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Looking Forward, Not Backward, through Conservatism November 6, 2015

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Ronald_Reagan1The essence of conservatism, in general (i.e., not through any particular nationalist lens) is defending the existing order of things.  Thus, conservatism means different things in different countries, depending on what is, or was until recently, the status quo.  In Russia or China, for example, being conservative means that you are a communist, and have disdain for the new order brought on my free[er] markets in those respective countries.  Same goes for the countries in the Balkans, where some people still, oddly, long for the days of communist rule because it guaranteed them some sort of employment.  Perhaps when one has been a serf for more than a millennium, one tends to be quick to sell off one’s birthright for even the most meager messes of pottage.

But in any case, the American version of conservatism is to defend that which you already have, that being, individual liberty and a free market, both defended by a limited government.  Indeed, the citizens of the original Thirteen Colonies already had this in the 18th Century, and was not until after the French and Indian War concluded in 1763 did the British have the bright idea to arbitrarily mess with this good thing the colonists in North America already had going at that time.  For example, the standard of living in the American colonies was already higher in the years leading up to the Revolutionary War.  Therein lies a key thing to remember, that the colonists did not separate from Great Britain and risk blood and treasure in so doing to create something radically new, but to defend that which they already had.

The same impulse in this shared ideology continues strongly today, as well it should.  After all, Thomas Jefferson famously reminded us in all times to come that eternal vigilance is the price of freedom.  The only problem is, electorally, it can sometimes be a double-edge sword.

Two recent examples are the redefinition of marriage and Obamacare.  Those who care for long-held traditions that have been established over millennia, and established for good reasons born out of experience through the ages, have been understandably dismayed at the development of five Supreme Court judges arbitrarily changing that sacred definition.  To suggest that marriage should be redefined as being legitimate if it is between two men or two women instead of the traditional definition of one man, and one woman, shows incredible arrogance in that this generation is wiser than all the collective wisdom of all of our forbearers.  Such a thinking is reckless for the present and outright destructive for the future.

Moreover, Obamacare has caused far more problems than it solved.  Yes, it allowed previously uninsurable people access to health insurance, but it has come at considerable cost.  Everybody’s insurance premiums have skyrocketed on account of this Orwellian-named Affordable Care Act.  One family can pay as much as $20,000 a year, and if you do not buy the insurance, you pay a fine (albeit much less than the aforementioned gouging).  This Act, which is considered to be Obama’s greatest achievement, gives many people the perverse economic incentive to pay the fine.

For those of us who were happy with the insurance we already had, we ended up losing some of our doctors on account of sudden changes in insurance networks, but our premiums continue to go up and up, not only on account of having to insure the expensively uninsurable, but, more to the point, having to pay for “options” we do not even want.  Why should men, for example, be forced to pay for an insurance policy that offers birth control?  Why should all of us, man or woman, we force to pay for a policy that provides for acupuncture?

So what to do?  The impulse to defend can misguide us to often look back.  But to be electorally viable, we must look forward.  Young people especially are not concerned with some supposedly idyllic past.  Even the recent past of Clinton and (eventually) Obama in the White House is certainly no past destination to return.  Moreover, it has been almost 27 years since the late, great, Ronald Reagan was in the White House.

Conservatism’s strength comes in two major dimensions:  its practicality, and its optimism.  For this piece, let us focus on the latter as a winning tool to win elections and to create a winning vision moving forward.

Start with marriage.  The institution of marriage has been the central unit of society since before recorded history (which started around 3500 BC, fyi).  It has proven, over the course of centuries and millennia, to be the cornerstone of solid, functioning families, which themselves are vital to a well-functioning society.  Within the institution of marriage, it has proven over the same immense span of time that the institution functions best when it is comprised of one man and one woman.  The reason is twofold:  for one, it takes a man and a woman to be able to get together so as to procreate.  For another, the partnership of a man and a woman is mutually beneficial to both sexes, as such a union helps both mates help curb the excesses sewn into the nature of both sexes.  Most importantly, the central reason for marriage is for the successful raising of children, so that society’s values and culture can be as successfully passed on through a married couple’s children. The different kinds of love that originates from father and mother respectively help put children in the best possible positions to be well-adjusted, productive members of society.  Family break-down hinders both the successful raising of children, and consequently it creates defective, instead of functional, cultures.  Just look at the high illegitimacy rates in the black-dominated inner city neighborhoods; such high out-of-wedlock birthrates, combined with an alarmingly high rate of absent fathers negatively affect those children’s lives.  Such family break-down those leads to the forming of bad-warped values that leads to high crime and poverty rates.

The solution?  As conservatives, we must not try to fight increasingly old battles about same-sex marriage, but rather work to strengthen traditional marriage, especially within the context of how it best benefits children in particular and families in general.  Fighting old battles is a losing proposition.  Looking forward is a winning one.

