Republican establishment front-runner Chris Christie’s landslide victory in New Jersey’s gubernatorial election on Tuesday could not have come at a better time for Christie supporters.
Mark Halperin and John Heilemann’s just-released book on the 2012 presidential election, Double Down
, documents in a rather unflattering way Mitt Romney’s decision not to select Christie as his vice-presidential running mate. Romney’s team found Christie too large, too loud, and, for many a campaign event, too late. Most troubling for some in the Romney camp was the feeling that there were too many skeletons in Christie’s lobbying closet. One high-level staffer posited, “If Christie had been in the nomination fight against us, we would have destroyed him.”
Halperin and Heilemann report that Romney had two principal criteria in vetting potential running mates: that “they be qualified and immediately perceived as qualified to be Commander in Chief, and that there be nothing in their background that could become a distraction for the campaign.” Christie’s past was a distraction.
But Christie seems to have lost on style points more than anything else, given the marked contrast between his person and persona and those of the athletic, deliberate, altar-boyish Paul Ryan that Romney chose to take to the presidential prom.
Can “whatever works for America” carry Christie to victory in 2016? That may depend on whether bully pragmatism sells better than Romney’s consultant pragmatism. Whether Christie is ultimately the man for the Republican party establishment remains to be seen. If they’re looking for someone who wins elections by countering Democratic Progressivism with everyman pragmatism, they need look no further. His “whatever works for New Jersey” approach to governance certainly satisfies the postmodern demand for a politics big on personal authenticity but wary about moral absolutes.
Can “whatever works for America” carry Christie to victory in 2016? That may depend on whether bully pragmatism sells better than Romney’s consultant pragmatism.
But the more important question is whether “whatever works for America” will actually work for America.
A political party that is more than mere faction asks first: what does the country need? A political party that is more than a debating society then asks: what does the country want? The United States needs, most of all, to arrest its march toward national suicide–whether by social disintegration or fiscal insolvency.
The GOP establishment, allergic to uncomfortable moral claims, wants to ignore the first problem and manage the second. Their pragmatist track record suggests, however, that even on their chosen (fiscal) ground, they will be a generation late and a $100 trillion short–exactly because of their unwillingness to acknowledge the moral root of our will-to-bankruptcy.
In Federalist 15, Alexander Hamilton exposes the limits of such halfway politics:
It is true, as has been before observed that facts, too stubborn to be resisted, have produced a species of general assent to the abstract proposition that there exist material defects in our national system; but the usefulness of the concession, on the part of the old adversaries of federal measures, is destroyed by a strenuous opposition to a remedy, upon the only principles that can give it a chance of success.
A serious remedy to the problems that arose under the Articles of Confederation required a willingness to confront and correct the ultimate source of the trouble, what Hamilton called the “great and radical vice” of the system.
Members of the GOP establishment and the ruling class in general are typically willing to acknowledge that our current entitlement regime is unsustainable. Yet insofar as they either support or are unwilling to fight its expansion through Obamacare or suggest that a relatively minor tweak in tax rates or benefits can resolve our difficulties, they commit the same error identified by Hamilton in his critique of anti-Federalists.
The “great and radical vice” of our entitlement system is its dependency on an intergenerational transfer of wealth from the young to the old. This would work financially if the size and life expectancy of every generation were the same—but it is a formula for disaster in the real world, where life expectancy is increasing and fertility rates are decreasing.
The results are predictable: in 1960, there were five workers for every Social Security beneficiary. By 1965, it was 4. Since 2010, it has been less than 3, on its way to 2.2 in 2030.
What has been the pragmatist response to this long-foreseen problem? Modest increases in tax rates and the retirement age and massive increases in programs and beneficiaries, including the addition of Medicare in 1966, the prescription drug benefit in 2003, and now Obamacare–plus gimmicks like the Social Security Trust Fund that make it look like the math works for a while longer.
Pragmatism plainly hasn’t worked even with its willingness to overlook the immorality of this intergenerational transfer. Consider this: those who turned 65 in 1960 got more than $6 from Social Security for every dollar they put in. Those who retired in 1980 got $2.12; 2010, $0.92. And those who retire in 2030? $0.84. This isn’t about social contract justice; it’s about winning (and more and more losing) the generational lottery.
