Monday, November 2, 2020

 Day 1: Vote your conscience


Over the past month, social media posts, tweets, chats, etc. have been replete with “vote as if…” admonitions.


Vote as if you are black or brown.

Vote as if you are a woman.

Vote as if you are gay.

Vote as if you do not have healthcare.

Vote as if you do not have education.

Vote as if you do not have affordable housing.


Naturally, the list of “as if’s” goes on and on.


Gentle reader, may I suggest an alternate list of “what if’s” for your kind consideration?


Vote as if our equality depends upon it.

Vote as if your pursuit of happiness depends upon it.

Vote as if your liberty depends upon it.

Vote as if your life depends upon it.


Equality, as conceived by the Founders and requisite to a free society is not an equality of outcomes but of opportunity. Equality that has as its end common outcomes can only be produced by force, taking from one or restricting one in order to give to another or to permit action by another. Equality of opportunity recognizes that any person who has and/or builds his or her knowledge, skills and abilities is free from government and quasi-government (e.g., unions supported with monopolistic protections from government) interference in pursuit of his or her own goals and objectives. When pursuing equality based on opportunity, each person has a self-interest to voluntarily engage with others, who, in pursuing their own interests, produce something of value to others and to society.


If person A is bigoted in any respect against person B, person A denies himself or herself the value produced by person B. In this case, the victim, which is a self-imposed victimization, is person A, because he or she may engage with person C, who may not necessarily provide value to the same degree of quality as person B. However, society today would have us believe that the victim is person B. If person B has a valuable contribution, there will always be a market for him or her.


A person will not recognize the value or worth of another just because the government orders it. In all likelihood, I suspect such government mandates have the opposite effect. Only through voluntary engagement with others will one person recognize – in a genuine and sustainable way – the value and worth of another. As you consider the candidates, which proposes the use of force (e.g., laws about who you can hire or to whom you can sell, required re-education, etc.), which is founded on an inherent (albeit unfounded) belief in inequality, to achieve equality. Consider, also, that such force has been attempted for decades with little to no success. Just turn on the nightly news for proof of this. Which candidate creates the environment for individuals to explore and appreciate the intrinsic value of others in a voluntary and mutually beneficial manner?


Happiness is described by Aristotle in “Nicomachean Ethics” in this way, “The good is the final end, and happiness is this.” But what is happiness? Charles M. Schulz answers this question in his book, “Happiness Is a Warm Puppy.” In the book, he provides a list of the many sources of happiness, from a friend showing up on your front porch to, of course, a warm puppy. The idea that Aristotle and Charles Schulz advance is that happiness is unique to each of us. Both Aristotle and Schulz recognize that various means (e.g., time, talent and treasure) may be useful in pursuing the end, which is happiness. For example, if happiness is a warm puppy, treasure is needed for the adoption fee, and time and talent are needed for the dog’s training and for the establishment of a sense of belonging.

In the pursuit of happiness, as you define it for yourself (for no one else can define if for you, especially not a stranger in a government bureau), what fosters your ability to achieve happiness? What hinders it? As you consider the candidates, which will free you and each citizen to the greatest extent to pursue those things that promote happiness?

Liberty is the freedom to act according to your will and in service of your own self-interest, insomuch as it does not adversely impact another person’s ability to do the same. This is the essential premise of our social contract. To assure each person of liberty, our form of government was designed in a way that is unique among the nations of the world, past or present. Our form of government was designed from a starting point that the individual citizen is sovereign and that We the People grant government its rights, and furthermore that we limit what those rights are.

Think about that for a moment. Unlike other forms of government, we are not subjects. We are not granted privileges by the state. We are not told what rights we have or do not have. At least, that was how our government was designed. That is why the characterization of American Exceptionalism as neo-fascist nationalism is flat out wrong. We are exceptional, because we are unique, and we are unique because we value each and every individual in a way no other form of government has done or does.

Over the course of our nation’s history, liberty, unencumbered by the government, has ebbed and flowed. In the times it has been allowed to flow, happiness and prosperity have flourished. When it has ebbed, always because of government intervention, economic and moral poverty and social disharmony have taken hold. In this matter, the record of history is clear. 

