It’s Time For A State Initiated Balanced Budget Amendment

Only one day after the midterm elections resulted in overwhelming gains for the Republican Party, presumptive Majority Leader Mitch McConnell ceded Congress’s bargaining position with respect to negotiating  spending cuts when he proclaimed in a news conference that,  “we’re not going to be shutting down the government or defaulting on the national debt.”  His reference to “defaulting” on the debt was only a scare tactic.  Refusing to increase the debt limit would not require a default.   Tax receipts are more than adequate to service the debt.  Defaulting would require an affirmative choice not to make debt payments.  But the establishment spenders in Washington D.C. know how to fear monger.  Dissembling has no party affiliation.  McConnell’s message is loud and clear – the elected Republican establishment will not rock the boat on America’s excess spending.

Republican gains were not limited to the Federal government.  State governments also saw substantial advances.  Republicans picked up control of at least 9 state legislative chambers.  They now control 31 state legislatures outright and share control between two chambers with Democrats in 8 others.  As it is clear that the national Republican establishment will not address America’s spending and borrowing spree, it’s time to look to the states for a solution.

Article 5 of the U.S. Constitution provides two avenues for its amendment.  The first requires a formal decision by Congress to initiate the process.  The second does not.  Whenever “the legislatures of two thirds of the several states, shall call a convention for proposing amendments”, Congress “shall call a convention for the proposing of amendments.”  Any amendments thus proposed become effective only “when ratified by the legislatures of three fourths of the several states, or by conventions in three fourths thereof.”  With 50 states, 34 are required to propose an amendment for consideration by the states for ratification and 38 states would be required to ratify.

Historically, 27 state legislatures have proposed amendments which would limit the Federal government’s ability to borrow, thus demonstrating substantial interest in utilizing their constitutional power to enforce fiscal responsibility upon the Federal government.  Because of a confluence of circumstances, now is the time for the state legislatures to make the notion of a state initiated balanced budget amendment a reality.

First, our rendezvous with economic destruction grows nearer and nearer at a faster and faster pace.  The debt is $18T and only growing.  Serious people are rightfully concerned at the burden we are placing on our children.  The magnitude of the problem, the swiftness of its worsening and the concern we have for future generations of Americans all make now the right time for the states to pursue a solution.

Second, McConnell’s comments are only the most recent confirmation of a truth we should have acknowledged long ago – neither national party is interested in returning the U.S. to fiscal responsibility.  We must face reality.  When it comes to our national leadership, selfishness is the rule; integrity the exception.  For most of Congress, the first objectives are re-election and consolidation of personal power, both of which might be jeopardized if tough decisions were imposed on the American people to reduce spending, raise taxes or both.  Where self preservation prevails over honor and duty, borrowing and spending provide an easy answer so long as society is willing to ignore the ultimate consequences.

Third, state Republicans have accumulated strength in numbers not seen since the very early part of the 20th century.  Those numbers indicate that the likelihood of achieving the 34 states necessary for a proposed amendment is as good as it’s ever been.

Fourth, because state Republicans are not drunk on national power and media fawning, they are addicted to neither.   They have every reason to be motivated to address such a crucial national problem.  Indeed, the self interest that compels national Republicans to ignore the debt crisis might just compel state Republicans to address it.  Attacking profligate Federal spending and borrowing may be both excellent leadership and an opportunity for historical greatness.  If America is to survive its decades long debt addiction, history will record with admiration and reverence those who lead us to redemption.

Finally, regardless of whether ratification can be won, America is ripe for the debate.  Our submersion into debt is ignored by national leaders and media alike.  There is no national discussion even though the issue demands attention.  Moreover, even if a balanced budget amendment ultimately fails to gain ratification, the country deserves the opportunity to actually decide the issue.  Anyone who is concerned for the well being of the country and for future generations must feel the need to frame the debate, have the argument, and come to a national decision.  Surely it is better to attempt to avoid disaster rather than to do nothing but await its arrival.

Those who want to maintain the status quo have a strategy – to avoid the debate.  One sure way to avoid losing an argument is not to have it.  Their favored tactic is to ignore the issue.  That tactic has worked well because everyone with an amplified voice, both national parties and the national media, keep it out of their talking points and off of the front page.  Whenever a balanced budget amendment is mentioned, they employ a second tactic – they demonize the constitutional process arguing that a convention of the states would be “dangerous”.  They ignore the fact that any proposed amendment would require ratification by 38 states in order to take effect, pretending that the convention itself could actually affect changes in the Constitution.  Notwithstanding the weakness of their arguments, in order to alleviate any concerns whatsoever concerning a convention, the notion of a compact among the states has been thoroughly developed and vetted.  It would eliminate the need for a formal convention thus eliminating any concern that other amendments might be proposed or adopted.

As the Federal government has grown more powerful over the past many decades, the authority of the states has diminished.  Most state officials have become accustomed to having almost no role in national affairs.  Not surprisingly, state legislatures generally see their responsibilities limited to the ambit of intrastate concerns.  However, there remains an important constitutional function codified in Article 5.  Nothing that has occurred in the past 80 years to unconstitutionally empower the Federal government has changed that fact.  The Article 5 authority conferred upon the states remains, unadulterated by any of the interpretive constitutional contortions achieved in the past to empower the Federal government.

The founders recognized the states’ role as a check against overreaches by the Federal government.  Alexander Hamilton argued in Federalist Number 26 that “…the state Legislature…will always be vigilant…suspicious and jealous guardians…against encroachments from the Federal government…and… will be ready enough, if any thing improper appears, to sound the alarm to the people.”  Even more on point, he stated in Number 85 that “we may safely rely on…the State legislatures to erect barriers against the encroachments of the national authority.”  Now is the time for the state legislatures to remember their important place in the balance of national power and to rediscover their duty to exercise that power in defense of their citizens and their nation in crisis.