But even this understates the injustice to the young since, despite this negative return on their “investment,” Social Security and Medicare will add $344 billion to the national debt in 2013–with no end to the red ink in sight.
Any serious entitlement reform has to start with the principle that each generation pays its own way–and the closer we can get to a system where each individual pays his own way, the better. There are any number of ways to do this that continue to protect the genuinely disabled and disadvantaged.
But efforts to address our fiscal crisis that leave its principal cause in place can only succeed at reinforcing the pragmatist’s rob Peter (tomorrow) to pay Paul (today) ethic, so toxic to our national political health.
And is Governor Chris Christie ready for this challenge? His time in Trenton suggests otherwise. To his credit, he’s negotiated more budget-friendly contracts with public employee unions and dedicated more monies to long underfunded state pension liabilities.
But, after two years of fiscal discipline, he has expanded spending rapidly in his last two budgets and used one-time payments and short-term gimmicks to balance them. And while it’s good local politics to jawbone Congressmen holding up federal disaster relief money, there’s no one to turn to when the Washington well runs dry–except the already overburdened generations to come, who offer a very convenient exception to that most American of political principles: “no taxation without representation.”
Our honor and their justice demand a different way forward: one that, to paraphrase Lincoln, just might make the republic we save a republic worth saving. For the Republican party and the United States, that’s the real elephant in the room. David Corbin is a Professor of Politics and Matthew Parks an Assistant Professor of Politics at The King’s College, New York City. They are co-authors of “Keeping Our Republic: Principles for a Political Reformation” (2011). You can follow their work on Twitter or Facebook.
Can you write letters (email) to the editors of your local, state and national publications? Well, the left (Progressives & Marxists) sure can and they get a lot of free press! It's time the press heard from the right! #MakeDCListen by helping Ted get his message out. Letters to the newspaper editors is an excellent source we often overlook. Write your letter and submit it to the editor, then post it HERE. We want to hear what you said and we'll share it with Ted. Need help? Check out the latest talking points. Get newspaper editor's email addresses.
By Dean WrightNew Revolution Now, Co-Founder/Director
As part of our Candidate Questionnaire Initiative
, we attempt to get our questionnaire to every candidate running for state or national office in Texas. In doing so, we have never received a response from a Democrat candidate, until now. Although this Democrat candidate didn't not answer our six questions (six principles
), he did provide us with a response to the questionnaire in general. As I am highly tempted to comment, I will withhold my response until which time other comments can be made.
Initially this candidate replied "...I looked over your questionnaire, and I wouldn't dignify it with a response..."
But when prodded for a more complete reply, he responded "But if you want more, the problem with your survey is that you have "yes or no" questions to complex position statements.
(We also provide a comment section to clarify ones response.) You essentially make it so one would have to agree 100% with deontological libertarianism in order to agree with statements such as faith in God or belief in the American dream. You make it so to reject unfettered and uncontrolled capitalism is to reject the entire premise of capitalism. Normally I'd try to be a bit more diplomatic here, but I'm just not interested in playing wordgames and giving you ammo which you can use to reinforce the positions you already hold. Your comments are appreciated.
October 23, 2013 by Diane Durbin - New Revolution Now
Republican leaders in Congress have proven once again that they have no backbone when it comes to major policy decisions. The U.S. Senate last Wednesday passed a bill by a vote of 81-18 to raise the debt ceiling and end the partial shutdown of the Federal government. The “deal” was crafted by Republican Senate leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and Senate Majority leader Harry Reid (D-NV). The House passed the Senate bill later that evening by a vote of 285-144 with no effort by House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) to stop it.
So what does this so-called “deal” offer to the American people? Well, in short, it simply kicks the can down the road for the one-millionth time. First, the debt ceiling is raised again meaning the Federal government is now allowed to continue borrowing money through February 7th of next year. Second, Obamacare will be funded at least until January 15th. Third, House and Senate members have until the end of the year to negotiate a longer-term budget and deficit-reduction plan. No doubt Republicans will pretend to fight this coming battle tooth and nail and then cave at the last second in fear of being blamed for all of government’s problems.