Scottish economist and philosopher Adam Smith showed that individuals, at liberty to pursue their own self-interests, will voluntarily and productively engage with one another and will thereby beneficially effect society’s interests. He called it the “invisible hand.” So-called intellectuals say this is simplistic and cannot be operationalized. Instead, they create Byzantine social orders and ever-failing regulatory schemes. And when those schemes fail, they plan more, saying they’ll get it right next time. All that is required more of our money and a greater sacrifice of individual liberty from you and me.

“Keep it simple, stupid,” is one of the great aphorisms. It’s stuck around, because it’s true. Since the early 20thcentury, government has taken an ever-increasing interest in and control over Americans’ lives, making complex the very act of living day-to-day. In so doing, we have a bloated government (at every level), and we are more restricted than ever in what we can and cannot do.

Ask yourself if the size, scope and cost of government secures your liberty and promotes your happiness. If not, might it be time for a simpler approach, one that dismantles the planners’ plans and allows us to breathe free? Consider the candidates and carefully weigh who is most likely to limit government and restore liberty.

Life, as Seneca observed, is short. It is essential that we pursue it with purpose and joy. He notes that laughter and lightheartedness are key ingredients to a good life. Yet look around. All we seem to see today is wailing and despair. Might it be because we are shackled in our pursuit of happiness and liberty? Might it be because we are hindered in engaging with one another as free agents, independent of the forces and coercion of government and of the Machiavellian perspectives on human nature espoused by the so-called intellectual elite, a perspective and worldview fraught with condescension and the repugnant sort of classism that is inherently antithetical to Americanism?

Seneca wrote, “We must therefore school ourselves to regard all commonly held vices as not hateful but ridiculous, and we should imitate Democritus rather than Heraclitus. For whenever these went out in public, the latter used to weep and the former to laugh; the latter thought all our activities sorrows, the former, follies. So, we should make light of all things and endure them with tolerance: it is more civilized to make fun of life than to bewail it. Bear in mind too that he deserves better of the human race as well who laughs at it than he who grieves over it; since the one allows it a fair prospect of hope, while the other stupidly laments over things he cannot hope will be put right.”

The French, of whose many philosophers inspired our own nation’s embarkation on the journey to a more perfect Union, speak of joie de vivre, the joy of living. Such living, by definition, must be based on happiness. As we discussed, happiness requires liberty. In considering the candidates tomorrow, who supports positions and policies that best promote your joie de vivre? Remember Smith and the fact that the pursuit of one’s self-interest and happiness also makes possible and advances the self-interests and happiness of others?

It really is astonishing to see how Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness are connected and symbiotic, and it is through these three that equality is assured to us and to our posterity.

Our vote, dear friend – yours and mine – is our opportunity to say, “this is what equality, life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness mean to me.” It is our natural right to pursue these things and to elect representatives who will act in accordance with the principle that government is here to serve our ends, which is to say our happiness. This can only be accomplished through simplicity and with the most limited use of force.

It is tempting, indeed, to game the system. It’s said that a vote for anyone other than Mr. Biden is a vote for Mr. Trump, and I’m sure the political calculus may be figured in the opposite direction, as well. If everyone, or even one, votes based on this sort of gamesmanship, as opposed to voting for the candidate who understands what equality, life, liberty and happiness truly mean in and to our republic, then and only then is that vote wasted.

May God bless you in the voting booth tomorrow, and may God bless America!



Sunday, November 1, 2020

 Day 2 Electoral College


Oliver Hardy first proclaimed on the silver screen to his friend Stan Laurel, “Well, here’s another nice mess you’ve gotten me into!” in the 1929 film “Double Whoopee.” As the election draws near and people head to the polls, a lack of understanding about the Electoral College and how it operates imperils our republic.


The news is fraught with reports of cities preparing for riots in the wake of the election. Businesses are standing up emergency operation centers. Celebrities make empty threats to renounce their citizenship, depending on who wins. Hysteria abounds.


Additionally, and most ruthlessly and recklessly, people are told that in the popular election their votes are thrown away if they don’t vote for a particular candidate. I, myself, was told this a while back by an otherwise learned friend. I will address this most piteous charge in our final discussion tomorrow.


