Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Election 2010: Is it 1966, or a Real Turning of the Statist Tide?

In 1964, Lyndon Johnson scored a landslide victory over Barry Goldwater to become President of the United States. He had long “coattails”, bringing with him huge congressional Democrat majorities. The Old Left rose to power, for a short while. But, it was long enough. Over the next two years, a massive statist lurch to the Left shook the foundations of Americanism. In the brief 1965-66 time span, we got Medicare, Medicaid, the Federal Student Loan program, the War on Poverty, and other Great Society programs.

By 1966, the country had had enough, and Johnson’s socialist momentum broke up in the wreckage of that year’s Republican midterm electoral landslide. But, the damage had been done to individual rights and capitalism.

I reflect back to that period because of the striking similarities between then and the past couple of years. In 2008, Barack Obama won a modest victory over John McCain, but nonetheless carried with him to Washington huge Democrat congressional majorities. This time, it was the New Left – the 1960s “student rebellion” gang – that swept into power. Unlike the Old Left, which (at least superficially) hung on to some respect for what America stood for, the New Left has no such loyalty. It is virulently anti-American in the most fundamental sense – it utterly rejects the concepts of unalienable individual rights protected by a government limited to that responsibility. Led by this nation’s first unabashed, undiluted counter revolutionary president – that is to say, counter American Revolution – the Democrats built upon the statism of the prior Bush Administration to forge a massive bureaucratic buildup of regulatory powers that is about to unleash a perpetual tidal wave of increasing controls over every aspect of our lives.

To call Obama/Democrat policies a major regression towards a totalitarian state would not be an exaggeration.

In 2008, I abstained from a presidential vote, and stated my reasons. (I did, however, vote Republican in the congressional races in hopes of blunting the Democratic gains and thus Obama’s agenda.) Subsequent events have vindicated that decision. A McCain presidency would have continued the stealth statism of the previous Bush Administration, preventing the rise of the rebellion we now call The Tea Party Movement. At the same time, a McCain Administration would not have prevented the emergence of an Obama. It would only have delayed it. This would have meant an Obama inheriting an even more statist government than the one handed to him by George W. Bush.

The 2009/10 statist assault on America parallels 1965-66, although it is even more virulent and aggressive now than then. And, like then, the country has, once again, had enough after only two years. Also like then, the damage has been done. In 1966, the “swing to the Right” set in motion the momentum that would lead to a conservative revival that would sweep Ronald Reagan into the White House in 1980, and Republicans into full or partial control of Congress for most of the next quarter of a century after that.

Today, the fundamental issues confronting America have been brought into the sharpest focus of my lifetime. They are: A rights-protecting government vs. one that rules over a mass of subjects and serfs, capitalism vs. socialism, individual rights vs. group “rights”, individualism vs. collectivism.

The last swing to the Right that launched in 1966 ultimately failed. I explained how and why two years ago. By 2000, despite two decades of conservative political dominance, the Old Left statism of 1965-66 had been preserved – and even gently expanded. The 20th Century’s strongest “swing to the Right” ended by having been nothing more than a Republican caretaker government – of the welfare state. This set the stage for a strong renewal of the assault on our rights under Bush II, followed by the Obama eruption.

Today we face a much more critical choice, because we are so much further down the path to totalitarian socialism now than we were 44 years ago. It’s no longer a matter of stopping the welfare statists. The Old Left gave us more or less specific, delimited programs. The New Left has given us an imperial bureaucracy wielding unlimited, arbitrary powers that can not be contained. Though this situation did not come out of the blue, but is the logical culmination of the trend that began more than a century ago, the fact is that our government has finally broken free of virtually all remaining constitutional and moral constraints on its monopoly power of legalized physical force. A totalitarian Frankenstein is on the loose.

Therefor, it’s long past time to sweep aside conservatism in favor of a radical pro-individual rights, pro-capitalist agenda that logically means rolling back and eventually eliminating the regulatory welfare state. There is no other way to cure an aggressive, malignant cancer except to completely – and I mean totally – cut it out before it kills the patient.

That will require time to build the proper philosophical foundation, a project that has barely, though effectively, begun. To buy that time, Obama, like Lyndon Johnson, must first be stopped. That can be accomplished by electing enough Republicans to congress to shrivel the Democrats’ majorities to the margins or even giving one branch to the GOP. Divided government means little major legislative “progress”, which is about all we can hope for from today’s mushy GOP. Time, again, is what we must buy.

Therefor, this is the time to vote Republican without a second thought.

I am under no illusions that the Republicans are anything but the intellectual weaklings they have almost always been, or that the current crop can reverse the tide. Just check out their lame “Pledge to America”. And, the GOP carries within it a danger of equal magnitude to Left collectivism – the Religious Right. On the other hand, there are hopeful signs that the party can be molded into an effective force for Americanism, over time. For one thing, we have the Tea Party Movement that, despite its own statist baggage, nonetheless has a significant “sense of life” that leans toward individualism. For another, Ayn Rand Objectivism, though still relatively unknown, continues to penetrate the culture (which includes a strong piece of the Tea Party). We desperately need it, and ideas can spread without people being aware of from whom they originated. Good ideas ultimately can, and must, win the day.

