Liberalism and the Failure to Recognize Human Limitations

1 Comment

2009 Five Presidents, President George W. Bush...

Image by Beverly & Pack via Flickr

Do you remember your mother or father telling you the old saw, “Money doesn’t grow on trees.” You were a child and wanted something your parents could not afford. You may have thrown a fit, but if your parents were responsible, they would not give in in order to teach you a valuable lesson about human limitation. Human beings can only buy as much as their resources allow. Any responsible parent knows that going into unnecessary debt can harm the entire family. A family receives a finite income every year. A family whose income is $50,000 a year should not buy a $40,000 car or a $1,000,000 home.

Businesses also realize that they can overreach–when a business overspends beyond the benefits and loses money, that one failure can sometimes destroy, or at the very least weaken–that business. The same thing is true with local governments and most state governments. California, with its past history of profligate spending, is an important exception–and an important lesson on recognizing that resources have limits.

The federal government has not learned these lessons. George W. Bush began the current spending spree, with the mainstream Republicans in Congress, wanting to gain votes, appropriating the money. When the banking crisis occurred, Mr. Bush and Congress spend billions on a massive bail out. But what Mr. Bush did is child’s play compared to Mr. Obama’s free spending ways. What was billions in debt quickly became trillions, to the point that there seems no end to the massive debt of the United States. China holds us over a more precarious pit than was present in the Bush administration. Problems with the Euro have helped the dollar to survive as a viable currency despite massive supply due to the government printing more money–but eventually supply and demand will catch up with the dollar. The threat of hyperinflation looms over the United States to a greater degree than in any recent decade except the 1970s.

The American people’s desire for a utopia on earth has driven massive spending. Unlike Europe, which spent freely due to people wanting la dolce vita after seven years of brutal war, American’s desire to benefit from government had already begun in the 1930s with the Roosevelt administration‘s rapid expansion of federal programs in response to the Great Depression. Americans, no longer disciplined by hardship and war, turned to government to solve social problems and to provide benefits for the middle class. The idea was that only government had the massive resources to fight poverty (Lyndon Johnson‘s “Great Society“)  and protect the middle class through social security, unemployment insurance, and Medicaid. Now government has been used by Mr. Obama to solve another financial crisis and to expand social welfare benefits. Cuts in defense spending are not nearly enough to make up for massive social programs. Thus the problem of debt is just as unsolvable in the United States as it is in Western Europe. Mother was right–money does not grow on trees–and the worth of money is not guaranteed by the government’s printing more bills.  Currency traders will not ignore economic reality forever. The United States, like Western Europe, will be driven to recognize its limitations if it must be driven kicking and screaming.

Classical liberalism is superior to social democratic liberalism, but it still has an overly optimistic view of human nature and often does not recognize human limitations. Many classical liberals believe that science and the private sector will create an ideal society, and such a belief can clash with economic and other human limitations. Adam Smith believed that a society made up primarily of virtuous people, civilized by Christianity and Western culture, would make the “invisible hand” work. With the breakdown of key virtues such as taking responsibility for one’s behavior and integrity, the capitalist system will be corrupted. Even if it were not corrupted, resources for the well-being of people are finite, not infinite. Science and the market can substitute for God just as much as “the People” substitute for God in Marxism.

The truth is that there is no ideal world that any economic system can make. The world will always be a mixed bag of good and bad. People can do what they can to alleviate the negative and “accentuate the positive” (as my late colleague Parker Wilson used to say). To do so with massive government aid programs or social engineering programs creates programs that almost always fail, and the government spends more money and goes deeper into debt. Because social democratic liberals cannot follow a mother’s or father’s aphorism that “Money does not grow on trees,” the country in which I was born and reared may become unrecognizable sooner rather than later.

The Tea Party–Are they Finally Supporting Cutting Defense Spending?

Leave a comment

U.S. Defense Spending Trends from 2000-2011

Image via Wikipedia

The Tea Party Movement has energized the Republican party and poured new blood into a party that had become corrupt and bloated with country club Republicans and RINOs. However, like many self-styled “conservatives,” they did not seem interested in cutting defense spending. Yet now there are Tea Party leaders who are saying that defense spending should not be off limits in attempts to bring government spending under control. This is a positive development.