In devising our system of government, the Framers of the Constitution, exceedingly well-studied people to be sure, examined various forms of government from the annals of history. They considered the aspects of those governments that worked and those that led to eventual demise…or to the ongoing repression of the people. Painstakingly, they crafted a system that would mitigate the errors of the past and would most equitably represent the will of the people. 


The Electoral College was on part of this system.


Article II, Section 1, Clauses 2 and 3 of the Constitution state, “Each State shall appoint, in such Manner as the Legislature thereof may direct, a Number of Electors, equal to the whole Number of Senators and Representatives to which the State may be entitled in the Congress; but no Senator or Representative, or person holding an Office of Trust or Profit under the United States shall be appointed an Elector. The Congress may determine the Time of chusing the Electors, and the Day on which they shall give their Votes; which Day shall be the same throughout the United States.”


In devising this system, the Framers sought to minimize chaos and corruption. As Alexander Hamilton wrote in Federalist 68, “It [the electoral college process, which included a careful deliberation of the qualities of presidential candidates] was also particularly desirable to afford as little opportunity as possible to tumult and disorder.” Hamilton later continued, “nothing was more to be desired than that every practicable obstacle should be opposed to cabal, intrigue, and corruption. These most deadly adversaries of republican government might naturally have been expected to make their approaches from more than one quarter, but chiefly from the desire in foreign powers to gain an improper ascendant in our councils.”


It is as if Hamilton was writing about today!


The Electoral College was originally envisioned as the collective of deliberative bodies in each state, elected by the states’ citizens in accordance with each state’s selection process. Remember that the Founders and Framers envisioned each state to be laboratory for promoting liberty and sound governance. Generally, citizens would select electors through popular vote and the electors would meet to choose the candidate who would get their state’s electoral votes. The electors would weight the popular vote results as well as the characteristics and qualities of the candidates. In doing so, electors were subject to the prescriptions and proscriptions of their respective state’s rules.


Over time, the processes in many states have removed that deliberative process in favor of more mechanistic approaches to allocating their electoral votes. The selection of electors still takes place, but it is veiled in most states in that selecting a candidate’s name on the popular ballot serves as a proxy for selecting electors.


At its heart, the Electoral College was designed to keep the selection of a President as local a decision as possible, thus minimizing the influence and corruption inherent in processes that are managed at the federal level. Over time, the hybrid approach that the Framers envisioned – one that relies on popular suffrage and includes informed deliberation, has lost the latter and its favorable effects. Maybe this is the cause of people’s true dissatisfaction with the college today.


In conceiving the Elector College, I wonder if the Framers were drawing on Cicero and “The Republic.” He suspected that a mixed constitution was desirable, meaning a combination of popular input with the deliberation of statesmen.


Despite being awash in information in our day and age, I venture to say that we are less informed than ever. Be it the fact that we consume information by reading headlines or tweets, or that we believe one perspective constitutes a sole source of truth and the other perspective is characterized as “fake news,” the American people have become dangerously uninformed.


Might it be the perfect time to breathe new life into this time-honored system that is the Elector College, before we get ourselves into another nice mess? That mess, of course, will be defined differently for each of us, based on the political philosophy to which we subscribe.


Saturday, October 31, 2020

 Day 3: Representation


In the years leading up to 1776, King George III and his government experimented with various and sundry ways to bring the American colonists into submission. A key characteristic of submission was the diminishment of representation in the legislative process. Many colonists, including most of the Founding Fathers, preferred a repaired relationship with the Crown to a separation from it. The independent nature of Americans at the time, though, would not permit a relationship that conferred upon themselves and their posterity anything less than the full rights and privileges of British subjects. 


That independent nature may be traced back to 1620 and the Mayflower Compact. In the compact, the colonists agreed “to enacte, constitute, and frame such just and equall laws, ordinances, acts, constitutions, and offices, from time to time, as shall be through most meete and convenient for the generall good of the Colonie unto which we promise all due submission and obedience.” These brave people dared to form a social contract and legal structure on their own, with fidelity to British law but in addition to it as necessity dictated, without the express assent of the King.