The battle for America will be long and hard. Obama charged into power vowing to “fundamentally change America”. By that he meant unwinding its Founding principles, which he believes are “flawed”. We Objectivists will not settle for the same old failed conservative strategy, which amounts to preserving and protecting the statist “gains” of the previous “swing to the Left”. Contrary to conventional wisdom, President Obama knew full well that the aggressive socialist push of his first two years would likely cost him his Democrat congress. He didn’t and doesn’t really care. His fundamental change has been achieved, and now he can sit back and watch the “moderate” Republicans preserve and consolidate those gains, as they percolate through America.

It’s 1966, again. Or, maybe not. Perhaps things will turn out different, this time.

The Democrat collapse follows closely on the heels of the Republican collapse of the past two-four years. Both major parties are bankrupt intellectually and politically. Both are at rock bottom in public esteem. Both liberalism and conservatism are discredited. The country is swinging wildly between the lesser of two evils, with the GOP being the current winner-by-default. As a consequence, the country is ready for new ideas and a truly new direction. Therein lies the opportunity.

Ayn Rand’s influence has grown substantially since 1980. The 1960s New Left is at peak political power under Obama/Pelosi/Reid. Objectivism is growing towards becoming the leading secular philosophy in America. Collectivism/socialism is the echo from a dead past. Individualism/capitalism is the future. Objectivists aim to fundamentally change America in the opposite direction, reclaiming America’s Founding principles and going further: fully and consistently implementing them for the first time, on the solid philosophical foundation provided by America’s Last Founding Father – Ayn Rand.

To advance toward that ambitious goal, the first step is to vote Republican on November 2, 2010.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

To Deny the Consequences of ObamaCare, Deny the Principles

The rebellion against ObamaCare has taken the form of ballot initiatives in three states
that, if passed, would approve state constitutional amendments against the mandatory health insurance provision of the Federal health care law. One such initiative is the “Right to Health Care Choice
”, or Amendment 63, in Colorado. It would free all state residents from any legal requirement to purchase any private or public health plan, and protect their right to contract directly with healthcare providers for the purchase of their services.

One would think that, in America, this individual freedom would be self-evident. One would be wrong, of course. Those freedoms we take for granted have been eroding for a long time, including under ObamaCare, making Amendment 63 necessary. The argument against the Amendment, and thus in favor of mandatory insurance, is presented in a Denver Post guest op-ed entitled What's wrong with Amendment 63?
by Steven R. Lowenstein and Mark Earnest. This article presents a good illumination of why the Right can not win against the advance of socialized medicine, and statism generally, without a radical philosophical recasting of the terms of the debate. The authors attempt to frame the healthcare issue around certain principles – the only ones that can justify their position - altruism and collectivism.

Lowenstein and Earnest begin with a broadside against Amendment 63 proponent Paul Hsieh:

In one position paper, Paul Hsieh calls the insurance mandate a "thinly veiled system of welfare;" Hsieh then asks if the federal government will now mandate insurance coverage for shoes. Another posting, predictably, warns against the "slippery slope to national health care." A third position paper likens the insurance requirement to "mandating that everyone who buys an iPhone also buy the extended warranty."

Rather than attempting to refute Hsieh’s analysis, they brush it off as “political sloganeering”. It’s clear why: To refute Hsieh’s argument, one would have to challenge the abstract premises behind it. To attempt it would prove the “slippery slope” point because, as Ayn Rand has observed, “principles, like laws of nature, continue to operate, whether men choose to recognize them or not” ("The National Interest, c'est moi", June, 1962). The authors refuse to recognize the principles behind Hsieh’s contentions or, more precisely, do not want the reader to recognize them. This is the Leftist game plan I wrote about on 10/6/10.

The authors’ utter disingenuousness aside, no objective and honest person can now deny the “slippery slope to national health care.” The history of the past 75 years of increasing government control of medicine is proof of that. ObamaCare is the clincher, and is being grafted onto a system that’s already semi-socialist. Compulsory health insurance, and ObamaCare in general, is another logical extension of government control.

Principles and precedents drive human events, and we ignore them at our peril. The broad principle driving the slippery slope of ever-expanding government control of healthcare is contained in FDR’s "second", or "economic bill of rights"
, reaffirmed in the Democratic Party platform of 1960
, which established the idea of a “right” to material benefits that must be compulsively provided by others. One of those was “a right to healthcare”. Understanding the underlying premises, Hsieh is correct to point out that ObamaCare has much wider implications for and beyond healthcare. A government that can force you to buy something can on principle force you to buy anything. He is in good company.

The Founders who created this country understood the power of principles and precedents. James Madison fought against compulsory government funding of religion, based on an abstract argument much wider than the specific issue. In his 1785 “Memorial and Remonstrance Against Religious Assessments”, Madison succeeded in turning America away from another slippery slope, one that would have ended religious liberty. He reminded his countrymen of why they had so recently fought for independence, with this basic argument:

The free men of America did not wait till usurped power had strengthened itself by exercise, and entangled the question in precedents. They saw all the consequences in the principle, and they avoided the consequences by denying the principle.

