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On the Errors in Jeff Daniels’ Newsroom Rant September 16, 2016

Posted by intellectualgridiron in Politics.
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There is a video clip that continues to surface on Facebook periodically.  Each time this clip surfaces, it continues to draw fresh accolades from many a user.  Of course, I am talking about this oft-shared clip below:

Many users seem to gush over how the character played by Jeff Daniels “nails it,” to use the modern vernacular.  The message of Daniel’s character is blunt:  “America is not the greatest country in the world anymore.”  It is an impassioned rant on a stage, and perhaps the best explanation for its wide appeal is that it makes an overall emotional, yet ostensibly learned attempt to explain what ails America today.  In so doing, however, the character actually ends up libeling America, as the message behind his rant takes much for granted, and in the end, is destitute of foundation.

To ensure intellectual honesty, the character, Will McAvoy, demonstrates an important decree of rectitude early in his answer to a question from an audience member.  He prudently observes that James Madison was a genius, that the U.S. Constitution is a masterpiece, and even goes so far to say that the Declaration of Independence is, in his words, “the single greatest piece of American writing.”  Agree or disagree with the last clause, one strongly can agree with the impetus behind the observation.

Where McAvoy quickly errs, however, is the litany that follows after what he stated correctly.  The reason this litany is baseless, on the whole, is that this attempted chastisement of an audience member is replete with half-truths, carelessly listed without the slightest bit of context.  To wit:

“Canada has freedom.  Japan has freedom.  The UK, Italy, France, Germany, Spain, Australia, Belgium….207 sovereign states in the world, and 180 of them have freedom.”

Truly?  One-hundred eighty countries out of 207 sovereign nation-states is a percentage of nearly eighy-seven.  Google indicates that there are 196 countries in toto, and of those, not even half of them on a map have been color-coded “free” by Freedomhouse.org.

Moreover, just viewing the small list of countries that McAvoy cites, (Japan, UK, Italy, France, Germany, Belgium) are “free” due to the fact that it was America that either freed them from fascist totalitarianism, or made sure (in the case of Great Britain) that they remained unmolested by it during the Second World War.  Moreover, America protected all these countries from the Soviet Union’s imperialist advances during the Cold War.  Only the greatest nation in the world could claim such feats.

Pursuant to the same point, the Bill of Rights, a crucial document that puts checks on government’s never-ending appetite for power and control, is absent in Europe.

“There is absolutely no evidence to support…that we’re the greatest country in the world.”  Obviously, he overlooked the fact that the free world has expanded greatly since the Second World War on account of America’s efforts.  He also overlooked how it was America’s efforts that ultimately brought down the Evil Empire that was the Soviet Union.  But when one is consumed by emotion, why allow for this inconvenient truth to interfere with one’s self-indulgent litany?

“We’re seventh in literacy,” he continues, “twenty-seventh in math, twenty-second in science, forty-ninth in life expectancy, 178th in infant mortality, third in median household income, number four in labor force, fourth in exports.”

These statistics seem so randomly drawn as to give the discerning observer the sense that they were fabricated.  Indeed, basic research validates this scrutiny.  Are we truly 49th in the world in our life expectancy?  In reality, it is 31st.  Still not great, but it obviously shows the error and lack of truth in his rant.

So what might account for a life expectancy of only 79.3 years, compared to Japan’s, the leader at 83.7 years?  Leftists relish using this misleading statistic as an accusation against our supposedly defective healthcare system.  What is conveniently ignored in this instance is that America is the most diverse country on earth compared to Japan, which is very homogeneous.  Leftists usually worship diversity as one of their many false gods, but conveniently overlook that one of the side-effects of “diversity” is diversity of behaviors.  Some behaviors lead to long, healthy lives, while others will cut life short.  Such diversity of behaviors account of having, on average, 4.4 fewer years of expect life compared to Japan.  To express it differently, the greatest doctors in the world cannot do anything about the rampant murder rates in many inner cities, which naturally bring down the national lifespan average.  But in things doctors can control, such as cancer survival rates, we do indeed lead the world.

Concerning being “third in per capita income,” the same thing regarding diversity applies.  Not everybody has equal ability to be equally productive.  Not everybody is equally ambitious.  More to the point, there will always be those who worked harder than most other people.  With such a wide range of those proclivities within our population (all 319,000,000 of us), is there no surprise what our per capita GDP is slightly lower than that of small, homogeneous Luxembourg?

How about all the high taxes in Japan and much of Europe that discourage entrepreneurship and increased productivity compared to America?  Did Jeff Daniels’ script writers factor that key element into the equation regarding the supposed “freedom” in the countries he casually listed?

Already having demonstrated to be cavalier with the facts, McAvoy nevertheless continues:

“We only lead the world in three categories:  number of incarcerated citizens per capita; number of adults who believe angels are real, and defense spending, where we spend more than the next 26 countries combined, 25 of whom are allies.”  Well.

