Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

Political Philosophy

A Republican Form of Government

Noting that "progressives have long lamented the fact that the Framers designed a Constitution replete with impediments to federal government activism," the eminent George Will reveals the latest twist of logic by which Colorado liberals are attempting to use the Constitution as an impediment to popular referendums (which would otherwise limit the power of the ruling classes in state legislatures).

Sextion IV, Article IV of the U.S. Constitution reads: "The United States shall guarantee to every State in this Union a Republican Form of Government."

The folks in Colorado argue (tellingly, before an unelected judiciary) that a Colorado initiative limiting the legislature's license to raise taxes (the progressive's golden calf) denies the state a republican form of government. That is, only elected bureaucrats can craft laws - not the people themselves. While direct democracy has many flaws (and was hence rejected by the Framers as an insecure means of safeguarding liberty), its outright prohibition is a novel reading of the Guarantee Clause. Without delving into the history of the clause, I deeply suspect this reading is flawed.

Politically, however, liberals continue to reveal the surprising degree to which they are willing to oppose the people and popular government in favor of a ruling class. On an elementary level, the left - with all of its liberal ideologies of radical freedom, individuality and nonconformity - is incredibly devoted to the system, bureaucratic institutions and ever-expanding government.


Thoughts on Inequality

The ongoing economic doldrums, as well as the "occupation" of various U.S. cities in recent weeks, have focused the attention of many on inequality--not the sort, mind you, that the Founders worried about (equality of opportunity, equality before the law), but rather equality of outcome, specifically equality of wealth. A chart appeared recently on the Daily Kos, and quickly went viral on Facebook, purporting to show that the average CEO is paid 475 times what the average worker is paid in the United States.  It turns out that the statistic is untrue, although it's unclear what the real figure is.  The Economic Policy Institute puts the ratio at 185:1, while the Institute for Policy Studies has it at 325:1. 

Either way, it is clear that the ratio has been getting smaller over the years.  Even according to the IPS numbers, CEOs made 475 times what workers did in 1999-2000.  Of course, during those years unemployment fell below 4 percent for the first time since the early 1960s, and U.S. median income reached an all-time high, so this was hardly a period out of Charles Dickens.  Moreover, those who see a connection between tax policy and inequality should recall that this occurred when taxes on the wealthy were considerably higher than they are today.  (Of course, this is something which supply-siders must take into account when claiming that higher taxes are inconsistent with economic health.)

Meanwhile, my old graduate school friend John Gurney over at econscius has been looking at inequality on a state-by-state basis.  It turns out that the largest inequalities exist in the District of Columbia, New York, and Connecticut--all places where Democrats (indeed, liberal Democrats) have been running the show for a long time.  By contrast, the three states with the least inequality are the GOP strongholds of Alaska, Utah, and Wyoming.  Some other findings:

There is no statistical correlation between levels of inequality and whether a state has a "Right to Work" law.

There is a loose correlation between median income and inequality.  The wealthier the people of a state are on average, the more inequality there is.

There is also a loose correlation between income tax levels and inequality.  States with higher income taxes actually have greater inequality.  Note that this does not take into account property taxes, which are notoriously regressive.
Categories > Economy

Political Philosophy

Illegal Declaration?

Last Tuesday at Philadelphia's Ben Franklin Hall (a more suitable venue is difficult to imagine), British barristers sparred with American lawyers over the legality of the American colonists' Declaration of Independence.

The American's invoked natural law and the consent of the people. "The English had used their own Declaration of Rights to depose James II and these acts were deemed completely lawful and justified." Indeed, self-determination is now reflected in the fundamental rights of the UN Charter.

The British case recalled the historic lawlessness and fecklessness of the secession. "There is no legal principle then or now to allow a group of citizens to establish their own laws because they want to. What if Texas decided today it wanted to secede from the Union?" Denigrating "no taxation without representation" as little more than a wish to avoid paying their due share for the protection of the empire during the French and Indian War, the barristers listed the grievances in the Declaration as "too trivial to justify secession."

I believe it was Gordon Wood, clarifying Jefferson's supposed sufferance of "a long train of abuses and usurpations," who observed that never in the course of human history had men revolted over such slight actual harms. The empty and retreating declaration by the British Parliament that they had the power to rule over the colonies "in all cases whatsoever" was the sort of injury to which the Americans mainly revolted. Abuses of principle. Usurpations of ideas.