Identifying the long-term consequences of specific government policies demands a level of abstract analysis. Holding the focus locked only onto the immediate concrete issue of the moment is a self-blinding method of mental functioning, rendering one unable to notice where the path one is on is leading. But, a string of concrete steps linked by unifying principles is exactly what slippery slopes are made of. We have now reached the point on the slope that, by sidestepping the principles, Lowenstein and Earnest can make this outlandish claim:

The mandate that every American obtain adequate health insurance is no slippery slope toward government-run health care. In fact, the insurance mandate is only included in the Affordable Care Act because the private health insurance market cannot function without it.

How did we get to the point where “the private health insurance market cannot function without” government compulsion? The markets for life, personal umbrella liability, automobile collision, and homeowners insurance operate just fine without compulsory government mandates, and so would health insurance. My life insurance policy affords financial security for my wife in the event of my untimely death. That protection is not diminished by the fact that my neighbor doesn’t carry life insurance. What doesn’t work without government compulsion is socialization through private companies, which is what the superficially “private health insurance market” had largely become and which ObamaCare is designed to fully implement. The insurance mandate, like all mandates already on the books, is backdoor wealth redistribution, not any attempt to “preserve” what does not now exist – “the health care free market”. The use of private companies as conduits for socialization does not constitute any semblance of capitalism. It is the economic premise of fascism.

The next sentence should serve as a warning to the Right:

When Congress began debating health care reform in the spring of 2009, liberals and conservatives agreed that insurance companies should no longer be able to deny coverage because of pre-existing health conditions nor drop this coverage when illness strikes.

Without challenging the root cause of this government-created scourge, the third-party-payer system that severs the consumer of healthcare from ownership of his policy, the mandate becomes the logical next step. The GOP’s Pledge to America apparently supports this mandate on insurers, vowing to “ensure access for those with pre-existing conditions”, once again concurring with the basic statist premises of the Left. Once you’ve granted to government the power to impose a single insurance provision, you’ve granted it the power to impose any number of provisions on insurers and their customers alike. There is no slippery slope? Read on:

That mandate — to offer insurance coverage to the healthy and the sick alike — is included in the health care reform act. But no one believes that private health insurance companies can survive unless there is a second mandate — one that says that healthy people have to buy in too.

This is very true. If people can save wads of money on premiums by simply waiting to buy a policy after they become sick, who would carry insurance? The insurance companies would be plundered into bankruptcy in no time. The Republicans attempt to straddle the fence between the two mandates is logically indefensible, and only serves to strengthen the statists’ credibility. This is what philosophical agnosticism engenders. The GOP conservative defenders of the free market, by supporting the first mandate, have paved the way for the second. As to the authors’ denial of the slippery slope: Well, they’ve just refuted their own argument. There it is, in action: the third-party-payer system, leading to the plague of pre-existing conditions, leading to those two mandates.

“The insurance mandate is not a radical assault on capitalism or the free market. The mandate is necessary to preserve the health care free market”, write the authors. This sounds a lot like Bush, who justified TARP with the statement, “I had to abandon free market principles, in order to save the free market”. “Slavery is Freedom” is the unstated rallying cry of the collectivists– novelist George Orwell did not exaggerate. The assault on freedom has long been waged under the guise of preserving it, in this case by equating “private ownership” or “the private market” with capitalism. But, those also exist under the system of backdoor socialism, known as fascism. Capitalism means one thing and one thing only – the separation of economics and state embodied within the recognition of individual rights. The Left is winning, often helped along by the Right, because the proponents of freedom do not clearly articulate (or even understand) those principles. Slavery is not freedom, and neither is the individual mandate that Amendment 63 seeks to overturn.

Next comes the altruistic argument: “Admittedly, none of this matters if you do not believe that every Coloradan and every American should have access to health care. But Coloradans do get sick.” A litany of needs follows, which takes precedence over your property, your freedom, and your life, which must be sacrificed. Altruism holds that the needs of some is an automatic moral claim on the unearned, and is the basic rationalization for government programs like ObamaCare. It assaults our freedom in the name of the uninsured.

On a free market, everyone has access to not only healthcare but also to all of the goods and services of all producers, based upon the trader principle. Everyone is free to pursue healthcare, but not to rob his neighbor or enslave the providers to attain it, nor to elect politicians to do it for them. Justice reigns on a free market. It is just this - freedom from the human predator seeking to fulfill his needs by plunder - that enables widespread prosperity. As history has shown, the natural incentives and workings of a free market leads to ever increasing quality and affordability. To cite just one of thousands of examples, multi-million dollar mainframe computer power once available only to large corporations and governments is now dwarfed by the power of laptops affordable to virtually every income class. Every unmet human need or desire represents a market opportunity for any industrious mind willing to rise to fill it. Only a free market can liberate the mind to innovate.