Concerning the first point, it is a commentary on two things.  First, too many laws.  He may have a point, but he fails to mention it, and it surely deserves further, in-depth discussion as to the systemic legal reform we desperately need (John Stossel once offered a novel idea of clearing out antiquated laws and placing sunset provisions on all laws retained and added).  But the other thing regarding incarceration rate conveniently overlooks the fact that many of the perpetrators are those who have bad, warped values, who must be removed from civil society so civil society remains safe from the evils they would otherwise perpetrate.

Concerning McAvoy sniffing about adults believing in angels, it betrays his fundamental misunderstanding of what has made America great in the first place.  A strong religious grounding (specifically of the Judeo-Christian varieties) is essential to the well-functioning of America.  Our Founding Fathers knew this when they first practiced statecraft.  Indeed, John Adams concisely underscored this necessity when he observed “[O]ur Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people.  It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.”  Angels are thoroughly understood and valued within Judeo-Christian theology, and McAvoys casual, callous dismissal of such belief betrays his true ignorance of a necessary pillar to America’s fundamental greatness.

Concerning the third point regarding defense spending, and why ours is so huge compared to “the next 26 countries,” that is because almost all of those “26 countries” rely on America to not only protect itself from evil regimes and rogue terror groups, but they also rely on America to come to their own defense in their own possible time of need.  Many countries in western Europe have allowed for their militaries to atrophy because since the end of the Second World War, they counted on America for their own defense from the Soviets during the Cold War, and from terrorists today.

The error that leftists always make is equating “greatest” with “perfect”.  No reasonable person would make such an equivalency.  Moreover, reasonable people would also concede that systemic problems exist that need to be addressed so that we maintain our top spot amongst the other nations overall.  Rather than strive for perfection (unattainable, as humans are inherently imperfect), to maintain the greatest, one must simply strive to be better.  We have excelled at that since our founding.  Let us always keep in mind that our liberties are not granted by our Creator as means unto themselves, but rather as means to strive for improvement itself.

On an even more fundamental level, it has escaped a critical mass of user’s notices on social media, of a fundamental, logical implication within the rant in question.  If America is no longer the greatest country in the world anymore, which country has taken its place in the supreme spot of rank of nations?  Is it Canada, with only eleven percent of the population of its might neighbor to its south?  Is it China, what with its systemic problems of entrenched totalitarian government and continued human right violations, coupled with disturbing demographic trends of age?  Is it France or Germany, with its critical masses of unassimilated Moslem immigrants who do not share the values of the generous countries who have let them escape their origins of squalor?  If McAvoy/Daniels and his sycophants still cling to this message even after demonstrating it is lacking in reason, they continue to fail to select the country that has supplanted America as the greatest of nations.  Perhaps that might be the baseless rant’s greatest failing of all.

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As a postscript, the fellow seat next to the Will McAvoy character gave an all too expedient, incomplete, and lame answer.  Freedom is all well and good, but as already mentioned, for liberty to mater, it must be leveraged for improvement, wed to proper religious grounding.  The lady on his other side gave an answer that inadvertently misled.  “Diversity” and “inclusion” are ornaments, not strengths, of a great nation.  To relay on those two ornaments as structural elements to uphold a nation is as foolish and dangerous as to build one’s house on a foundation of sand.

What is Federalism? August 21, 2011

Posted by intellectualgridiron in Politics.
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What is Federalism?  It is, quite simply, a system of government that involves shared and divided power between a governing central authority and constituent political units — in this case, individual states.  In other words, the Federalist system requires that some defined, limited powers be delegated to the central government while the rest be delegated to the states.  This concept was central to our nation’s founding during the Federal Convention of 1787, and is just as crucial today, as a critical mass of our fellow citizens have forgotten this key concept, thus leading to our country’s existential crisis.

In the beginning, America’s government on a national level consisted only of the Congress, then a differently-composed body from the Congress that became part of the federal government that was later to be designed.  From 1777 through 1788, the guiding document for the Congress was the Articles of Confederation, whose very title shows that America was a confederacy at that time, not a federal republic.  But the Articles failed because they were too weak.  The 13 states that declared independence from Great Britain had to be brought together very quickly in order to keep an army in the field and to keep it fed and clothed.  At this they almost merited a failing grade, since General George Washington constantly found his army to be under-fed, his soldiers’ payments chronically late, and horribly clothed.

After the war, even bigger problems arose, since the Articles of Confederation brought the states together too loosely, particularly when it came to settling states’ debts or having a stable currency, to say nothing of lack of uniform commercial regulation from state to state.  It therefore comes as no wonder that the “several states” were in economic chaos by the 1780s, some 150 years before the Great Depression of the 1930s.  Enough key people realized the problems with the Articles had to be corrected, first at Annapolis, Md., in 1786, and a year later at Philadelphia in 1787.