Independence and recognition of the importance of representation continued to be an integral part of America. For example, The Fundamental Orders of Connecticut (1639) and The Massachusetts Body of Liberties (1641) establish mechanisms for the voice of the citizen to be represented in the governance of the colonies.


In the 130 or so years that ensued, representation, particularly in respect to the parent country, eroded. For those laws written to address local issues in the colonies, promulgation was hindered because the king would not approve the laws, as noted in the first fact listed in the Declaration of Independence, “He has refused his Assent to Laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good.” The third fact “submitted to a candid world” was so stated, “He has refused to pass other Laws for the accommodation of large districts of people, unless those people would relinquish the right of Representation in the Legislature, a right inestimable to them and formidable to tyrants only.” Furthermore, the next three facts all pertain to representation, which demonstrates its importance to a free people.


What does this brief overview of representation in our form of government and its precursory forms have to do with the United States today?


Two issues come to mind. First is the relationship the government has with non-state possessions of the United States, such as Puerto Rico and the District of Columbia. Second is the law-making role of government agencies, departments, bureaus, etc. that impact your life and mine.


In 1893, Queen Lili’uokilani of the Hawaiian Kingdom attempted to pass a new constitution. Through a series of repressive acts by non-Hawaiian residents, the constitution was not ratified. The Hawaiian monarchy was overthrown, and Queen Lili’uokilani was imprisoned. The 1898 Congressional Joint Resolution To Provide for Annexing the Hawaiian Islands To the United States stated, “the Government of the Republic of Hawaii having, in due form, signified its consent, in the manner provided by its constitution, to cede absolutely and without reserve to the United States of America, all rights of sovereignty of whatsoever kind in and over the Hawaiian Islands and their dependencies.”


Why is the annexation of the Hawaiian Islands important today? Look to the Greater Antilles archipelago and to a U.S. possession in that island chain – the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico. Acquired by the United States, also in 1898, following the Spanish-American War, Puerto Rico is now a territory subject to the United States, but without any real representation, despite being taxed by the United States. Recall that representation is formidable only to tyrants. How quickly slogans like, “No taxation without representation,” are forgotten. Our seat of government, the District of Columbia, has also been plagued by similar tyranny.


How can people be free, if they are subject to rule but have no say in the form that rule takes? As our Founding Fathers knew, freedom cannot exist in such conditions. By holding hostage the people of Puerto Rico and the District of Columbia, does the government not deny them the very Natural Rights that underpin the Declaration of Independence, which, while not the law of our republic, is most assuredly the soul of our republic?


To broaden the discussion, We the People of the United States are also denied representation in less obvious yet equally insidious ways through the rule-making authority of the myriad organs of state, namely of the Executive Branch. Over the years, Congress has delegated rule making (i.e., creation of directives that carry the weight of laws and regulations) to the unelected legions of government functionaries, like those in the Department of Education, the Federal Communications Commission, the Environmental Protection Agency, and so-on and so-on. They make rule upon rule that affect you and me, from the composition of our gasoline to that of our breakfast cereal, from the services we can provide and consume to the improvements we can make to our homes, and, yes, even to the time, place and manner that we can freely speak what’s on our minds.


Ayn Rand observed in her novel, “Atlas Shrugged,” that voluminous regulation is intentional and necessary for control. It is virtually impossible for any given person on any given day not to break any given law, simply because there are too many to keep track of. It is the ultimate gotcha, enabling some government agent to have something on some citizen when it suits their purpose. This is exactly what Solzhenitsyn discusses in the chapter entitled “Arrest” in his magnum opus, “The Gulag Archipelago.” One would hope, perhaps childishly – like Don Quixote pursuing honor, that our government is better than that of Stalinist Russia. I still believe we are better; however, we must depart from the path we now tread, lest we find ourselves re-establishing the prison camps of FDR and his administration’s revocation of rights and representation of so many Americans.


In theory, we elect fellow citizens to represent our interests, yet there is little or no evidence that they take this fiduciary role in a responsible way. For this reason, I would entreat you, kind reader, to revisit Day 7 on Term Limits. Only by limiting their acquisition and augmentation of power can we refocus the political class on our interests as opposed to their own.