Of course, it is the jealous love of these principles and ideas which enabled to new nation to survive and prosper (contrary to the flawed recipe of the French Revolution, for example). Yet these grievances are not the sort for which the U.S. or NATO would now intervene on behalf of a restless people in a foreign land.

The British even slyly invoked the authority of Lincoln as they diminished the authority of "the laws of nature" and, by extension, of "nature's God."

Lincoln made the case against secession and he was right. The Declaration of Independence itself, in the absence of any recognised legal basis, had to appeal to "natural law", an undefined concept, and to "self-evident truths", that is to say truths for which no evidence could be provided.

It is noteworthy that the British attempt to reduce the American argument to a religious dogma. While the spirit of the revolution was democratic and the mode was legalistic, the foundation rested upon a sense of Providence. Interestingly, the British do not seem compelled to address this third leg of the revolution.

There are many compelling and legitimate arguments by which to address the question at hand - and most are well worth serious contemplation.  

Foreign Affairs

The Mad Dog is Dead

With his final stronghold in Libya falling to rebel forces, long-time dictator Moammar Gaddafi has been killed. There are a great many conflicting reports as to the details of his death and confusion as to how it happened, but at the moment the most-reported story is that he was found in a hole shortly after a firefight and either died of wounds suffered during the shooting or was shot shortly after being captured. The tyrant met a tyrant's death. It is good that he is gone and that he will no longer be able to menace his people. Now it falls on the Libyan people to use their newfound freedom from Gaddafi in order to right his wrongs and bring peace, stability, and a respect for human rights to their nation. I doubt that the civil war is completely over--Gaddafi's tribe and family are still antagonistic to the new government--but the worst of it is probably over, and now the political fight begins. As Libya struggles to rebuild itself after decades of tyranny and months of war, Congress would do well to keep a check on any desire on the part of President Obama to send in advisors or peacekeepers, should such a desire arise. Good luck to the Libyan people, and good riddance to Gaddafi.
Categories > Foreign Affairs


Revisiting Harry Truman's 1948 Campaign

Regarded as one of the great populist campaigns of American history, Truman's 1948 whistle-stop tours showed millions of Americans a common man battling for the rights of other common men.  But Truman, like FDR (especially in his 1944 SOTU address--see 6th paragraph from the end) was willing to denounce Republicans in the most strident terms, far meaner than what we see today (other than in lefty blogs), at least so far.  Here's a sample, from his October 25, Chicago speech:

We must not imagine, just because we love freedom, that freedom is safe--that our freedom is safe. Eternal vigilance is still the price of liberty.

Other people have also loved freedom, but have lost their liberty with tragic suddenness.

It happened in Italy 25 years ago. It happened in Germany 15 years ago. It happened in Czechoslovakia just a few months ago. And it could happen here.

I know that it is hard for Americans to admit this danger. American democracy has very deep roots. But, if the antidemocratic forces in this country continue to work unchecked, this Nation could awaken a few years from now to find that the Bill of Rights had become a scrap of paper.

My friends, that must never happen! Look back over history, and you will find that wherever ruthless men have destroyed liberty and human rights, certain economic and social forces had paved the way for them.

What are these forces that threaten our way of life? Who are the men behind them? They are the men who want to see inflation continue unchecked. They are the men who are striving to concentrate great economic power in their own hands. They are the men who are setting up and stirring up racial and religious prejudice against some of our fellow Americans.

I propose to state in simple, unmistakable language, just exactly how each of these three groups of men--working through the Republican Party, if you please--is a serious threat to the future welfare of this great Nation.

And it gets better, with references to the big businessmen behind Hitler and the other fascists and charges of racial and religious prejudice.  Watch out, whoever gets the Republican nomination for a Truman-style campaign.

Categories > Presidency


American Civil War Charlie Sheen Bonus Round

Here's my vote for the most creative midterm exam ever, from my friend Nick Proctor at Simpson College:

For my American Civil War midterm, the extra credit was a set of Charlie Sheen quotations. Students could match up to ten of them to appropriate Civil War leaders in particular circumstances. They then had to provide a brief explanation for each match. So, for example, a good answer for #10 would be: "Grant after the fall of Forts Henry and Donalson." Similarly, a good answer for #5 could be "Forrest while raiding in central Tennessee."