One myth that pervades some people on the right side of the political spectrum is that the Framers convened in Philadelphia in 1787 to cut government down and make it weaker.  The opposite is actually true:  they got together in that city and year to strengthen government.  That said, it would rankle those on the other side of the political spectrum that they did not strengthen it for the sake of amassing more power or control for themselves, let alone create a modern European-style welfare state, but rather, they saw it was a means of creating a more stable system that would encourage a stronger economy.  A stronger government meant the ability to regulate interstate commerce and have the only power to coin money — two powers absent from the previous government (Reference Article I, Section 8).  Basically, the Constitution — pre-1791, at least — was originally meant to be a blueprint that would allow for more people to secure for themselves the blessings of liberty by being able to earn their own money more easily than before.

Through much rigorous debate during the Federal Convention of 1787, a federal system of government was decided upon, where there would be a government at the highest level with a relatively few defined powers, and the broader powers would be deferred to the “several states.”

One example of shared power is, alas, no more.  The original way in which the new Congress was composed was one of the most sterling examples of Federalism, and how power separated was indeed power checked.  The method of people directly electing their representatives in the lower chamber has been in place since 1788.  But the way United States Senators were elected was quite different.  The original method of their appointment was election via state legislatures.  Such election was predicated on the idea that once elected, the members of the Senate would respect state sovereignty, and not allow for the federal government to usurp power from the states.  The 17th Amendment to the Constitution, ratified in 1913, made it so that senators were elected to Congress directly by the individual voters instead of the state legislators.  Effectively, this turned Senators into “supercongressmen,” and were no longer operating under any constraints to respect state sovereignty with their pieces of legislation, unless the voters stipulated such, yet they never did until a critical mass of voters in some states have made that a priorty in very recent years.  An archived article by Bruce Bartlett goes further into this important issue.

Federalism is not without its occasional peculiarities, to be sure.  To ensure that states would be given equal representation on one hand and given proportional representation on another, the Congressional make-up as we know was fashioned whereby the lower chamber would satisfy the latter concern, and the upper chamber of Congress (the Senate) would satisfy the former.  Article I is very explicit in that each state, no matter how big or small, shall be represented in the upper chamber by two senators; no more, no less.  Today, the average Congressional district represents a little over 700,000 people, yet the state of Wyoming, just slightly over half a million in population, has two senators.

True, some delegates initially did call for a national government, not a federal government, but after the requisite debate, that particular proposal for overhauling the central authority of government in the U.S. was quickly rejected.  Much debate and compromise took place before it was agreed upon by the majority of delegates that powers between a central government and state governments should be shared.  Such a mutual conclusion was the happy median between those who wanted a stronger central authority and those who wanted to preserve more vestiges of the older confederacy.

When the Federal Convention concluded on Sept. 17, 1787, two opposing camps sprang up, practically overnight — the Federalists (those in favor of the Constitution’s ratification) and the Anti-Federalists (those who opposed the Constitution’s ratification on the grounds that it gave too much power to the central government).  A large majority of states had to ratify the document to make it the supreme law of the land (effectively, this meant nine states out of 12, since Rhode Island did not send any delegates at all to the convention).

Many prominent patriots such as George Mason, Patrick Henry, Thomas Jefferson, and Samuel Adams were Anti-Federalists, fearing that their efforts to secure independence would come to naught if the central government were delegated such a degree of power.  The Anti-Federalists were understandably concerned that without additional built-in checks on Congressional power, their worst fears of a central government amassing more and more power at the expense of everyone’s liberty would come to pass.  The solution proposed by prominent Federalists such as James Madison — the acknowledged “father” of the Constitution and one of its key authors — was to add a Bill of Rights to the Constitution to ensure that rapacious politicians would be prohibited from passing laws that would infringe on our God-given liberties.  The Bill of Rights, of course, consists of the first 10 amendments to the Constititution, and was ratified in December of 1791, during George Washington’s first term as president.  In it, one particular amendment — the Tenth — stands out as an enduring testament to the principle of Federalism and to the importance of shared powers and the respect of state sovereignty.  It simply reads:

“The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.”

Translation, for those of you who went to public school (or graduated from IU):  If it doesn’t specifically say that the central government has the power to do something, then the central government lacks the power to do that one thing, and if that one thing is to be done, it is up to the states (or even the counties) to take care if it in their own way.

The Tenth Amendment reminds us of something implicit though crucial to Federalism.  Given that it is predicated on shared powers between the central government and the states, it compels its citizens to prioritize as to what government can effectively do nationally vs. locally.  Since one of the most basic jobs of government is to protect its citizens from theft and violence, that job on a state and county level amounts to “law and order,” while on the national level, it means providing for the national defense.  When it comes to “establish Post Offices and Post Roads” as is enumerated in Article I, Section 8, that means that it’s quite alright for the federal government to build national roads (interstates, anyone?) and post offices, but the states can build their own roads on their own dime, too.

If ever We the People are to solve America’s current existential crisis of whether we are to perpetuate America as we know it, or to degenerate into another bloated welfare state like western Europe, the former cannot be achieved without the explicit acknowledgement of what Federalism is and why our Founding Fathers intended for the central government to remain strong enough to provide economic and military stability on a national level, but to leave the rest of the minutiae to the states.  It worked before, and shall work again.  As we are witnessing today, there can be no substitute.