The Case Against Liberal Compassion

William Voegeli
Senior Editor, Claremont Review of Books

William Voegeli

William Voegeli

WILLIAM VOEGELI is a senior editor of the Claremont Review of Books and a visiting scholar at Claremont McKenna College’s Henry Salvatori Center. After receiving a Ph.D. in political science from Loyola University in Chicago, he served as a program officer for the John M. Olin Foundation. He has written for numerous publications, including the Christian Science Monitor, City Journal, Commentary, First Things, the Los Angeles Times, National Review, and the New Criterion. He is the author of two books, Never Enough: America’s Limitless Welfare State and The Pity Party: A Mean-Spirited Diatribe Against Liberal Compassion.

The following is adapted from a speech delivered at Hillsdale College on October 9, 2014, sponsored by the College’s Van Andel Graduate School of Statesmanship.

Four years ago I wrote a book about modern American liberalism: Never Enough: America’s Limitless Welfare State. It addressed the fact that America’s welfare state has been growing steadily for almost a century, and is now much bigger than it was at the start of the New Deal in 1932, or at the beginning of the Great Society in 1964. In 2013 the federal government spent $2.279 trillion—$7,200 per American, two-thirds of all federal outlays, and 14 percent of the Gross Domestic Product—on the five big program areas that make up our welfare state: 1. Social Security; 2. All other income support programs, such as disability insurance or unemployment compensation; 3. Medicare; 4. All other health programs, such as Medicaid; and 5. All programs for education, job training, and social services.

That amount has increased steadily, under Democrats and Republicans, during booms and recessions. Adjusted for inflation and population growth, federal welfare state spending was 58 percent larger in 1993 when Bill Clinton became president than it had been 16 years before when Jimmy Carter took the oath of office. By 2009, when Barack Obama was inaugurated, it was 59 percent larger than it had been in 1993. Overall, the outlays were more than two-and-a-half times as large in 2013 as they had been in 1977. The latest Census Bureau data, from 2011, regarding state and local programs for “social services and income maintenance,” show additional spending of $728 billion beyond the federal amount. Thus the total works out to some $3 trillion for all government welfare state expenditures in the U.S., or just under $10,000 per American. That figure does not include the cost, considerable but harder to reckon, of the policies meant to enhance welfare without the government first borrowing or taxing money and then spending it. I refer to laws and regulations that require some citizens to help others directly, such as minimum wages, maximum hours, and mandatory benefits for employees, or rent control for tenants.

All along, while the welfare state was growing constantly, liberals were insisting constantly it wasn’t big enough or growing fast enough. So I wondered, five years ago, whether there is a Platonic ideal when it comes to the size of the welfare state—whether there is a point at which the welfare state has all the money, programs, personnel, and political support it needs, thereby rendering any further additions pointless. The answer, I concluded, is that there is no answer—the welfare state is a permanent work-in-progress, and its liberal advocates believe that however many resources it has, it always needs a great deal more.

The argument of Never Enough was correct as far as it went, but it was incomplete. It offered an answer to two of the journalist’s standard questions: What is the liberal disposition regarding the growth of the welfare state? And How does that outlook affect politics and policy? But it did not answer another question: Why do liberals feel that no matter how much we’re doing through government programs to alleviate and prevent poverty, whatever we are doing is shamefully inadequate?

Mostly, my book didn’t answer that question because it never really asked or grappled with it. It showed how the Progressives of a century ago, followed by New Deal and Great Society liberals, worked to transform a republic where the government had limited duties and powers into a nation where there were no grievances the government could or should refrain from addressing, and where no means of responding to those grievances lie outside the scope of the government’s legitimate authority. This implied, at least, an answer to the question of why liberals always want the government to do more—an answer congruent with decades of conservative warnings about how each new iteration of the liberal project is one more paving stone on the road to serfdom.

Readers could have concluded that liberals are never satisfied because they get up every morning thinking, “What can I do today to make government a little bigger, and the patch of ground where people live their lives completely unaffected by government power and benevolence a little smaller?” And maybe some liberals do that. Perhaps many do. The narrator of “The Shadow,” a radio drama that ran in the 1930s, would intone at the beginning of every episode, “Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men?”

Well, the Shadow may have known, but I don’t. The problem with this kind of explanation for liberal statism is that very, very few liberals have been compliant or foolish enough to vindicate it with self-incriminating testimony. Maybe they’re too shrewd to admit that ever-bigger government is what they seek above all else. Or maybe they don’t realize that’s what they’re up to.

Such arguments trouble me, however. The great political philosophy professor Leo Strauss insisted that it is a grave mistake to presume to understand important political philosophers better than they understood themselves, unless one had already put in the hard work necessary to understand them as they understood themselves. Perhaps this good advice can be democratized, I thought, and applied as well to Elizabeth Warren and Rachel Maddow as to Aristotle and John Locke. If we make that effort—an effort to understand committed liberals as they understand themselves—then we have to understand them as people who, by their own account, get up every morning asking, “What can I do today so that there’s a little less suffering in the world?” To wrestle with that question, the question of liberal compassion, is the purpose of my latest book, The Pity Party.

Indifference to Waste and Failure

All conservatives are painfully aware that liberal activists and publicists have successfully weaponized compassion. “I am a liberal,” public radio host Garrison Keillor wrote in 2004, “and liberalism is the politics of kindness.” Last year President Obama said, “Kindness covers all of my political beliefs. When I think about what I’m fighting for, what gets me up every single day, that captures it just about as much as anything. Kindness; empathy—that sense that I have a stake in your success; that I’m going to make sure, just because [my daughters] are doing well, that’s not enough—I want your kids to do well also.” Empathetic kindness is “what binds us together, and . . . how we’ve always moved forward, based on the idea that we have a stake in each other’s success.”

