May 18th, 2016 // 12:40 pm @ Oliver DeMille
by Oliver DeMille
As an independent, I try to avoid acting like one party is wonderful while the other is just plain “evil.” I know too many partisans—in each of the two big parties—who see the world in this kind of black and white. But there are too many flaws in both parties to think that either of them is the true answer to our nation’s problems.
Except this year. This time things are different.
How? Put bluntly, the death of Justice Scalia has created a serious situation in the Supreme Court. For years we’ve seen a precarious balance on the Court, with close votes sometimes swinging to conservatives and other times to liberals. Scalia was always a sure thing for conservatism, and even with him on the bench progressives won too many cases that hurt our nation.
The only way conservatives keep any semblance of balance on the Court is to fill Scalia’s seat with another died-in-the-wool conservative. Put a liberal or moderate on the Court, and things will drastically shift socialistic for the next decade—or more. And yes, I mean to use the word “socialistic.” This is precisely what will occur.
Such a future will increase government-run health care, educational decline, taxes, intrusive gun laws, a continued loss of state power to Washington, more regulation, bigger government—and a lot more Washington intrusion into our lives, cradle to grave. I think Americans will be amazed at how quickly our freedoms will decline with a patently liberal Court.
Whoever wins the White House this year, it better be a Republican. With Donald Trump as the nominee, it’s a dilemma for some voters. Not for me. I’ve been critical of Trump on a number of issues, but now it’s down to reality:
I don’t know how well President Trump will do in putting the right kind of justices on the Court, but I do know that President Hillary Clinton’s Court appointees will ruin our nation. And fast.
You can call my opinion too political if you want, but I’m absolutely convinced that it’s true. A Clinton victory will bring major negative change to America—especially on the Court. It’s time to get behind Trump and make sure he wins.
Whatever happens, this election has true conservatives and constitutional-focused independents biting their nails. Election night won’t just determine the next president. More than at any point since 1980, this election marks a major turning point for freedom in America—either good or bad. A true fork in the road. The Trump fork may or may not work out very well, but the Clinton fork would be cataclysmic. It’s winner take all, and the prize is the future of the United States.
April 25th, 2016 // 5:40 am @ Oliver DeMille
Then and Now
Over a century ago the British historian James Bryce travelled the United States to discover what had changed since Alexis de Tocqueville wrote Democracy in America. One of the most interesting topics he wrote about was, “Why Great Men Aren’t Elected President in the United States.” (James Bryce, The American Commonwealth.)
Bryce noted that during the founding era, the greatest men in the nation rose to the presidency—Washington, Adams, Jefferson, Madison, etc. But as time passed, this tradition changed. (see ibid.)
“Why?” Bryce wondered. His answer is instructive today: the greatest leaders in the nation don’t even try to become president. (Ibid.) They don’t want the job. It is true that Washington didn’t seek the position, but after John Quincy Adams—with the exception of Lincoln—the greatest leaders actively shied away.
At the time Bryce described this phenomenon, it could be explained by showing that the presidency wasn’t the real seat of power. (Ibid.) This reality dominated for a long time after Bryce, in fact. Congress wielded great influence during the long progressive era (from 1890 to 1970), and the Court increased its power as well—a major frustration for Wilson and FDR. William Howard Taft, for example, who served in Congress, as president, and on the Court, had less influence in the White House than the other positions.
In the post World War II era, however, the executive branch greatly increased its power—both literally (with huge additional powers in foreign relations and budgetary influence) and relatively (largely because Congress stopped effectively or frequently using the purse strings as a serious check or balance). If lack of power is the reason the greatest leaders didn’t aim for the Oval Office a century ago, what is the reason now? The power of the presidency is immense. It is often referred to—and seen by the populace—as the most powerful job in the world.
Why don’t the very best leaders want it? Is it because the party system has become so strident that anyone elected will spend as much or more time fighting partisan battles and attacks as governing? Is it because the perks of the office are so much less than the soaring benefits of corporate or business leadership? Is it because the headaches and problems are worse than other fields of leadership? Is it because the election process itself has become such a torturous ordeal? Or is there some other reason?
