January 20th, 2016 // 7:52 am @ Oliver DeMille
The New Myth
Something significant has occurred during the 2015-2016 election cycle. The mainstream media has effectively portrayed “anger” or “being politically angry” as bad. “Good” citizens, in this context, are those who aren’t upset, frustrated, or angry about…well…anything.
Indeed, the media has created an interesting picture of what politics should be (in their opinion). This is multifaceted, but actually quite simple. With careful camera shots, and a clear agenda in the editing room, the media has portrayed two Americas–both of them far from accurate.
On the one hand, Donald Trump, Ted Cruz, Chris Christie, and Carly Fiorina have become the faces of American anger. When the media shows clips of these candidates, they are animated, usually upset about something, and speaking in strident tones with extreme words.
Their supporters are portrayed in nearly all of the video images as rowdy, unthinking, and a bit star-struck. The clips are carefully selected to show middle- and lower-class-looking Americans waving flags, wearing campaign t-shirts, and sporting sweats, jeans, un-manicured hair and waistlines that are larger-than-normal (at least on television).
In contrast, Bernie Sanders is portrayed as an apostle of decorum. Like other candidates, he waves his arms, speaks in extreme terms, and jabs his finger repeatedly at the crowd—but this is nearly always aired without actual audio. We often don’t hear what Sanders is saying; instead a reporter or commentator uses moderate tones while these pictures run in the background.
We are left with the soft, soothing and studied commentaries of professional journalists, while Sanders’ visual antics communicate energy, passion, and political strength. The juxtaposition of these cues and messages is subtle, but effective: “Sanders has great passion and momentum, and his ideas are credible and intelligent.”
Behind the Curtain
When we are allowed to actually hear Sanders speak, he is usually sitting in a one-on-one interview, conversational, and politely direct. No finger-jabbing, no waving arms. His hair may be a throwback to an episode of Back to the Future, but he looks confidently and humbly into the camera and speaks like an economics professor. “He is just the messenger. Hear his truth…”
Most clips of his audiences emphasize trim, handsome, young people (many of them students), often with jackets and ties. Indeed, they are exact replicas of Ron Paul crowds from past elections. The older participants mostly look like academics… Once again, the message is clear.
In contrast: When Trump or Cruz are interviewed in person, the cameras invade their personal space and close in on the face. Every “angry” wrinkle is visible. The camera backs off for Sanders and Clinton, showing the whole body—dressed for an episode of Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. The message is obvious: “This is a genuine man, or woman, of the people.” Clips of their intellectual discourses-of-the-day are played and replayed. As for Trump and Cruz, the sound bites are sensational and extreme.
But watch the full videos, where they are available. In reality, all four of these candidates have moments of extremism and other moments of intellectual depth. The same is true of Christie, Fiorina, Carson, and O’Malley, for that matter. Yet ask most TV viewers, and the word “intellectual” will apply to the Democratic candidates, while the Republican candidates are “extreme.”
A lot of artful and conscientious camerawork reinforces these stereotypes.
To be clear: Sanders’ stump speeches are every bit as “angry” as Trump’s. His rhetoric is patently extreme. “Wall street is ruining it for everyone else. Greed controls our nation. The 1 percent must pay their fair share, including free college for everyone. A much higher minimum wage is absolutely necessary—anyone who disagrees is part of the lies and greed.”
Likewise, Cruz is every bit as intellectual and studied as Hillary.
Perhaps the most interesting thing in all this: The typical ways the mainstream media portrays the Democrats are also applied to Marco Rubio. Not to Huckabee or Rand Paul. Not to Santorum or Kasich. Not to Christie or Carson. Just to Rubio.
The media has so far portrayed him as intellectual, credible, wise—like the Democratic candidates. Also, Rubio doesn’t wear the typical Republican uniform (suits and ties that scream “Mr. Smith Owns Washington.”). He frequently wears a sweater-like casual jacket with a zipper down the front. Very pedestrian. Very academic. Again, the mainstream media frequently portrays him like it does the Democratic candidates.
[Why is that, do you suppose?]
By the way, the same thing occurred with John McCain during the 2007-2008 primaries. Later, once he was the nominee, the media shifted its approach and portrayed him the same way it had other Republican: extreme, out of touch, slick around the edges, uncaring, silver platter.
Romney didn’t get this stylized media treatment in 2012, and no other Republican is getting it now. Just McCain and Rubio. Interesting…
And, again, the real message of the 2016 election, if you accept the cues and innuendos of the mainstream media, is that:
- “Anger is bad!”