The military became bloated during the 1950s as a result of the Cold War. Instead of combating Communism, which would have eventually collapsed under its own inefficiency in the Soviet Union and elsewhere, the Cold War created a vast “military-industrial complex,” to use President Eisenhower‘s words from his 1961 Farewell Address. Not only does a bloated military suck up government spending, it encourages the United States to be involved in unnecessary wars that feed the defense industries with fat profits. Vietnam, the U. S.’s involvement in Bosnia, and Iraq are good examples; some response to Al Qaeda in Afghanistan was necessary, but an approach using smaller special forces units and CIA agents, which was the original CIA plan, probably would have worked better than sending over 100,000 American troops. The more the military-industrial complex is fed by war, the more money it demands, and the more money defense-related companies with government contract make.

In addition, a large standing army is a threat to freedom–deep cuts in defense spending could reduce the military’s size and limit the potential threat to both the sovereignty of the states and to individual Americans. Concentrations of power in large organizations, whether those organizations be big government or big business, is dangerous to freedom–and the combination of big defense industries, big government, and a large standing army, is particularly dangerous. More than just “cutting the fat” out of the defense budget is required to bring defense spending under control–and I wonder if any Tea Party leaders want the deep cuts necessary. Hopefully the fact that some Tea Party leaders are at least open to cutting defense spending will lead to a broader discussion of the need for deeper cuts to control the power of the military-industrial complex.

The Tragic Shooting in Tuscon

Leave a comment

Gabrielle Giffords, Democratic nominee and gen...

Image via Wikipedia

Like most people, I was shocked at the shooting spree in Tuscon that killed six people and wounded many others, including Representative Gabrielle Giffords. I pray for the families of those so brutally murdered and for the recovery of Rep. Giffords and the other people wounded. The shooter, Jared Lee Loughner, is clearly mentally ill; it is almost impossible to predict the behavior of someone so deeply disturbed, and we will probably never know what pushed him over the edge into violence and murder. There has been a great deal of concern expressed that extremes of political rhetoric may have led to this tragedy. This claim goes beyond the evidence, but political debate should be conducted in a rational matter using good arguments rather than ad hominem attacks. Both the right and the left have been guilty in this regard. However, I am not sure that in issues involving politics or religion that debate will ever be conducted without some people making personal attacks. Politics deals with the nature of government and what makes up a good society, something that affects us all. Religion deals with one’s overall view of the world. For many people, religion and politics are part of their very identity, and they feel threatened when their religious and/or political views are attacked. In addition, many people in society have been infected with the postmodern disease of not believing that reason can resolve political issues (and by “reason” I primarily mean “practical reason” in Aristotle’s sense). Distrust of reason only leaves room for emotion–and while emotion is necessary for our survival and is probably necessary for good cognition (as the work of Damasio suggests), emotion tends to go to extremes without the balance of reason. Without reason, all that remains in politics is emotional attacks that quickly degenerate into personal attacks and even into violence. Such a view ends up leading to “might makes right.” That is sophism of the kind Thrasymachus accepted as Plato portrays him in The Republic. Thrasymachus wished to attack people personally, even threatening them physically, to push forward his views. The kind of violence seen in the earlier attacks on Rep. Giffords’ office, or the vandalism of the Rutherford County, Tennessee Republican Party Headquarters (twice) is the result of such an ethic.

Concern about political rhetoric should not be used as an excuse to limit freedom of speech or to cut off debate on controversial issues. Even nasty political rhetoric, as long as it does not involve slander or libel or physical threats, is protected speech. Political debate today is nasty, but is nowhere near as nasty as it was in the nineteenth century. Yes, we should be more civil in political debate. But even those who are uncivil have the right to be uncivil. The terrible tragedy in Arizona should not obscure this fact. Sadly, the sheriff in Tuscon and many in the media have tried to politicize this tragedy or blame specific people or movements for the crime. This is the very kind of political rhetoric that is unhealthy. Ultimately, there is only one person who is guilty of the murders and assaults in Tuscon, and that is Jared Lee Loughner.