At this point I intended to list the names of a number of excellent leaders—from different walks of life and from both sides of the political aisle—who might put the current crop of candidates to shame in terms of leadership. But as I made the list it became clear that in the current political climate all of these men and women would quickly be turned into caricatures by the party system and the media. Just picturing them in politics somehow changes how we see them.
This is a central part of the problem. Here’s what I think it means: The system has become bigger than a candidate can ever hope to be. The job is simply so big (because the federal government is doing so many things never intended by the Constitution) that it has become…too big. It is too much for any one man or woman. The leaders with the most acumen and wisdom know this.
Those who don’t realize that this is the situation aren’t the best leaders because they don’t even understand the reality, and those who realize it but–want the job anyway–may not have the purest of intentions, in some cases. If Washington were pruned back to its literal Constitutional authority, the job would once again become manageable. But just like Washington is out of control, the position of president isn’t structurally up to the task.
The media has attempted to cope with this reality in two major ways: with humor or tragedy. Shakespeare took the same approach in dealing with European monarchies that had also become too big for one person—trying to run the executive, legislative, judicial, national and local all at once. His plots pit the character—man or woman—against the impossibility of the role. The result is either comedy or tragedy.
Icons and Candidates
In America, we tend toward tragedy. As Christopher Orr has pointed out (The Atlantic, March 2015, 56-59), America’s modern image of what our president should be was largely created by Jimmy Stewart in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington: A noble hero taking on a corrupt system. Though Stewart’s character was a Senator, the icon has been repeated in many popular American movies, television dramas, and books about the executive branch (e.g. Dave, The American President, West Wing, Air Force One, The Candidate, The Hunt for Red October, Patriot Games, Madam Secretary, etc.).
These “tragedies” are more hopeful than their British counterparts, but the noble heroes never do truly change the system. They fight a noble fight, but the system ultimately prevails. Other recent American comedies or dramas about Washington (e.g. Veep, Scandal, House of Cards, State of Affairs, The Bourne Ultimatum, Political Animals, etc.) portray less-than-noble leaders who are simply part of the broken system. (see ibid.)
In contrast, Orr notes that many British portrayals of their prime minister emphasize humor or, in the case of the British version of House of Cards, the opposite of the American model: a prime minister who is truly conniving and dishonest working his schemes and plots in a government made up of basically well-meaning people (ibid., 57). But in America, “the one honest man” motif still dominates (ibid., 58).
In the real world, this icon has become part of the 2016 election in both major parties. Ted Cruz frequently invokes “the Washington Cartel” as the corrupt system and pits himself as the lone voice fighting its many nefarious agendas, while Bernie Sanders attacks the establishment as the great roadblock to American progress and happiness. Both promise to change Washington in drastic ways.
Donald Trump makes the same case, albeit in very different words: to make America great again, a true outsider with proven big business leadership is needed (because only such a background prepares one to manage the behemoth of a job, to fully understand the global economy and to lead the kind of “non-politician” projects and negotiations that will reboot our economy for real). A number of candidates have made similar outsider arguments (the noble hero rides Quixote-like to reform Washington), from Ben Carson and Rand Paul to Carly Fiorina and John Kasich.
Only Hillary Clinton isn’t closely aligned with this theme. Her message (which seems to vacillate between “it’s my turn” and “vote for experience”) is the opposite of “the one honest woman” icon. As a number of political experts have pointed out, Americans don’t tend to elect two consecutive presidents from the same party. When they do (i.e. Bush I, Johnson, Truman) it typically occurs after an exceptionally popular president (Reagan, Kennedy, FDR).
The New World?
Is Obama such a president? And can Secretary Clinton capture the nation’s attention and support? Such questions remain to be answered. But the biggest question of all—for America and the world—also remains to be seen. Will the next president turn out to be a great leader?
In a world with incredibly high-stakes challenges (including big power conflict between the U.S., China, Russia, Europe, etc.; the chaotic rise of new powers in the world including Saudi Arabia, India, Brazil, North Korea, Iran, and a half dozen others; getting a real solution for terrorism—just to name three), this is a serious issue indeed. And effectively rebooting our flagging economy is enough of a challenge for any leader ahead, and drastically needed.
But what if James Bryce is still right and in 2016, despite the serious need for real change, we don’t elect a great leader…?