But, a free market is not listed as one of the “few alternatives to the health care insurance mandate”. We get only single payer or the status quo. “But”, declare the authors with a straight face, “the status-quo means relentlessly rising insurance premiums and health care costs; and it means you may not be able to find insurance coverage if you are poor, unemployed or sick.” The status quo is the product of decades of rising government interference into American medicine. If greater affordability and access to healthcare and health insurance is truly the goal, the first place to look to begin the reform effort is government. But, previous government policies are ignored because fixing the problem is not the Left’s goal. The Left’s goal is precisely what Lowenstein and Earnest begin the article by brushing aside: the "slippery slope to national health care."

Guilt, the corollary of altruism, finds its way in.

Then there is the matter of fairness. The uninsured pay taxes too. The uninsured have invested in physicians' and nurses' training. They have helped pay for hospital construction. They have supported research and the discovery of the drugs, medical devices and surgical techniques that all of us need. "Health care for all" is no welfare handout to the uninsured; they have a right to health care because they paid for it.

Here, they are right, but not in the way they mean. It is unfair for anyone to be forced to pay, through their taxes, for any of those things. But, it is particularly grotesque that those who can’t afford the government-induced sky-high cost of insurance must be forced to pay for the government-funded healthcare of others. This is a good example of how the violations of rights in one area leads to rights violations in others. Principles are inexorable – they continue to work. The uninsured do indeed pay. But, that doesn’t give them a right to healthcare. They do, however, have a right to their monetary property. At the very least, they should be given tax credits to purchase insurance, to offset what they pay toward government funding. This is a good short-term reform to advocate, and of course it is not what the authors want. They want to pile one injustice on top of another. They love that slippery slope.

There is only one political principle that can justify Lowenstein’s and Earnest’s argument – collectivism, or the subordination of the individual to the group. And there is only one ethical standard that can justify collectivism – altruism, or the doctrine that holds service and sacrifice for others as the standard of the good. To defeat the advance of statism, it is collectivism/altruism that must be challenged. As long as they are not, the statists will always occupy the moral high ground that rightfully belongs to the advocates of freedom and capitalism. There will always be someone with a need to justify a moral, and ultimately a political, claim on the lives of all. The Left’s whole ideological edifice is laced through with the essential premises relied upon by the authors of this piece. You hear it every time the proponents of government-run healthcare speak up, from Obama on down.

In their concluding paragraph, Lowenstein and Earnest drop the pretense of compassion and openly call for the initiation of US government force against its own private citizens, in the form of “subsidization and [legal] compulsion”. This is the naked essence of socialism: the convergence of altruism and force. Force is the antipode of freedom – i.e., of individual rights. Those who resort to it, forfeit all claim to compassion. Force is the antipode of Capitalism, of free markets, and of a truly “private market in health care”. Legalized force is the only means of implementing “universal coverage” based upon the principle of a “right” to healthcare.

The precedents have long been established for the end of freedom, and usurped power is everywhere entangled in American healthcare, as is amply demonstrated throughout this piece. The Left fully understands the principles and precedents driving healthcare down the “slippery slope toward government-run health care”: They initiated them. To reverse the trend, it’s time to see the consequences of their principles, and deny those principles: There is no right to healthcare, and government has no business imposing universal coverage and usurping the peoples’ right to make their own healthcare choices.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

The GOP "Pledge": Business as Usual

Indications continue to multiply that this could be a big electoral year for the Republicans. The Democrats are in disarray. The rise of the Tea Party has added a strong tail wind behind the Republicans. A large segment of the country is confused, cynical, and frightened of a government that has seemingly broken completely free of all constitutional and moral constraints. I believe the time is right for a strong defense of individual rights and Capitalism to counter the Left’s collectivist/socialist juggernaut. An unprecedented opportunity has arisen for the GOP to offer an historic “choice, not an echo”. The question I posed in my post of 10/6/10 was: “Is the GOP up to the ideological task”? We now have an answer. It is not a promising one. It’s business as usual. It’s called the GOP’s “Pledge to America”.

In the introduction, the Pledge recites the words of the Declaration of Independence, without explicitly defining the principle of individual rights that it upholds. Defending individualism, the foundation of America and of Capitalism, begins with a complete understanding of individual rights. The Pledge offers no beginning, middle, or end.

The Pledge is vague and inconsistent, and sprinkled with what in today’s usage are collectivist terms. The “common good” and the “will of the people” are common refrains used to justify statism. They meant something different to the Founding Fathers, who understood that the individual’s sovereign right to freedom of action in pursuit of his own life’s goals and happiness was outside of the scope of power of any electoral majority. The ballot box can not trump the individual’s rights, and promoting the common good meant protecting those rights.

As proof of my claim that the Republicans desperately need a clear and principled statement – a Philosophical Contract with America - I cite this:

“An arrogant and out-of-touch government of self-appointed elites makes decisions, issues mandates, and enacts laws without accepting or requesting the input of the many.”