The Republican Leadership and “Getting Along”

Leave a comment

Unofficial seal of the United States Congress

Image via Wikipedia

Despite the clear message the majority of voters sent in November that they want government spending controlled and the size of government reduced, the Republican “leadership” insists on continuing the mistakes of the past. They are so concerned to be accepted by the media elites and to “get along” with the Democratic leadership that they have no problem compromising on basic principles. The Tea Party movement attempted to send a message to Congress, but unless the Tea Party freshmen make a stand against the wimpy, weak Republican leadership its electoral victories will come to naught. The recent extension of the Bush tax cuts is a good example. That extension included new spending that further increased the rapidly exploding budget deficit. The Republican leadership seems to have no problem being as eager as the Democrats to sell out the future of the United States for short-term “gains.” When the next Congress is sworn in and convenes, the Republicans had better take the voters seriously–cut government spending (even if Mr. Obama vetos bills) in both domestic and military spending (Republicans must stop being warmongers), reduce the size of government and the number of federal employees, repeal the freedom-denying provisions of the “Patriot Act,” and repeal the parts of the health care bill that entail a massive expansion of federal spending and an increase in size of the federal bureaucracy. The Republicans should not compromise on these issues no matter how much CBS, NBC, MSNBC, and ABC whine about “gridlock” in Congress. The majority of Americans will see through the obvious, open, and fundamentally dishonest bias of the mainstream media and will respect Republicans more for doing the right thing and standing up for the principle of limited government. If the Republican leadership continues the policies of the leadership of the past lame-duck Congress, and if the rest of the Republicans follow suit, they will deserve to lose in the next election–and the nation will deserve a strong third party that is firmly committed to limited government, lower federal spending, and removing the tentacles of the federal bureaucracy from the everyday lives of the American people.

Bush Still Doesn’t Get It

4 Comments

Official photograph portrait of former U.S. Pr...

Image via Wikipedia

Former President George W. Bush is out of hiding and into the limelight again as he promotes his new book. From the interviews I have read, there isn’t much new that redeems his poor performance as president. One positive is that he appears to question (just a little) the wisdom of the “Patriot Act.” And he admits that pushing belief in Iraq’s “weapons of mass destruction” was a mistake. How many people died for that mistake?

Bush admits his mistake in not foreseeing the economic crisis. He and his advisers ought to have seen the mortgage crisis coming. Either someone did not warn Mr. Bush who should have warned him or he ignored the warnings he did receive. In either case, it was the Administration’s almost complete deregulation of the banking industry that allowed financial institutions to make so many bad loans–the government policy of forcing banks to loan to the poor does not, by itself, explain the extent of the crisis. Mr. Bush bears some responsibility.

Despite appointing two excellent Supreme Court justices, overall, Mr. Bush’s presidency must go down as an abysmal failure. The good he did was outweighed by two wars, excessive defense and excessive domestic spending, and the collapse of the economy. His dependence on Neoconservative advisers such as Vice-President Dick Cheney virtually destroyed his presidency. Sadly, Bush still doesn’t “get it.” Perhaps one day he’ll swallow his ego and take more responsibility for the damage he did to the United States and to other countries.

Mr. Bush is unapologetic on torture, claiming that waterboarding gave the United States and Great Britain some useful intelligence. Thus Mr. Bush still supports a practice that is now almost universally acknowledged as evil and barbaric. Unfortunately his successor hasn’t closed the door on torture–so the post-911 madness of America continues.

Bush gives his policies credit for there being no more attacks on the U.S. before the end of his term as President. This reminds me of a story (from Ann McGovern’s book Ghostly Fun) about a man who hired a wrinkled old witch holding a broom outside his front door. His wife, horrified, asked him why. His reply: “To scare the elephants away.” His wife said, “But there aren’t any elephants around here!” Then her husband says, “See! It works!” There are too many causal factors that could have prevented a post 9-11 attack for Bush to give himself credit. But this is one president who has no problem with failing to restrain his ego.

Apparently Mr. Bush had asked the Pentagon to draw up war plans for Iran. Thank God that war did not materialize, though I would not put it beyond Mr. Obama to start one. Iran is years away from developing a nuclear weapon. Unlike Israel, it has signed the nuclear non-proliferation treaty. And although I find Iran’s president to be morally reprehensible, that does not justify war with Iran. Mr. Bush, consistent with the neoconservatives, rarely found a war he didn’t like.

Mr. Bush did considerable damage to the Republican Party; it is only because of the ineptitude and radical ideas of President Obama that the Republicans gained so many seats in Congress this year.