- “The Republicans are all angry.”
Let’s consider this idea seriously. If anger is bad for politics, then we must of course be happy with everything President Obama has done. “No anger. Just smile. It’s all good.”
Steps to Solutions
The problem is that it isn’t all good. In his last State of the Union address, the President painted a rosy picture of a more prosperous and safer American than when he took office. Both are false. The national debt has ballooned from $10 trillion when he entered the White House to $19 trillion today. ISIS is a real threat, along with Al-Qaeda, the Taliban, other terrorists, North Korea, Iran (much worse than before), China, Russia…etc. We aren’t a bit safer.
There is much to be concerned about—very concerned. Calling such concern “anger” and equating it with being unintelligent or uninformed is, in fact, totally out of touch. It’s also ignorant. False. And insulting.
The economy is still facing serious problems, and the last seven years have only made things worse. Are many voters “angry?” Yes, in both parties. And with good reason.
A smug, arrogant media isn’t helping. Let’s be honest. The mainstream media are at least as responsible for today’s widespread American “anger” as the White House.
Anger isn’t the ultimate solution, to be sure. But it actually is a reasonable first step. Or, perhaps, the second step, after first recognizing that something has gone wrong. There’s a lot to be angry about, and only people who aren’t paying attention—or actually like the status quo—feel great about the country’s current path.
Determination and Change
Being angry about the bad directions Washington is taking doesn’t mean voters are unintelligent, uninformed, or unsophisticated. It means they care. It means they’re watching, and they expect Washington to do its job—a lot better than it has recently.
It means they’re still part of a democratic republic and they still believe democracy works. They take their citizenship seriously, and they’re gearing up to take action on election night.
The truth is that this is what scares the mainstream media. They label it “angry” because they don’t want to admit that the majority of voters disagree with the elite media and want a lot more government “of the people, by the people, and for the people.”
If you’re an elitist, freedom scares you. So you call it names, like “angry” or “uninformed.” In truth, it is angry, but it’s actually very well informed. It’s the power of the people focused on an election with an intensity not seen in a lot of years.
The people want real change, like they did in 2010 and 2014. And they’re determined to make it happen. But this time, their intensity is pointed at a presidential election.
The mainstream media knows what’s coming, but they’re going to try to stop it if they can. This approach will make a lot of voters even angrier—and even more determined.
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January 7th, 2016 // 9:09 am @ Oliver DeMille
Where America Is Right Now
Whatever the President says in the State of the Union address early next week, here’s what really needs to be said.
A Real State of the Union:
I recently came across five such troubling facts and questions in current events, and, to make them even more ridiculous, they’re all coming from basically the same place: The current White House.
So here they are. I’ll give a little commentary on them, but not much. They’re pretty self-explanatory. Or, maybe a better way to say this is that they’re all amazingly ridiculous and commentary won’t help.
1. According to the bipartisan Congressional Budget Office, Obamacare (the Affordable Health Care Act) will reduce the number of full-time workers in the U.S. by 2 million over the next ten years.
Just think of it: That’s 2 million full-time jobs that are going to be lost simply (and specifically) because of Obamacare.
This begs the question: “Then why do we keep it?”
The next three items come from an unattributed note circulating on social media. I think they’re worth reading:
2. “We are advised to NOT judge all Muslims by the actions of a few lunatics, but we are encouraged to judge ALL gun owners by the actions of few lunatics.”
The White House couldn’t be more inconsistent on these two issues.
(By the way, I side with not judging any group by the actions a few bad apples.)
3. “Why are we cutting benefits for our veterans, no pay raises for our military and reducing the size of our army (too expensive to maintain), but we are not stopping payments or benefits to illegal aliens, or cutting federal aid to foreign countries?”
Cut the foreign aid and massive welfare (across the board, not just to immigrants) and rebuild our security.
4. “Seems we constantly hear about how Social Security is going to run out of money. But we never hear about welfare or food stamps running out of money? What’s interesting is the first group ‘worked for’ their money, but the second didn’t.”
Did government use the money paid for the first group to cover the second?
The last one is just plain jaw dropping:
5. Over the course of many months our President and the White House have repeatedly assured us of two things: (A) ISIS, Al-Qaeda, and Islamic terrorists aren’t much of a threat, and (B) the most pressing priority for our national security is to get more nations to sign environmental treaties.