Every time a major budget battle rolls around, the liberal media is quick to blame Republicans for failing to compromise with Democrats. The truth is, Republicans are the only ones doing the compromising. Democrats always get what they want out of these “deals” while Republicans sacrifice everything. If President Obama and the Democrats know they can so easily push over Republicans and win these budget battles, their strategy will never change. Republican leaders in Congress need to quit playing along and start standing for principle.
Part of the problem for Republicans is not getting their message out to the American people. Republicans need to do a better job of reminding the American people of some hard facts that the liberal media purposely ignores. Congress is required by law to pass a budget every year. However, Democrats who control the Senate have refused to pass a budget for the past five years. And no, don’t say this is the House Republicans’ fault. The House has only been under Republican control for the past two-and-a-half years. Democrats controlled a majority in both chambers prior to 2010 and still failed to pass a budget. Furthermore, the recent partial shutdown of the Federal government had nothing to do with Republicans’ refusal to pass spending bills as Democrats want to claim. The truth is, the House passed several bills to fund every program of the Federal government except for Obamacare. The Democrats blocked all of them for this one reason. If there is anyone who adopted an all or nothing strategy and refused to compromise, it was Obama and the Democrats. The Republicans should never have caved, because they had no reason to. As usual, they got nothing out of another “deal”.
It is important to note that not all Republicans in Congress are to blame. Senators Ted Cruz (R-TX), Mike Lee (R-UT), and Rand Paul (R-KY) have proven themselves time and again to be true conservatives. They stood up and fought for principle, as they were elected to do, and led the fight to defund Obamacare and stop another debt ceiling raise. While they did not win the battle, the war is not over. We trust that they will continue the hard fight, and despite the hateful rhetoric thrown at them on a daily basis, these men should be recognized as the true American, freedom-loving patriots that they are.
If there has been any good to come out of all this nonsense, it is the fact that more and more Americans are getting fed up with the current Federal government. We elect these people to stand up and fight for the values we hold dear, and they continuously erode our trust. Approval ratings for Congress continue to drop, as they should, which is great considering there are Congressional elections next year. Time to throw the spineless politicians out and replace them with people driven by principle.
Where is John Cornyn? He will not attend Town Hall meetings. He has sided with Obama, the democrats and establishment republicans like McCain coalition telling the American public that the Senators Lee and Cruz plan to Defund Obamacare
will not work, when the Heritage Foundation
has endorsed it.Who, what and where is Senator John Cornyn? Contact him
Contributed by Matthew Parks
The Federalist Today
New York, NY
During the 2008 presidential campaign, then-Senator Obama sharply criticized President George W. Bush for damaging the American name abroad, punctuated by a trip to Germany to address the “people of the world” as a “proud citizen of the United States, and a fellow citizen of the world.” He spoke of the need for united efforts against terrorism, nuclear proliferation, climate change, global poverty, genocide, and the metaphorical “walls” that divide one people from another. Tomorrow, he’ll speak again in Germany, this time as president, but having done surprisingly little to improve America’s standing among the “people of the world.”
At the time Mr. Obama issued his criticism of President Bush, worldwide approval of U.S. leadership was just 34%, according to Gallup polling. A year later, with Mr. Obama in the White House, it was 51%–and the President was fitting himself for a Nobel Peace Prize. But today it is down to 41%, a troubling development–at least within the confines of the President’s foreign policy vision.
“Soft power,” a term coined by Harvard Professor Joseph Nye, is a measure of a nation’s ability “to get what [it wants] through attraction rather than through coercion.” Five years of good will tours, relationship “resets,” apologies, and “leading from behind” make it clear that President Obama seeks to gain “soft power” influence with other nations by presenting to the world, in word and deed, a teddy-bear America: cute, cuddly, and non-threatening–if perhaps a few sizes too large to fit comfortably in a baby’s crib.
The American founders also understood that physical force is not the only useful tool in international relations. But, as we see in Federalist 4, they had a very different notion of what it means to cultivate foreign friendships.
President Obama will speak before Berlin’s famous Brandenburg Gate, which, ironically, was commissioned by the Barack Obama of the founders’ day, King Frederick William II of Prussia. The King wanted a gate worthy of “an Athens on the River Spree,” a teddy-bear Prussia, re-branded after the belligerent reign of Frederick the Great. The gate was topped with a statue of the Roman goddess of victory, driving a four-horse chariot and adorned with a laurel of peace, a classical image the well-educated of Napoleon’s army must have appreciated as they marched triumphantly through the gate less than twenty years after it was built.