Well, if liberalism is the politics of kindness, it follows that its adversary, conservatism, is the politics of cruelty, greed, and callousness. Liberals have never been reluctant to connect those dots. In 1936 Franklin Roosevelt said, “Divine justice weighs the sins of the cold-blooded and the sins of the warm-hearted in different scales. Better the occasional faults of a government that lives in a spirit of charity than the consistent omissions of a government frozen in the ice of its own indifference.” In 1984 the Democratic Speaker of the House of Representatives, “Tip” O’Neill, called President Reagan an “evil” man “who has no care and no concern for the working class of America and the future generations . . . . He’s cold. He’s mean. He’s got ice water for blood.” A 2013 Paul Krugman column accused conservatives of taking “positive glee in inflicting further suffering on the already miserable.” They were, he wrote, “infected by an almost pathological meanspiritedness . . . . If you’re an American, and you’re down on your luck, these people don’t want to help; they want to give you an extra kick.”

Small-d democratic politics is Darwinian: Arguments and rhetoric that work—that impress voters and intimidate opponents—are used again and again. Those that prove ineffective are discarded. If conservatives had ever come up with a devastating, or even effective rebuttal to the accusation that they are heartless and mean-spirited: a) anyone could recite it by now; and, b) more importantly, liberals would have long ago stopped using rhetoric about liberal kindness versus conservative cruelty, for fear that the political risks of such language far outweighed any potential benefits. The fact that liberals are, if anything, increasingly disposed to frame the basic political choice before the nation in these terms suggests that conservatives have not presented an adequate response.

A first step in that direction is to note a political anomaly pointed out by Mitch Daniels, the former Republican governor of Indiana. Daniels contended that disciplining government according to “measured provable performance and effective spending” ought to be a “completely philosophically neutral objective.” Skinflint conservatives want government to be thrifty for obvious reasons, but Daniels maintained that liberals’ motivations should be even stronger. “I argue to my most liberal friends: ‘You ought to be the most offended of anybody if a dollar that could help a poor person is being squandered in some way.’ And,” the governor added slyly, “some of them actually agree.”

The clear implication—that many liberals are not especially troubled if government dollars that could help poor people are squandered—strikes me as true, interesting, and important. Given that liberals are people who: 1) have built a welfare state that is now the biggest thing government does in America; and 2) want to regard themselves and be regarded by others as compassionate empathizers determined to alleviate suffering, it should follow that nothing would preoccupy them more than making sure the welfare state machine is functioning at maximum efficiency. When it isn’t, after all, the sacred mission of alleviating preventable suffering is inevitably degraded.

In fact, however, liberals do not seem all that concerned about whether the machine they’ve built, and want to keep expanding, is running well. For inflation-adjusted, per capita federal welfare state spending to increase by 254 percent from 1977 to 2013, without a correspondingly dramatic reduction in poverty, and for liberals to react to this phenomenon by taking the position that our welfare state’s only real defect is that it is insufficiently generous, rather than insufficiently effective, suggests a basic problem. To take a recent, vivid example, the Obama Administration had three-and-a-half years from the signing of the Affordable Care Act to the launch of the healthcare.gov website. It’s hard to reconcile the latter debacle with the image of liberals lying awake at night tormented by the thought the government should be doing more to reduce suffering. A sympathetic columnist, E.J. Dionne, wrote of the website’s crash-and-burn debut, “There’s a lesson here that liberals apparently need to learn over and over: Good intentions without proper administration can undermine even the most noble of goals.” That such an elementary lesson is one liberals need to learn over and over suggests a fundamental defect in liberalism, however—something worse than careless or inept implementation of liberal policies.

That defect, I came to think, can be explained as follows: The problem with liberalism may be that no one knows how to get the government to do the benevolent things liberals want it to do. Or it may be, at least in some cases, that it just isn’t possible for the government to bring about what liberals want it to accomplish. As the leading writers in The Public Interest began demonstrating almost 50 years ago, the intended, beneficial consequences of social policies are routinely overwhelmed by the unintended, harmful consequences they trigger. It may also be, as conservatives have long argued, that achieving liberal goals, no matter how humane they sound, requires kinds and degrees of government coercion fundamentally incompatible with a government created to secure citizens’ inalienable rights, and deriving its just powers from the consent of the governed.

I don’t reject any of those possibilities, or deny the evidence and logic adduced in support of each. But my assessment of how the liberal project has been justified in words, and rendered in deeds, leads me to a different explanation for why, under the auspices of liberal government, things have a way of turning out so badly. I conclude that the machinery created by the politics of kindness doesn’t work very well—in the sense of being economical, adaptable, and above all effective—because the liberals who build, operate, defend, and seek to expand this machine don’t really care whether it works very well and are, on balance, happier when it fails than when it succeeds.

The Satisfaction of Pious Preening

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the Latinate word “compassion” means, literally, “suffering together with another”—it’s the “feeling or emotion, when a person is moved by the suffering or distress of another, and by the desire to relieve it.” Note that suffering together does not mean suffering identically. The compassionate person does not become hungry when he meets or thinks about a hungry person, or sick in the presence of the sick. Rather, compassion means we are affected by others’ suffering, a distress that motivates us to alleviate it. As Jean-Jacques Rousseau wrote in Emile, “When the strength of an expansive soul makes me identify myself with my fellow, and I feel that I am, so to speak, in him, it is in order not to suffer that I do not want him to suffer. I am interested in him for love of myself.”

We can see the problem. The whole point of compassion is for empathizers to feel better when awareness of another’s suffering provokes unease. But this ultimate purpose does not guarantee that empathizees will fare better. Barbara Oakley, co-editor of the volume Pathological Altruism, defines its subject as “altruism in which attempts to promote the welfare of others instead result in unanticipated harm.” Surprises and accidents happen, of course. The pathology of pathological altruism is not the failure to salve every wound. It is, rather, the indifference—blithe, heedless, smug, or solipsistic—to the fact and consequences of those failures, just as long as the empathizer is accruing compassion points that he and others will admire. As philosophy professor David Schmidtz has said, “If you’re trying to prove your heart is in the right place, it isn’t.”

