Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns


We Like Ike

From the President's SOTU:

So tonight, I am proposing that starting this year, we freeze annual domestic spending for the next five years. This would reduce the deficit by more than $400 billion over the next decade, and will bring discretionary spending to the lowest share of our economy since Dwight Eisenhower was president.

The GOP House should use the Ike standard (Obama wants to be FDR's Ike, preserving his neo-New Deal) to eliminate all federal agencies since the Ike years that merely provide pass-through money to typically leftish groups  (sorry, NEH).  That would gut Labor, Education, and Transportation (among others), end HUD, and shrink the federal government. 

Paul Ryan gave an effective response (though I am in principle opposed to partisan responses to what should be the President's non-partisan speech).  For a brief statement he expressed the principles of constitutionalism well:

We believe, as our founders did, that "the pursuit of happiness" depends upon individual liberty; and individual liberty requires limited government.


Limited government also means effective government. When government takes on too many tasks, it usually doesn't do any of them very well. It's no coincidence that trust in government is at an all-time low now that the size of government is at an all-time high.

I wonder whether rule of law, constitutional government, or self-government aren't better terms than "limited government."  His point after all is that big, bureaucratic government is ineffective and in fact weak in vital areas (e.g., national security).  Big government violates the rule of law because it doesn't protect the individual rights that are the basis of any legitimacy it might have.

The models for effective speeches explaining crises are FDR's map speech and his fireside chats, especially his speech on banking.  These go to the most elementary level.  (I like the Map Speech, because it makes demands on his audience--"Look at your map," he orders.)

Treppenwitz:  On this "Sputnik moment" talk, keep in mind the disastrous first American satellite attempt following Sputnik.

Categories > Presidency

Discussions - 6 Comments

What a depressing speech, despite (or because of ) having something for everyone. Bow to the Right: we'll spend less. Bow to the Left: we'll spend more. Did the president get dizzy spinning as he was? I felt dizzy at the end, a little sick from it.

Ken: I thought the same thing. The connection between limited government and self-government isn't clear to everyone. It is there, no doubt. But it needs to be stated clearly. I think the term limited government is a product of a post-FDR world, which may have fundamentally changed things, but I don't recall Lincoln ever talking about anything else than self-government.

Owl, I know Lincoln said this in 1854: "The legitimate object of government is to do for a community of people whatever they need to have done, but cannot do, at all, or cannot, so well do, for themselves- in their separate, and individual capacities …public roads and highways, public school, charities, pauperism, orphanage, estates of the deceased, and the machinery of government itself. From this, it appears that if all men were just, there still would be some, though not so much, need of government."

Given that what people can or cannot do for themselves is a changing matter, what people need to have government do will change. One problem with democracy is that the people decide what they need. If the people decide they need a universal, comprehensive system of health care, then where are we?

Kate: Very good points. I think all of them are true. At some point, the people did not think that they needed universal health care, and they didn't. The vicissitudes of political life aside, we need to win the argument over whether we should be aiming for progress or return, in favor of return. That can only be done by demonstrating the superiority of our origins -- which is easily countered in argument by libs who point to slavery, women's rights, etc etc.

It is a tough argument to win because of the appeal of progress. But faith in progress should not be very great if we can in a like manner demonstrate that the greatest hopes of progress rested in the twentieth century. I dunno -- both impulses might even rest in the same individual.

The health care is not all that hard to argue because we have a fully functionaing healthcare system. It's not like trying to spread telelphone lines or railroads across the nation. We have the Cadillac of health care systems. There is nothing like it in the world or in history. That is part of the problem, that we democratically think everyone should be able to afford it because we have it. Paying for it is the problem.

Even most libs don't want to live in a nation wherein government manages everything. They rail over government intrusion as much as any Tea-Party conservative.

Progress is inexorable; how will we progress is an open question. I am hoping we are in the far swing of American politics into authoritarian government and maybe beginning a back-swing into being a nation of responsible individualists again. If the majority of people in America have lost hope of being able to function autonomously in society, then we are democratically doomed and bound by their collective fear. Maybe if we can redfine Progress so that it a progress into liberty instead of a sideways regress into despotic government, then we have a hope.

Apologies for the lack of editing.

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Ken Thomas notes the president's invocation of Eisenhower in last night's SOTU address.  It's worth mentioning Ike's Farewell Address in this context as well.  Last year I wrote a very short piece for the newslet... Read More

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