Meanwhile, in the backwaters of North America, John Jay (having benefitted from reading Thucydides and Herodotus during his own classical education) was arguing that only a strong Union would protect the United States from foreign aggressors. All the good intentions and statues in the world (nevermind “big data” phone records) mean little without the means and ends that link real victory to real peace.
That such aggressors will exist is at once assumed and demonstrated in Federalist 4 by a brief review of America’s commercial rivalries with Britain and France, among others. More generally, Jay warns that the United States should not expect other nations to “regard our advancement in union, in power and consequence by land and by sea, with an eye of indifference and composure.” Nations, like individuals, often resent the progress of others in power and prosperity, with or without just cause.
Nevertheless, Jay argues at the end of the essay that the United States might, instead, have nations seeking its friendship. How does a nation turn rivals into friends?
The answer is not doing the sorts of things that impress the Nobel Peace Prize Committee. Rather it is by being a nation that others are eager to befriend in the way that second cousins are eager to reconnect with lottery-winning relatives: because it is their interest to do so.
The Founders argued that nations do very little out of gratitude as we would define it in a personal relationship. George Washington’s Farewell Address included a strong warning against expecting favors from other countries. Alexander Hamilton, writing in defense of American neutrality in the war that followed the French Revolution, argued in Pacificus no. 4 that: “It may be affirmed as a general principle, that the predominant motive of good offices from one nation to another is the interest or advantage of the Nation, which performs them.”
This explains why Jay’s foreign policy to-do list looks very different from President Obama’s: “If they see that our national government is efficient and well administered, our trade prudently regulated, our militia properly organized and disciplined, our resources and finances discreetly managed, our credit re-established, our people free, contented, and united, they will be much more disposed to cultivate our friendship than provoke our resentment.”
It is hard to miss how many of our present difficulties are enumerated here.
While the President will attempt to teleprompt cosmopolitan confidence before the subjects of the EU nanny state tomorrow, his peers watching around the world won’t be fooled. They see the bunglings of an Administration whose signature piece of legislation, Obamacare, has been called a “trainwreck” by its friends–and the cravenness of an Administration that would rather blame an American citizen than foreign operatives for the death of its diplomats abroad. They see a ruling class incapable of acknowledging, much less rectifying, our nation’s long-term financial insolvency (including a 30-year deficit recently projected to be $107 trillion). They see an American public demoralized by a seemingly-endless economic slump, now grown suspicious of a government apparently filled with snoops, sycophants, and partisan muscle-men. As Jay put it: “But whatever may be our situation … certain it is, that foreign nations will know and view it exactly as it is; and they will act toward us accordingly.” Meanwhile, the cynics may simply chuckle, wondering, as the United States grows weaker, why Americans could have ever believed they could escape the long shadow of self-serving government.
Nevertheless, Americans once had good reason to believe they could establish “good government from reflection and choice,” even when none of the items on Jay’s list could be taken for granted. Despite their own trials with Napoleon (and his British enemies), they built a nation strong enough and free enough to attract friends and discourage enemies, so that, by 1838, it was not unreasonable for twenty-nine year-old Abraham Lincoln to boast: “All the armies of Europe, Asia and Africa combined, with all the treasure of the earth (our own excepted) in their military chest; with a Buonaparte for a commander, could not by force, take a drink from the Ohio, or make a track on the Blue Ridge, in a trial of a thousand years…. If destruction be our lot, we must ourselves be its author and finisher. As a nation of freemen, we must live through all time, or die by suicide.”
Last week was the 26th anniversary of President Reagan’s memorable speech before the same Brandenburg Gate. Speaking to an Old World that had barely survived one suicide attempt and was still contemplating another, President Reagan issued his stirring challenge: “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!” The Soviet leader, of course, demurred, but the people of Germany didn’t–the fatal draught from the poisoned cup deferred, at least, to another day.
Regardless of what President Obama says tomorrow, the realities of our weakened condition will remain for the world–and, if we are willing, for us–to see. But equally visible, if we are willing, is the way forward, outlined two and a quarter centuries ago for a people whose own future seemed at least as precarious and uncertain as ours.