Talk about fiddling while Rome burns…
The Real Concerns
Together these five amazing attitudes give us a pretty good indication of how our current national leadership is thinking.
What about terrorism? What about the struggling economy? What about the massive over-regulation of business? What about the huge amounts of capital and jobs that are fleeing to other nations? What about serious unemployment (hidden because of the way Washington calculates its statistics)? What about China, Iran, and Putin? What about North Korea, and Syria? What about our skyrocketing national debt? What about…
“Don’t worry,” we’re told. “It’s under control.”
Certainly not here in the real world. The truth is that these things are far from “under control.”
I’m an optimist, and I still believe that America’s best years are ahead. But we need to make some major changes—and fast.
December 8th, 2015 // 7:51 am @ Oliver DeMille
Need to Know
This is going to be a bit wonky. Comparing tax plans of various candidates isn’t something most people do just for fun. But it’s important because a candidate’s tax plan says a lot about how the person is picturing himself/herself in the White House, and how he/she approaches fiscal and economic issues.
This is vital knowledge for voters. Next to how the next president will deal with national security, knowing how he’ll approach finances is the most important thing voters can know.
The top proposals can be separated into three main categories: Little Changes, Big Changes, and Major Changes.
Bush promotes at least two very good ideas in his tax plan:
- Repeal Obamacare and replace it with an expanded Health Insurance Account and insurance market where policy rates stop skyrocketing, and policies are portable across state lines (further decreasing rates over time).
- Provide tax credits to people without employer-provided insurance coverage.
Bush’s plan cuts taxes from the current top rate of 39.6% down to a top rate of 28%, and a corporate rate of 20%. This is a little change, an improvement. But consider the other plans below.
Rubio released a plan that is similar to the Bush plan in many ways, including repealing and replacing Obamacare (like nearly all the other plans), with the top tax rate cut from 39.6% down to 35%, and the corporate rate down to 25%. Rubio promotes a number of cuts to government programs and closed tax loopholes, with an overall cut of around $11.6 trillion of taxes over time.
Rubio’s rates are higher than Bush’s, but he actually makes a bigger total cut to taxes because he provides fewer loopholes. Rubio’s plan gives a huge boost to low income families, as does Cruz, and also Trump (Trump proposes a zero tax rate for couples making up to $50,000.)
Paul, as you might expect, proposes a 14.5% flat tax for everyone. The idea is to expand the tax base, while lowering all rates in ways that will stimulate business, jobs, and more capital flowing into the United States. This model also stimulates increased freedom and entrepreneurship by simplifying the tax code and collections process. Paul also wants to significantly reduce the size and cost of government.
Carson provides another alternative for significant change, promoting a 15% flat tax (he wanted 10%, but decided that 15% was needed). This is similar to Paul’s proposed tax rate, but it is unclear what Carson would cut in order to balance the budget. Carson doesn’t want to outline a full plan right now, preferring to wait until elected and negotiate the costs of government down in real time. This leaves his specifics a bit hazy, but his principles on taxation are clear: lower taxes, and reduce the size of government.
Cruz proposes a 10% flat tax for individuals income, and a 16% tax business flat rate, which will most likely be a VAT (value-added tax), meaning that businesses will pass it on. This will drastically improve business investment, jobs, and economic stimulus in the U.S. economy—but it also increases consumer prices across the board. Of course, like the other plans, Cruz includes repealing Obamacare, cutting certain loopholes, and aggressively scaling back the size of the U.S. government. The Cruz plan has been criticized because it gives a major tax break to upper income families, but it is second only to Rubio’s plan in giving tax relief to the bottom 10% of households.
Trump released a plan that includes:
- A simplification of the tax code (from seven tax rates to three, and all of them at lower rates). Compared to the flat tax, this plan ensures that high income businesses and people will pay at higher rates than the working class—but pay less than they would in other advanced nations (and less than they were under President Obama). This incentivizes major money flow to the U.S. economy, businesses, and jobs.
- A significant reduction of taxes for most Americans. For example, Trump’s plan provides a zero tax rate for a person making up to $25,000 a year (or $50,000 per year for a couple). It brings the highest earner rate of 39.6% down to 25% for a person earning over $150,000 ($300,000 for a married couple), and brings similar cut for households earning between $50,000 and $300,000 a year. This is an immediate raise and economic boost for most American workers, families, and businesses.
- An elimination of the estate tax and the marriage penalty, providing a huge financial benefit to families and small businesses.
