Archive for September, 2010

25
Sep

The Founding Fathers and the Tea Party

   Posted by: Robert    in News, Philosophy

It looks like the allegiance between the Tea Party and the founders is paying some tangible dividends.  New York Times op-ed contributor Ron Chernow has published a thoroughly incoherent column which purports to pit the Founders against the Tea Party and prove that the advocates for limited government have no special purchase on the people who created that limited government in the first place.  Unfortunately for Ron, his article fails to accomplish that task even by its own terms, nevermind the clear history which would place any one of the Founders, if not in the Tea Party, at least decidedly against President Obama and the liberal Democrats in Congress.

The essence of the author’s argument is that the Founders, far from being a homogeneous group, were a bunch of politicians with a variety of different ideas for how the newly formed nation should be governed.  And certainly, to the extent that that’s his argument, it’s true.  The Constitution itself is a document filled with compromises, most famously the 3/5 compromise on slaves and the large state / small state compromise which led to the level of representation in the House and Senate.  Indeed, even after the delegates had completed their work, the Constitution remained controversial.  This led to the Constitution being assailed in the Antifederalist papers, defended in the Federalist papers, with even more compromise brought thereafter with the drafting and passage of the Bill of Rights.

As the author himself acknowledges, “the founders favored limited government … but they clashed sharply over those limits.”  Notably, the primary argument had nothing to do with the further expansion of federal power.  In general, the Federalists said that the Constitution gives the national government just the right amount of power.  Their opponents, the Antifederalists, warned that the Constitution gave the national government too much.  As the Tea Party fights to get today’s national government back within Constitutional bounds, what they are really fighting to accomplish is to get our national government back in line with the founding era’s liberal view of national power.

Today, of course, the debate has shifted.  Liberals in Congress and President Obama actively champion by their actions a government with no meaningful limits at all.  Indeed, even those limits which should seem insurmountable — the express limits imposed by the Bill of Rights — are being actively undercut by Washington liberals.  Even conservatives are generally unwilling to look past the New Deal’s reallocation of power from the people and the states to the national government; fighting to return us not to the Founders’ vision of America, but to the immediate aftermath of FDR.  There is simply no comparison between today’s politics and the founding era; even King George III would be hard pressed to affect the daily lives of his people the way President Obama is able to affect ours.

In the end, the author concludes that “[n]o single group should ever presume to claim special ownership of the founding fathers or the Constitution they wrought.”  This statement, though somewhat true, is mostly meaningless.  It’s true that no particular group has special ownership of the Founders’ ideals; such ideals, after all, are (theoretically) the birthright of every American.  But it is false to imply, as the author clearly intends, that any group may validly lay claim those ideals.

Today’s liberal Democrats adhere to no ideology but their own — an ideology which seeks to forever destroy the balance of power the Founders once worked so hard and so carefully to establish.

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23
Sep

The Republican Pledge

   Posted by: Robert    in News

It’s been big news in political circles today that the Republicans have released their Pledge to America for what they are going to do when they regain power in November.  Like the Contract with America that came before it, today’s Pledge has a lot of stuff in it that looks like it’s probably about right on.  Like the Contract that came before it, it’s an open question how much the GOP will actually adhere to the Pledge once they actually get back in power.  As a statement of intentions, however, it strikes me as being generally acceptable.  Unfortunately, to me, it seems to leave out two rather important things.

First, and most importantly, is the fact that we already have a pledge to America, and a contract with America as well.  Both documents are one in the same.  We normally call them the Constitution.  Our first and still most important contract between this government and the people it governs seems featured in the Pledge only in the corners and around the fringes, which is a rather disappointing role for the document that is the guiding implementation of American democracy.  I would have liked to see the Constitution feature more prominently, if for no other reason than to help the Republicans make the case that, this time around, they believe in Constitutional fidelity.

Moving in a similar vein, I also had a rather hard time seeing much principle behind the document.  Most of the document seems to focus on undoing the things that Obama and the liberal Democrats have done to us in the past two years.  While that is both good and important, I really didn’t feel much in the way of a true vision for America.  The lack of vision and lack of principle do not inspire in me much confidence that, when it comes time for Republicans to govern, they will stand by their Pledge.

As an exercise in setting a legislative agenda, I’d say the Pledge manages to get that job done well enough.  But as a tool for motivating the conservative base, attracting reluctant Republicans, or inspiring a nation, the Pledge most certainly falls flat on its face.  The Pledge, at over 20 pages, is also disturbingly long to the point that the length tends to dilute the message.

Overall, it’s certainly nothing that I would have written; but if the Republicans, current and future, adhere to it, then I certainly won’t complain.