Indeed, if you’re trying to prove your heart is in the right place, the failure of government programs to alleviate suffering is not only an acceptable outcome but in many ways the preferred one. Sometimes empathizers, such as those in the “helping professions,” acquire a vested interest in the study, management, and perpetuation—as opposed to the solution and resulting disappearance—of sufferers’ problems. This is why so many government programs initiated to conquer a problem end up, instead, colonizing it by building sprawling settlements where the helpers and the helped are endlessly, increasingly co-dependent. Even where there are no material benefits to addressing, without ever reducing, other people’s suffering, there are vital psychic benefits for those who regard their own compassion as the central virtue that makes them good, decent, and admirable people—people whose sensitivity readily distinguishes them from mean-spirited conservatives. “Pity is about how deeply I can feel,” wrote the late political theorist Jean Bethke Elshtain. “And in order to feel this way, to experience the rush of my own pious reaction, I need victims the way an addict needs drugs.”

It follows, then, that the answer to the question of how liberals who profess to be anguished about other people’s suffering can be so weirdly complacent regarding wasteful, misdirected, and above all ineffective government programs created to relieve that suffering—is that liberals care about helping much less than they care about caring. Because compassion gives me a self-regarding reason to care about your suffering, it’s more important for me to do something than to accomplish something. Once I’ve voted for, given a speech about, written an editorial endorsing, or held forth at a dinner party on the salutary generosity of some program to “address” your problem, my work is done, and I can feel the rush of my own pious reaction. There’s no need to stick around for the complex, frustrating, mundane work of making sure the program that made me feel better, just by being established and praised, has actually alleviated your suffering.

This assessment also provides an answer to the question of why liberals always want a bigger welfare state. It’s because the politics of kindness is about validating oneself rather than helping others, which means the proper response to suffering is always, “We need to do more,” and never, “We need to do what we’re already doing better and smarter.” That is, liberals react to an objective reality in a distinctively perverse way. The reality is, first, that there are many instances of poverty, insecurity, and suffering in our country and, second, that public expenditures to alleviate poverty, insecurity, and suffering amount to $3 trillion, or some $10,000 per American, much of it spent on the many millions of Americans who are nowhere near being impoverished, insecure, or suffering. If the point of liberalism were to alleviate suffering, as opposed to preening about one’s abhorrence of suffering and proud support for government programs designed to reduce it, liberals would get up every morning determined to reduce the proportion of that $3 trillion outlay that ought to be helping the poor but is instead being squandered in some way, including by being showered on people who aren’t poor. But since the real point of liberalism is to alleviate the suffering of those distressed by others’ suffering, the hard work of making our $3 trillion welfare state machine work optimally is much less attractive—less gratifying—than demanding that we expand it, and condemning those who are skeptical about that expansion for their greed and cruelty.

*****

Those of us accused of being greedy and cruel, for standing athwart the advance of liberalism and expansion of the welfare state, do have things to say, then, in response to the empathy crusaders. Compassion really is important. Clifford Orwin, a political scientist who has examined the subject painstakingly, believes our strong, spontaneous proclivity to be distressed by others’ suffering confirms the ancient Greek philosophers’ belief that nature intended for human beings to be friends. But compassion is neither all-important nor supremely important in morals and, especially, politics. It is nice, all things being equal, to have government officials who feel our pain rather than ones who, like imperious monarchs, cannot comprehend or do not deign to notice it. Much more than our rulers’ compassion, however, we deserve their respect—for us; our rights; our capacity and responsibility to feel and heal our own pains without their ministrations; and for America’s carefully constructed and heroically sustained experiment in constitutional self-government, which errs on the side of caution and republicanism by denying even the most compassionate official a monarch’s plenary powers. Kindness may well cover all of Barack Obama’s political beliefs, and those of many other self-satisfied, pathologically altruistic liberals. It doesn’t begin to cover all the beliefs that have sustained America’s republic, however. Nor does it amount to a safe substitute for those moral virtues and political principles necessary to sustain it further.

Copyright © 2014 Hillsdale College. “Reprinted by permission from Imprimis, a publication of Hillsdale College.” SUBSCRIPTION FREE UPON REQUEST. ISSN 0277-8432. Imprimis trademark registered in U.S. Patent and Trade Office #1563325.

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How We Can Choose A Constitutional President In A Celebrity Age

Corbin and Parks150x150By David Corbin and Matt Parks
Published at www.thefederalist.com on October 20, 2014

Note: This is part of a series of essays examining the prospects for electing a republican president in 2016 and ultimately reining in the modern imperial presidency through the lens of Alexander Hamilton’s Federalist essays on the executive branch.

For the many admirers of 2008 “hope and change,” the Obama presidency has regrettably, six seasons in, read nothing like an Aaron Sorkin script (think “The American President”): Progressive idealism meets the challenges of national leadership head on, and, even though the president struggles to achieve political success in an imperfect world, our admiration for the person in the office softens our cynicism.

Then again, life in the Oval Office these days probably feels more like a “West Wing” episode and Dinesh D’Souza documentary folded into one, with fears of the further spread of Ebola in West Africa and throughout the world, an economy still on the skids, troublesome midterm elections, staff defections and ex-staff criticism, and the dangerous growth of the Islamic State, never mind people forgetting to lock the front door.

There is no way to write happy endings out of these troubles, despite the best efforts of the president’s speech writers. From the beginning, the Obama administration has doggedly attempted to live in a postmodern world, constructed or reconstructed by the president’s words, which, in imitation of the Divine Creation, are supposed to summon new realities into being.

Human affairs, however, follows a different logic, which is not the formulaic plot line of a Emmy-winning drama series. This rhetorical presidency has failed, in progressively obvious and dramatic ways, as unimpressed realities confront blurred thinking and unreal words. Support for President Obama’s signature domestic programs, the stimulus package and Obamacare, never high, has degraded over time as promised results were not achieved amidst serial instances of administrative high-handedness and incompetence.

