“It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends upon his not understanding it.” — Upton Sinclair
Current conventional wisdom about the November elections says the biggest issue will be "jobs" and who can best revive the economy. However, emerging out of the rhetorical fog is the shape of something far more fundamental: a stark oncoming clash of worldviews demanding resolution.
It's becoming increasingly clear that Barack Obama, unable to run for re-election on a record of positive economic accomplishments during his first term, has decided to reframe the election debate as a final choice between two worldviews. If he hadn't done so, the same debate would have been forced upon him by those terrified by what they see ahead.
In his recent State of the Union speech, Mr. Obama sought to define the conflict as being between two irresolvable opposites of his choosing:
“We can either settle for a country where a shrinking number of people do really well, while a growing number of Americans barely get by. Or we can restore an economy where everyone gets a fair shot, everyone does their fair share, and everyone plays by the same set of rules.”
He goes on to present a false choice between doing nothing and creating an economy in which achievers must be pulled down rather than the poor raised up — all in the interests of "fairness." At no point does Obama consider reducing the cost, size, and reach of government.
House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) makes clear that Obama's worldview has never had an underlying economic argument. Instead, in a recent interview published in The Wall Street Journal, Cantor claims that it is "all about social justice."
“The "philosophical starting point" of today's Democrats, as Mr. Cantor sees it, is that they "believe in a welfare state before they believe in capitalism. They promote economic programs of redistribution to close the gap of the disparity between the classes. That's what they're about: redistributive politics."
In a speech on the Senate floor last summer, Marco Rubio (R-FL) made clear that the competing worldviews to be settled in the upcoming election will be between those who believe that the government's job is to "deliver economic justice" and those who believe that the government's job is to "promote economic opportunity."
Are these views reconcilable? Senator Rubio thinks not.
“Ultimately, we may find that between these two points there may not be a middle ground, and that, in fact, as a nation and as a people, we must decide what we want the role of government to be in America, moving forward.”
Interestingly, the conflict between freedom for individual wealth-creation at all economic levels and government-enforced wealth-redistribution has roiled since the earliest days of our nation's founding. As students of world history know, the dominant governing model worldwide for thousands of years involved a strong central authority usually led by a ruling individual, be he king or tribal chief or dictator by some other name. Not until the 17th century would groups of individuals escaping the tyranny of Europe's top-down rule settle on the shores of a new continent to try a different way.
On a ship to the new land, Pilgrims so adverse to the old ruling model voted to adopt a new one — a "Commonwealth" — where each family would provide common goods for the community to be shared equally. As documented by their first American governor, William Bradford, the Plymouth colony suffered mightily as a result. Some refused to contribute equally. Basic human nature kicked in as top producers refused to assist slackers, and the colony almost perished from disease and hunger. In desperation, they established a private property model, with individuals free to profit from the results of their efforts. Prosperity returned within a year. We now celebrate Thanksgiving as a result.
In his article for the Ludwig von Mises Institute on the Great Thanksgiving Day Hoax Richard Maybury writes:
“After the poor harvest of 1622, writes Bradford, "they began to think how they might raise as much corn as they could, and obtain a better crop." They began to question their form of economic organization.
This had required that "all profits & benefits that are got by trade, working, fishing, or any other means" were to be placed in the common stock of the colony, and that, "all such persons as are of this colony, are to have their meat, drink, apparel, and all provisions out of the common stock." A person was to put into the common stock all he could, and take out only what he needed.
This "from each according to his ability, to each according to his need" was an early form of socialism, and it is why the Pilgrims were starving. Bradford writes that "young men that are most able and fit for labor and service" complained about being forced to "spend their time and strength to work for other men's wives and children." Also, "the strong, or man of parts, had no more in division of victuals and clothes, than he that was weak." So the young and strong refused to work and the total amount of food produced was never adequate.
To rectify this situation, in 1623 Bradford abolished socialism. He gave each household a parcel of land and told them they could keep what they produced, or trade it away as they saw fit. In other words, he replaced socialism with a free market, and that was the end of famines.”
The wonders which result from releasing individual human effort to develop private property and wealth unshackled from collective limits enforced by others became a lesson not lost on following settlers. Yet, a hundred years later, the prospering colonies came under oppressive domination by the king and parliament of England. In response, a movement for full independence grew as reaffirmation of the basic need for individual freedom in economic and religious endeavor.
The Declaration of Independence formally challenged the worldwide governing model. Its opening sentence presents a humble pronouncement that common people poorly governed are free to pledge obedience to governance under a power higher than human rule to secure "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness."
With the War for Independence over a year old and hope for a peaceful resolution nonexistent, the Continental Congress appointed a Committee of Five—including Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, and Benjamin Franklin—to draft a document “declaring the causes which impel the American colonies to the separation.” Thirty-three-year-old Jefferson composed the initial draft, completing it in seventeen days. The committee submitted its draft to Congress on June 28, 1776, and on July 2, Congress voted for independence. Two days later, after numerous edits, Congress approved the Declaration of Independence by unanimous vote.
The opening words of the Declaration were one of the most powerful statements on government ever put to pen:
“When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.”
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,—That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.”
It was this statement that became the vision statement for the United States and the basis of our governing principles. The first part of the Declaration sets forth the vision. The second part lists the grievances against the King and the mother country and the third part states what we will do about it.