Concerning Obamacare, instead of fighting to repeal it, let us concentrate our energies to move forward by way of reforming it.  By doing so, we conservatives can seize an even greater macro opportunity by positioning ourselves as people who stand for reform in general.  Big government has proven not to work time and again, especially in an age where most companies are becoming less bureaucratic and more nimble, and technology gives us more options than ever before.  We are therefore perfectly positioned to fight to reform government by making it more streamlined, less bloated and rigid, and allow people more options.

Obamacare is a perfect place to start.  Its central problem?  In classic, big-government fashion, it is a one-size-fits-all model, and thus allows for no options.  We cannot decide what we want on our policy and what we do not want.  Government dictates what we must buy for our policies, even if it is too expensive for most discerning buyers.  If we do not like it?  Tough.  Why not allow for people to decide for themselves what they want to buy and what they do not want based on what they can afford and what they actually need?  Again, as conservatives, we are in the perfect position to offer reform policies in government that would thus allow for people to have these common sense options.  Doing so would be perfectly in line with government upholding liberty (a conservative tenet) by allowing for such common sense solutions-as-options.

Defending that which we have (our families and liberties) does not mean we must always look backward, either.  Being conservative does not, nor should it automatically equate to being reactionary.  Part of being a conservative is being practical:  that is to stay, understanding what works and what does not work, and to act accordingly.  The Constitution, for example, might not be a perfect document, but it certainly is a practical one, and has proven to be for more than two centuries and counting.  Moreover, the human being as an organism is goal-oriented in its very nature.  Such a nature was conveniently overlooked by Karl Marx, who, along with Friederich Engels, had his head in the clouds about an unattainable ideal of economic equality.  It never works because it ignores this central tenet to human nature.

But more to the point, being goal-oriented means that one instinctively looks to the future, since therein lies the goal that the individual wishes to attain.  Our Constitution was constructed on the idea to create the best possible system of government and economics within the confines of human nature.  Why not therefore use this conservative tendency constructively in the same way?

Therefore, look forward and sell the voting public on why conservative principles of a free market will create a better economic system now and in the future for people of all walks of life.  On the social side of the equation, we must, as cooperative individuals, work to strengthen traditional marriage.  Politically, we must dismantle policies that give perverse incentives for families to disintegrate so as to cut off what is in effect the funding of inter-generational social problems in the inner city and elsewhere.

Back to the free market side of things, we must look forward to a freer economy that creates better opportunities for people of all walks of life – including those in the inner city – by scaling back and streaming regulations so that people addicted to welfare who are otherwise able-bodied will have ample opportunity to act on another conservative tenet, that of self-reliance.  Looking at it another way, as a purely pragmatic way of looking at things, young people of today are becoming an increasingly large portion of the electorate, and their sole focus is looking forward, not looking back to try to recapture the past.

The genius to the central messages of Ronald Reagan was that conservatism works just as well in modern times as it did when America was founded in the late 18th Century.  Reagan was always optimistic about the future because he recognized that, as long as these same principles were headed now and in the future, things will continue to work well.

Though it was been more than three decades since Reagan was re-elected in an historic landslide, our best political solution as conservatives is to take the same approach and look forward with winning, practical policies that promise, and invariably deliver, a better future.

More Questions Raised than Answered November 7, 2012

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When media outlets called for  Ohio narrowly going for Obama within the 11:00 hour Tuesday night, it became quite clear that Obama was to win re-election.  But the electoral results overall seem, at this point to hardly settle anything.  On the contrary:  the results of this election raise more questions than those that are answered.

For one:  given that, on the surface of things, the status quo regarding who controls the presidency and the Congress has not changed (Dems keep the presidency and Senate, Republicans the House), how are major issues facing this country to be effectively resolved, moving, ahem, “Forward?”

Given than Barack Obama won re-election with fewer states than in 2008, how can he consider this re-election is any sort of mandate going, ahem, “Forward?”  (North Carolina and Indiana are back in the red column, while ballots in Virginia and Florida are still being counted).
Credit Mitt Romney for recognizing that the economy was the chief concern among most voters this election cycle.  Indeed, news reports indicated that the exit polling among swing voters revealed that very thing.  Yet those very swing voters that were exit polled still blamed George W. Bush for the economic malaise.  Question:  at what point will Obama own this malaise?

Will stagflation come?  Given the “status quo” result of this election, it seems to be almost a foregone conclusion.  Will Obama then own the ensuing recession-within-a-recession?

What is to be done about the “tax bomb” that is about to come our way?  Once that “bomb” explodes, who is likely to take the political hit?

While it might be a tad too early for a postmortem on the Romney campaign, could it have been that the “October surprise” that many on the right side of the ideological spectrum feared was in fact a freak act of mother nature?  Hurricane Sandy did, after all, allow for Obama to act a bit presidential for once.
In historical perspective, not since Thomas Jefferson, James Madison and James Monroe has America elected presidents to two consecutive terms three times in a row.  I shall leave a competent Psephologist (paging Michael Barone!) to more effectively discern the deep meaning of this development.

These and other questions shall surely be answered as time unfolds.  In the meantime, pray for our great nation, for its duly elected leaders, and especially for the health of the justices on the Supreme Court.

What is Federalism? August 21, 2011

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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.