Confidence in the president as commander-in-chief likewise continues to reach new lows as despots are simply undeterred by hearing they live in the wrong century or sit on the wrong side of history. Ebola need not become a serious threat—but is it any wonder many Americans expect that it will anyway, when we are asked to place our hope in careful-applied “protocols” by those unable to construct workable websites, responsibly schedule appointments at veterans’ hospitals, or perform other seemingly mundane administrative tasks? Six years into this administration, will anyone rest easy simply because the president says he’s hugged and kissed nurses who treated Ebola patients? Can anyone be satisfied with sizzle when there’s still no sign of the steak?

A Short History of Presidential Rhetoric

At least some elements of the rhetorical presidency are long-established on American soil. As we noted in our essay last week, almost 200 years ago President Andrew Jackson broke new ground in a number of important areas, not the least of which was his use of impassioned rhetoric to separate political friends and enemies.

Yet Alexis de Tocqueville notes, in “Democracy in America,” the much more modest political agenda behind the passion in President Jackson’s speeches:

Far from wanting to extend federal power, the current president represents, on the contrary, the party that wants to restrict that power to the clearest and most precise terms of the Constitution . . . . [F]ar from presenting himself as the champion of centralization, General Jackson is the agent of provincial jealousies; it is (if I can express myself so) decentralizing passions that brought him to sovereign power. He maintains himself and prospers by flattering these passions daily. General Jackson is the slave of the majority: he follows it in its wishes, its desires, its half-uncovered instincts, or rather he divines it and runs to place himself at its head.

Jackson, the agent of national prerogative and, simultaneously, slave to and master over public opinion, nevertheless sought to govern within the boundaries of the Constitution. In the century that followed, the president as public-spirited cowboy, political messiah, social engineer, and great communicator, unmoored from the Constitution and placed on rhetorical overdrive, became essential elements of the Progressive alternative to the founders’ republican presidency.

Republican Progressive Teddy Roosevelt embraced the “bully pulpit” (his term) as the fundamental tool of the presidency. So did his Democratic Progressive rival Woodrow Wilson, his buttoned-up engineering alter ego, Herbert Hoover, and his distant cousin, Franklin Roosevelt. At times, normalcy returned, encouraged by policy (Warring Harding), personality (Calvin Coolidge), and political necessity (Dwight Eisenhower). But almost every president since has been expected to be a rhetorical conjurer whatever other merits he may possess. Moreover, self-aggrandizing efforts to grow one’s celebrity and a willingness to set aside constitutional republican prescriptions have almost always gone hand-in hand in the last century.

Try Persuasion Instead of Manipulation

The point is not to idealize a presidency of competent technocrats who let their crisp implementation of well-chosen “protocols” do their talking. Abraham Lincoln, the greatest orator in American political history, wasn’t just the first Republican president, but a model republican long before he was president. But that was because he didn’t speak from a bully pulpit, alternating the cadences of the popular revivalist with those of the fiery prophet. Instead, he thought well enough of his audience to try to persuade them, over and over again working out the consequences of common principles and ideas, defined with fairness but precision in his most important speeches.

Consider, for example, the preface to one of Lincoln’s greatest speeches, his 1854 address at Peoria:

I do not rise to speak now, if I can stipulate with the audience to meet me here at half-past six or at seven o’clock. It is now several minutes past five, and Judge [and Senator Stephen] Douglas has spoken over three hours. If you hear me at all, I wish you to hear me through. It will take me as long as it has taken him. That will carry us beyond eight o’clock at night. Now, every one of you who can remain that long can just as well get his supper, meet me at seven, and remain an hour or two later. The Judge has already informed you that he is to have an hour to reply to me. I doubt not but you have been a little surprised to learn that I have consented to give one of his high reputation and known ability this advantage of me. Indeed, my consenting to it, though reluctant, was not wholly unselfish, for I suspected, if it were understood that the Judge was entirely done, you Democrats would leave and not hear me; but by giving him the close, I felt confident you would stay for the fun of hearing him skin me.

In his typically self-deprecating and good-humored way, Lincoln only partially disguised his real hope: to win some of Douglas’s Democratic partisans to his cause (after a good supper had put them in the mood for four more hours of speeches). He assumed here and throughout his political career that, if right, he could win many to his cause, since he was, at his best, pointing them to policies and principles grounded in a reality accessible to and, at least in part, experienced by all. His model was not the magician, but the geometer, hoping, like Euclid, to work out the consequences of given (political) first principles.

What Makes a President Different from a Monarch

All this fits very well with the model of the presidency outlined by the exceptionally clear-headed Alexander Hamilton in Federalist 69. There, responding to anti-federalist claims that the American executive would quickly become a New World imitation of the British monarchy, Hamilton labored to show just how constrained the president was by the other legs of the republican stool: the people, the Constitution, and the coordinate branches of the federal government.

While the king could make war and peace at his pleasure, the president, although commander-in-chief, required congressional authorization to do the same. While the king possessed an absolute veto, the president would have only a qualified one. Most fundamentally, while the king held perpetual, hereditary, unaccountable office, the president would be elected for a fixed term and subject to impeachment and removal if he betrayed the Constitution. The president is required “from time to time [to] give to the Congress Information of the State of the Union, and recommend to their Consideration such Measures as he shall judge necessary and expedient”—measures that become law only if he can persuade Congress to adopt them.

Such an executive role was enough for many who served in the office for a century. But such a role no longer satisfies the ambitions of most would-be presidents in our day, Democrats and Republicans alike.

President Obama

President Obama

President Obama has, more than once, acknowledged with apparent lament that he does not possess imperial power. Although his actions, at times, have suggested otherwise, the wise constitutional constraints the founders imposed, if followed, require that presidents stick closer to both justice and reality than we can expect from any democratized president of the people or monarchized president by proclamation.