- A reduction of corporate tax rates (from 35% down to 15%) to below those of China and other major economic competitors. This is long overdue, and like the Paul, Carson, or Cruz plans, would bring a lot of businesses (and jobs) to the U.S., and boost the American economy.
- A one-time, low-rate repatriation plan that encourages companies to bring their trillions of dollars held in foreign banks back to the U.S. economy (and keep these funds here long term). Again, this will spur a major jobs and investment increase in our economy.
- Overall tax cuts of close to $12 trillion over time. (By comparison, the Bush and Cruz plans each cut approximately $3.7 trillion over time.)
- Trump’s plan gives by far the biggest tax relief to the middle class (while Rubio helps the bottom 10% the most, and Cruz’s plan is best for the very top earners).
Fiorina takes an even stronger approach to changing tax policy than Trump, Cruz, Carson, or Paul. She proposes a 3-page tax plan, and an overhaul of the way the government budgets, not just what rates of taxes are applied. Under her plan, every government agency and program would start at a budget of $0, and would be required to make the case for how good their programs are, how well they work, and how much money they need to keep flourishing—or improve.
Based on an outline of all such government programs, the administration would decide to keep or cut any agency or other government program, and to fund it only to the extent that it is worth the cost—when compared with all other government operations and the real needs of the nation.
Once such a budget is outlined, the tax needs and rates would be determined. This would very quickly balance the budget, Fiorina proposes, and immediately cut or downsize government programs that aren’t needed or simply aren’t working.
Whatever candidate(s) you like, or don’t like, this quick overview can help us get a sense for what kind of fiscal leader the candidate might be.
Note that all of them, even the Bush plan, are significantly better than the Clinton or Sanders plans (which raise taxes and add numerous government programs). At least the leading Republican candidates seek tax reductions and the downsizing of Washington–some more than others.
Regardless of who replaces Barack Obama in the White House, some of the key points in the Trump, Cruz, and Fiorina tax plans are downright excellent. The United States needs them, and the sooner, the better. Ideas from the Bush, Rubio, Paul, and Carson plans also have merit. Some of the plans from other candidates have important policy ideas as well (research, for example, the balanced budget plan by John Kasich).
Whoever we elect in 2016 should promote the best parts of these plans and help rekindle our struggling economy.
But this brings us to a significant roadblock. No matter what tax and budget plan the next president wants to follow, the White House will have to get it through Congress. On the one hand, Congress is accustomed to budgeting a certain way and is often resistant to major new ways of doing things—regardless of what candidates promised during their campaign. On the other hand, the right kind of executive leadership could certainly make a difference in getting Congress to act.
Consider Fiorina’s proposal to give the president power to move money around to different agencies and programs—taking from those that aren’t working or aren’t really needed, and giving those funds to programs that are very effective and highly important. In many ways, this is an excellent idea.
But it has one major flaw: every time a new party enters the White House, the president could just shift a ton of money from, say, the military to environmental programs, etc.
This is a significant downgrade of the Constitutional format. On the other hand, if we combine Fiorina’s zero-budgeting program where each agency starts from zero and the president proposes major cuts, and then Congress does its own zero-based budgeting, it’s a real winner. We need this. But we need it in the Constitutional way (which seems to be what Fiorina is proposing, after all).
Ultimately, none of these plans are going to sail through Congress unscathed. Nor should they. The Constitution works, when we follow it. Checks and balances are a good thing. (Note that other plans beyond taxes, like Trump’s promise to deport all illegal aliens, would undoubtedly face serious blocks in the courts.)
But the candidates’ tax plans do give us some excellent ideas on how to slow and stop Washington’s overreach. The next president should study them and adopt a number of things contained in these plans—the best of each.
Correction, 12/12/15: A previous version of this article stated that Ted Cruz’s tax plan included a 16% sales tax. This language has been clarified to read: “… a 16% tax business flat rate, which will most likely be a VAT (value-added tax), meaning that businesses will pass it on.” Thanks to the couple of readers who questioned this detail so I could revise for accuracy.
November 17th, 2015 // 9:53 am @ Oliver DeMille
- ISIS is cheering the Paris massacres, and vowing that this is only the beginning. They promise that more such attacks on Europe and the United States are ahead.
- One of the terrorist attackers in Paris had a passport on him that showed he came into Europe with the Syrian refugees on small boat through Greece. (It may or may not have actually been his, but whoever put it there must have been sending a message.)