The Uninformed Should Not Be Encouraged To Vote

The title of this blog gives me pause.  Does the notion that uninformed voters should not vote really need to be explained?  Do we live in a society where such an obviously correct assertion is not generally accepted by society at large?  Apparently we do.

I recently heard a radio interview of a former state senator in my home state.  He was upset with the reported fact that my home state is at or near the bottom of the list when it comes to the percentage of citizens who vote.  His goal is to help change that status.  When the interviewer suggested that the former senator must surely agree that we want citizens to have a basic understanding of the issues before voting, the former senator disagreed.  Paraphrasing, he said that it doesn’t matter whether voters are informed.  What is important is that the state’s voting statistics improve.  The interviewer then conceded that there is a “civic responsibility to vote”.  I also read a recent opinion column in my local paper wherein the columnist asserted that “the greater the participation in the voting process, the better and stronger our country is in the long run.”

These few local examples exemplify a national attitude that has developed relatively quickly over the past several years.  The notion is that voting is an inherent good.  The effort has been to turn out the vote, no matter how uninformed.  Such campaigns seldom make any reference at all to the necessity of becoming informed prior to voting.  “Just vote” seems to be the mantra.  I’ve heard at least one nationally known, highly informed commentator repeat the mantra that voting is good, without any reference to whether the voter knows anything at all about the candidates or the issues.

Though I’m not sure what has driven this perspective, I am sure that it makes no sense.  At best, the mass of uninformed votes it induces simply cancel each out and leave us with a result which reflects the votes of the more informed and interested voters.  In any other scenario, what results is damaging to any democratic system of governance.  In essence, the results of our elections are being influenced by voters whose criteria for making a selection may be little more insightful than flipping a coin.

There are many human activities which we recognize as inherently good.  Exercising, eating healthfully, getting plenty of sleep, limiting stress and developing a positive, happy outlook are all deemed by society to be inherently good activities.  Unlike such activities, voting does not necessarily result in a good or helpful outcome.  The decision that is made in the voting booth can ultimately be good or bad for society.  Judgment based on careful study and consideration is necessary.  A person who votes without exercising judgment based on careful consideration makes no positive contribution to society.  In fact, by diluting the votes of those who have undertaken their civic responsibilities in a serious way, such a person undercuts the process and provides a disservice to society at large.

Voting is simply one step in the complex process we employ to govern ourselves. In no other human or societal activity do we urge incompetent people to perform a function simply for the sake of performing it.  Likewise, in no other human or societal activity do we seek the input of unknowledgeable people in making important decisions.  For example, families do not typically seek the input of every member in deciding whether to make a major purchase or whether the primary income earner should accept a new job.  Businesses do not typically seek the input of all stakeholders in deciding whether to change accounting systems or marketing plans.  Charitable institutions do not typically take a vote of donors to determine how best to utilize existing funds to achieve their charitable goals.  Surgeons do not seek the input of everyone else in the operating room when making a crucial decision.  The reason is obvious.  Families, businesses, charitable institutions and surgeons want to make the correct decisions when it comes to such important matters.  Accordingly, they leave those decisions to the people with the most knowledge.

Of course, everyone meeting basic legal criteria have a right to vote.  But that is no explanation for why society should encourage the uninformed to exercise that right.  Citizens also have the right to free speech and the right to own firearms.  Society doesn’t go out of its way to encourage citizens to exercise their right to free speech or to acquire and keep firearms.  Criminals have the right not to incriminate themselves.  Though they are informed of that right, society does not encourage them to exercise it.  Society is far better off when guilty suspects waive that right and confess to crimes they have committed.  The fact that voting may be deemed a right is no excuse for urging citizens to exercise that right.

In the radio interview of the former state senator, he posited that even if many voters are uninformed, the right decision will still be made by the electorate.  He offered no explanation for such a ridiculous assertion, presumably because there is none.  Uninformed voters will make their decisions in the voting booth based on something.  It might be which name they like better.  It might be who a friend or family member recommended.  It might be who looked the best in television advertisements.  Uninformed voters, by definition, will not make their decisions in the voting booth upon their own judgment exercised only after having studied and considered the issues and the candidates.  At best, the uninformed voters will cancel each other out.  In other words, the best that we can hope for is that their efforts will result in an outcome that mirrors the outcome which would have occurred if they had not voted at all.  Any other result damages the democratic process because the decisions we make are less likely to be based upon relevant information and good judgment.

Society should leave uninformed and disinterested citizens alone.  Anyone who is so disinterested in our self governance and the processes required to maintain it so as not to bother to vote does us all a favor by staying home on election day.  The uniformed, disinterested citizen is almost universally inclined not to vote.  That instinct is correct.  The rest of us should not try to persuade him otherwise.

 

 

 

Constitutionalism: Searching For A Voice In A Two-Party System

I recently posted a blog addressing the corrupt operating principle of modern liberalism Because it is entirely policy driven and has no regard for constitutional rule of law, the democratic process, or the truth, modern liberalism is bankrupt of any motivating principles other than expediency.  Its approach to governance and the consolidation of power is tyrannical because it seeks to impose its policies and obtain the political power necessary to do so by whatever means possible.

Unfortunately for us all, modern liberalism is the motive political power behind the national Democrat Party.  As a result, the only current competitive alternative for constitutionalists to find a national voice is the Republican Party.  While the Republican Party is certainly not immune to criticism for growing the Federal government, it typically has a less broad policy agenda and is generally somewhat more committed to maintaining some fidelity to our constitutional process.  On balance, though the mainstream Republican Party is unquestionably to a large degree statist in its governing philosophy, its policy positions are usually less offensive to constitutionalists and government minimalists than those of modern liberalism.  However, being not as bad as the Democrats is hardly sufficient.  Constitutionalists need a national voice that boldly articulates and defends adherence to the Constitution and the rule of law as the only true entitlements we have as American citizens.  The national Republican Party is not fulfilling that role.