The Death of the Democratic Party

Leave a comment

Portrait of Thomas Jefferson by Rembrandt Peal...

Image via Wikipedia

By the “death” of the Democratic Party I don’t mean its literal demise, but its death, which occurred many years ago, as a party of Jeffersonian democracy. Thomas Jefferson’s Democratic Party was the party of states’ rights, farmers, small town businesses. The Whigs, and later the Republicans, were the party of the new industrialists, and under Lincoln became the party that combined big business with government subsidies. The Republicans also repudiated states’ rights and supported returning the southern Confederate States to the United States by force, resulting in 600,000 unnecessary deaths. To those who bring up slavery, my response is that slavery would have ended soon without a war. It had ended in most European countries by the time of the War between the States. There was a great deal of moral criticism of slavery in the South. In any case, the war was primarily about the right of succession and the sovereignty of states.

Several Supreme Court rulings in the 1870s saved the United States from becoming the ultra-centralized business-government state of which the Republicans dreamed, and Democrats such as Grover Cleveland kept the original vision of the Democratic Party. Even with the rise of the urban, more liberal, Democrats in the twentienth century, the tradition of Jeffersonianism was kept alive in the South. Liberals bring up civil rights, and I realize the risk of alternative history, but if the federal government had allowed the grassroots Civil Rights movement to work within the states to change their laws, the consciousness of enough good people would have been raised to force political and social change. Instead, the use of federal troops in Arkansas, the use of federally mandated forced busing, and federally mandated redistricting did a great deal to worsen what may have been a more peaceful and harmonious change to a more just society.

For all his faults, George Wallace was a significant spokesman for the old Jeffersonian view of states’ rights in 1972. With his shooting and with the extreme liberal George McGovern winning the Democratic nomination, the loss of the Democratic Party to Jeffersonianism was guaranteed. There are a few moderate Southern Democrats left, even after Tuesday’s shellacking of the “Blue Dogs,” but even the Blue Dogs were not traditional Jeffersonians. Neither are the conservative Republicans who now dominate Southern politics (with the exception of Ron Paul and perhaps Walter Jones), but at least they have a sense of the proper limitations of federal power. It is a good sign that some of the “Tea Party Movement” leaders are seriously discussing the Tenth Amendment, something that Republicans ignored from 1861 onward and Democrats run roughshod over now. The Democratic Party is dead. It is no longer what Jefferson had in mind when he founded it so long ago. Perhaps it should change its name. “Socialist Party” isn’t quite accurate; “Liberal Party” is an insult to old-fashioned Classical Liberals and Libertarians. I have thought “Whiners Party” might fit, since the Democrats so often take advantage of grievances in order to gain more federal power. How about “Centralized Government Party?” That is functionally accurate, at least, but isn’t really a catchy title. I’m open to suggestions.

Advice to the Tea Party Movement–Don’t Let the Warmongers Win

4 Comments

Tea Party Movement/ American People's Protest ...

Image by asterix611 via Flickr

There are a growing number of individuals in the Tea Party movement who are moving toward the traditional conservative position of American staying out of foreign entanglements unless such are clearly in the national interest of the United States. But there are two groups who aim to stop this trend.

The first group is a subset of the Tea Party movement–Evangelical Christians who, influenced by Biblical apocalyptic imagery, support every American intervention in the Near East as bringing about a fulfillment of Bible prophecy. As I have argued elsewhere in this blog, their position is based on a flawed interpretation of the Book of Revelation and other apocalyptic Biblical literature. Sarah Palin may have been influenced by this line of thought, as evidenced by her tendency to blindly support Israel. Let’s hope that her common sense kicks in and that she does not move the Tea Party movement into a warmongering direction.