Does this mean that the government can make any decisions, issue any mandates, and enact any law it pleases as long as it gets the input, and approval, of “the many”? It sounds a lot like unlimited majority rule, or democracy. Does that statement mean socialism is OK, as long as a majority – “the will of the people” – approves? How does that square with “the unalienable rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness”? We’ll never know, because a view of the proper relationship between the individual and the state is never defined. How does democracy square with the idea of America as a constitutionally limited republic? Are rights unalienable, or are they gifts dependent upon “the input of the many” … i.e., “the will of the people”? Which is it? We are promised that “American values” will be restored. But what are they: a hodgepodge that mixes vague undefined references to “liberty” with explicitly collectivist catchphrases?

The Pledge is laced with this kind of philosophical contradiction and confusion. How does one build “a new governing agenda for America” out of that? History provides the answer: It doesn’t. What it does do is to paralyze the opponents of statism, and embolden the statists.

Citing just one concrete proposal listed in this document highlights its dangerous vagueness. Under healthcare, the GOP promises to "repeal and replace the government takeover of health care". In the same breath, it promises to “ensure that those with pre-existing conditions gain access to the coverage they need”. How? It doesn’t say. The implication is that government will mandate that coverage, in one way or another. It sounds like ObamaCare light. A government that respects and protects individual rights would never be granted the power to issue mandates to insurers. The “pre-existing conditions” plague is a government-created problem, and can be eliminated by ending the government-imposed employer-based, or third-party-payer, system of health insurance. But, among the free market solutions offered up, this big kahuna is avoided. Pre-existing conditions is one of the main justifications for ObamaCare, is prime fodder for free market champions as a failure of statism, and should be front and center of the ongoing healthcare debate. Yet, the Republicans punt, and simply adopt the Democrats’ premises, instead of removing the cause.

Worse, the Pledge embraces some of the Religious Right’s statist agenda:

“We pledge to honor families, traditional marriage, life, and the private and faith-based organizations that form the core of our American values.”

Where does the individual fit into this litany? The holding of the family as the foundation of society hearkens back to Middle Age Feudalism, or to modern Islamic culture, where the individual is subordinate to the Clan. The family institution obviously has a vital and valuable function, but only within the context of a rights-based, secular legal structure. Bans on gay marriage and abortion are blatant violations of individual rights, properly understood. The separation of church and state is the bulwark against religious tyranny: It leaves everyone free to hold and practice his or her private religious or non-religious beliefs without interference from the state. But the Pledge seems to challenge that bulwark. President George W. Bush’s “Faith-Based Initiatives”, continued and supported by President Barrack Obama, violates that separation doctrine through government support of private religious organizations – in direct defiance of the First Amendment’s “establishment” clause, and of individual rights.

In what could be the most disastrous clause in a generally disastrous manifesto, the Pledge contains this plank:

“We will adhere to the Constitution and require every bill to cite its specific Constitutional Authority.”

Why disastrous? It’s a double-edged sword, with the sharpest edge aimed not at statism, but at freedom. As originally formulated, the Constitution was designed to protect the individual rights of the nation’s citizens, and to establish a government whose sole purpose is to protect those rights. On the face of it, one might think that tying legislation to the Constitution would stop the statist trend in its tracks. That would be true, if there existed a real champion of those principles in the political arena. A full ideological battle over the Constitution is desperately needed if America is ever to reestablish its Founding ideals.

But, the Constitution has been thoroughly shredded, both legally and especially philosophically. Its meaning has been destroyed by the “living constitution” doctrine, which holds that its tenets must be adaptable and ever changing. It must be “relevant” to the times. It is, as a living document, empty … empty of any principles or absolute, universal truths. Thus, to cite just a couple of examples, the “general welfare clause” has morphed from a mandate for government to establish the social conditions necessary for all people to exercise their liberty to live their lives, to a justification for the destruction of property rights (wealth redistribution). Similarly, the “commerce clause” has morphed from a ban on trade restrictions between states (protecting the right of free commerce nationally), to a license for the federal government to regulate and control nearly every economic aspect of our lives.

In his must-read Objective Standard article, Justice Holmes and the Empty Constitution, Thomas A. Bowden tells us how and why our Founding principles have been abandoned even by our judiciary. Importantly, that abandonment has been embraced not only by liberal, but by conservative intellectuals as well. As Bowden writes:

"[T]he emasculated Supreme Court now spurns virtually every opportunity to search the Constitution for underlying principles that place limits on state power."

Under the “empty” and “living” Constitutional premises accepted today, there is no piece of legislation that can not conceivably find “specific Constitutional Authority” to justify it. The Constitution, after all, contains no absolute or universal truths. The words of a document whose essential principles have been abandoned or evaded even by its alleged defenders can not be anything but a ball of putty moldable into any shape-of-the-political-moment.

As the Pledge to America clearly reveals, the Republican Party is ill-prepared to do theoretical Constitutional battle with the Left. It has no understanding, lacks the courage to uphold, or outright opposes the ideas that made the Constitution possible. Furthermore, the Constitutional pledge would require the Republicans’ to break with the conservatives’ strict adherence to “tradition”, and acknowledge that the original document, as great as it was, had flaws that served as poison pills that led to its undoing. It is obviously not prepared to do that. Lacking any explicit, uncompromising, and coherent defense of individual rights, the GOP is opening the door to an insidious inversion: Rather than stymie the statists, they could be handing them a gift. The Left, assuming they’re smart enough to grasp it, are being granted the opportunity of a lifetime to cloak their collectivist legislation in a Constitutional sanction, based upon the emptiness of the living document premise.