- The terrorists were highly trained, well equipped, and functioned in a way that requires additional support beyond the known attackers.
- ISIS isn’t content to focus on gaining territory in Syria and Iraq. It is a key part of their strategy to take the war to Europe and the U.S. This has been true for a long time, but it is finally hitting home to most Americans.
- Another part of ISIS strategy is to create a Western backlash against Muslims in Europe and the U.S. ISIS wants to create a situation where all Muslims are pushed to choose between the West and ISIS—with no middle ground.
- According to numerous reports on the news, ISIS is calling for supporters who live in Europe and the United States to take initiative and make terrorist strikes on people without waiting for top-down orders.
If ISIS is in fact behind the Paris attack, ISIS has killed over 400 people in less than 10 days—including the Russian airliner, the Beirut bombings, and the 6 coordinated attacks in Paris. Even if ISIS isn’t behind some of these events, they all play directly into the ISIS strategy.
The U.S. Response?
But where does the United States stand on ISIS? Just hours before the Paris attack, President Obama announced that ISIS has been “contained.” The timing couldn’t have been worse for such a statement. After Paris, Obama spoke in strong terms of supporting France, but said little about any response to ISIS.
In contrast, just the night before, Donald Trump announced that his plan for ISIS was to bomb the s%&t out of it. News reports the next morning featured experts pointing out why Trump’s extreme words were out of touch and bad for America. By that very evening, after events in Paris, some of the same channels put on experts saying exactly the opposite. Other candidates spoke strongly of the need to stop ISIS.
The Big Debate
In all this, there is a big debate about what the U.S. should actually do about ISIS. After all, ISIS isn’t likely to just go away.
What should we do? Before Paris, the debate was mainly about whether or not to put American boots on the ground in Iraq and Syria. After the Paris attacks, it’s a whole new world.
Here’s how the debate is now developing:
View A: Airstrikes will never beat ISIS. To seriously stop them, we must put a lot of ground troops into Iraq and Syria-enough to really destroy ISIS once and for all. We’ve waited too long, and President Obama hasn’t been truly committed. Now, with Paris, we know that the terrorists are coming after us in our own nations. It’s time to go destroy them, and that means real ground troops and a “win at all costs” strategy. Find our Patton and go win.
View B: Hold on a minute. Slow down and think. Every time we intervene in the Middle East, we make things worse. Just look at how we armed Saddam Hussein to fight against Iran, and then he turned on us. We eventually intervened to stop Saddam, and most of the weaponry from that war is now in the hands of ISIS. And Iran is still a major problem. Also, look at Libya, which is arguably much worse off than before we intervened. Likewise, Afghanistan is another nation that our intervention made worse in some ways. Let’s stay out of the Middle East.
View A: We disagree. The reason Iraq went to pieces is that we moved our troops out. If we had stayed, the region would be stable. Same with Libya—we intervened but didn’t keep troops there to stabilize things. Same with Afghanistan: it’s only getting bad again because we keep reducing troop levels. As for Syria, if Obama had followed through on his “red line” promise and taken out Assad, Syria would be stable and ISIS would be a minor group with little or no power. That’s the reality.
View B: Really? You actually wish the U.S. had lots of ground troops right now in Iraq, Syria, Libya, Yemen, Afghanistan, and probably Iran? You think that the Middle East can only be stable if the U.S. intervenes in all these nations—and any others where terrorists gather to train and plan—and kills the bad guys, then posts troops in those nations for decades to keep the peace? This is your strategy? U.S. troops in half a dozen nations for the next six decades, like we are in Korea? And the same in any other Middle East nation that has problems? Really? That’s a horrible plan.
View A: ISIS is a new and more modern kind of terrorist group, and its strategy is to take the war to France, Britain, Germany, the United States, etc. It plans to ramp up Paris-like terrorist attacks far and wide in Western Europe and North America. We are at war with these people! Whether we like it or not, they are waging war on us, and this will not only continue but actually escalate as long as we don’t entirely destroy them in their home base—Syria, and even Iraq. What choice do we have? If we don’t destroy them, they’ll keep waging terrorist attacks in Europe and the U.S. They’ll kill hundreds, then thousands. Then they’ll keep killing our people until we absolutely destroy them in their home base. And air strikes won’t do it. Ground troops are essential.
View B: Actually, after four years with ground troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, we still haven’t solved the problem of terrorists coming from those places and attacking Western nations. Ground troops don’t seem to be a real solution. We need something better.
View A: Like what? Ground troops is what works.