The other group threatens the Tea Party from the outside–the Neoconservatives. These individuals are the ideological descendants of a group of former Trotskyte Marxists who later defected from Marxism to the Democratic Party. These virulent anticommunists teamed up with Hubert Humphrey and Henry “Scoop” Jackson during the 1960s. But in the late 1960s and into the 1970s, culmulating with the Democratic nomination going to George McGovern in 1972, these anticommunist liberals turned against the Democratic Party. They joined the Republican Party in droves and, over time, gained influence in the National Review and other conservative publications. They retained their basic liberal orientation on domestic economic issues, supporting the post-Roosevelt, post-Lyndon Johnson welfare state, although some of them tend to be more conservative on social issues such as abortion. Bill Kristol of the Weekly Standard is a neoconservative, as are Charles Krauthammer, Paul Wolfowitz, Bill Bennett, and to some extent Newt Gingrich. These individuals have supported the free spending of the welfare state, and have also supported the notion of the United States as an empire. They have accepted the Wilsonian view that the United States should spread democracy to the world. Iraq is an example of the disaster that can occur when neoconservative doctrine becomes U.S. policy.

The neoconservatives almost destroyed President Reagan during the Iran-Contra scandal, and they succeeded in destroying the administration of George W. Bush. Their destructive doctrine of the “noble lie,” borrowed from Leo Strauss who in turn borrowed it from Plato, states that the ruling elite can lie to the general public so the public will support their “wise” policies. Does this make the lies about “weapons of mass destruction” more understandable?

The neoconservatives have recently attacked the tendency in the Tea Party movement that backs off from the “American Empire” model of U. S. foreign policy. The neocons sharply disagree with the notion that U. S. involvement in foreign wars endanger freedom (witness the “Patriot Act,” a term of doublespeak if there ever was one). Tea Party members are waking up to realize that the biggest threat to their freedom is not the terrorists, but the welfare-warfare state. The Tea Party should, with all its might, resist the attacks of the neoconservatives, who are accusing the Tea Party of “abandoning conservatism.” But the Neoconservatives are the ones who have abandoned conservatism. If the Tea Party truly becomes a party that frowns on unnecessary U. S. military interventions, it will provide a refreshing alternative to neoconservatives in the Republican Party and to Evangelicals who are misled by a faulty theory of Biblical interpretation. But if the Tea Party gives into pressure and supports a warmongering stance, it will not ultimately succeed in transforming the political landscape of the United States, and that would be tragic. The Tea Party may be the last opportunity to forge a genuine conservative, noninterventionist movement in the United States, and I pray it goes that direction.

Sarah Palin–Promise and Problems

Leave a comment

Sarah Palin in Savannah, Georgia, Dec 1, 2008 ...

Image via Wikipedia

I confess to having mixed feelings about Sarah Palin. On the one hand she holds many conservative values with which I agree, including her strong pro-life stance on abortion. One reason the mainstream media hates her so much is the fact that she did not murder her Down’s Syndrome child. They have done their best to try to destroy Mrs. Palin, but overall she holds up well against constant attacks, many of them irrational.

On the other hand, Palin comes across as an intellectual lightweight. I do not care how nervous she was or how many excuses her defenders make regarding her interview with Katie Couric, Palin should have been able to name one magazine or newspaper she read. Now I do not believe that being intellectual is necessary for being a good president; intellectuals have done untold damage to society with Utopian ideologies such as Marxism. Politics is the art of practical reasoning, of understanding how to behave in particular situations. Whether Mrs. Palin has that virtue is yet to be seen, but I do not rule out the possibility. It takes a great deal of skill to recover from the blows she has taken from the press.

What bothers me more is Palin’s resignation as Governor of Alaska. There is something to be said for commitment to a calling, and being elected to office is a calling. It is a mark of character to stand up to attacks and continue to do one’s job instead of using such attacks as an excuse to resign.

I agree with Palin on most issues, but she, like many conservatives, tends to support the involvement of the United States in foreign wars that are none of her business. It would be a plus for her if she can find traditional conservative or libertarian advisers rather than neoconservatives. The neocons succeeded in destroying the Bush II presidency and have done untold harm to the Republican party–the more any Republican candidate distances herself from them the better.

Given a choice between Mrs. Palin and Mr. Obama, I would gladly vote for Mrs. Palin because she reflects my own moral and political values better than the liberal Democrat Obama. However, unless she can overcome her image as a beauty queen who knows very little about the world around her, she is unlikely to win the general election even if she were to win the Republican nomination. She seems to be working on gaining more knowledge and creating an image of herself as a more substantive candidate. If she succeeds, she will do very well, since she has the enthusiastic support of many conservatives in her party. I wish her well.

Let’s Get Rid of RINOs!

Leave a comment

Michael Johns, U.S. Senate candidate Christine...