The lesson in all of this as we look to 2016 is that if we wish to have a more modest government, we need to elect a more modest man. It goes without saying such an individual will be ambitious and desire public acclaim. But it’s more likely that an individual content to live within the boundaries that the Constitution and nature prescribe will gratify his ambition by playing the part of a leader of a republic, not a life-imitating-art sympathetic idealist, or a famous-for-being-famous hardened and cynical luminary. In other words, celebrities, pundits, and politicians—Left, center, and Right—who view, hew, and sometimes pursue the presidency as the lead part in a drama, reality television show, or documentary film will continue to give us a less republican political reality.

David Corbin and Matt Parks

David Corbin is a Professor of Politics and Matthew Parks an Assistant Professor of Politics at The King’s College, New York City. They are co-authors of “Keeping Our Republic: Principles for a Political Reformation” (2011).

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America’s Glory and Supreme Love

If destruction be our lot, we must ourselves be its author and finisher.  As a nation of freemen, we must live through all time, or die by suicide.

Abraham Lincoln

declaration-of-independence-being-writtenHaving a day off is always a welcome opportunity to slow down and reflect on God’s goodness and blessings.  Today, in particular, I am reflecting on the freedom that we as individuals have enjoyed because our Founding Fathers declared and enshrined the universal rights of all humankind in the Declaration of Independence.

Today, unlike any other day, is when we as a people should consider the foundation of the “Truths” upon which our liberty is grounded.  Thomas Jefferson penned these words in The Declaration of Independence:

We hold these Truths to be self-evident, that all Men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.

This simple, yet profound, paragraph, captured the spirit and heart of the American Revolution and removed the universal rights of “Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness,” from the hands of tyrants and governments by acknowledging them as “unalienable rights,” granted by God, not the State.

This philosophical argument for the God given “unalienable Rights” of man, became the basis for the U.S. Constitution and the founding of the first Constitutional Republic in human history.

This July 4, 2013, these universal rights, and the underlying freedoms that we have enjoyed, are being overshadowed by a darkness, which is empowered by an ignorance and intolerance for anyone who would claim that there is such a thing as ultimate truth.  This darkness is leading to a crisis, a crisis which threatens to destroy what we as American’s love most, Freedom.

A Free Peoples SuicideOs Guinness, author of, “A Free People’s Suicide: Sustainable Freedom and the American Future,” writes: “Let me introduce the claim that American’s deepest crisis is the crisis of sustainable freedom by setting out a number of simple points that have converged to make is urgent.”  Guinness then describes for us what he calls “America’s Glory and Supreme Love.”

I am going to quote this passage, in its entirety, since it captures, in a beautiful and profound manner, what is so amazing about the American experiment and how the blessings of freedom and freedom itself is on the brink of death.  Guinness writes:

First, sustainable freedom is urgent for America because freedom is, and will always be, the issue of all issues for America.  In today’s world, it is customary to assess nations in terms of the size of their population, the strength of their economy, the power and reach of their armed forces, the state of their information technology, the prestige of their research universities and son on.  But there is a deeper classical way to see things: it was once understood that every nation has it own special character, its own animating principle, and can be understood and assessed only in that light.

Augustine of Hippo argued that the best way to define a people is by their “loved thing held in common,” or what it is they love supremely.  A people can be judged as better or worse according to what they love, and their nation can be assessed as healthy or unhealthy according to the condition of what they love.  Freedom is unquestionably what Americans love supremely, and love of freedom is what makes Americans the people they are.  Thus the present crisis of sustainable freedom raises questions about the health of the American republic that must be taken seriously.

Freedom is so central and precious to Americans that it might seem odd, and even outrageous, for an outsider to challenge Americans over their freedom.  But this book is not a sour foreign attack on American freedom.  I am a long-time admirer of the American experiment and of the place of freedom in America.  Unquestionably freedom is, and will always be, America’s animating principle and chief glory, her most important idea and her greatest strength.

But unless sustained, freedom could also prove to be America’s idol – something trusted ultimately that cannot bear ultimate weight.  Assessing the condition of freedom is therefore central to the promise and peril of America in the advanced modern world, just as it was to the success of the American Revolution.

For one thing, freedom is the special glory of America, the chief boast of Americans and the central reason for the importance of America for the democratic project, for the modern world and for humanity.  From its very beginning, the United States was blessed with a sturdy birthright of freedom.   It was born in freedom, it has expanded in freedom, I has resolved its great conflicts in a “new birth of freedom,” it has won its spurs as a world power in defending freedom, and it now stands as the global colossus of freedom offering its gift to the world and announcing that, as freedom spreads, it will herald an era of peace between freedom-loving nations on earth.

Due largely to America, freedom is at the very heart and soul of the modern world, especially in its Western forms.  In all the world’s free-thought, free-speech, free-choice, free-vote, free-market, societies, freedom is today’s highest virtue, its grandest possibility, its last absolute, its most potent myth and – with the power of love limited to the private world – its only self-evident public truth.  How else are modern people to be themselves other that to be free?

Freedom as the dream of every-expanding emancipation, every-multiplying liberation movements and ever-deepening fulfillment is being pushed from ahead by the promise of unrestrained choice and unhindered creativity leading to unlimited possibilities (“infinite in all directions,” as the futurist cheerleaders say).  Unfettered freedom could prove to be the Achilles’ heel of the modern world, dissipating into license, triviality, corruption and a grand undermining of all authority, but for the moment the world is still both thrilled and enthralled by the great Age of Freedom.  It is the Western world’s most stunning success, and the United States is its proudest exemplar.

No self-respecting American will ever be opposed to freedom any more than to love.  And it is incontestable that, in American history, whoever represents “the party of freedom” – sometimes the Democrats, as under Franklin Roosevelt, and sometime the Republicans, as under Ronald Regan – has always prevailed over any who appear to be standing in its way.

Let’s commit to giving thanks to God for blessing us with the right to life, liberty and pursuit of happiness and lets commit to defending these rights from extinction – as those who have benefitted most from freedom and to ensure its place, once again, as, “the special glory of America, the chief boast of Americans and the central reason for the importance of America for the democratic project, for the modern world and for humanity…”

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Keystone XL and Natural Gas Provide Energy Trade Opportunities

Posted at The Foundry by Nicolas Loris May 7, 2013 at 4:30 pm

In June 2008, presidential candidate Barack Obama said, “If we continue to let our trade policy be dictated by special interests, then American workers will continue to be undermined, and public support for robust trade will continue to erode.” That’s exactly what’s happening with respect to energy trade. Special interests want to block the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline and block opportunities to export natural gas.

