. Five lawyers literally have the power to do whatever they want.
The Proposed Change!
So here’s the proposal. I heard it on a radio show, and it made me laugh. Then it made think. Then it made me mad. Check this out:
Since the Supreme Court now makes up any law it wants just by writing it up in a majority opinion, without bothering about what the House or Senate does, let’s balance the budget by just disbanding Congress. Why pay Representatives and Senators and their staff when the Court is just going to write up laws on its own anyway?
That’s the proposal. Let’s just get rid of Congress and let the Court keep doing its thing.
Again, I don’t really mean it. But at this rate, the Court is on pace to do this anyway. And in the meantime, it’s already behaving as the Supreme Court and the Supreme Parliament all in one.
One More Thing
By the way, the real solution is for Congress to pass legislation ending the use of precedent in the courts and limiting every Supreme Court decision to the scope of that one case. This will send many in the current generation of lawyers into a tizzy, but it’s the right thing to do. Assuming that we want to remain free. Such a change will immediately return the Court to its Article III powers.
Or, barring this solution, if we’re going to keep with the bad tradition of common law precedent,[viii] amend the Constitution so that 2/3 of the state Supreme Courts can overturn any decision of the Supreme Court. (More on Common Law in footnote “viii”.)
If we don’t do one of these, we literally might as well adopt the proposal above—because the Court is now operating as both the Judicial Branch and a Higher Legislative Branch.
[i] See, for example: Martin v. Hunter Lessee; Cohen v. Commonwealth of Virginia; McCullough v. Maryland; Gibbons v. Ogden; Missouri v. Holland; New York ex rel. Cohn v. Graves; U.S. v. Butler; U.S. v. Curtiss-Wright Export Corp.; Wood v. Cloyd W. Miller; among others. See also: Bruno Leoni, Freedom and the Law, 3-25, 133-171.
[ii] Compare Article VI of the United States Constitution to Article III.
[iii] Some scholars and jurists will balk at this, arguing instead that the court “finds” or “discovers” the Constitutional meaning in the law. But while the Court may employ technical and/or logical language to support its decisions, it still utilizes its will. It may claim that its decisions are “findings,” and at times they are, but they are still always decisions. (If they were truly “findings,” matters of law without personal choice, all cases would be decided by 9-0 votes. Will is part of each decision.) Moreover, despite what is taught in some law school courses, the Framers clearly understood votes of the Justices to be acts of will, not mechanized requirements demanded by the laws.
[iv] Read Article III word for word. No such powers are granted.
[v] Review the cases listed in footnote “i” above. See also: John E. Nowak, Ronald D. Rotunda (Thompson-West), Constitutional Law, Seventh Edition, pp. 1-16, 138-156, 397-398.
[vi] Article III.
[vii] See how Raoul Berger warned of this a generation ago: Raoul Berger, Government by Judiciary.
[viii] Many in the legal profession argue that the Framers preferred Common Law to the other alternatives. Certainly there are a number of quotes from prominent founding leaders that on face value seem to support this view. In reality, most of the Framers preferred Common Law to Romano-Germanic Codifications. This was the major legal debate of the era, in Europe at least. Thus the Justinian model was soon to be followed by the Napoleonic Code. So when the Framers sided with Common Law over the Romano-Germanic model it was taken as a blanket endorsement of the Common Law. However, some of the top Founding Fathers, including both Jefferson and Madison, preferred a third model, the Anglo-Saxon code and system, over Common Law. For excellent background on these competing systems, see: Rene David and John E. C. Brierley, Major Legal Systems in the World Today; John William Burgess, The Reconciliation of Government with Liberty; Theodore F.T. Plucknett, A Concise History of the Common Law. In short, common law builds on precedent; the Constitution the Framers wrote didn’t require the use of precedent by the Judiciary. In the Framer’s model, the Court was “supreme” in deciding any one case. Period. This keeps the Court separated in the judicial realm. It is an independent judiciary, unlike in Britain, because it has sole authority to provide the final determination in any one case. But separation of powers gives it no authority to use dicta or precedent to influence later cases. Any allowance of precedent creates the need to explain a decision, and moves into the realm of legislation. Common Law was not the intent of the Framers. Once the Constitution was ratified, however, the attorneys of the era, trained in the Common Law, simply kept practicing their system without change. The Anglo Saxon code and model was quickly lost, to the detriment of American freedom. Most attorneys are unaware of this. Even a lower percentage of non-attorney citizens understand this. We lose our freedoms in many cases simply because we don’t know better.
June 1st, 2015 // 6:15 pm @ Oliver DeMille
(Should Presidents be Treated Like Royalty?)
News and Fans
A 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.
Moreover, 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.
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:
- A people who move aside for aristos, craning their necks to catch a glimpse of celebrity and snap a photo on their phones, or,
- A people who think everyone is an important leader because we are all citizens of a great, free nation?
Whatever 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.
April 17th, 2015 // 8:33 am @ Oliver DeMille
(How the White House is Touting Misleading Economic “Recovery” Numbers)
Lies and Facts
Mark 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.