View B: But it hasn’t worked. Seriously.
View C: Can I join this debate? I have something to interject here. What about literally bombing them back into the stone age? Bomb their oil. Bomb their buildings, where they might be on computers running their huge financial resources or posting their online recruiting videos. Bomb all their buildings. Flatten them. Leave nothing but dust. We know what areas ISIS controls. Let’s flatten them. Period. It’s us or them. Let’s win this war before it gets much, much worse. Let’s don’t be like Chamberlain appeasing Hitler, hoping ISIS will start being nice. Bomb them until they’re all destroyed.
Views A and B: That’s so barbaric. That’s not the kind of country we are. Think of all the women and children we’ll kill or maim.
View C: The women and children are either slaves of ISIS or supporters of ISIS. For the ones who are slaves, our actions in ending the slavery would be merciful. Just look at the way ISIS treats such people—repeated rapes and maiming and torture and slavery. It’s unspeakable brutality. THAT’S the barbarism. Bombing will create chaos and free a bunch of them, and the ones who are casualties will at least be released from the ongoing torture. On the other hand, those who aren’t slaves are nearly all supporting ISIS. Cut off their support. Destroy them. It’s us or them, and they’re getting stronger. If we let them keep spreading, they’ll eventually gain an air force, missiles that can reach Europe and America, and probably even nukes—given how much money they’ll have. Stop them now.
View A: We can do this humanely, if we get serious about this war and put enough ground troops into Iraq and Syria, and leave them there long enough to really turn things around.
View B: But that might mean a thirty-year war, or more. We’ve already been in Iraq and Afghanistan for fifteen, and we haven’t made much progress. Let’s rethink this. What if we put all our resources into protecting the United States? Let’s protect our borders and protect our cities and states. Let’s focus on our national defense, not on the security of the Middle East.
View A: That sounds good, and we should certainly do that too, but it won’t work if that’s all we do. Just look at the nation of Israel. It is so much smaller than the U.S., with only a few cities and populated areas to protect—like the U.S. trying to protect New Jersey, or to make the point, even New York. Yet in Israel, with armed soldiers on every corner in times of terror threats, and with a huge portion of the adults trained in the military and prepared with weapons to fight, hundreds of terrorist attacks still occur. The U.S. cannot stop a committed ISIS (and other groups like it, of which there are many) that finds ways to recruit homegrown American terrorists online. Nor can Europe do it effectively.
Moreover, if we give ISIS a free rein in the Middle East, by just pulling out all U.S. involvement, it will drastically increase its funding, and its online influence around the world. The number of terrorist attacks in Europe and the U.S. will significantly increase. In fact, if the U.S. pulls out of the Middle East, ISIS will take over more oil, territory, and gain intercontinental missiles and naval and air power.
Make no mistake. ISIS intends to weaken and eventually take over the United States. That’s what the Caliphate is all about—taking over the whole world, starting with anyone who stands in their way. That’s their plan, as many experts on ISIS have been telling us for months.
If the U.S. pulls out of the Middle East, ISIS will grow, strengthen, gain more funding, and eventually attack us with missiles, warships and nukes. We must stop them now. Not barbarically by wiping them out with bombs, like View C wants, but humanely, with ground troops.
Specifically, put enough U.S. and allied troops into Iraq to push all ISIS fighters back into Syria. Then Assad and Putin and Western air strikes can get rid of ISIS. But it starts with ground troops.
View C: No. Let’s not send another generation of our young men and women into a Middle Eastern war zone. Bomb ISIS into oblivion. ISIS doesn’t even have an air force. At least not yet. Let’s do this now, before they expand and gain an air force, missiles, even nukes. Bomb them into the dust. Right away. France will help. Britain will help. Russia might even help. We might even get Saudi Arabia and other moderate Arabic nations to help. Flatten ISIS. Now. It will save more lives and ultimately be more humane—with fewer dead and injured—than any other strategy.
View B: Wait. Think this through. There’s got to be a better way.
This is basically where the discussion in Washington stands right now. What do you think? Ideas?
Do you have any great alternatives to these three main viewpoints? If so, share them.
This is worth thinking about deeply.
October 20th, 2015 // 4:09 pm @ Oliver DeMille
“Why can’t the two parties in Washington just get along?”
“Why can’t the politicians just stop bickering and work together?”
“With the factional divides in the Republican Party, no Speaker of the House can get anything done.”
“Shutting down the government is a failure of leadership.”