Representative Lee Terry (R–NE) has introduced the Northern Route Approval Act, which would approve the Keystone XL pipeline by deeming the State Department’s first environmental review as satisfying all requirements of the National Environmental Policy Act. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R–VA) announced that the House will vote on the bill this month.

The act is important for several other reasons. Even if President Obama grants Keystone XL the presidential permit, environmental activists adamantly opposed to the project will almost certainly bring legal challenges to delay or prevent the pipeline’s construction. Terry’s bipartisan bill, which has 36 co-sponsors, would limit these challenges by creating a 60-day deadline for filing a claim.

In addition, the act would ensure that the environmental review satisfies all requirements of the Endangered Species Act, which has been an important tool for environmental activists unjustifiably stopping economic activity. In addition to dragging its feet on Keystone, the Administration is also needlessly delaying energy export opportunities.

With the glut of natural gas and low gas prices in the United States, energy producers are seeking to liquefy and ship domestic natural gas to foreign markets. Special interest groups such as chemical companies are trying to keep natural gas in the states.

Exporting natural gas would provide a huge boon to the U.S. economy since it would expand market opportunities for American companies, and new market access would spur more domestic development.
Two former Democratic Senators—Byron Dorgan (ND) and Bennett Johnston (LA)—testified today before the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Energy and Power about the broad economic benefits of exporting natural gas, emphasizing that the U.S. should avoid restrictions on energy exports. (These thoughts are elaborated on in a Heritage Foundation paper, “U.S. Natural Gas Exports: Lift Restrictions and Empower the States.”)

But the Department of Energy (DOE) has delayed decisions on export licenses. Not only does an export applicant have to obtain approval from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, but the DOE must determine if the project is in the public’s interest if the importing country does not have a free trade agreement with the U.S.

There is no question that the economic benefits from exporting natural gas are overwhelmingly positive. A DOE-commissioned study reinforced that by concluding, “Across the scenarios, U.S. economic welfare consistently increases as the volume of natural gas exports increased. This includes scenarios in which there are unlimited exports.”

So why is the DOE involved in the permit authorization process at all? U.S. producers should be allowed to export natural gas to any country they see fit, subject to the same restrictions that govern other trade. This would direct natural gas to its highest valued use. Congress should lift restrictions on natural gas recipient countries and prohibit any federal agency from determining natural gas exports based on public interest.

President Obama of 2013 should listen to 2008 candidate Obama. We shouldn’t have our trade policy dictated by special interests. Allowing access to energy imports and exports would make Americans far better off.

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Health Care Conscience Rights Act

Victims of the Obama Administration’s assault on religious freedom speak out at Rep. Black’s press conference in support of the Health Care Conscience Rights Act. Speakers included:

• Cathy Cenzon-DeCarlo, RN – New York State nurse who filed suit after her freedom to serve patients according to her conscience was violated.

• Susan Elliott, PhD, Director and Professor at Biola University Nursing Department.
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• Christine Ketterhagen, Co-Owner/Board Member of Hercules Industries, Inc.; Andy Newland, President of Hercules Industries; Bill Newland, Chairman of the Board of Hercules Industries.

• Sister Jane Marie Klein, OSF, Chairperson of the Board of Franciscan Alliance, Inc. (in Mishawaka, IN). Franciscan Alliance is a co-plaintiff with the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend.

 

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Federal Spending Without & With Sequester Cuts

Posted by Veronique de Rugy | Nov 07, 2011

VerodeRugyThis week, Mercatus Center Senior Research Fellow Veronique de Rugy uses data from the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) to examine the estimated growth in spending without and with a potential Budget Control Act (BCA) sequester. As the chart and the accompanying data show, the purported spending “cuts” arising from the sequester are merely reductions in the overall growth of spending, not actual cuts that would address and relieve the United States’ debt problems.

The sequester is an automatic budget enforcement mechanism triggered when the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction fails to enact legislation to reduce the deficit by $1.2 trillion over the sequestration period. Instead of simply passing appropriated funds to the agencies, the U.S. Treasury “sequesters” the difference between the cap set in the BCA and the amount appropriated.

Changes in spending from sequestration result in new budget projections below the CBO’s baseline projection of spending based on current law. The federal government would spend $3.62 trillion in the first year with sequestration versus the $3.69 trillion projected by CBO. By 2021, the government would spend $5.26 trillion versus the $5.41 trillion projected. Overall, without a sequester, federal spending would increase $1.7 trillion (blue line). With a sequester, federal spending would increase by $1.6 trillion (red line).

A further breakdown of the percentage of budget programs reveals that sequestration provides relatively small reductions in spending rates across the board. With sequestration, defense increases 18% (vs. 20%); nondefense discretionary increases 12% (vs. 14%); Medicare roughly increases at the same rate; and net interest increases 136% (vs. 152%).

While the sequester projections are nominal spending increases, most budget plans count them as cuts. Referring to decreases in the rate of growth of spending as “cuts” influences public perceptions about the budget. When the public hears “cut,” it thinks that spending has been significantly reduced below current levels, not that spending has increased. Thus, calling a reduced growth rate of projected spending a “cut” leads to confusion, a growing deficit, and an ever-larger burden for future generations.

Veronique de Rugy talks about the feasibility of sequestration and historical spending reductions atNational Review Online’s The Corner.

At The Washington Post, opinion writer George Will uses this chart to examine spending increases with and without  the budget sequester.

TABLE: Annual and Cumulative Spending Increase.

DATA FOR BLUE LINE.