12
Sep

Terrorism and 9/11: America on the Defensive

   Posted by: Robert    in News, Philosophy, Politics

As the weekend of September 11 draws to a close, it wraps up a week of news coverage reminding us of where we stand as a nation with respect to the enemy that made itself impossible to miss nine years ago.  The results, it seems, have not been pretty.  Aside from the fact that America is still a defender of Israel and the fact that we still exist at all — though, not to worry, the President is working on solving both of those problems as we speak — the terrorists seem to have done pretty well for themselves.  Americans today have fewer liberties than ever, with freedoms taken from us by conservatives and liberals alike, all in the name of national defense.  Our troops are embroiled in a war in Afghanistan, the terrorists’ home turf, under the guidance of a Commander in Chief that says quite strongly by his actions that their fight is little to him but a political distraction.  But the two biggest stories this week tell a story of American weakness and fear which should be music to the ears of the Radical Islamists who seek to do us harm.

The stories of the week about the Muslim world have undoubtedly been the Florida preacher who was for Koran burning before he was against it, and the ongoing saga of the Ground Zero Mosque.  Right from the start, the preacher was attacked by the operatives of the media with story after maligning story about how he shouldn’t be doing what he wanted to do.  A common refrain started by the media was that the act of burning a Koran would be inflammatory to Muslims, and play into the hands of the radicals that seek to do America harm.  This sentiment was picked up by General Petraeus, warning that it might intensify the danger to our troops overseas, which was all that it took to bring the conservative media on-board with the message.  And then, today, I see that the imam who wants to build the Ground Zero Mosque has added not upsetting terrorists to the list of reasons why he can’t possibly build on another location.  If the General says that moving the mosque will hurt our troops, will that make the conservatives upset by the planned location sit down?

At bottom, we know that the imam is only using that excuse because he knows that it works.  Both at home and abroad, Americans are portrayed as being deathly afraid of upsetting anyone in the Muslim world.  We’re warned repeatedly by the President and others that being anything less than respectful Muslims endangers everyone.  After all, we all know that when terrorists get mad, they shoot people, stab people, blow up civilians, or fly planes into buildings; nevermind that they’d be doing those things anyway.  Be afraid, is the message.  Be afraid to fly on airplanes; be afraid that someone might have a bomb in their shoe, be so afraid that we submit ourselves to high tech full body scans just to go from point A to point B.  Be afraid of showing your outrage against the outrageous; don’t call out Islamic haters for being hateful, don’t burn their Koran even as they burn your flag and Bible, don’t question that mosque being built on Ground Zero.  If you do, then they are going to come after you, and your family, and your neighbors, and the country, and the troops, and so on until someone meaningful enough to you turns up, that you’ll be told terrorists will kill, to make you stop doing whatever it is that you wanted to do.

Terrorists fight by instilling fear.  Their goal is to make their enemies so afraid of the consequences of stepping out of line that they will do whatever the terrorists want.

Radical Islam need not conquer us from without; they win when Americans become too afraid to live free.  This week brought us proof that such fear is palpable and strong enough to have a real effect on our behavior.  We are, increasingly, a people at war with ourselves, with our morality, and with our sense of right and wrong.  We’ve allowed ourselves to give up some freedoms, and find ourselves now being asked to surrender even more, all in the hope that the terrorists might calm down.  But they won’t calm down.  Why would they?  They’re winning.

And scoring their biggest victories without even firing a shot.

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12
Sep

Flood Insurance: Helping People Who Get Soaked?

   Posted by: Robert    in News

Making its way around the fringes of the news this weekend is a quiet move by the federal government to begin drawing in additional dollars to the federal treasury.  In technical terms it’s not a tax increase, although the bottom line effect is the same.  The federal government is poised to demand more money from tens to hundreds of thousands of people.  The key to this trick is an interaction between FEMA and the federal flood insurance program which is played subtly, but which has a real effect on the bank accounts of everyday Americans.

The federal flood insurance program is exactly what its name sounds like: A program by the federal government to provide flood insurance to homeowners who choose to live in areas of likely flooding.  The federal government provides this service because no private insurer in their right mind would ever want to.  Like most insurance programs, people insured by the program are required to pay premiums to their insurer (in this case, the federal government) for the privilege of having insurance.  Unlike most insurance programs, however, people are required by law to buy in if they live in a flood zone and have a mortgage backed by the federal government.  As you might imagine, there are a lot of mortgages which fit that description.

FEMA gets involved because they are the government agency which is responsible for determining what counts as a flood zone in the United States.  They do this by making maps.  The FEMA maps take into account several features which affect whether or not a location is likely to be flooded and group those findings into zones.  FEMA is currently in the process of updating many of their national flood zone maps.

One of the features which affects an area’s classification is the protection afforded by levees.  Areas which may otherwise be at high risk of flooding may have that risk reduced if they are sufficiently protected.  Making that decision is, of course, FEMA’s job, and FEMA has not been kind to levees during their latest round of map making.  The result is that a number of areas now find themselves with a potentially large increase in flood insurance premiums.

Of course, the story isn’t complete without mentioning one other agency of the federal government, the one responsible for maintaining the levees: The Army Corps of Engineers.  Under their current funding process, getting repairs done within the next few decades is a questionable proposition at best, leaving many communities rather the opposite of high and dry.  Many are now faced with the uncomfortable decision of doing the federal government’s job for them (provided they don’t get sued for trying), or feeding the federal wealth destruction machine.

Either way, the federal government has two basic choices: Spend money to solve a problem, or make money by not solving it.  Easy.