The unfortunate hallmark of the national Republican Party has been its unwillingness to deconstruct the artifices of modern liberalism once established.  In fact, once modern liberals succeed in establishing in the Federal government a more expansive role in governing some aspect of society, Republican officials often seem as eager to exercise the new power as are their modern liberal counterparts.  As a current example, consider how many Republicans running for office advocate repealing the Affordable Care Act.  Repeal of the ACA is simply not a primary campaign issue in this year’s mid-term elections.  At most, we hear establishment Republicans speak of “fixing” the ACA.  This, despite the fact that most say they believe the ACA is unconstitutional and despite polling that demonstrates the American people have never supported it.

The standard operating procedure of the Republican establishment seems to be to make a passable showing of opposing most modern liberal policy advancements for a time, but only for a time.  At some point, whether after losing a key vote, after losing a court battle, or after simply growing weary of the battle, the Republican establishment stops fighting, cedes the issue and then rushes in to exercise the new power as quickly as possible.  The political argument all too often becomes, “we can wield this power better than the Democrats”, rather than “we recognize that this power is misplaced in the Federal government and is destructive of liberty.  We will therefor continue to fight it as long as there is any viable possibility of defeating it.

As a result, it is difficult to ascertain the motivating principles of the Republican establishment today.  Though they often speak of freer markets, decreased regulation and returning to the founding principles, their actions more often reflect a disposition to conciliation and compromise.  When, in a two party system, one party is motivated by conciliation and compromise while the other is motivated only by expediency, one outcome alone can result—policy will trend toward the objectives set by the party of expediency.  How quickly public policy will trend left is dependent upon many factors.  But regardless of timing, it should be clear that where one party has specific objectives and is willing to do virtually anything to achieve them and the other mostly operates from a position of compromise, the party of expedience will achieve its objectives over some period of time.  As a result, we have seen throughout recent American history since the advent of the progressive movement and particularly since the New Deal, a continuous move toward bigger and bigger Federal government with more and more authority over all aspects of society.  The few interruptions in our march to ever bigger government have been short lived.  For the most part, we’ve had two parties working together in the interests of “getting things done” or “in the spirit of compromise”, to push the U.S. to ever higher degrees of statism for many decades.  While we might debate whether the Republican Party wittingly or unwittingly played its part in this process, that it has played its part is not subject to serious debate.

What we have to show for our ever expanding Federal government is not pretty – a liberty stifling regulatory system, $18T in debt and growing fast, more dependency and a quickly deplenishing spirit of individuality and personal responsibility.  With this expansion our Federal government has become nonresponsive, even uninterested in the opinions of the people and more focused on protecting its power and in growing even further the scope its authority.  At a time when the people desperately need political leadership persuading us toward individual liberty and away from statism, what we have instead are two parties leading us to oblivion.  The Democrats urge “full speed ahead” while the Republicans argue for a nice steady cruise control.  They both have us headed for a cliff.  They only differ in how quickly they’ll have us plunging over the edge.

If the Republican Party is to be the vehicle of our national salvation, it will have to change.  Clearly, it will not change from the top down.  The vast majority of the leadership of the Republican Party shows little interest in expanding freedom, little interest in shrinking government and absolutely no interest whatsoever in addressing the government debt that is sure to be our ruin.  One need only consider the disdain establishment Republicans show for the Tea Party to see the truth of the matter.  The national Republican Party is ambivalent about the debt until challenged politically.  Once challenged by true fiscal conservatives, they become fierce in the defense of their power.  Their ambivalence turns to scorn as they work to vilify their challengers.  By implication, they dismiss or even mock Tea Party concerns over the debt.

If the Republican Party is to be the vehicle of our national salvation, it will change from the grass roots up.  The Tea Party and others committed to fiscal responsibility and individual liberty will be the organizing and motivating factors.  The Republican Party will have to shed its decades long mode of operation.  Opponents have pejoratively called it “the party of ‘no’”.  We need for it to truly become the party of “NO” and enthusiastically embrace that role.  No more compromise toward economic ruin.  No more expanding power and spending in the spirit of “getting things done”.  No more spending growth.  No more government growth.  No more fostering dependency.  No more political cowardice in the face of the left’s ridiculous allegations meant only to induce the division inherent in identity politics.  We desperately need a new Republican Party led by constitutionalists who believe in liberty, free markets and limited government, who are proud to defend those principles and who are capable and willing to persuade their constituents and their colleagues to their point of view.  This can only happen if it originates from the base.  Constitutionalists have to stop hoping for better leadership and start working towards it.

Modern Liberalism’s Multi-Faceted Attack On Americanism

America was founded on the enlightenment principles of classical liberalism.  Limited government and the strict application of the rule of law were intended to ensure individual liberty.  The Constitution’s role in institutionalizing “Americanism” is central and fundamental.  It was and is the contract of a sovereign people as to what its national government is and what that government is authorized to do.

Because the Constitution was designed to limit the powers of the Federal government, it has been the obstacle statists have sought to avoid since the second coming of the progressive movement in the 1930’s.  The now decades long assault on the Constitution has been nothing less than an assault on that which is central and fundamental to Americanism – limited government and the rule of law.  By slowly defeating the Constitution, modern liberalism is slowly defeating Americanism.  By logical extension, it is slowly defeating the structural legal protections of individual liberty.