DATA FOR RED LINE.

verochart500px

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Student Loans: Another Federal Debacle

JANUARY 29, 2013 by JAY BOWEN
Posted on The Freeman

FEEEven if you aren’t considering going back to school, you’re about to pick up the tab for a college education. The same cast of characters that brought you the housing crisis, a post office hemorrhaging billions, and a school system that gets more expensive as it gets worse has now brought us a student loan crisis.
A recent report from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York says the value of student loans outstanding is now close to $1 trillion, making it the largest and fastest-growing share of non-mortgage consumer borrowing. Unlike other forms of consumer debt, which have fallen, total student loans have grown by 75 percent since 2007.
The federal government has pushed relentlessly to expand access to college by cutting out the private sector in loan programs and by altering repayment terms for borrowers via executive order. It bears an eerie resemblance to the obsession with homeownership that got us into our current straits.
Like potential homeowners, students have been encouraged to borrow with impunity. It continues to intensify: The Department of Education lent $133 billion in 2010 and $157 billion in 2011. Late payment trends are also following a similar pattern to the subprime mortgage crisis. With new programs geared toward “income based” repayment plans and forbearance timetables, it is increasingly likely that the federal government and thus the taxpayer will eventually be on the hook for tens of billions of dollars of loans that will never be repaid.
This phenomenon has real social consequences. With two-thirds of college graduates possessing student loan debt of at least $25,000 and 53 percent of recent college graduates either unemployed or acutely underemployed, unproductive economic dislocations—putting off the purchase of a home or delaying marriage, for example—are rampant.
This misguided policy approach has produced more than a student loan bubble that could damage the economy. It has also triggered an inflationary spiral in tuition costs and provided college bureaucracies with incentives to become bloated and inefficient. As one critical report recently stated, “In no other industry would overhead costs be allowed to grow at this rate—executives would lose their jobs.”
The billions of dollars sloshing around the system have triggered the classic definition of inflation: Too much money is chasing too few goods. It has also lent further credence to Milton Friedman’s claim that inflation is always and everywhere a monetary phenomenon. Since 2000, tuition at public, four-year colleges has risen by an inflation-adjusted 72 percent, and over the past 25 years, it has increased at an annual rate 6 percentage points higher than the cost of living. When prices rise, government loans increase to effectively subsidize the difference, allowing colleges to continue increasing tuition, thus completing the cycle.
One beneficiary is online education. While it will never completely replace the college campus, current economic realities make it a legitimate alternative. It provides an avenue of highly individualized instruction at a fraction of the cost of the traditional model.
Overspending on higher education has reached a tipping point. Just as aggressive government intervention in the housing market led to a variety of economic distortions and ultimately cost the taxpayers billions, the student loan problem is destined for similar results unless substantial reforms are implemented.
The government must exit the lending arena and be replaced by an active and innovative private market with legitimate underwriting standards. A variety of arrangements would be possible in this environment, including contractual agreements between businesses and students that revolve around the future employment and cash flows of the borrower.
Before we can get to that point, however, it is essential that we grasp as a nation how unproductive and costly it is when federal authorities try to dictate outcomes by aggressively intervening in the marketplace.
We must return to first principles and continuously ask ourselves what the proper role of government is in a free society.
Jay Bowen is a FEE trustee and president of Bowen, Hanes & Co. Inc., an Atlanta investment counseling firm. A version of this piece was originally published Jan. 11, 2013, in Atlanta Business Chronicle.

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Obama ‘freedom to worship’ assaults First Amendment

Freedom of religion not just for private expression
By Jonathan Imbody
Op-ed in The Washington Times Monday, January 28, 2013

BillofRightsPresident Obama marked Religious Freedom Day earlier this month by framing religious liberty as “the freedom to worship as we choose.” If the president had not been restricting and attacking religious freedom so egregiously, he might merit a pass for using “freedom to worship” as poor shorthand for religious liberty.

The First Amendment of our Constitution actually reads, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” The constitutionally guaranteed free exercise of religion in America extends well beyond the freedom to worship. It includes the freedom to live out our conscientiously held beliefs.

Worship at its core is essentially a private and personal process, a communion between God and an individual. No government could restrict such worship, any more than it could monitor and censor every citizen’s thoughts and prayers. Even forbidding individuals to worship together in public, which coercive communist governments like China’s have done, cannot actually prevent individuals from worshiping God in private. So a law that merely protected the freedom to worship would hardly be worth heralding in a presidential proclamation.

The free exercise of religion under the American Constitution, by contrast, includes the freedom to openly express, follow and live out our faith — not just in private but also in the public square — without government coercion, censorship or any other form of restriction.

The concept of religious liberty held by the Constitution’s framers included not merely the freedom to worship, but also the free exercise of conscience — carrying out one’s moral beliefs with conviction and action.

As Thomas Jefferson asserted, “[O]ur rules can have authority over such natural rights only as we have submitted to them. The rights of conscience we never submitted, we could not submit. We are answerable for them to our God.”

James Madison expressed this understanding in his original amendment to the Constitution: “The civil rights of none, shall be abridged on account of religious belief or worship, nor shall any national religion be established, nor shall the full and equal rights of conscience be in any manner, or on any pretext infringed.”

To be fair, Mr. Obama’s statement eventually included a more expansive acknowledgement of religious freedom: “Because of the protections guaranteed by our Constitution, each of us has the right to practice our faith openly and as we choose.”

Yet the record will show that the president’s gilded rhetoric belies tarnished policies. The prioritization of the president’s first statement — that religious freedom means simply freedom to worship — in fact parallels his policies. Those policies often violate not only the general principles of the First Amendment, but also the more specific Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993, which provides that “Government shall not substantially burden a person’s exercise of religion” and must take “the least restrictive means of furthering that compelling governmental interest.”

The Obama administration has taken several actions to restrict or outright violate religious liberty. They have gutted the only federal conscience regulation protecting the conscience rights of American health care professionals.

Officials issued a coercive contraception and sterilization mandate that imposes the president’s abortion ideology on all employers, exempting virtually only places of worship. The thousands of faith-based charities that actually exercise their faith and conscience beyond the four walls of their churches now face millions of dollars in fines by the Obama administration.