Friday, October 30, 2020

 Day 4: COVID-19


For a year, we have explored issues of interest vis-à-vis the 2020 election, yet I have been remiss in that I have not addressed the pandemic head-on. It is, without question, the defining issue of the year and perhaps of an entire generation.


At the end of 2019, an infectious disease began to spread worldwide. It cannot be ruled out that COVID-19 found its way out of a laboratory in Wuhan, China. The Chinese government, notoriously tight-lipped when faced with information that reflects poorly on its regime, an intrinsic characteristic of communism, was less than forthcoming in regard to containment failure and disease spread.


However, this is not where the story of the pandemic begins. Let us momentarily return to 2014. The Obama-Biden administration, through the National Institutes of Health (NIH) awarded $3.4 million to an organization called the EcoHealth Alliance to study coronaviruses. The alliance then provided $600,000 of that grant, or 17.6 percent of the grant, to the Wuhan Institute of Virology. Infer from that what you will. Simply said, the left’s faith in globalism may come with strings when being pursued with nations that have as a fundamental ideology the conquering of free societies and free markets.


Back to this year.


In the same week that President Trump placed restrictions on travel from China, the World Health Organization declared the outbreak a global health emergency. Interestingly, so-called public health experts made recommendations against travel restrictions, as reported in the Jan. 31, 2020 article, “Health experts warn China travel ban will hinder coronavirus response,” in STAT News.


The day after the travel restrictions were announced, former Vice President Biden, the Democrat candidate for President tweeted, “We are in the midst of a crisis with the coronavirus. We need to lead the way with science — not Donald Trump’s record of hysteria, xenophobia, and fear-mongering.” Interestingly Biden viewed Trump’s actions at the time as hysteria and fearmongering. His message about Trump more recently is that he didn’t create enough fear or concern about the outbreak. This is a common ploy of career politicians trying to have it both ways on an issue.


Nearly a month later, on Feb. 24, 2020, Speaker of the House (third in line to the Presidency) walked maskless through crowded Chinatown streets, shaking hands, hugging people and talking with groups while failing to perform even the most rudimentary of precautions (i.e., washing hands and distancing). She said, “That’s what we’re trying to do today is to say everything is fine here. Come, because precautions have been taken. The city is on top of the situation.” And now she lectures the administration on the timeliness of its response.


Shakespeare sets the stage for a pithy summation by a friend of Mark Twain. “Alas, the storm is come again! My best way is to creep under his gaberdine. There is no other shelter hereabouts. Misery acquaints a man with strange bedfellows. I will here shroud till the dregs of the storm be past.” So says Trinculo, the king’s jester, in Act 2, Scene 2 of “The Tempest.” Roughly 250 years later, American essayist Charles Dudley Warner would play on Shakespeare’s words, stating, “Politics make strange bedfellows.”


Can one disagree, upon reflection, that it is strange indeed that the world’s leader in democracy should bed down with the world’s leader in communism through the funding of research that would so closely be tied to a pandemic? Keep in mind that the funding was made by a U.S. government agency and processed through an intermediary, the aforementioned alliance. Keep also in mind that of the bedfellows, China is unabashedly communist. The social democrat philosophy of then-President Obama and then-Vice President Biden are as close as we get in otherwise mainstream politics to communism. Realizing that, perhaps these bedfellows are not so strange after all.


It should be noted that this blog posting is not intended to absolve the Trump administration of all fault. The President and members of the administration regularly violate the tenants of public health. That said, there is so much yet to know about COVID-19 and its various mutations, that the efficacy of handwashing, masks, distancing, etc. remain unclear. Take a look at the Biden-Harris campaign organizations. They, too, are falling prey to the virus.


In the debates, we heard about each candidate’s plan for addressing the pandemic. Production and distribution of PPE, vaccines and therapeutics are at the heart of each candidate’s plan. President Trump has the added facet of specificity in that he plans to use the military and its infrastructure for the deployment of future vaccines. Biden claims that Trump has no plan, but he seems to fail to describe any plan of his own that doesn’t mirror what the Trump administration is currently doing. 