This assault on Americanism is very much like a metastasized cancer’s assault on a living organism.  Modern liberalism attacks the Constitution, the rule of law, and individual liberty not by utilizing a coordinated strategy targeted at some perceived vulnerability of the body politic, but by a systemic multi-faceted attack on Americanism.  Consider the modern liberal issue of same sex marriage.  In modern society, marriage exists as a legal union, recognized by the state.  Rights and obligations are conferred by the state on those who enter into such a legal union.  Accordingly, it makes perfect sense that those who find themselves outside of the legal qualifications for marriage, but are otherwise similarly situated in terms of their commitment to one another, would challenge the notion that the state should exclude them from the rights, benefits and obligations enjoyed and undertaken by those who seem to them arbitrarily to qualify.  To those who love liberty and shun the illegitimate force of the state, this argument is easily understood and persuasive.  If those advocating same sex marriage sought it’s implementation in accordance with our Constitution and the rule of law – by pursuing legislation in each state to accomplish legal recognition – their objectives and their tactics for achieving them would be in accord with principles of liberty and in accord with the rule of law and the popular sovereignty of the American people as expressed in the Constitution.

But the left has not pursued legal same sex marriage in accordance with the Constitution and the rule of law.  Instead, it has sought a judicial solution.  Though the Constitution is subject to legal amendment within the rule of law by following the processes specified in Article 5, statists seek to “amend” it through the courts by obtaining outrageously ridiculous rulings from activist judges who almost single handedly modify the Constitution’s “meaning” and make it conform to whatever the modern liberal establishment demands.  With each fraudulent interpretation, the rule of law is defeated and the Constitution’s role as the underpinning of limited government is weakened.  Sadly, we’ve reached the point where the notion that the Constitution effectively limits the powers of the Federal government is legitimately subject to question.  By logical extension, we’ve reached the point where the notion that the Constitution effectively protects personal freedom is increasingly subject to question.

The Constitution clearly does not protect same sex couples from governmental exclusion from the institution of marriage.  Even so, modern liberalism has sought the imposition of same sex marriage by and through a fallacious interpretation of the 14th Amendment.  They have convinced activists courts to reject the clear language and the known purpose of the 14th Amendment to mean something which was clearly not meant when it was ratified by a sovereign people.  In so doing, they have imposed a misinterpretation of the most fundamental law of the land upon all of society.  That the 14th Amendment does not restrict the states from excluding same sex marriage can not be seriously questioned.  It’s beyond argument that the 14th Amendment would not have been ratified in 1868 if the people understood that it would be interpreted to create a right to same sex marriage.  Indeed, it is beyond serious question that at no time since the original ratification of the Constitution in 1788 would an Amendment creating a right to same sex marriage have been ratified by the sovereign people of the United States.  That being the case, what possible justification can any court have for interpreting the 14th Amendment to create such a right?  Modern liberalism seeks to achieve by judicial fiat that which it can not achieve legally – a de facto amendment to the Constitution.  Thus far, what they’ve won for their efforts appears to be the imminent nationwide legal recognition of same sex marriage.

But legal recognition by the states and by the Federal government is not nearly enough for the left.  To get more, they attack another facet of Americanism – personal freedom of association – individual liberty itself.  While pursuing state recognition by contorting the Constitution rather than through proper democratic channels, the modern liberal establishment has simultaneously moved to impose private recognition of same sex marital unions.  Whether it involves a private contract to purchase a wedding cake or a private contract to perform the marriage ceremony, modern liberalism has begun its effort to impose its will upon private actors.  And who is to implement and exercise the force of law upon private parties to make them recognize and service same sex marriage?  The state, of course.

A 2013 Coeur d’Alene Idaho ordinance which bans discrimination based on sexual orientation in places of public accommodation is only one of the first in what is sure to be many, many efforts by the left to force private actors to recognize and serve same sex couples in violation of their religious beliefs or personal preferences.  Though religious entities are exempt from the ordinance, city officials have taken the position that because these particular individuals operate a for-profit wedding chapel, they should be obligated to conform to the requirements of the ordinance.  Setting aside for the moment the left’s almost maniacal obsession with demonizing the profit motive (which motivates each and every rational human being), we see here in bold relief the tyrannical methodology of modern liberalism.  The left works to simultaneously eliminate state restraints with respect to their cause while imposing state enforced coercions upon other individuals in order to give favored liberal classes special protections and recognition in private matters.  Modern liberalism uses the judicial function of state authority to achieve a falsely modified Constitution in order to impose upon a sovereign people an individual “right” to same sex marriage to which the people never assented while at the same time using the force of law in the legislative arena to impose restrictions on the liberties of others.

For another illustration of the same methodology at work, consider abortion and the pretend “debate” over contraception.  For modern liberals, it is not enough that the states can no longer outlaw abortions or contraception making both completely legal across the country.  Modern liberalism wants much more.  Independent individuals – other citizens – must be forced to pay for abortions and contraceptives with their tax dollars or by and through the health insurance that they purchase as employers.  Whether these other citizens consent or volunteer to fund abortions and contraceptives for others can not be determinative.  They must, by force of law, be compelled to provide such funding.  Thus, the modern liberal approach to liberty is selective.  “Liberty!” is their battle cry when they argue that the states should not have the authority to exclude same sex marriages.  But “liberty” will find no place in their arguments in favor of state imposed coercions and restraints forcing the rest of society to act in a certain manner when dealing with same sex married couples in what would otherwise be private, voluntary transactions.

Modern liberalism is an “ends justifies the means – win at all cost” ideology devoid of principles.  It has no regard for the rule of law, no regard for the Constitution and no regard for the popular sovereignty of the American people.  Constitutionalists value individual liberty and therefore revere the rule of law and the procedural superstructure set up by the Constitution despite the fact that they know strict adherence to those principles means they can not win every political issue.  Modern liberalism wants only one thing – its way.  Principles and values such as strict adherence to the Constitution, the rule of law, popular sovereignty, even individual liberty only impede their single minded pursuit of transforming society to conform to their notion of social justice.  The ruination of Americanism in the process is not a sacrifice. It’s a strategic success.