Contributed by Matthew Parks
The Federalist Today
New York, NY
The President advocated a common sense principle at the National Defense University last month that he would do well to heed in his meetings with Chinese leader Xi Jinping over the next two days: “We must define the nature and scope of this struggle, or else it will define us.” Though the context was the “war on terrorism,” the principle is universal. Unfortunately, there is little evidence from the summit’s preliminary meetings that the Obama Administration thinks there is any struggle with China that needs defining.
After meeting with his Chinese counterpart, Fan Changlong, soon-to-be former National Security Advisor Tom Donilon argued, “An essential part of building a new model for relations between great powers is ensuring we have a healthy, stable and reliable military to military relationship.” Just how close American-Chinese military relations should be is unclear, given the news a few days later that Chinese hackers have acquired the designs for dozens of U.S. weapons systems critical to American defense operations in the Pacific–a fact Mr. Donilon certainly knew when he made his statement.
Perhaps even more striking, however, is Mr. Donilon’s claim to be “building a new model for relations between great powers.” Here, he was eagerly seconded by Mr. Fan, who advocated “a new type of major power relations.” Which, do you think, was serious?
Fifteen years ago Congress, by a 409-10 vote, authorized the creation of a select committee to investigate Chinese efforts to steal American nuclear technology and information. After the release of the committee’s unanimously approved final report, Meet the Press’s Tim Russert asked its author, then-Congressman Christopher Cox, whether he considered China an enemy of the United States. Rep. Cox replied whimsically that the findings showed that the Chinese government are certainly not our friends. What followed thereafter was the typical Beltway two-step: an administrative reform that “fixes” the problem coupled with a half-hearted prosecution to clean up the past. Then, back to business as usual, as the recent revelations remind us.
Non-western leaders–the Chinese foremost among them–have long since learned how to play nice in front of Western cameras and politicians, spouting fantastic platitudes that bear no relation to their past actions or future plans. The degree to which American presidents fall for this game is in proportion to their belief in the fantasy, which means President Obama has a pretty fair chance of being duped–which, in turn, means that the Chinese have a pretty fair chance of buying more time to close the gap between themselves and the United States while the details of Donilon’s “new model” are being worked out.
Liberal Internationalists like President Obama have, for a century, sought to establish a new world order based upon mutual cooperation among all nations. First the League of Nations and then the U.N. were designed to establish a “new model for relations between great powers.” In fact, the success of the U.N. Security Council depends upon such a “new model” already being in place. How else can an institution function that gives an unqualified veto power to five permanent members–the five “great powers” among the victorious World War II allies (the United States, France, Great Britain, the Soviet Union, and China)? In a world where, in fact, the interests of nations conflict–including American and Chinese–it is no wonder that the Security Council has been serially ineffective, crisis after crisis.
The American public has rather easily intuited this conflict, despite our foreign policy establishment’s confusion. This does not make them inherently hawkish; like their predecessors in the founding generation, they seek safety, not conflict–the first object, according to Federalist 3, of “a wise and free people.” But they do understand that nations can not always choose to be at peace, that they will never attain real peace if they haven’t first defined its nature and scope.
In Federalist 3, John Jay begins a two-essay argument demonstrating the advantages of Union for securing the safety of the American people. Ratification of the Constitution, he reasons, means continuing a Union less likely to provoke or invite war than independent states or multiple confederacies.
The heart of Jay’s case is the claim that national leaders are better situated to take a comprehensive view of America’s interests. Being drawn from a larger pool of candidates, they ought to be more wise than their state-level counterparts, and being less engaged by particular local interests, they ought to be more willing to grant the justice of reasonable foreign complaints.
Of course, this analysis is probabilistic and no guarantee that we will always have wise and humble leaders–all the more so when the more measured view of human nature that informed the American founding has been replaced in part with an hyper-optimistic view promising indefinite human progress. Our current foreign policy establishment, like its predecessors for several generations, considers securing the safety of Americans insufficiently grand and embarrassingly parochial to be its principal object. Unfortunately, in attempting to transcend the Founders’ simple mandate, they have too often rendered our safety less secure.
A sensible approach to US-China relations would begin with four basic premises: that the interests of China and the United States are not the same; that China can be expected to employ any means that will advance its interests; that China will prefer fair means to foul only when the price of the latter is greater than the price of the former; that the United States can only impose a price on Chinese bad behavior if it has both the will and the means. These may be platitudes, but they are grounded in reality, not fantasy.