In my previous post, I wrote:

“It’s not that the Republican Party embraces bad ideas, in the sense of consistent principles. The truth is much worse. It stands for nothing: except moderation, bi-partisanship, and compromise as the only absolutes. Not only do they evade any principled stand on any issue, they often openly embrace the Left’s basic premises.”

The Pledge to America is a monumental blown political opportunity. The criticisms presented here do not exhaust the flaws in the Republican Pledge. There is no coherent message to rival the Democrats’ unabashed collectivism. There is no coherent message at all, except for a pledge to bear “true faith and allegiance to the people we represent”. What’s needed is true faith and allegiance to principles, not public opinion polls. Give the Democrats their due. They stayed true to their principles, despite “the will of the people”. That may cost them quite a few seats in the short term, but look what they’ve accomplished. If only the defenders of capitalism had such guts.

Should the Republicans sweep congress, the Pledge to America will stand as a self-imposed set of shackles that will hinder them. Worse, because of its vagueness, the Republicans will have ridden to power on an anti-Democrat, anti-incumbent wave only. This does not necessarily preclude them from developing into an effective force for pro-individual rights political governance. Once in power, if they gain power, they can still be steered in the right direction. But this will be hard - in fact nearly impossible - because they have once again shown that they stand for nothing.

This is true of the current Republican leadership. But, a lot of freshman blood will be swept into congress, and therein lies reason for guarded optimism. As an example of why there is hope, I refer you to this interview with Stephen Bailey, a young and promising House candidate challenging an incumbent in a strong liberal enclave. Mr. Bailey won the Republican nomination with 70% of the vote, by offering a good concrete model for what a generally consistent pro-individual rights political agenda looks like. Notice, as you listen to the interview, how his positions on a wide range of specific issues are anchored to a common principle. If he wins – and it appears to be a long shot, although this year one can never tell - he can be a force for philosophical “extremism in defense of liberty” within the GOP.

I don’t know how many other GOP upstarts share his views, but if Stephen Bailey represents the vanguard of a new Republican Party, then the future is considerably brighter than it now appears. The Pledge could be a last gasp for the me-too Republican old guard. The Tea Party has its intellectual firepower, and it will continue to roil the waters. It will not sit still for any kind of business-as-usual GOP majority, as we have seen in the primary season. We may yet see “extremism” on the Right.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Extremists vs. the Moderates: Why the Left Keeps Winning, and the Right has been Powerless to Stop It

There is no question that the Tea Party Movement has been and is a non-partisan phenomenon. And as I’ve said before – and this still holds true – it is leaderless ideologically. It is wracked with mixed premises, but with perhaps a common denominator embodied in the Revolutionary War-era Gadsden Flag demand: “Don’t Tread on Me” – a blow against authoritarian government. The Movement is almost as vehement in its opposition to the Republican Party as it is against the Democrats’ rampaging statism, especially the policies of the previous Bush Administration.

Despite its non-partisan nature, the Republican Party is becoming the political outlet of the Tea Party. This is not a paradox. A cultural movement must eventually find its political voice. In a two-party system, that means one of the major parties. The GOP is becoming it. But it is not in harmony with, but in spite of the established Republican leadership that the Tea Party is expressing its political voice. The GOP leaders and their neoconservative mouthpieces have been rebuffed time and again by primary defeats of their favorite candidates by Tea Party upstarts.

The tension between the Tea Party and the leadership has prompted an emerging Left/Democrat electoral strategy: paint the GOP as Tea Party “extremists”. Then, hold the Dems up as the “moderate” political middle. Here are a few examples:

In a recent article, Mike Castle's defeat -- and the end of moderate Republicanism, EJ Dionne laments the past “two decades in which moderates fled a [Republican] party increasingly dominated by its right wing.”

“[Rep. Mike] Castle's [Delaware GOP primary] defeat at the hands of Christine O'Donnell … does indeed mark the collapse of the Republican Party not only of Nelson Rockefeller and Tom Dewey but also of Bob Dole and Howard Baker.

“But the larger question is whether the country is ready to deliver a majority to a Republican Party that now holds problem-solvers like Castle in contempt.”

In a snippy little piece, Republicans Under a Spell, Richard Cohen ties the Tea Party to “witchcraft”, and declares the GOP under its “spell”. After a sprinkling of context-dropping insults against Christine O’Donnell and Newt Gingrich, he adds this:

"Similarly, only a spell can explain why much of the Republican Party insists on calling Obama a socialist. To apply this label to the very man who saved Big Finance, who rescued Goldman Sachs and the rest of the boys, who gave a Heimlich to the barely breathing banks, can only be explained by witchcraft or voodoo or something like that. It has caused the GOP to lose its mind. Obama did something similar to the American auto industry, saving it from itself. He did not let it fail or nationalize it, as a socialist would have done, but pumped cash into it so that -- this is me speaking -- it can fail later on."