President Obama’s Audacious Disrespect For The Popular Sovereignty Of The American People

In a recent interview with Al Sharpton, President Obama commented on Democrat candidates who are distancing themselves from him and his policies.  “(T)hese are all folks who vote with me; they have supported my agenda in Congress…these are folks who are strong allies and supporters of me”, he said.  In this age of political dissuasion and denial, such candor might seem surprising and is certainly welcomed.  In our constitutional system of self governance and popular sovereignty it is crucial that the people understand what candidates running for office actually stand for.  Any candidate who seeks to hide from his record or obfuscate her goals and objectives as an officeholder should be exposed as thoroughly as possible so that the people can make an informed decision at the ballot box.

However, what President Obama said next revealed that his candor was a mistake; an unguarded moment when he accidently gave the listening audience a peek behind the curtain.  Referencing his communications with fellow democrats who are not acknowledging the truth about their affiliations with Obama or his policy stances, he said, “I tell them — I said, you do what you need to do to win.”  With that, he laid bare the tyrannical mindset of the ruling class.  Their objective is not the efficient and effective exercise of popular sovereignty.  Nor is it to inform and persuade the people to their particular policy stances or governing philosophy.  Their objective is simply to win – even at the cost of undermining the popular sovereignty our system of self government was founded upon.  Fooling the sovereign people is just part of the process.  If the people can’t be convinced of the propriety of a candidate’s actual policy stances, then the people must be mislead so they’ll vote for him anyway.

More and more it is the case that the ruling class views the people as an impediment to the implementation of their schemes rather than the real sovereign authority in whose interests they serve.  To them, American politics is not about the process of constitutionally determining the will of the people with respect to their government.  It is about playing a high stakes game for the opportunity to impose their will on civil society.  The game’s only rule is to win.

There was a time in the not too distant past when a national political figure would have been ruined politically for boldly admitting that it is ok to dupe the electorate in order to win an election.  No more.  Our cynical body politic has come to expect disrespect from our leaders.  Integrity to our founding principals is a scarcely seen characteristic in modern day American political leaders.  So it is that President Obama’s acknowledgment draws criticism, but not consequences.  His revelation has engendered excited enthusiasm from the Republican opposition at the prospect of using it to their political advantage. But we hear nary a whisper of condemnation for the unspoken message of his comment; that the American citizenry are merely obstacles to be circumnavigated, manipulated or avoided by the ruling class.

Until we the people demand respect from our elected officials for our fundamental constitutional role – that of the sovereign – we’ll only get more of the same.  We can effectively demand that respect only by rewarding honesty and candor and by punishing any candidate who lies and deceives us in hopes of fooling us for our vote.  We must demand that candidates frankly and honestly articulate their policy stances and that they respectfully work to persuade us to the propriety of their governing philosophy.  Those seeking public office must be made to understand that dissuading the voters will only ensure electoral failure.  They must be made to know that their only chance of electoral victory is to respect their constituency and convince us with clear and cogent reasoning why we should vote for them and by extension, the policy positions and governing philosophy which they advocate.

 

The Corrupt Operating Principle of Modern Liberalism

Like individuals, organizations conduct themselves based on their values and their principles.  What they value determines their ultimate goals and objectives.  Their principles determine how they go about conducting themselves as they strive to achieve those goals.  Modern liberalism’s overarching value is that government should be an active force for good in society.  This value in turn results in the modern liberal goal of a ubiquitous Federal government actively involved in affecting most aspects of society.  Many who value liberty find modern liberalism’s values and goals offensive because large, active government necessarily translates into the exercise of power over individuals.  Because I believe strongly that the proper scope of government is limited to protecting individual rights, administering justice and providing for national security, I also find modern liberalism’s notion of good government offensive.  But the liberal establishment’s goal of big and active government is not the most offensive aspect of modern liberalism.  What is most offensive is how establishment liberals readily violate the structural underpinnings of our governing processes in order to advance their policy agenda.  What is most offensive, is the principle that directs its conduct.

Establishment liberals focus exclusively on the ends they want to achieve.  They have repeatedly demonstrated a willingness to employ almost any means to institute their policy objectives.  Indeed, their most radical adherents have perpetrated criminal violence as a means of reaching their policy goals.  The fact that ex-convicts such as Bill Ayers and Kathy Boudin committed acts of unspeakable violence in order to advance their collectivist ideology, yet are welcomed and admired by the modern liberal establishment demonstrates the left’s relativist approach to violence.  Violence perpetrated for “good” reasons is more easily forgiven, a fact which corroborates my thesis; modern liberalism is an “ends justifies the means” ideology driven by a single corrupt principle – expediency.

Many on the left pay lip service to the democratic process and would certainly prefer that people believe public policy proceeding from the elected representatives of a fully enfranchised populace is the fundamental principle underlying modern liberalism.  But the most casual consideration of their actual tactics demonstrates otherwise.  Modern liberalism uses whatever tools it can muster to advance its policy agenda.  Whether environmental, health care, fiscal, economic or redistributive, modern liberalism focuses on winning the policy issue by whatever means necessary.  Fidelity to democratic processes and adherence to constitutional principles are not required.

Accordingly, when they were able to win the congressional vote on the passage of The Affordable Care Act, the left was satisfied.  But they are just as happy to impose their policy proscriptions for environmental policy through EPA regulations, regardless of what the majority of our elected representatives might think about the particular policies involved.  Once the power to affect policy is placed within a regulatory agency such as the EPA, modern liberals are satisfied to leave it there to be exercised by administrators insulated from the electoral process so long as the policies they favor are advanced, regardless of whether the public at large and/or Congress oppose the EPA’s overreach.