Such principles were certainly understood by the American founders. The infant United States played a weak hand well during the quarter-century of world war that followed the French Revolution. Alexander Hamilton began by getting America’s economic house in order so that a large national debt and a weak manufacturing base didn’t compromise her political independence. George Washington then announced in his Farewell Address that America would judge foreign regimes by their actions (not, as today, by her ideology), while laboring to build a country whose military means commanded the respect of all.
Having become the world’s leading economic and military power, the United States should have long since attained Washington’s object. And yet North Korea keeps testing missiles and threatening California, Latin American strongmen form anti-America coalitions with impunity, and the Arab “Spring” brings repeated attacks on our embassies and consulates. Forget the great powers: we don’t command the respect of the tinpot dictators. Fantasies die hard, but regimes that hold on to them sometimes don’t even notice while they slowly fade away.
C.S. Lewis wrote in Mere Christianity that “A proud man is always looking down on things and people; and, of course, as long as you are looking down, you cannot see something that is above you.” Because the American foreign policy establishment, like the rest of our ruling class, has a habit of looking down on the American people and their “simplistic” political judgments, it has failed to recognize the guiding constants of international affairs. As long as this remains the case, our national security will grow more precarious.
Contributed by Matthew Parks
The Federalist Today
New York, NY
What difference, at this point, do any of the recent scandals make? What ties them all together—IRS abuse, the Benghazi cover-up, and DOJ snooping—is the Obama Administration’s win-at-any-cost approach to the 2012 presidential campaign. Not for the first time, the President’s Chicago-style politics carried him over the finish line, with an able assist from the MSM journalists who seem only now to be awakening from a five-year slumber. Soon, no doubt, they will be repeating DNC talking points again: the election is over, the errors have been corrected, the guilty have been punished, and therefore, as they chanted throughout the Clinton years, “it’s time to get back to the business of the American people.”
What qualifies as the American people’s business has a lot to do with how one defines the American people, however. The clear lesson of these scandals is that, for progressives, there is no the American people, but rather two peoples who happen to inhabit the same territory. The first group is comprised of those loyal to the ruling class and the government it ultimately controls. During a Republican presidency, their dissent temporarily becomes the highest form of patriotism, but it is only the administration, not the permanent infrastructure of the modern bureaucratic state, that they oppose. The government, in this sense, they faithfully support regardless of electoral outcomes.
The second group includes all those “trigger word” citizens who associate too closely with terms the IRS doesn’t like: “Tea Party,” “Constitution,” “Patriot.” Their dissent from the dogmas of the ruling class, in questioning the morality and practicality of the government leviathan, represents the most dangerous threat to American society. They are loyal, in the Founders’ language, to the Union, not the government; a misplaced love making them worthy of close surveillance if not providing grounds for political divorce.
The distinction between Union and government is central to John Jay’s argument in Federalist 2, where he describes the Union as the foundation of American security and prosperity, essential for protecting the citizens’ rights and liberties. The Union established in 1774 by the Articles of Association was, according to Jay, only the formal expression of an organic unity binding the colonists to one another and to the land they had settled. God, it seemed, had purposed that a people joined together by common customs and political principles, inhabiting a territory easily navigable north to south and east to west, should be one.
The job of the Constitution, then, would be to “cement” this natural union by reinforcing its natural bonds. What God had joined together no man could rightfully separate—which is why Jay sharply criticized those who argued for breaking up the Union during the debate over the Constitution. But it is also why he approved the calling of the Continental Congress as the first step toward escaping the tyrannical British government and why he approved the calling of the Constitutional Convention as the first step toward replacing the inadequate Articles of Confederation.
Jay’s loyalty, in other words, was also to the Union, rather than the government. A government that promoted the good of the Union was a useful means to a more fundamental end. But, of course, it would make no sense to sacrifice the end for the means. Thus, a government that undermined the Union—or threatened its existence altogether—had to be altered or abolished, according to the severity of the case.