Cohen goes on to attack the constitution and the Founding Fathers, and that deserves serious scrutiny. But, that is a subject for another day.

The Left-leaning NJ Star-Ledger says:

The tea party-anointed winner in Alaska wants to do away with Social Security and Medicare and the one in Nevada talks of the possible need for an armed revolt against the federal government. Much of the same ideological excess is evident, in varying degrees, among tea party winners in other GOP races.

The tea party [supplies] much of the energy in the GOP revival. Trouble is, they risk driving away moderate Republicans in November and bringing independents back to the Democrats. (Editorial, 9/16/10)

And when boiled down to sound bites, tea party ideas make sense to many Americans: limited government, reduced spending (and, in turn, lower taxes), balanced budgets, self-reliance and free-market capitalism.

But beyond those phrases are policy positions that, in normal times, would scare most voters: privatizing Social Security, dismantling big parts of the federal government, trashing the health care and Wall Street reforms, reconsidering civil rights laws and outlawing abortion even in the case of rape.

That may be emerging as the Democratic strategy for this fall’s congressional elections: Label tea party candidates as loonies, then link, by association, the rest of the Republicans… (Editorial, 9/21/10)

The Star-Ledger doesn’t say how “outlawing abortion even in the case of rape” – which means government violating a woman’s individual rights - jives with “limited government, self-reliance and free-market capitalism”, the system based upon the recognition and protection of individual rights. Though that is somewhat beside the point of this essay, it does highlight the Tea Party’s mixed premises I alluded to early on.

The common thread running through these examples – Dionne’s “extremism”, Cohen’s “spell”, the Star-Ledger’s “craziness” – is the fear that what may win in November is the emergence of an “extreme” set of ideas – a consistent ideological agenda that at this time is still lacking in the GOP.

The Left loves moderate, bi-partisan Republicans, and it is important to understand why. They provide an ideological vacuum through which to advance its agenda.

Though both parties talk about the political “middle” as the great electoral prize, the fundamental battle in America is between two extremes – collectivism vs. individualism, and their respective political manifestations, socialist statism vs. free market capitalism. The first holds that the individual, his life, and his property belong to the state, while the second holds that the individual owns his life, and the state is limited to protecting his unalienable right to live it.

The Left has always been fully consistent – i.e., extreme – in pursuing its agenda. For the past century, it has relentlessly upheld its collectivist ideology, as is evident in all of its rhetoric. Notice how the Left frames the issues. The “public interest”, the “common good”, the “good of society”, etc., are standard rationalizations for all manner of statist policies. They are collectivist terms, implying the superiority of the group or collective over its individual components. Tax issues are framed on the premise of whether or not “we” – meaning the state - can “afford” cuts or not. Earnings are implicitly presumed to be the property of the state, which determines how much of it private citizens who worked for it are allowed to keep. Their calls for personal self-sacrifice are manifest. To what end?: for the sake of some “public good” like a stronger economy, as if the economy is a separate entity apart from the economic activities of individuals, and which can thrive on private sacrifice rather than achievement. “Ask not what your country can do for you. Ask what you can do for your country”, implored JFK in one of the most famous collectivist political statements in American history. The “country” is held to be an entity onto itself - you must sacrifice for the group, not the other way around, obliterating completely the individualist concept of doing for yourself. Collectivist fundamentals are everywhere and at all times embedded in the Left’s rhetoric. And they mean it.

The Left will certainly compromise legislatively, such as Obama giving up on the “public option”, so long as the ball is moved toward its ultimate totalitarian socialist goal, as with ObamaCare. The Left will gladly forego the political first down on the first play, knowing that the GOP’s “problem-solvers like Castle” will compromise on a three or four-yard gain. But the first downs will keep coming on four-yard gain after four-yard gain, as the drive toward the collectivist goal line continues. The Democratic Left represents one extreme, collectivism, and proudly and openly stands on those principles. It has never been “moderate” in regard to its ideological essentials.

The GOP, with rare exceptions, has abandoned the other extreme, individualism (if it ever really embraced it). It has no principles, no ideals, no understanding of the capitalism it is supposed to stand for. It’s not that the Republican Party embraces bad ideas. The truth is much worse. It stands for nothing: except moderation, bi-partisanship, and compromise as the only absolute. Not only do they evade any principled stand on any issue, they often openly accept the Left’s basic premises - or embrace them by default.

The Left knows, or at least seems to sense, that the only thing that can reverse its century-long statist march down field is the emergence of a principled defender of individual rights, government’s proper role as a protector of rights, and a moral defense of both – which means, capitalism. This is why, as we approach Election Day, the Left strives desperately to protect its best secret weapon – those ever-dependable moderate Republicans.