Further, where policy objectives can’t be won through either the democratic process or imposition by the regulatory state, the liberal establishment resorts to the courts.  Even where the electorate had considered and rejected same sex marriage, modern liberals didn’t hesitate in seeking its mandate upon society by court order.  To the extent the Constitution doesn’t comport with their policy objectives they argue for a new interpretation and seek to appoint judges who will mollify the Constitution to remove any impediment it poses.  And as is so obvious in the case of illegal immigration, the liberal establishment consciously disregards the rule of law and the will of the electorate when it overtly refuses to enforce existing laws which run counter to their policy objectives.

Finally, modern liberalism employs identity politics in order to maintain or strengthen political power.  The left constantly works to identify subgroups and convince them they have a grievance against society at large.  Having stoked the fires of a newly contrived “cause”, modern liberalism then takes on the mantle of champion of the supposedly disadvantaged subgroup.  No better example can be found than the ridiculous “fight” over contraception.  To be sure, there is undoubtedly a collectivist fringe that actually believes society has an obligation to provide everyone their contraceptive of choice free of charge.  But the liberal establishment doesn’t gain anything by championing that cause because the fringe that holds this belief certainly consists entirely of diehard leftists.  In order to benefit politically from such an issue, the liberal establishment must use it to create new voters or drive existing voters to the polls when they might otherwise have stayed home.  Accordingly they demagogue, demonizing and ascribing false policy positions to political adversaries in order to create the perception of a debate over contraception that doesn’t exist.

Because modern liberalism as reflected by the actions of its establishment flag bearers is entirely policy driven and has no regard for our constitutional rule of law, the democratic process, or the truth, it is bankrupt of any guiding principle other than expediency.  Its approach to governance and the acquisition of power is ultimately tyrannical because it seeks to impose its policies and obtain the political power necessary to do so by whatever means possible, without regard for any of the fundamental principles of our founding; principles which they no doubt deem outdated…the democratic process, limited government constrained by a constitution created by a sovereign people, and the unalienable rights of free individuals.  These were the founding principles employed by our forefathers to achieve what they valued most, a value modern liberalism does not share – a society free of tyranny and despotism.

 

A Bold Attack On Freedom Of Political Speech In America

On September 11, 2014, the Senate voted 54-42 to end debate on Senate Joint Resolution 19.  Sixty votes were needed to end a filibuster and force a vote on the resolution.  Because the required sixty votes were not obtained, the resolution could not overcome the filibuster and it died.  Fifty four Senators, all Democrats, voted to end debate and go forward with a vote on the resolution.  Included among those 54 Senators were 48 who co-sponsored the resolution.

The point of the resolution was to propose an amendment to the United States Constitution.  Had the resolution gone to a vote, a two/thirds majority of both houses of Congress would be necessary in order to submit the amendment to the states for ratification.  In the Senate, that would require 67 votes, a number clearly unattainable since there were not even enough votes to overcome the filibuster.  That the resolution was doomed from the outset is clear.  Equally clear is that the lack of respect for the U.S. Constitution among our elected representatives is an historic problem that continues to this day.

The proposed amendment is short and easily understood.  It states in its entirety as follows:

Section 1. To advance democratic self-government and political equality, and to protect the integrity of government and the electoral process, Congress and the States may regulate and set reasonable limits on the raising and spending of money by candidates and others to influence elections.

Section 2. Congress and the States shall have power to implement and enforce this article by appropriate legislation, and may distinguish between natural persons and corporations or other artificial entities created by law, including by prohibiting such entities from spending money to influence elections.

Section 3. Nothing in this article shall be construed to grant Congress or the States the power to abridge the freedom of the press

The ultimate ratification of the proposed amendment by the states would have authorized governmental powers over political speech expressly denied by the First Amendment which states in its entirety as follows:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.”

The proposed amendment would, by it’s express terms, empower Congress and the States to regulate raising and spending money “to influence elections”.  Because any political speech can reasonably be deemed “to influence elections”, the government would have been empowered to regulate those persons and corporations spending money on disfavored political issues while leaving others deemed by the government to be advancing more “acceptable” political positions unmolested.  Because spending money is the only reliable method to ensure that a message is widely disseminated, the amendment would have empowered the government to choose who is entitled to amplify their political messages by spending money and who is not.  It would have enabled the government to criminalize the spending of money to communicate one message, while leaving those espousing the opposite message free to spend as they wish to communicate to the public.

History has proven that it is naïve in the extreme to hope that those in power will honor the limits on their constitutional powers.  The Federal government has historically and repeatedly argued in favor of extraordinarily broad interpretations of the powers enumerated in the Constitution.  The Commerce Clause provides one of many examples.  Article One provides that Congress has the power “to regulate commerce…among the several states…”  For many years Congress used this power either not at all or in a relatively limited fashion as intended—to prevent the states from implementing protectionist trade policies against each other.  For several years leading up to the New Deal era Congress, with the approval of the Supreme Court, interpreted its powers under the Commerce Clause to regulate more than strictly commerce.  Congress began regulating labor among interstate carriers, the “channels” of commerce and the instruments of interstate commerce, such as the rail cars and railroad safety devices.