The question before the voters, at least those who may be factoring the pandemic and the government’s response into their electoral calculus, is which candidate has best demonstrated an understanding of the virus and has best reacted to it. 

Thursday, October 29, 2020

 Day 5: Semiotics of the Donkey and Elephant


In the election of 1828, a political satirist characterized Andrew Jackson as a jackass, using the image of a donkey to depict the raucous Democrat politician, an image he co-opted and used to his advantage. Years later, the elephant was used by soldiers as a euphemism for war. Those having seen combat were said to have “seen the elephant.” During Abraham Lincoln’s election, the elephant was applied by a cartoonist to the Republican party. 


Jackson was the first person to be elected President as a Democrat. Lincoln was the first person to be elected President as a Republican. While I suspect this is little more than an interesting historical footnote, a conspiracy-minded person may find greater significance in this parallel. Have fun with that!


Semiotics, as defined by Daniel Lucid in his book, “Soviet Semiotics, An Anthology,” “is the science of sign systems transmitting information inside some social group; it is the science of communicative sign systems.” A sign may be one of three types: icon, index or symbol. An Icon looks just like the actual thing for which it stands. An example might be the padlock you see when you visit a secure website. It indicates that your information is being locked or protected. An Index is a sign that is tied to or easily inferred by the function of the sign. An example might be a circle with a diagonal line through it, meaning don’t, for example don’t smoke. A Symbol has no apparent connection to the concept it is conveying and must be taught and learned. An example might be the cone-shaped marker used to indicate a position on a GPS-enabled map. We must learn that the cone means “you are here.”


Over the years, the donkey and elephant have become engrained symbols in our social group, specifically as they relate politicians and voters in our political system.


While never officially adopted by the Democrat party, informal use of the donkey is widespread and has come to represent for Democrats intelligence, strength, loudness, bravery, humbleness and stubbornness. Some of these characteristics may be indices, which is to say natural traits of the donkey. Others may be symbols that have been taught and learned over time.


An official sign of the Republican party, the elephant was adopted to represent the Republicans as strong and dignified. As with the Democrat’s donkey, the elephant may be both index (strength) and symbol (dignity).


As time passed, the donkey came to be a symbol of progressive ideals, which rely on greater government involvement in the regulation of citizens’ lives and governmental control that is, to a greater and greater degree, centralized. The elephant came to be a symbol of conservative ideals, which rely on limited government involvement through de-regulation and control that is pushed to state and local governments or to the people themselves.


I recall a time when candidates’ banners and yard signs almost ubiquitously included a donkey or elephant, indicating party affiliation. As I drive around and see candidates’ banners and yard signs today, almost none has one of these familiar images. I’ve wondered why. Perhaps you, kind reader, have also pondered this curious shift in communicative sign systems.


Might it be, perchance, that the symbolism of the donkey and the elephant have lost their meaning…that no difference between the two may any longer be discerned? Under both parties, government has grown in terms of cost and intervention. Under both parties, we have become entangled in foreign conflicts that cost the lives of our young men and women. Under both parties, we – the citizens of the United States, have become the daily targets of our multiple overt and covert spy agencies.


It may be this lack of distinction between the two major parties that causes politicians to omit these images from their banners and yard signs. There is no longer any meaningful semiotic differentiation between the donkey and the elephant, save one...


This difference may be one of index. Specifically, I’m talking about the rate of growth in government and government intervention. Both parties seem intent on growing government, perhaps because it grows their power, as we’ve discussed over the course of the past year. A donkey’s average top speed is approximately 40 miles per hour. An elephant’s average top speed is approximately 12 miles per hour. Both are moving forward, but one is doing so at a faster rate than the other.


If a voter desires a greater involvement in the lives of the masses and the regulations, restrictions and costs thereto attendant, and if he or she wants that involvement to be big and soon, the donkey is the way to go. If a voter is resigned to those things but wants to put them off or tolerates them incrementally, the elephant is the way to go.