  1. I will deploy my ordinance to the ground.
  2. I don't sleep; I wait.
  3. "Can't" is the cancer of "happen."
  4. I'm a high priest Vatican warlock.
  5. I have one speed; I have one gear: GO!
  6. They're the best at what they do. I'm the best at what I do, and it is ON!
  7. I think my passion is misinterpreted as anger sometimes. And I don't think people are ready for the message that I'm delivering, and delivering with a sense of violent love.
  8. I'm here and I'm ready. They're not. Bring it.
  9. That we are to stand by the President right or wrong is not only unpatriotic and servile, but is morally treasonable to the American public.
  10. I'm bi-winning. I win here. I win there.
  11. Life comes down to a few moments. This is one of them.
  12. Boom, crush. Night, losers. Winning, duh.
  13. Fame is empowering. My mistake was that I thought I would instinctively know how to handle it. But there's no manual, no training course.
  14. Here's the good news. If I realize that I'm insane, then I'm okay with it. I'm not dangerous insane.
  15. I have defeated this earthworm with my words. Imagine what I would have done with my fire breathing fists.
I invite NLT contributors to add their favorite pairings in the Comments section.

Categories > History


Forget Wall Street--Occupy DC!

It turns out that the "malefactors of great wealth" aren't to be found on Wall Street, or even in Silicon Valley, but rather in the nation's capital. Given the role of federal corporations such as Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac in bringing on the housing collapse, I would suggest that protesters converge on Washington instead.
Categories > Politics

Foreign Affairs

Russian Reset and Reform

The Russian Federation does not wield the type of tremendous power and influence in world affairs that its predecessor, the Soviet Union, held. It has not been able to keep up with the rapid economic advancements of the West, China, India, Japan, and Brazil. It has found itself increasingly vulnerable, and has lashed out sometimes to try and reassert itself--the most blatant incident being the invasion of Georgia a few years ago. Nonetheless, though its infrastructure is decaying and economy looking even more hopeless than ours in the near future, Russia remains a massively important country, not least because it is still the only country on the planet that poses an existential threat to the United States--Russia alone maintains the firepower necessary to destroy us. Additionally, the borders it shares with foreign countries, its veto-wielding seat on the UN Security Council, and the reserves of resources that it sits on and sells to Europe make it important. Thus, while many outside of Eastern Europe have seen fit to sort of discount Russia and just led it slide along its merry way to decline, we ought to be focusing a great deal on our former adversaries and what is happening within their borders.

The United States Senate is currently in the process of confirming National Security Council Senior Director Michael McFaul, a professor at Stanford and fellow at the Hoover Institution, to become our next Ambassador to Russia. McFaul is a brilliant mind who knows more about Russia than most people, already has a good working relationship with President Obama, and maintains a tremendous commitment to the promotion of liberty and human rights. It is no small thing that we are placing a smart man with such a commitment in this position at the same time that Vladimir Putin is planning to return to the Presidency of Russia after a few years of puppeteering from the office of the Prime Minister. It is also worthy of note that McFaul is not a career diplomat; if confirmed--and he ought to be confirmed--then he will be only the second American in over 30 years to hold the position and not be elevated from the ranks of the U.S. Foreign Service (the other one was Democratic politician Bob Strauss, appointed by Bush Sr. to the post when the Soviet Union was collapsing). While not a perfect candidate (the New START Treaty, which he played a part in, is bad news for U.S. national security interests), he understands Russia and should, if allowed by his superiors, know how to handle Russia in this time of transition in a way that supports our interests.

Russia is a country that is at once declining and empowered. As Putin continues to tighten his grip over his country, things will continue to get worse. President Obama has lauded his "reset" policy with Russia, seemingly intent on embracing the inevitability of Putinism and the stability it may bring to Russia. However, autocracy breeds discontent, and when that is coupled with economic misery, we get something more like the Arab Spring rather than stability. Russia wields a tremendous amount of influence in our geopolitical strategy; we could use their help with Iran, subsaharan Africa, and China. We need to give our friends in Eastern Europe assurance that they do not need to fear their great neighbor. To do that, though, Russia needs true reform. America is in a position to try and exert pressure--both economic and moral--on Russia in an attempt to combat the solidification of Putin's cronyism and corruption. McFaul is the type of man capable of understanding how best to do that, and both the interests of the United States and Russia would be better served if the hand-wringers in Foggy Bottom and the White House let him work towards such a goal. Russia, for centuries trapped under the yoke of one form of oppression or another, is still capable of fixing itself and embracing true democratic reform--it may just need a little prodding to get moving along.
Categories > Foreign Affairs


Pavlov on Times Square

How the New York Times's new Edatrix operates:

She planned to apply in the newsroom some of the "positive training" that she lavished on Scout. She and her husband, she writes in her book, used "encouragement, not punishment" to train Scout, rewarding her for good behavior with a piece of kibble. "In one's relationship with dogs and with a newsroom, a generous amount of praise and encouragement goes much better than criticism," she says.

