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By Dean Wright
New 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.
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.
Various conservative grassroots contributors.
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