For those of us who find no connection to the donkey or the elephant, we are left with an alternative party, the most prominent being the Libertarian Party. It’s official sign, one that may be both index and symbol, is the Statue of Liberty. Her torch is often found on candidates’ signs, the light of which guides our way as a nation and drives out the darkness of tyranny. I believe Libertarians still use this image publicly, because it remains closely linked to the party’s principles. For Democrats and Republicans, genuine principles have long since been swept into the dustbin of history.


Unofficially, the Libertarian Party identifies with a porcupine, an index that represents the animal’s defensive nature. It will not harm anyone who leaves it alone. This speaks to the party’s non-interventionist philosophy of live and let live – at home and abroad. Symbolically, both the official and unofficial signs of the Libertarians teach that government has three – and only three – key functions.


Nobel Laureate Milton Friedman described them saying, “Government has three primary functions. It should provide for military defense of the nation. It should enforce contracts between individuals. It should protect citizens from crimes against themselves or their property. When government – in pursuit of good intentions tries to rearrange the economy, legislate morality, or help special interests, the cost comes in inefficiency, lack of motivation, and loss of freedom. Government should be a referee, not an active player.”


As you enter the polling booth, which animal will you take with you: the donkey, the elephant or the porcupine? 

Wednesday, October 28, 2020

 Day 6: Political Interest


Athenian general and statesman Pericles observed, “Just because you do not take an interest in politics does not mean politics will not take an interest in you.” Perhaps this observation informed Plato’s warning, “One of the penalties for refusing to participate in politics is that you end up being governed by your inferiors.”


Until the 1960s, according to a 2017 article in “neaToday,” a publication of the National Education Association – hardly a conservative or even non-partisan organization, “Only 25 percent of U.S. students reach the ‘proficient’ standard on the NAEP Civics Assessment.” A factor contributing to this existentially concerning statistic is the fact that education in civics and government have been reduced over the years from typically three courses to one, and the didactic learning in this one course is not reinforced through any sort of practical application.


Kind reader, I described this as an existential concern. It seems crystal clear that a lack of understanding of our republic’s founding principles is the challenge of singular import for our nation’s future.


Published in 1835, “Democracy in America” recounts Alexis de Tocqueville’s travels through and observations of the United States and the character of the American people. He wrote, “You cannot doubt that in the United States the instruction of the people serves powerfully to maintain the democratic republic. It will be so, I think, everywhere that the instruction that enlightens the mind is not separated from the education that regulates mores.”


He recognized that to sustain the republic, all citizens needed to be informed about the social contract and the use of government to execute that contract. Without that knowledge, the people tacitly renounce their claim, in part and perhaps in whole, to individual liberty. Through such renouncement, they give themselves over to rule by their inferiors – people dedicated not to the preservation of their fellow citizens’ liberty but to their own grasp for power.


President Harry S. Truman famously quipped, “The ‘C’ students run the world.” Think of the people running for office – at any level. Would you entrust any one of them with the running of your life, the management of your affairs, or caring for your family? Are they equipped or do they have the vested interest to do these things better than you? If you’re anything like me, your answer is a resounding “no.” Yet one week hence, we will cast our votes for such ‘C’ students.


The reclamation of liberty lost will take a long, long time. It will not be accomplished on the third of November. We can, however, take the first step down that path. We must take an interest in politics. We must understand the civics that enable our social contract. It has been my hope that our weekly and now daily discussions would serve to advance that understanding and hope.


As I mentioned at the outset, my goal has not been to tell you what to think or for whom to cast your vote. Rather, I hoped to encourage critical thought on critical issues. Admittedly, my political preferences have surely come through. Notwithstanding that tipping of my hand, I hope you’ve been able to examine your positions and to be reassured of your beliefs and positions or to be moved to a new view of our republic.


We have but a week to go. I hope you’ll continue to explore with me the issues at stake in the upcoming election.

Tuesday, October 27, 2020

 Day 7: Congressional Term Limits


During the first century of our republic’s history, which is to say since the ratification of the Constitution of the United States of America, the average lengths of term for Congressmen and Senators were approximately four years and six years, respectively. As of 2019, the average lengths have increased to approximately nine and 10 years, respectively. The longest serving members in both houses of Congress have lengths of service of approximately 45 years. 