Categories > Journalism

Foreign Affairs

Obama, Limbaugh, and the LRA

President Obama has dispatched 132 U.S. Special Forces to the central African nation of Uganda in order to help combat the Lord's Resistance Army and bring its commander, cult leader Joseph Kony, to justice. While Ugandan, American, and other international efforts have been made to stop Kony before, now is likely the best opportunity to do so as he will have a much harder time retreating to safety in Sudan with the newly-independent Republic of South Sudan adopting a more anti-LRA stance. The United States Congress has passed bills with bipartisan majorities seeking to weaken the Lord's Resistance Army; the most recent one, authored by former Senator Feingold and co-sponsored by 64 others, passed in 2009 with the unanimous consent of the Senate and a simple voice vote in the House. The bill called for the United States to use military, intelligence, diplomatic, and development tools in order to combat the LRA and protect civilians. However, to be clear, it did not authorize the use of force. So long as these soldiers that President Obama sent to Uganda are not actively taking part in combat operations, he is in the clear for doing this. If he does wish to engage in combat operations--which would be unwise given our problems in the Middle East and a looming issue with Iran--he must get authorization from Congress. Given the fact that most of Congress has for long been in favor of stopping these brutal murderers, I foresee support if he can come to them with a clear, coherent, and comprehensive plan of action.

On this same subject, I can not help but draw attention to the recent words of radio host Rush Limbaugh. Attempting only to take any type of opportunity that he can to disagree with the president, Limbaugh declared that the Lord's Resistance Army was a good Christian organization dedicated to fighting tyranny and that we are thus wrong to be taking action against them. The radio host has said foolish things before, but this is a step way too far, and after some Googling during his show he apparently seemed to slowly step away from his comments--he ought to apologize for even making them. The Lord's Resistance Army is a cruel and inhuman terrorist organization that brutalizes men, women, and children. Joseph Kony is one of the most vile men to walk the planet, and it will be a good day for the human race when he is finally brought to justice for the evil he has committed. My stepmother and some family friends traveled to Uganda as part of a film crew a few years ago to get the stories of some of the former child soldiers who had escaped Kony's captivity. The Lord's Resistance Army will go into homes, torture and kill the adults, and then abduct the children. The boys are given guns and forced to go kill their families and neighbors; the girls are raped and prostituted. Their preferred method of killing civilians is tying them to trees and then hacking at their bodies with machetes or crushing their skulls with axes. These are not Christian men. They are not good men. They are not even men. They are depraved butchers and rapists. Disagree all you want with the prudence of going after the Lord's Resistance Army, disagree with President Obama having the authority to do this, disagree with the United States getting involved in anything abroad, but do not give Joseph Kony and his ilk any inkling of legitimacy or support. Shame on those who do.
Categories > Foreign Affairs


Unitarian Taft, Mormon Romney

A note to my post below.  President William Howard Taft was a Unitarian, who disclosed that he "did not believe in the divinity of Christ."  He was a moderate Progressive (versus the committed TR and Woodrow Wilson) and not a bad Chief Justice.  William Jennings Bryan, the Democrat nominee in 1908, did object.  It seems likely that the Christian fervor of TR's 1912 campaign ("Onward, Christian Soldiers" was a campaign song) was directed against Taft's faith.  

Besides other Unitarian presidents (the Adamses), Vice President John C. Calhoun was also of this church.  Again, the real measure of loyalty to basic American principles is understanding of and adherence to the Declaration of Independence.

Categories > Religion


Washington's Convictions and Ours Today

From Robert Middlekauff's The Glorious Cause, vol. II of the Oxford History of the United States:  Facing a "cruel test," Washington was sustained through the Revolution by

at least two profound convictions.  The first was that he was the instrument of Providence in the struggle....  The other belief approached passion--a love of what Washington called the "glorious cause," the defense of the liberties of Americans.  (p. 296)

Of course not everyone who claims divine inspiration may be discerning or even truthful, but convictions about God's will have been honorable motives for public service from our origins as a nation.  Should such a self-examination be less essential today?  Or must sociological circumstances or mere personal self-aggrandizement determine our political leadership? 

The objective test of course is whether a candidate's views comport with those of the Declaration of Independence.  Private revelations are quite subordinate to that overriding consideration.  Might candidates who court the Tea Party actually use the wisdom of our founding period in contemporary debates?

Categories > Politics