The New Deal brought a continuous flow of legislation seeking to regulate wages and industry, ostensibly pursuant to the power to regulate commerce among the states.  For a time, the Supreme Court rebuffed such unconstitutional assertions of power.  But in the end and in the wake of FDR’s effort to pack the Supreme Court in order to emplace more “progressive” jurists, the Supreme Court buckled and approved the use of the constitutional power to regulate commerce among the states to, among other things, broadly regulate labor and products regardless of whether they were implicated in interstate commerce in any direct manner.  Since 1937, the Commerce Clause has been used repeatedly to justify federal regulation of matters which are not “commerce among the several states”.  On each occasion, the Federal government has expanded it’s power over the people despite the fact that it lacks any constitutional authority to do so.

With Senate Joint Resolution 19, 48 presiding U.S. Senators expressed in clear terms their desire.  They want to regulate political speech despite the fact that the Constitution specifically denies them the authority to “abridge the freedom of speech”.  The Supreme Court has not been so availing as it was nearly 80 years earlier in turning a blind eye to the illogical and extreme contortions of the Commerce Clause.  But the question remains; what did the 48 sponsors hope to achieve by proposing the resolution?  As noted, it was doomed from the start.  What did they hope would result from proposing the resolution?

One can only conclude that they hoped to score political points with the electorate.  In the 1930’s FDR and Congress perceived that the electorate would support their efforts to expand federal power despite the lack of constitutional authority.  They used the attendant political power to pressure the Supreme Court until it finally gave in, ushering in a new paradigm of federal power.  Rather than a power limited to regulating commerce among the states, the Federal government has since wielded its power unconstitutionally over almost all things arguably deemed to affect the economy.  Those who would now eliminate our right to free political speech have apparently concluded that there is sufficient public support for their efforts to enable them to utilize the debate over the resolution as an election year gimmick to compete for votes, to create a spring board for a groundswell of popular support, or both.

Regardless of their motive, it is clear that the disregard many of our elected representatives have for the Constitution, for it’s limitations on their powers and for the protocols it establishes to ensure that the Constitution can only be amended at the will of the sovereign people is at least as problematic as it has ever been.  That 48 out of 100 U.S. Senators would support a measure to obliterate the First Amendment is a sad commentary on the status of our leadership, the level of accountability demanded by the citizenry and the diminishing measure of importance we the people place on limiting the authority of our government over us and on maintaining our popular sovereignty.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Engineering False Pricing Pressures In Healthcare

I recently heard a representative of a non-profit organization committed to stemming the rising cost of healthcare interviewed on a local public radio program.  She said that her organization has launched a state wide program which is patterned after a national initiative implemented by the American Board of Internal Medicine Foundation.  The goal of the program is to ensure that health care providers are providing necessary treatments and therapies efficiently and only as actually needed.  During the interview, she gave an example of the type of activity and interaction the program is designed to achieve.  Paraphrasing, she said that “if a doctor orders a test or some treatment, we want the patient to inquire whether this is really the best thing to do or should I just wait to see if it gets better on its own”.  Because her comment was “off the cuff” and not well measured, we should not take it literally.  I don’t imagine the primary focus of this program is to induce patients to question their doctor’s judgment with respect to every test or therapy the physician might prescribe.

What is interesting isn’t the program or its specific focus but the underlying truth her comments reveal.  Because our healthcare is generally paid for by employer or government provided “insurance”, the end users (the patients) have had little incentive to monitor the price of medical care.  As a result, the role of prices in determining demand is muted.  The consumer of healthcare is not as directly interested in the price of his treatment because he does not directly pay it.  In a free market, higher prices result in lower demand which in turn keeps prices in check.  When the healthcare consumer doesn’t pay for the healthcare he receives, his demand is not nearly as affected by increasing prices.  As prices go up, his demand does not decrease as it normally would.

The program discussed by the representative of the local non-profit apparently seeks to redress the problem by artificially inducing consumers to act as though they have the same interest in health care pricing as they would if they paid for it directly.  It is hoped that sufficient numbers of patients can be coached to act like paying consumers so as to reintroduce the effect of diminishing demand into the economic equation.  Though this is no doubt a well intentioned effort, it ignores human nature and history.  We know from the communist experiment that individuals cannot be prodded en masse to act in the “best interest of the collective”, at least not for long.  Ultimately, the vast majority of individuals are rational economic actors, which means that they act in accord with their own perceived best interests.  For this reason, the percentage of people who can ever be expected to pressure their doctors about the real need for suggested therapies pales in comparison to the number of individuals who will do so when they are actually responsible to pay for the therapy out of their own pockets.  Even at that, the few who are initially willing to question their doctors in this fashion will lose the initiative to do so going forward.

Try as we have, mankind has not been able to efficiently plan a route around human nature.  Government restraint and coercion gives rise to unintended consequences.  In this case restraint and coercion in the form of redistributing and regulating health care gives rise to the unintended consequence of inflexible demand for healthcare which in turn gives rise to higher and higher prices.  Asking and expecting the citizenry to act in contradiction to their nature is not the answer to the problem.  The answer to the problem is a return to the free market, the natural state of society in which human nature flourishes.

The Larger Lesson To Be Learned From The GSA’s “Art In Architecture” Program

On her September 8 show, Greta Van Susteren was dismayed over the fact that the federal government is going to spend about a half of a million dollars on art work for an upgrade project to the border crossing for the San Diego –Tijuana region.  You can read the text of her justified rant here.  The overall project is to cost $735 million and it seems the General Services Administration allocates one half of one percent of construction projects to “art work” pursuant to the GSA’s “art in architecture” program.  In short, Greta is incensed by the fact that this is the same crossing where Sergeant Tahmooressi made a wrong turn and ended up in Mexico.   Greta asks rhetorically why the government wouldn’t spend that money on improving the road signage so people stop making wrong turns into Mexico.

Her frustration is justified because it is unjust for the federal government to tax American citizens or borrow from future generations to purchase artwork for anything, not because the government failed to improve the road signage.  If the GSA spends one half of a percent of every construction project on “art in architecture”, how many millions of taxed or borrowed taxpayer dollars are spent on art overall?  Worse, the big picture implications are far more severe.