Term limits in the Constitution were not omitted as a result of not being considered. After all, the Articles of Confederation and Perpetual Union, which from 1777 until 1789 served as our nation’s governing document prior to the Constitution, set term limits for members of Congress and for the President. However, this changed during the Constitutional Convention.


As James Madison wrote in Federalist 53, “A few of the members, as happens in all such assemblies, will possess superior talents; will, by frequent reelections, become members of long standing; will be thoroughly masters of the public business, and perhaps not unwilling to avail themselves of those advantages. The greater the proportion of new members, and the less the information of the bulk of the members the more apt will they be to fall into the snares that may be laid for them. This remark is no less applicable to the relation which will subsist between the House of Representatives and the Senate.”


The belief was that long-term service in office would enhance the officeholder’s skill in performing the work of government. The idea being practice makes perfect. Furthermore, it was assumed legislators seeking re-election in order to make a career out of politics would be few in number. The majority of Senators and Congressmen would be in office a term or two and then return to the private sector, thereby keeping Congress fresh.


One concern about long-term service in Congress was expressed by Constitutional Convention delegate Roger Sherman of Connecticut. He said, “Representatives ought to return home and mix with the people. By remaining at the seat of government, they would acquire the habits of the place, which might differ from those of their constituents.”


Delegate Sherman knew that immersion in politics and power has a corrupting effect. He knew that the spirit of self-government demands governance of, by and for the people, which is and must be distinct from a system that relies on an elite political class.


In the first century of our republic under the Constitution, approximately 37 percent of members of Congress never sought re-election. In the past 125 years or so, that average has dropped to approximately 12 percent. A job in Congress is becoming a career for most.


What are the effects?


If the belief of some Framers be true, we should have many learned and skilled men and women representing us and our interests., and we should be pleased with their representation of our interests and the protection of our Liberty. However, the approval rate of Congress is 17 percent. As prescient as the Framers were, I fear they may have missed the mark in this respect. Few people or groups have a lower approval rating than that of those who serve in Congress.


Another consideration is that the lobbyist industry today is larger and more sophisticated than in the past. The longer a politician remains in office, the longer his or her relationships with lobbyists form and deepen. The “richer” these relationships become, the richer the members of Congress become. The pervasiveness of lobbyists and the favors they provide to our elected representatives serve as shouting voices for special interests, drowning out the voices of the citizens – your voice and mine. 


This all feeds into massive political machines that are designed with the singular purpose of re-electing incumbents. Politics has become a big (if not the biggest) business enterprise in our nation. What makes it different is that it functions almost as a monopoly. It’s run by cold, hard cash, and there seems to be little your or I, as citizens, can do to impact the functioning of these machines.


The ultimate effect is the bureaucratization of party machines that reduce our “democracy” to that of an oligarchy, as laid out by Robert Michels in 1911 in his work, “Zur Soziologie des Parteiwesens in der modernen Demokratie; Untersuchungen über die oligarchischen Tendenzen des Gruppenlebens.” He characterizes this reality as a “monopoly of power.” And it is important to note that Nobel Laureate Milton Freidman observed that monopolies cannot exist without government support.


In 1886, Russian philosopher Nikolai Chernyshevsky addressed the age-old, existential Russian question, “What is to be done?” in his book entitled with the same question. It is a query that now vexes the mind of every American citizen who struggles with the challenge of term limits, or the lack thereof, and the impact on our government of, by and for the people.


We can slowly, but not necessarily surely, “vote the bums out,” as it were at the ballot box. This requires a great deal of time and individual action that could overpower the political machinery that has been in place form more than a century. We also have left to us an ingenious mechanism that the Framers built into the Constitution. It’s known as an Article V Convention. If two-thirds of the state legislatures agree, a convention may be convened to propose amendments to the Constitution. (See Week 22.) Such a convention could introduce an amendment to establish term limits, correcting what some Framers saw as a flaw in the new Constitution.


As you research the candidates on your ballot, think about where you stand on the issue of term limits. Are there candidates on your ballot who share your views? If so, vote accordingly.

  Day 1: Vote your conscience   Over the past month, social media posts, tweets, chats, etc. have been replete with “vote as if…” admonition...