“I wish Washington would just stop fighting all the time.”
Sound familiar? I’m amazed at how often I hear these words. At the barbershop. At the store. Waiting for my car to get serviced. At a family party. Granted, not every conversation is about politics. Most aren’t, in fact. But when politics does come up in casual conversation, you can usually count on hearing these sentiments—or something very much like them.
Yet every one of these phrases shows a serious lack of understanding. The people who utter these words either don’t understand the Constitution, don’t like it, or have decided not to openly show that they understand the Constitution.
In a cultural sense, these words are false. They’re wrong. They’re ignorant. These statements are the opposite of the Constitutional culture established by the Founding Fathers and ratified by our forefathers. And this misunderstanding is literally a much bigger problem for America than anything happening in Washington. In fact, many if not most of Washington’s problems are rooted in this broad misunderstanding.
Specifically: If a lot of the regular people don’t understand the Constitution, our government will be dysfunctional. But not in the way the media portrays. In fact, the problem is almost precisely the opposite of what the media typically tries to spin.
I. Why the Framers Wanted Lots of Tumult
and Conflict in Washington
The U.S. Constitution is based on separations of power and checks and balances. The Framers clearly saw that, through human history, political power has been abused. Almost always, and by every kind of government. And this abuse takes a certain form: Power centralizes in one political entity (sometimes the executive of the nation, whether king or dictator or president; sometimes in the legislative or parliamentary branch of the government; and other times, in judges), and then the bearer of that centralized power abuses it.
This is the story of ancient Greece and Israel, of both the Roman Republic and the Roman Empire, and of the various Germanic, Asian, African, and pre-Columbian American tribes. The same plot is repeated numerous times in the island nations around the world, and in dynasties, feudal eras, and nomadic cultures. James Madison made special note of how this pattern played out in Western Civilization, particularly various Greek city-states and alliances, and a number of German, French and other European princedoms and commonwealths (Federalist 18,19,20).
Madison’s conclusion, which was adopted by most of the Framers, was that no single branch of government should have too much power, and that the only way—the only way—for a people to remain free is for the branches to have the power and duty to effectively check and balance each other (Federalist 47,51).
Madison warned that the people wouldn’t stay free unless such ongoing checks and balances, tumultuous and intense at times, were part of America’s regular fare (Federalist 37,38,53)–what we might call our cultural DNA. In fact, if the three branches of the federal government ever became less than jealously in conflict with each other, Madison warned, the people should be very concerned about their freedoms (Federalist 47,48,51).
In addition, the three major parts of the federal government were created to provide certain vital functions, based on different strengths. They were meant to be:
- The Decisive Branch (executive), to stop foreign aggression
- The Protective Branch (judicial), to maintain the inalienable rights of the people, especially against government abuse of power
- The Chaotic Branch (legislative), to argue, debate, disagree, deliberate, and ultimately pass only a few limited laws that nearly everyone can agree upon
This is the crux of the Constitutional culture the Framers established. Today it remains central to maintaining our freedoms.
II. The Constitutional Culture
the Framers Wanted
Under this system, freedom is in jeopardy if the executive, legislative, and judicial branches aren’t actively checking each other (ibid.).
One of the leading Founding Fathers, St. George Tucker of William and Mary College, called any government where the three branches weren’t at odds and actively fighting each other by the name “tyranny.” Madison said the same in Federalist 47.
The people can only remain free if each branch uses its checks and balances to keep the other branches in line (Federalist 47,48,51).
When the branches do this, it is chaotic. But it’s the kind of chaos that happens when the branches fight each other, which is much better than what happens when the branches stop bickering and work together to reduce the power and freedoms of the regular people.
In short, chaos in Washington usually means that the branches are attacking each other, instead of the freedoms of the people. That’s a good thing!
The major checks of each branch were, and are:
- executive veto
- judicial decisions concerning constitutionality
- legislative purse strings
Again, the Framers knew that the use of these checks would be hotly contested, turbulent, divisive, and often very upsetting to those on the receiving end of such checks.
The Framers realized that sometimes a presidential veto would feel disastrous to some people. They also knew that a Court decision of “unconstitutional” or “constitutional” would at times trigger a lot of frustration, and that the Congress using its power of the purse to shut down government if necessary would cause real discomfort.
Madison warned in Federalist paper 1 (the introduction to the Constitutional system) that during such periods of “great national discussion”, the following would happen in America:
“A torrent of angry and malignant passions will be let loose.”