Not a happy thought. As the primary season continues, the election itself is becoming an increasing anxiety for many Americans. A hard truth is presenting itself: It may just be that Washington isn’t going to have the answers after the next election, and that its dysfunction will actually increase. If that happens, the people of United States are going to need to find another way to fix things.
February 29th, 2016 // 5:50 am @ Oliver DeMille
Where does the election stand right now? It’s worth a quick overview. Let’s briefly compare each of the current candidates, why some have caught on and why others are still struggling:
Her supporters like that she’s a long-time promoter of Democratic principles, and women’s issues. They like the historical potential of electing the first female president. They also like that she has long experience on both domestic and foreign policies.
Deal Breaker: “Selfishness.” Progressives and liberals who dislike Clinton frequently suggest that her election seems to be more about “her” than about what the nation needs. “It feels very self-centered, more focused on ‘It’s Hillary’s Turn’ than on improving the country.”
Supporters genuinely like the idea of drastically changing America, providing free college for all, setting a national minimum wage of $15 (and rising), and taking from the 1% (and others) to spread more government programs to the rest of the people.
Deal Breaker: “Can’t Win.” His Achilles heel with many Democratic critics is that they don’t think a socialist can win the White House.
Supporters like that Trump projects strength and vision. They believe he’d quickly fix the economy, eradicate ISIS and make America’s military much stronger, and quickly fix the long-standing problem with illegal immigration. They like that he’s politically incorrect, and that he’s not a politician.
Deal Breaker: “The Jerk Factor.” A lot of voters simply won’t cast their vote for a person who calls names and seems to be consistently on the attack. Many are afraid that he’s a wildcard, that giving him power is very dangerous to America’s future.
Supporters love that he’s strong on the Constitution and a proven conservative. They like that he wants to push back against the Washington Cartel (in both parties) and really return to constitutional principles.
Deal Breaker: “Trust.” A number of Republican critics say they just don’t quite trust him. He comes across a bit slick, wily, tricky. They say: “We like his constitutional views, but we don’t know when he’s telling the truth versus playing politician.”
Supporters believe that his youth, good looks and Hispanic roots make him more highly enticing to the broad voting populace than anyone else running. They like that he’s articulate, appeals to both sides of the electorate, and would likely do well in the swing states during the general election.
Deal Breaker: “Too Much Like Romney.” Many Republican critics worry that Rubio is trying too hard, that he wants to be president so badly that he’ll say anything to try to get voters. They say that he changes a lot from speech to speech and debate to debate—depending on the current audience and what he thinks they want to hear. They see him as too much of a politician.
Supporters like that he’s balanced the U.S. national budget, and also balanced the Ohio budget as governor. They like that he has both government and business leadership experience, and that he consistently avoids calling names and engaging in fights like Trump, Cruz, and Rubio.
Deal Breaker: “Common Core.” He’s shown enough support for Common Core standards and other government-run programs that many conservatives don’t want to vote for him. They also worry that his many years in politics make him too much a part of the establishment, generally progressive and supportive of government.
Supporters love that he’s consistently focused on his message, and has been throughout his entire election. They like that he is classy and doesn’t consistently fight and bicker with other candidates. They really like that he is very strong on the Constitution and conservative principles.
Deal Breaker: “Putin!” A number of Republican critics worry that he won’t stand strongly against Putin, China, ISIS, and other major world challengers. They are concerned that he isn’t a proven leader against enemies or in rallying huge groups of voters for things like major economic change. “Great man; not sure what kind of leader he’d be.”
• What are your thoughts?
• Which of the candidates would be the best president, and why?
I look forward to your comments below.
February 27th, 2016 // 7:14 am @ Oliver DeMille
The Real Outsider
“I know what you mean,” the man with the deep voice said. “But I’m seeing something totally different in this election. You’re right that the outsiders like Trump and Cruz are really getting a lot of support. I just don’t think they’re the true outsiders.”
“What do you mean?” the man with the higher voice asked. “Who else is an outsider? Do you mean Bernie Sanders, because he’s a socialist?”
“No, I wasn’t thinking of Sanders,” Deep Voice replied. “But let’s just look at this whole election from a different angle. We’re calling Trump and Cruz outsiders because Trump has never held political office and Cruz is a Tea Party guy who constantly attacks what he calls ‘the Washington Cartel,’ meaning the establishment from both parties. Right?”