Whatever the particular beliefs of its contemporary members, the Progressive movement emerged in a post-Darwin world whose intellectual elites considered traditional religious faith impossible. Recognizing, nevertheless, the deep human need for fellowship or fraternity (best met historically by the church), they sought to build a state that would do more than secure to each a “square deal”—one that would, instead, create a national brotherhood under the tutelary leadership of a paternal elite. Since nature and circumstance advantaged some individuals over others, this community could only be brought into being if the state employed its powers in a discriminatory manner to secure the equality of all.
Progressive intellectual giant Herbert Croly understood that the government’s employment of such discriminatory means might breed disunity. Yet its benefits far outweighed any harm done, especially if progressive leaders understood that “the essential wholeness of the community depends absolutely on the ceaseless creation of a political, economic, and social aristocracy and their equally incessant replacement.”
The problem with Croly’s thesis is that no ruling class desires to be replaced. Hence the Obama Administration, like other progressive administrations before it, labors for a progressive harvest that is never completely gathered. Recall “Julia,” the fictitious woman featured in a key reelection campaign ad. Disconnected from all family life and social institutions, she finds her true self only in relationship to the government which guides her through each of life’s trials. Or consider the claim at the Democratic National Convention that government is the only thing that we do together.
In essence, President Obama ran for reelection as the representative of a ruling class that claims the absolute loyalty and, in the language of Federalist 2, the “blind approbation” of the American people as the debt that is due for its provident care for them. Those who resist are accused of offering only “blind reprobation,” while looking for the monster tyranny under the bed of every government bureaucracy.
As President Obama put it in his ill-timed Ohio State commencement address, just days before the IRS scandal broke, “Unfortunately, you’ve grown up hearing voices that incessantly warn of government as nothing more than some separate, sinister entity that’s at the root of all our problems; some of these same voices also doing their best to gum up the works. They’ll warn that tyranny is always lurking just around the corner. You should reject these voices. Because what they suggest is that our brave and creative and unique experiment in self-rule is somehow just a sham with which we can’t be trusted.”
Naturally, it would be a lot easier to reject such voices if the government weren’t threatening leaders of nascent Tea Party groups with jail time for not disclosing their group’s reading list. But there are few in the Tea Party movement who truly fit President Obama’s description. They oppose today’s government when it undermines “self-rule,” when it makes a “sham” of the first principle of the American founding. President Obama and those of like mind deny the legitimacy of such dissent because they misidentify ruling class government with self-government. Thus, those who question the Administration’s account of Benghazi, read the Constitution too carefully, or poke around where they aren’t wanted, are just trying to “gum up the works”–to deny Americans the blessings of the Progressives’ beneficent project. The founders saw such citizens in a different light. They understood that the peace and prosperity of the American people depends upon an active citizenry that knows its Constitution, a well-informed public that knows its enemies, and a press that asks awkward questions.
Just as government makes a poor substitute for a church, it also makes a poor substitute for a political community. A government may be able to win the idolatrous devotion of an infantilized population of dependents, but “trigger word” citizens rightfully demand something more, even when it comes with unwanted scrutiny and harassment: a Union worthy of their political affections, securing room for them to pursue their higher duties to God and the good of their neighbor
Contributed by Matthew Parks
The Federalist Today
New York, NY
Two hundred twenty-six years ago today [May 14], the Constitutional Convention was scheduled to open in Philadelphia. While it took eleven more days for a quorum of delegates to assemble, it took those delegates less than four months to answer the question that had brought them together: what can be done to make the Articles of Confederation “adequate to the exigencies of the Union”? Their answer: nothing. And so they proposed an entirely new frame of government, justifying this revolutionary act with an appeal to the document that justified the original American Revolution, the Declaration of Independence: “That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government….”
But since this was the people’s right, not the Convention’s, and since the Declaration had also asserted that governments derive “their just powers from the consent of the governed,” nothing would be settled until the public at large, acting through specially-called state conventions, ratified the new Constitution. And since ratification was by no means certain, the authors of The Federalist Papers, over eight and one-half months, made the case for the Constitution in eighty-five carefully-reasoned essays. Theirs is perhaps the world’s finest example of rhetorical statesmanship: morally responsible, intellectually profound, and practically-oriented. It is also profoundly republican.