Yet such checks—including vetoes, Court decisions, and Congressional tumult and government shutdowns—were the very basis of the U.S. Constitution. As Madison put it: “Ambition must be made to counteract ambition.” (Federalist 51)
This bears repeating. The Founding Fathers knew the use of a check by one branch of government on another would bring controversies and adversarial contentions. Indeed, “controversy” is mentioned 25 times in the Federalist, and “adversaries” and “contentions” are discussed 40 times.
But for the Framers, the real worry, the big danger, was the “ambition” of people holding government offices. Forms of the word “ambition” appear 62 times in the Federalist. The Founders were willing to allow angry feelings about checks and balances, in order to stop abuses of power by government officials and agencies.
This is the very foundation of the U.S. Constitution. As mentioned above, it is firmly based on the idea that government officials, agencies, and branches that spend lots of time fighting each other will find less time to over-govern or over-regulate the people. Those who understand this reality understand our Constitutional culture. Those who don’t, do not.
III. When You Hear that “Government is Gridlocked,”
Remember that Jefferson and Madison
are Somewhere Cheering!
Today, however, when a discussion about Washington or politics arises, it often turns in the direction of politicians not getting along, or not getting much done. But let’s be clear: if the politicians start agreeing on a lot of things, our freedoms will be voted away more quickly.
The Founders knew this, and in response they purposely established separations of power with checks and balances to keep us free.
As Madison said, quoting Montesquieu, in Federalist 47:
“‘There can be no liberty where the legislative and executive powers are united in the same person, or body…’ or ‘if the power of judging be not separated from the legislative and executive functions.’”
That’s pretty straightforward. “There can be no liberty…” if the checks and balances aren’t used.
Unless government is frequently gridlocked, freedom quickly declines.
The checks and balances matter.
Yet when the House uses its Constitutional power of the purse to withhold funds or shut down the government to keep the president or Court in check, many Americans today somehow think that Congress isn’t doing its job. The truth is the opposite. If the House isn’t using its power of the purse to keep the president and Court checked, then Congress isn’t doing its job.
If the campaigns and debates to elect a new Speaker of the House aren’t heated, passionate, and tumultuous, then Congress isn’t doing its job very well.
If sections of the House aren’t fighting each other, Congress isn’t doing its job. Same with the Senate. Same with all the branches of the government.
IV. The Constitution Works—
We Should Try Following It
When did the majority of citizens stop understanding the Constitution? When did so many of us stop seeing that the separations, checks, and balances are key to our freedoms? Or forget what the actual checks and balances are?
For example, if your Congressman/Congresswoman won’t use the Constitutional power of the purse to fight for freedom, you should elect a new one.
Ultimately, the majority of American citizens have somehow stopped understanding the Constitutional culture the Framers outlined—with its intense, passionate, turbulent and rowdy conflicts between the three branches of government (and even within Congress). Somehow many voters have been swayed by the modern media view that everything should be smooth, friendly, and without struggle, that politics should be professional, gentlemanly, and efficient.
Indeed the media has convinced too many of us to see the latest political fights and shake our heads in frustration or disgust, when we should be smiling and carefully watching to ensure that the branches of government keep fighting each other—except when the national security is legitimately at stake.
That’s how our Constitutional system is designed, and the result is more freedom for the regular people. Most nations of the world, and of history, would give nearly anything to have such a Constitutional structure with its checks and balances and the freedoms and prosperity they engender.
If we ever actually adopt the type of civil, tranquil, administrative politics many in the media envision, we’ll live in a nation that has lost its freedoms. The fact that serious, vigorous debate and intense disagreement in Congress and other parts of Washington is seen as somehow…bad…is a national tragedy. Such fervent skirmishes and struggles are what the Framers wanted when they designed the Constitution the way they did. This is precisely what is needed to ensure that no one group or elite upper class controls everything.
Furthermore, the emasculation of Congress and its Constitutional power to check the president and Court by withholding funds as needed and shutting down the government on occasion is a major step in the direction of losing our freedoms.
If only more people understood the Constitution.
Next time you hear about chaos in Washington, smile. Smile widely. Grin and take a deep breath. The Framers got it right.
But if you ever hear about a lack of gridlock in the government and laws sailing through Congress in gentlemanly civility, you’ll know that we’re experiencing a massive loss of freedom.
We all need to help more people understand the Constitutional culture of freedom the Founding Fathers gave us, based on lots of chaos and bickering in Washington.