“Well, I’m not sure that’s a very good criteria for being an outsider. I think the reason a lot of voters want an outsider this year is because they’re tired of the political establishment, of both parties, and of politicians who get into office and just do more of the same—like the people they replaced. They promise real change, but it doesn’t happen. In fact, a lot of the bad things just keep getting worse, election after election.
“What we need is a real outsider. Not just someone who hasn’t been in office or always attacks other politicians, but someone who is the kind of leader we really want…”
He paused, and Higher Voice asked, “But what do you mean? I’m not sure what your point is.”
Class and Leadership
“Okay,” Deep Voice responded. “I’ll get right to the point. Our politics has become a disaster. The politicians fight all the time. They are constantly attacking each other. Attack. Attack. Attack. And we’re supposed to believe that this is just the way things are.
“But they shouldn’t be this way. We shouldn’t want leaders who are all about attacking people all the time. We vote them into office, and they just keep attacking each other in Washington. That’s not leadership. Not really. If they attacked a lot and then got really important things done, and made a lot of things better, that would be one thing. But that’s not what happens. They attack, and attack, and attack—and that’s pretty much all they get done.
“We need a president who gets the right things done, and who also doesn’t go around attacking people. We need the kind of leader we can look up to, someone who can bring people together in this nation. We’re so divided. So angrily divided. We need a real leader to get the nation back on track.”
Higher Voice replied: “That’s too idealistic…”
“Reagan did it,” Deep Voice interrupted. “He wasn’t the Attacker in Chief. He fought for what he wanted, but he did it with class. Not with name calling. Not with personal attacks. He stayed above that kind of junk. He was too good for it. He fought back, yes. But never by stooping to name-calling and personal vendettas. And that allowed him to lead the nation in big ways, and do big things like bring an end to the Cold War. We need a classy president who is also tough and confident.
“And a truly classy president would be a true outsider, very different from the attacking years of Bush, Clinton, Bush, and Obama. Just look at the 2008 election. We watched Obama and Hillary attack each other mercilessly in the campaign and debates, and we should have realized right then what kind of president Obama would be.
“We need a real change. And I don’t think that means making our politics even more focused on attacks. It means electing someone who isn’t an attacker. A fighter, yes. But classy, like a true leader.”
Higher Voice sighed loudly. “That’s so far from the current election that I don’t know what you’re proposing. What do you want to happen?”
To Act or To Attack
“First,” Deep Voice said, “let’s divide the candidates into those who attack and those who refuse to get down in the muck and act like jerks. Hillary, Trump, Cruz and Rubio are often on the attack—in the debates, in interviews, in their campaign rallies and speeches. They attack a lot. Regardless of how you feel about their politics, or their reasons for such attacks, they are consistently attacking, attacking, attacking. So put them in the jerk category, at least for this discussion.
“Second, the three candidates who usually aren’t on the attack are Bernie Sanders, John Kasich, and Ben Carson. So if we want a classy president, one whose focus is always on building people instead of tearing them down, it has to be one of them. I really dislike Sanders’ politics, so throw him out of the mix. He’s a socialist, and proud of it, and his proposals would drastically hurt the nation.
“So, third, we’re left with Kasich and Carson. Both are classy. And both go out of their way not to attack other people. They focus on building people up. They really do.
“And before you roll your eyes, really think about what I’m saying. If we want our politics to be built on people acting like jerks and fighting each other—and not really improving our nation—we should keep electing people who attack, attack, attack.
“But if we want real change, the kind that we can truly be proud of, we need to change the way our top leader acts. We need class. Depth. Virtue. We need a Washington, a Lincoln, a real leader. Tough, yes. But focused on building others, not attacking them.
“You can call this idealistic if you want, but what I’m saying is true! If we don’t have a true leader, a classy, uplifting Reaganesque example that we can tell our kids to emulate, we haven’t put our best leader in the Oval Office. Imagine telling your 12 year old son: ‘Be like Donald Trump’ or ‘attack people like Ted Cruz—as long as you win, it’s okay.’ Or even: ‘If you get behind, like Marco Rubio, find out everything bad you can about the other person and loudly tell everyone.’