Whatever their claims to political preeminence–and they were great–Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay made no appeal to authority in laying out their case for the Constitution. Publius, their collective pen name, would be only as persuasive as the reasons he gave. This was natural, since from the opening paragraph of the first essay, they recognized that the debate was not just about whether the United States would adopt the Constitution or even whether the union of the states would continue, but also, and most fundamentally, whether “societies of men are really capable or not of establishing good government from reflection and choice or whether they are forever destined to depend for their political constitutions on accident and force.”
Too often our leaders are not so magnanimous today. A poster in the New York City subway tells it all. Beside a stick figure picture of a man slumped against a support column, the text instructs: “See someone in need? Get help!”and then directs the hopeless citizen to the nearest subway employee or police officer. Let the professionals handle things. From the subways to the State Department, our modern bureaucratic state has been designed to make popular reflection less and less meaningful and choice less and less real. As President Reagan said, “The nearest thing to eternal life we will ever see on this earth is a government program”–guarded by a phalanx of experts impervious to all November election arrows. As we pay deference to their authority, we hand over more and more power to a ruling class that considers itself too sophisticated to talk about “good”government, a quaint or perhaps nefarious notion from a bygone age. What we need today, they believe, is not good government, but effective government. Over the last two centuries, politics has grown up, setting aside childish debates about philosophical abstractions like justice to confront the real scientific facts of social life. And since the most universal fact of all is that our existence is a matter of metaphysical accident, modern statesmanship amounts to artfully applying intellectual force against those who still believe that their reflection and choice is a matter of consequence–against, in other words, the members of the political flat earth society. Thus, President Obama promised in his First Inaugural that his administration would “restore science to its rightful place” and supplied all the necessary graphs to demonstrate the wisdom of his stimulus bill, health care overhaul, and energy policy.
Not surprisingly, then, the biggest players in today’s political arena are the fact-checkers. And they are everywhere–essential members of every post-speech or -debate cable news panel and the best-placed columnists in the best print and online journals. Apparently inspired by the reverence with which media elites receive a judgment of “two pinocchios,” one debate moderator in the last presidential season even took it upon herself to do some real-time fact-checking (at the expense of the unfortunate Republican candidate, as last week’s hearings on Benghazi made abundantly clear). Along the way, the definition of political facts has expanded with the profile of the fact-checkers. As a result, more and more judgments about facts are really just another form of ideological warfare. We naturally wonder: is there any room left for reasonable debate on contestable questions?
There is good reason to dispute the “just the facts” approach to politics–and not only the remarkable distance between the lines on the graphs and the real facts of our experience. The founders, as it turns out, were not as unscientific as we presume. Hamilton’s Treasury Department, composed of the Secretary and a few clerks, gathered and analyzed detailed data on the new nation’s debt, international trade, and manufacturing base. But Hamilton never supposed, as Secretary of the Treasury or advocate of the Constitution, that well-tabulated numbers carried with them necessary policy prescriptions. The national debt was $76 million, but whether and how that should be paid down were moral questions that required careful reasoning from first principles. And since human beings are, in fact, responsible moral agents ultimately accountable to the God who made them, it was not just meaningful, but necessary, to distinguish good government from bad and to challenge the belief that all politics is a matter of accident and force.
What would be required to reintroduce reflection and choice into the public square–and, perhaps more importantly, deliver us from the arbitrary power (“accident and force”) of the ruling class? We would do well as a political community to consider Publius’s opening argument in Federalist 1 and model our politics accordingly. There he states simply: (1) You have been called to choose; (2) Yours is a fundamental choice between (rare) good government and (common) bad government; (3) Your choice will make a difference for you, your descendants, and the world at large; (4) The flaws of human nature make good choices difficult, but not impossible.
Such a political reclamation project would require leaders who were willing to make arguments, and citizens who were willing to consider arguments and empowered to make choices. The reward for the revival of this type of politics would be the satisfaction of having resurrected reflection and choice as an alternative for mankind, along with all of the associated benefits of peace, prosperity, and human flourishing that typically result from them. The risk of not reviving this type of politics is the frightening prospect that the kinder, gentler, more palatable employment of accident and force in politics will not remain so; that having lost the taste for governance rightly understood, both rulers and ruled will become more and more accustomed to imposing their will upon one another, making arbitrary government, along with death and taxes, the most reliable fact of all.
Before he enter on the Execution of his Office, he shall take the following Oath or Affirmation:--"I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my Ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States."