The administration has argued before the Supreme Court in Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church and School v. EEOC against a religious institution in an attempt to restrict faith-based organizations’ hiring rights. In a unanimous decision, even Mr. Obama’s own appointees to the court rejected the administration’s radical arguments to restrict religious liberty.

The Obama administration failed for months to aggressively advocate on behalf of Pastor Saeed Abedini, an American citizen imprisoned, tortured and now on trial, facing possible execution by the Iranian government, for simply living out and speaking about his Christian faith.

The first American Congress enshrined religious liberty pre-eminently in the Bill of Rights. Many of those leaders and their fellow patriots who ratified the First Amendment had risked everything they owned and their very lives to win those freedoms. They also recognized that threatening one group’s freedoms, by either restricting or establishing a faith, threatens the freedoms of everyone.

Unless we act swiftly to guard against current assaults on religious liberty — by reversing the administration’s coercive policies through the courts, by passing conscience-protecting laws in Congress and by re-educating the culture on religious liberty — our First Amendment freedoms will become an empty proclamation.

Jonathan Imbody is vice president for government relations at the Christian Medical Association.

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Unalienable Rights: The Right to Life

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed…


 

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Whither Kuwait: Illiberal Democracy or Enlightened Autocracy?

Posted at Foundation for Economic Education: JANUARY 15, 2013 by DOUG BANDOW
20130115_Kuwaitdetail
KUWAIT CITY, KUWAIT—The touchstone for American foreign policy today is support for democracy. Yet democracy sometimes has only a tenuous relationship with liberty. In fact, unconstrained democracy can threaten a free society. This tension is evident in Kuwait, a small Persian Gulf nation in which people are demanding greater democracy.
Kuwait was freed from British “protection” a half century ago. Since then Kuwaitis have established the region’s freest country: The elected parliament has real power and the independent media asks embarrassing questions. Moreover, non-Muslims are free to practice their faiths.
However, in December Kuwait held its second National Assembly election this year. The Emir unilaterally changed the voting system, triggering protests and a campaign boycott. A broad coalition ranging from liberal to Islamist is pressuring the government to change course—and eventually create an elected prime minister.
Khaled al-Fadhala, a student organizer, told the Financial Times, “The youth want change. Whoever will bring that change, the youth want. I don’t care if they’re Islamists, Muslim Brotherhood, Shia . . . as long as they win in a democratic election.”
Better to win in a democratic election than not. However, winning an election is no guarantee of support for freedom, as is evident throughout the Middle East.
For instance, Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak was an authoritarian who found favor in Washington because he generally backed U.S. policy. Unfortunately, this association did wonders—all bad—for America’s reputation in the Middle East.
Mohamed Morsi, a member of the Islamic Brotherhood, was elected president after Mubarak’s fall. Morsi has claimed the right to exercise near-dictatorial powers. The proposed constitution enshrines authority rather than liberty. And violent attacks on Coptic Christians have risen. Egypt is more democratic than before, but could end up less free.
Fears are rising that Kuwait might be traveling down the same road. Kuwait is not Egypt: The former is far more democratic, free, and prosperous. Kuwait’s political community is smaller and more united. Most Kuwaitis realize that they have a huge stake in social stability.
Indeed, even opposition activists emphasize their support for Kuwait’s Emir. For instance, Musallam Al-Barrak, a long-time parliamentarian who now is calling for sustained protests, told me when I visited in December that “there is a big difference between the Arab Spring and Kuwaiti movements. The Arab Spring was against the ruling system.” Not so in Kuwait. Protestors want an elected government, but “that never means we are against the government or the ruling system.”
However, an elected rather than appointed government would sharply curtail the Emir’s powers. And, ironically, that might not be good for liberty.
The parliament elected in 2009 fell into disrepute, leading to elections in February, which I also observed. The opposition took two-thirds of the seats. And a majority of MPs were Islamists.
In general these men were moderate in temperament and fully integrated into Kuwaiti society. Nor did they bear Americans any ill will. For instance, I interviewed Dr. Naser al-Sane, a former MP active with the international Islamic Brotherhood. Dr. al-Sane had met with U.S. congressmen and his son attended college in America.
Nevertheless, liberty is not high on their list of national priorities. A religious bloc quickly formed, leading to talk about imposing a dress code on women. The group also called for making Sharia the source of all law, executing blasphemers, and closing down Christian churches. Only the Emir’s “no”—for instance, the government explained that the constitution protected freedom of religion—prevented these measures from becoming law.
This is a society in which liberal Kuwaitis choose Western dress and tell you which brand of alcohol they prefer. They also freely share their doubts about the monarchy. One younger Kuwaiti complained to me that “I am not sure that monarchy is the best system for Kuwait. The royal family now believes the country, property, and people belong to them.”
Indeed, the driving force behind the continuing protests that are challenging Kuwait’s government is the young. Al-Barrak and other long-serving MPs provide the public face of opposition. But al-Barrak called the youth “the heart of the movement.” My friend Shafeeq Ghabra, a political scientist at Kuwait University, estimates that 60 percent of Kuwait’s population is under 26, and 70 percent is under 29. Everyone I spoke with said young people were spontaneously pressing for change out of personal conviction—they were under no one’s control. “The youth are saying that this is their movement,” explained Ghabra.
That’s exciting. But it brings to mind Khaled al-Fadhala’s comment. Is all that matters that officials are democratically elected? Or should one elect people who will use their authority to protect the liberty of those doing the electing?
As yet there is no Kuwaiti Mohamed Morsi in the wings, ready to exercise dictatorial authority in the name of democracy. Nevertheless, seemingly reasonable people already said they were ready to kill blasphemers and destroy churches. One wonders if this is the world that young Kuwaitis hope to construct.
The ultimate objective in Kuwait, as in America, should be to create a free and tolerant society. Democracy is an important means to that end. But it is critical to limit State power before deciding who gets to exercise that authority.
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