“Ridiculous. We need a real president. And both Carson and Kasich are the kind of men you can tell your children to emulate. To be proud of. To follow—even into battle and death if necessary to defend our nation. To admire.
“We’ve become so used to something less that the highest character in our leaders that we seem ready to accept mediocrity in character and behavior and simply shrug it off. We need to do better than that!”
The Question of Class
Higher Voice interrupted: “I just don’t think Carson has enough experience in doing the kinds of things a president has to do.”
“Maybe he doesn’t. Or maybe he does. His understanding of freedom principles is deep, like Cruz or Rand Paul, and he might surprise you. But let’s say you’re right, just for the sake of argument. That still leaves Kasich…
He paused. Then he spoke a bit more quietly, and I noticed people leaning forward to hear. “John Kasich is everything you would want a president to be in terms of character. He’s classy to the core. He’s a man of principle and morals. And he never attacks others to tear them down or try to get himself ahead. Not ever. When others attack him, he answers their charges, clarifies the truth, and then turns to the policies our nation needs. Like Carson.
“Kasich doesn’t do what Trump, Hillary, Cruz and Rubio frequently do in the same situations—start counter-attacking whoever attacked them. When the media tries to get him to attack, he refuses. He consistently calls us to our better angels, as Madison put it.
“Kasich is classy like Reagan. He’s above petty name-calling and attacks like Reagan. He focuses on building people. Pretty much always. Yet his history proves that when it’s time to fight—against real enemies, like terrorists—he doesn’t shrink or back down. He is deeply principled. Again, like Reagan.
“But here’s the real kicker. Kasich is actually the most experienced leader out of everyone running for president. He was the architect of balancing the U.S. budget in the 1990s. He led it, and he planned out the details. He knows how to balance our national budget! He’s already done it once. Nobody else can say that. Bill Clinton and Newt Gingrich took credit for negotiating it, but John Kasich ran the numbers and developed the plan.
“He also balanced the budget of Ohio as governor. He started out with a major deficit, and turned it around very quickly. And made it last. Nobody else in the race has ever done that—with a state, or with the United States. Only Kasich has done it. Twice!
“He also served on committees that oversaw military and international affairs, and has more national defense experience than anyone else running for president, including Hillary Clinton. And beyond all this, he’s a true conservative, and has been for decades. He also worked many years in private business as a leader—he’s not just some lifetime politician.”
America The Great, Again
Higher Voice asked: “Why hasn’t he caught on with the voters?”
“I’m not sure,” Deep Voice replied. “Part of it is probably that he’s not loud and constantly attacking people. Part of it is probably that a lot of voters don’t really know much about him. I’m not sure. He did do well in New Hampshire, and the race is far from over.”
He paused. Then kept talking: “Kasich has class. He has dignity. He is the kind of person we can look up to and tell our kids to look up to—and mean it. He’s tough. He’s a proven leader. But he’s really, really nice. And, again, he’s the only person in the race who has ever balanced a major government budget, and he’s done it at both the state and the national levels. That’s huge!
“I’ve really given this a lot of thought and research. Go back and read Kasich’s speeches. He’s the kind of man who would tell Mr. Gorbachev (or Putin) to ‘Tear down this wall!’ He’s the real deal.
“Conservatives need to step back, take a deep breath, and give Kasich another look. If we want the kind of America that truly is great again, we need the right kind of leadership. And that means the right kind of leader! A true leader, one who isn’t just going to get the job done but who’ll get it done with class, dignity, and an infectious smile.”
I left the restaurant mentally kicking myself. In all my reading and watching of the election, over many months, I hadn’t done what I always tell others to do—really go study the records, writings, and speeches of all the candidates. Really get to know them. At least, I hadn’t done this with Kasich. I’m remedying that.
February 19th, 2016 // 4:30 pm @ Oliver DeMille
A Big Picture Look at the World in Twenty Years
For more than a century America has enjoyed the luxury of strong allies in Europe. When problems came, as they always do, many European and North American nations relied on each other for strength, leadership, even rescue.
This was certainly the case in World Wars I and II and the Cold War from the 1960s thru the 1990s. Nobody alive today remembers a time when America was alone in the world.