We are often incensed at relatively small and insignificant injustices that are tangible but seem oblivious to larger problems that are less obvious.  The purchase of $500,000 worth of art for a border crossing is a specific, tangible, actual event we can all appreciate and evaluate on its own merits.  It is relatively easy for us to size up this issue and make a human judgment that it is wasteful and improper to tax citizens or borrow from future generations to spend money on something as frivolous as art for a border crossing.  It’s harder to consider the implications of such waste and inefficiency on a grander scale.

Here we have one, certain isolated event—the GSA is spending $500,000 on art for a border crossing.  We also have a slightly less specific, but far further reaching and equally certain series of events—the GSA spends one half of one percent of every construction project on art.  Certainly, the magnitude of the GSA’s spending on art dwarfs the $500,000 to be spent on the border crossing.  More broadly, we have hundreds of government programs spending taxed or borrowed money on tens of thousands of different expenditures.  We can not begin to know much less evaluate each agency, each program or each expenditure.  Despite the certain, isolated examples of government waste and inefficiency we see on a daily basis, we too often ignore the larger implications.  Somehow many among us remain convinced that government can do a better, more efficient job than the free market in providing services we need or desire.

Individual citizens do not have the wherewithal to conduct the exhaustive research of a well funded political think tank or a major university.  But individual citizens can think for themselves.  If a parent has a child that mismanages his own money by spending it wildly and regularly misplacing or losing it, that parent would not be inclined to trust that child with taking charge of the family bank account and paying the mortgage and the other monthly bills.  Yet that is exactly what we do as a society when we give a wasteful, inefficient government control over more and greater aspects of our lives and well being.

Too many of us trust in the promise of the good that government might do if given the opportunity but close our eyes to our actual experience. Our actual experience is that the free market delivers goods and services extremely efficiently and progress in the improvement of those goods and services is swift and consistent.  Our actual experience is that the government delivers services expensively and wastefully and progress in the improvement of those services is slow or nonexistent.  Let us be frustrated with the $500,000 to be spent on art for a border crossing, but let us be frustrated for the right reasons.  It is but one of thousands of examples of our misplaced reliance on government.

The Common Core Debate’s Implications For A Return To Constitutionalism.

The grass roots effort to defeat the Common Core might be interpreted by many as a sign of hope.  In an age when federal overreach is routine and the centralization of governmental authority in Washington is widely accepted or even welcomed by the States, the media and a great portion of the citizenry, a proponent of decentralized government and constitutionalism might find the opposition to the Common Core a welcome reason for optimism.  Perhaps not since the advent of the Tea Party movement has there been an issue that coalesced individuals in a cause against centralized government on such a wide spread basis.

To be sure, the reasons for the movement against the Common Core are many.  Not all are motivated by concern over the potential for the centralization of education in Washington or the potential loss of local control over curricula.  Some are motivated by concern over the testing protocol, others by the collection and consolidation of personal information and privacy issues implicated thereby and still others by the perceived lack of rigor embodied in the standards. But it is clear that the “federalization” of education is among the primary concerns giving cause for the movement. For this reason, constitutionalists might be heard to breathe a sigh of relief.  Sadly, further reflection leads me to conclude the opposite—the grass roots movement to defeat the Common Core illustrates the magnitude of the centralization problem and the revelation is disheartening.

One would have a difficult time identifying an issue that could be more important to people than education.  The public apathy for political issues is widespread and obvious, but Americans still love their children and grandchildren and we still go to great lengths to plan their futures for the best and to manage their lives while they remain under our care.  During the debate over the Affordable Care Act, it occurred to me on many occasions that there are not many issues more personal and thus, of greater importance than health care.  It seems to me that maintaining the ability to influence public education is one such issue.

Unfortunately, the debate over the ACA became bogged down in the minutia over the efficacy and costs of the plan.  Rather than focus on the free market and constitutional principles involved and the implications for human liberty, the debate was too much based on the pragmatic; would the ACA improve healthcare, how much would it cost, and how would it be paid for.  Happily, it does seem that the debate over the Common Core may be developing somewhat more of a focus on the fundamental principles involved.  Certainly the proponents of Common Core would be happy if the debate could be made to focus on pragmatic issues.  Arguing about the supposed benefits of nationwide standards or a technical debate over the details of the standards themselves would suit their purpose.  If the debate can be made to be technical and obscure they know that most eyes will glaze over and they’ll be far more likely to get the result they want—people leave it to others to figure out the best approach and bow out of the debate.  As long as a substantial focus of the debate remains on the ability to affect decision making at the local level, the grass roots is more likely to remain interested and engaged.

For today, my sad point is this: If it is this difficult to gain sufficient widespread support to defeat Common Core, an issue which implicates our ability to influence and affect our children’s education, how far removed must we be from an age where constitutionalism and widely dispersed government are generally appreciated and ultimately demanded?  If Americans will not “wake up” in sufficient numbers to protect the free market in health care or demand a continued say in the education of their children, what will be required to awaken them to all the other benefits of constitutionalism?  The decades long trend of diminishing State sovereignty and federalism in favor of growing and centralized power in Washington must be broken if we are to enjoy the larger liberty, free markets and individual role in self government contemplated by the founders. That it is so difficult and effortful to engage sufficient numbers of Americans in the effort to ensure the continued local control of public education does not bode well for breaking that trend without some larger, likely terrible eventuality to trigger a national introspection on the slow decay of our first principles.

Current Events and Timeless Ideas Pertaining to the Societal Benefits of Liberty and the Rule of Law and the Social Destruction Occasioned By Restraint, Coercion and Cronyism

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