One would expect a political party too support its nominee unless the nominee holds overly radical views. Christine O’Donnell is not in that category, so the Delaware Republican Party should support its nominee enthusiastically. But when she defeated former Governor Mike Castle, a RINO (“Republican-in-Name-Only”), the state Republican establishment said it would not support her. To its credit, the national Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee supported her.

The Republican Party has long been divided three ways: into moderate/liberal Rockefeller Eastern establishment Republicans, into libertarian Republicans, and into traditional Conservatives. Another name for the Eastern establishment types is “Country Club Republicans.” They are basically Democrats in Republican guise. What Republicans in Delaware did was to vote in a true conservative, Tea Party supported candidate rather than a candidate of the old, tired establishment.

It is time for the Republican Party to purge itself of RINOs, especially the country club liberal Republicans. They have fought the party’s conservative base tooth and nail for years. They strive to divide the libertarians from the traditional conservatives so they can push their own agenda and candidates. They support Democratic big spending plans, support massive federal intervention into the economy and into the lives of Americans, and are every bit as liberal on social issues as Mr. Obama. The Tea Party movement has brought out conservative voters to remove these establishment candidates. This does not imply that the Tea Party candidates are always ideal, or that the Tea Party is correct on every issue–many Tea Partiers need to tone down warmongering and support the American interest foreign policy of Ron Paul. But they, at least, listen and are far more willing to change than comfortable establishment candidates.

The press, of course, along with the Country Club Republicans, are writing off Christine O’Donnell as a loser. Both the majority of people in the press and the majority of Country Club Republicans hate middle America and its conservative values. I remember talking to an older lady, very nice, but a Country Club Republican, about abortion. I was shocked at what she said to me: “We have to allow abortions so those poor black babies won’t be born into such bad environments.” I assure you that she is not the only Country Club Republican with that attitude. Comfortable in their gated communities, such “moderate” and liberal Republicans are quite confident in their beliefs about who is worthy to live and who is worthy to die. The Republican Party can do without people like that. It can do without their presence, their politicians, and their money. The only hope for the Republican Party becoming a true Republican Party is the Tea Party and other grassroots conservative movements bringing out the vote. Only then will more establishment candidates be replaced by those who truly desire the Republican Party to the conservative party of the United States, to curb spending and taxes, to give more power to the states and less to the federal government, to stop judges from making laws rather than interpreting them. But to do that, the RINOs have to go!

Majoring in Minors; Minoring in Majors

Leave a comment

Warning: Politician Ahead!!!

Image by The Rocketeer via Flickr

A few years ago I heard a Democratic congressman from a district adjoining mine speak. He told a story of two men having a conversation. One man admitted he liked to drive ten miles an hour above the speed limit. This man was well-respected in the community and a churchgoer. The other man then said, “I just lost all respect for you. How can I have any respect for a man who is a hypocrite?”

What is ironic about the congressman’s story is that he is a strong supporter of abortion. In his political campaigns he makes a great deal of his attending church and his religiosity. Yet he supports the de facto (if not de jure) unlimited right of women to murder their unborn children.

The irony is that the congressman would call someone who drives ten miles an hour above the speed limit a “hypocrite,” yet he does not recognize his own hypocrisy in supporting abortion. Now if he did not claim to be a Christian; for example, if he were an atheist, I could respect him. But since he claims Christian identity and supports what is, in effect, murder, I cannot have such respect. He majors in minors (the venial sin of breaking the speed limit) and minors in majors (the mortal sin of abortion). Yes, there are liberal Protestants and liberal Roman Catholics who support abortion–but I have infinitely more respect for an atheist or agnostic than I do for a theologically liberal Roman Catholic or Protestant. The atheist or agnostic, at least, is honest in what he claims to be.

The situation in secularized Western Europe is better in a way, since the Christians there (other than some of the state-supported clergy) take their religion seriously. But in the United States, which is technically the most Christian country in the industrialized world, it is popular in some areas of the country to use religion as a means to power. Very few Southern politicians, outside of liberal urban districts, would be elected if they were openly irreligious. So they flaunt their religious identity and condemn hypocrisy–and they themselves exemplify hypocrisy in their anti-Christian political stances. They ought to be ashamed.

Older Entries Newer Entries