Yet such a world is rapidly emerging. The main reason for this dangerous development is the massive and truly tragic decline of Europe. Most people don’t realize this is occurring, or just how significant it is.
A few pundits warn that this may be Europe’s last century as a great power—as leadership shifts from the Atlantic powers (Britain, France, Germany, Italy, the United States, Canada, etc.) to the Pacific Rim nations (China, Russia, India, North America). This shift is inherently problematic—the U.S. and Canada are trading European allies (nearly always friendly) for more belligerent and totalitarian foes in Moscow and Beijing.
Huge difference. And this will undoubtedly bring even greater difficulties whenever problems arise and help is needed. Russia and China each see themself as the top emerging superpower. India is a close third.
In times of trouble, where will America turn for support?
The truth is even worse than the pundits let on, however. The idea that this is Europe’s last great power century is overly optimistic. If current trends continue, no nation in Western Europe is likely to act as a major power after 2030. Certainly not beyond 2050, and possibly not even after 2020.
This will catalyze a tectonic shift in global affairs, and the ramifications of the change are already beginning.
But what exactly is happening in Europe to bring about such rapid decline? The answer is a warning to Americans, if we will heed it.
Terrorism has taken root in Europe. European nations are quickly becoming like Israel, Saudi Arabia, Yemen or other Near Eastern and North African states in terms of an underground but steady terrorist presence. This will only deepen and grow, unless something drastic occurs.
The influx of refugees last year, this year, and likely for the next few years ahead will only exacerbate the incidence and proximity of terrorism. Certainly not all, or even most, of the refugees are terrorists. But a few are. That’s a major problem. The whole point of terrorism is that a very few can drastically impact the many.
3) Population Decline
Birthrates are rapidly changing the European electorate. Birthrates for traditional Europeans are down—in some cases negative—while birthrates for immigrants living in Europe are high. Democratic institutions are quickly changing as a result.
Debt is skyrocketing in the poor European nations, roughly two-thirds of the continent. The pattern of Greece is spreading.
5) Societal Decline
A general lack of innovation has settled over the continent. This is reinforced by a widespread and growing belief in high levels of government regulation in nearly every sector of society. Financial capital is moving elsewhere, increasing unemployment and further convincing voters to elect big-regulation candidates.
6) Leadership Gap
As a result of the fifth problem above, Europe is experiencing an era of lackluster leadership. Private sector leaders of all types are increasingly powerless in a big-government environment, and those in government were elected to regulate rather than lead. The bureaucracies are swelling (along with the costs), but strategic national thinking has become rare. This further fuels debt problems.
All of this was avoidable at one point, but we have long since passed the likelihood of any kind of serious turnaround. It now appears to be a downward spiral.
A New Path
Again, the United States and Canada aren’t far behind Europe in this pattern. Perhaps a decade, if the U.S. stays on its current path. Two decades at the most. But we still have time to reverse course.
Will we? The answer is very much in doubt.
In any case, Russia and China are attempting a major rise just as Europe is losing much of its vitality and strength. This puts North America in a tight spot.
If the U.S. needs strong, committed allies ten or twenty years from now, we may be out of luck.
Perhaps it is time for an entirely new strategic approach toward Mexico, Brazil, Argentina and the rest of Latin America. This may be source of future allies. It is certainly time—past time—for a serious return to the principles of freedom and free enterprise, along with a renewed adherence to the U.S. Constitution, in the United States.
At this point, the U.S. is charting a European-style course to join Britain, France, Germany, and Italy in their decline. President Obama has been an open proponent of a more Europeanized governance.
It goes without saying that this is a bad choice. Likewise, following the Chinese or Russian strategy is also the wrong approach.
It is time for America to chart its own direction, one based on a major refocus on freedom, free enterprise, and Constitutional values, as mentioned. Any other direction—any other direction —is a sure path to our decline.
Interested in Oliver’s works on freedom, forms and how to mend society?
Check these out:
- 1913: The Year We Failed America…And How to Recover Her for Good
- We Hold These Truths to be Self-Evident: 12 Natural Laws of Freedom, Progress and Success
- Freedom Matters: The Connection Between Career, Business and Freedom
- The U. S. Constitution and the 196 Indispensable Principles of Freedom: Writing Constitutions in the 21st Century
- The Freedom Bundle