Never mind that “the center of the political spectrum” is where most Americans “live”. The center, or middle, is only a mixture of the two main contradictory premises – some collectivist, some individualist. But the American people, by and large, have always leaned to the Right, toward individualism – the fundamental premise of capitalism. Yet, the past 75-100 years has been a steady drift toward totalitarian socialism. So far toward collectivism has America traveled that challenging the socialist sacred cows - “privatizing Social Security, dismantling big parts of the federal government, trashing the health care and Wall Street reforms” - is considered “crazy”: and “limited government, reduced spending, balanced budgets, self-reliance and free-market capitalism” are mere “sound bites”.

How could this be? The reason: the Dems have been far more consistent - read, extreme - in cleaving to their collectivist “ideological purity”. Socialism has had a loud voice in the Democratic Party, but capitalism has yet to find its political voice. The two ideological extremes are the primary combatants. The Left knows it. The Right doesn’t. The result: The political "middle" keeps moving Left.

Socialism, not surprisingly, is winning. I’ve included that bite by Cohen above, partly as evidence for the Democrats’ reigning socialist underpinnings. Cohen’s denials notwithstanding, what exactly does it mean for a government to have “saved Big Finance…Goldman Sachs and…the barely breathing banks [and doing] something similar to the American auto industry”? “He did not let it fail or nationalize it,” Cohen continues, “as a socialist would have done”. Really? Those actions are precisely the kinds that a socialist would have taken. “Why need we trouble to socialize banks and factories? We socialize human beings,” declared Adolf Hitler, the leader of the National Socialist Workers (Nazi) Party, in 1933 (Page 231-232). Socialism comes in many guises, ranging from communism to fascism to Nazism to welfare state mixed economies, but its essential nature is always the same. Obama is no Hitler, but he is a socialist. Socializing human beings is Obama’s vision, and only a clear understanding of the collectivism/individualism divide can dramatize that fact. A moderate, middle-of-the-road opposition will always keep that truth safely obscured for the Left.

The Tea Party Movement - though still a fractious, ideologically leaderless phenomenon which contains its own statist baggage such as the social authoritarianism of the Religious Right – has the potential to evolve into the kind of powerful movement that the Left fears: a principled defender of the opposing extreme. I should note at this point that I don’t regard "extremism" to be a vice, as it is popularly regarded today. In the philosophical sense – that is to say, in the field of abstract ideas – extremism means a consistent, uncompromising adherence to a coherent set of principles. Barry Goldwater’s famous line in his 1964 GOP presidential nominating speech, in which he defiantly stood up against the same Democrat smears, makes the point:

And let our Republicanism so focused and so dedicated not be made fuzzy and futile by unthinking and stupid labels.

I would remind you that extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice! And let me remind you also that moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue!

Today’s Democratic tactics are once again designed to keep the Republicans’ firmly in the “fuzzy and futile” mode. The Dems have been successful, over time, in implementing their statist agenda because that strategy has almost always worked. Right or wrong, good or bad, the philosophical extremist is a thinker – and a driver of human events.

But, America is ripe for a turning point, and the Left seems to sense it. The Tea Party phenomenon, despite some bad ideas such as outlawing abortion, carries a strong underlying cultural theme – a realization that we are losing control of our lives to a central planning elite, and a readiness to roll that power back. But it has yet to find its explicit ideological voice. It has not yet coalesced around a consistent philosophical framework, like the collectivist Left. Without it, the movement will ultimately fail. But, the massive lurch toward authoritarianism over the past decade, capped by Obama statism, has been a wakeup call for most Americans, I believe. The individualist element of “the center of the political spectrum” is the ascendant force in American politics today, and I believe that the time is right for a principled, pro-individual rights, pro-capitalist challenge to the Left’s collectivist ideological monopoly. I also believe that the Left knows it, and fears it. Smear tactics are an admission of desperation to avoid an intellectual challenge.

In today’s Tea Party environment, the Dems emerging strategy could backfire big time – if the expected Republican rout is backed up with some ideological backbone. The consequences of welfare statism are now too obvious to ignore: It is hampering the productive economy, bankrupting the country, and destroying our freedom. The reactionary Democrats are on the ropes, and their welfare statism is vulnerable as never before. The question is: Is the GOP up to the ideological task? Or, will the coming Republican dominance be just another meaningless interlude to be followed by another Democrat first down.

The Republican Party needs to become what the Left is claiming it is, what it fears, but which it still isn’t – the Party of the capitalist “extreme” Right. It must do some serious soul searching, to discover why it has been retreating steadily in the face of the collectivist onslaught. It must stand up for individualism, with all that that implies. The strategy will be risky, and could cost them many seats. But one election cycle is not the big prize. Turning the country around is, and a principled electoral stand today is a philosophical investment in future elections. A delayed win on principle trumps the big immediate sweep based upon the fog of moderation. A moderate GOP majority will only serve to consolidate the big recent Democrat legislative gains, and pave the way for their next big statist assault. This has been the recurring pattern of the past century or more.

Now, more than ever, is the time for a meaningful political fight over fundamental ideas. The Democratic/collectivist Left has moved the ball past midfield, and the socialist goal line looms not far downfield. Our time continues to run out.

-Mike LaFerrara