One of the grievances listed stated: “He has erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harass our people, and eat out their substance.” This was our Founder’s rebuke of the Administrative State.
It took another decade and a hard-fought war to secure political independence and write a constitution enshrining the concept of limited central government within a representative republic composed of separate sovereign states intended to spread over an entire continent. Even then, adoption of the Constitution was not secured without the inclusion of ten amendments further driving home the concept of restricting central-government’s encroachment on individual liberty.
For over another hundred years, through tumultuous times of financial booms and busts, westward exploration and emigration, foreign wars, and a devastating civil war, the nation survived and prospered. But then came Woodrow Wilson, the first American president elected to office after declaring the Constitution "obsolete" in the modern world of industrial growth, dense urbanization, and massive immigration. The founding of the nation, according to Wilson, was a "simple age," and humans had evolved beyond that time. He called for "progressive" reforms, resurrecting the notion of a stronger central government, greater regulation of private enterprise, and a need for international collectivism. It was Wilson who stated “the Constitution was written in the age of Newton — now we have Darwin.” I will take Sir Isaac Newton over Darwin any day of the week.
For a time, some of the "progressive" reforms made sense to check monopolies and other forms of unethical behavior within the private enterprise system. However, in the last sixty years, an ever-growing effort has evolved, bringing the nation closer again to governance by a crushing central government mandating a collectivist egalitarian model of wealth redistribution not unlike that which failed for the early Pilgrims. The Great Recession of 2008 has spawned a full assault by Barack Obama and his Democrat Party on the private-enterprise system and individual liberty. Their policies now threaten without apology to end the great experiment embodied in the country's founding and has brought to a pint where they have erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of officers to harass our people, and eat out their substance.”
Wilson’s progress and the statism and progressive policies that have followed, has been paid for with our liberty. All of this so called progress has been implemented on the American people by the coercion of government by taking from the liberty and property of one group to give it to another group. In essence every ounce of this progress has been paid for by an equivalent ounce of someone’s liberty.
James Madison stated in Federalist Paper No.47:
“No political truth is certainly of greater intrinsic value, or is stamped with the authority of more enlightened patrons of liberty than that on which the objection is founded. The accumulation of all powers, legislative, executive, and judiciary, in the same hands, whether of one, a few, or many, and whether hereditary, self-appointed, or elective, may justly be pronounced the very definition of tyranny”
Madison was talking about the power of the legislative, executive, and judiciary. This is the reason he advocated a “Compound Republic” where these powers would have checks and balances.
Madison stated in Federalist Paper No.62 regarding the legislative process:
“The internal effects of a mutable policy are still more calamitous. It poisons the blessings of liberty itself. It will be of little avail to the people that the laws are made by men of their own choice if the laws be so voluminous that they cannot be read, or so incoherent that they cannot be understood; if they be repealed or revised before they are promulgated, or undergo such incessant changes that no man, who knows what the law is today, can guess what it will be tomorrow. Law is defined to be a rule of action; but how can that be a rule, which is little known and less fixed?
It was the intent of our Founders that each of the three branches would govern with the consent of the other. What Madison and our Founders feared was the development of a fourth branch of government; the Administrative Branch.
This administrative branch answers to virtually no one. They are part and parcel of the executive branch and even after an election that causes a change in the executive the administrators or bureaucrats remain in power. They are the elites and masterminds who interpret the voluminous laws enacted by the legislative branch with little or no accountability to the American people. Just look at ObamaCare, a 3,000 plus page law that no one understands and is left to the bureaucrats to interpret and enforce with the full force of government.
With every shift of power from the local and state to federal level government becomes less representative and prey the special interest groups (or as Madison called them “factions”) and big corporations on both the left and the right. These swarms of bureaucrats have replaced the natural rights of liberty granted by God with the sentimentality and statism of the utopians and masterminds. This is pure Wilsonian progressivism. This progressivism permeates every aspect of our life today from education, taxes, and the use of energy to environmental regulations. I sometimes think that if the colonist had electricity they would have tossed a boat load of those curly cue light bulbs into the Boston Harbor rather than their breakfast beverage.
Obama exploits the citizenry's concerted blindness, cloaking his views under veneers of "social justice," "fairness," and "progress." Unadulterated Marxism attracts few votes. In rare candor, sans teleprompter, Obama lectured Joe the Plumber that his prescription for widespread prosperity is "spreading the wealth around."
Before catapulting to prominence, the president complained that thanks to constraints instituted by our Founders, "The Supreme Court never ventured into the issues of redistribution of wealth and sort of more basic issues of political and economic justice." Obama's justice ensures not that transactions are freely entered and fairly measured, but that bureaucrats enforce results fancied per the fluttering fashions of political correctness.
Still, most Americans would deny Obama's Marxist outlook, mistaking the term's meaning as synonymous with Stalin or Mao. Marxist theory informed many of history's most murderous tyrants, but Obama's brand is the emasculated theorizing of the faculty lounge. He neither intends similar mayhem nor has such means in our constitutional republic.
Obama perceives society through lenses skewed by this modern version of Marxism. Obama's proposals inevitably leverage left-wing radicals or government organs to redistribute wealth, power, or caches of moral superiority under pretense of combating prejudice. Power shifts from private to public — or from parties previously seen as oppressors to those whom progressives deem oppressed.
In a recent speech at Hillsdale College entitled "The New Road to Serfdom: Lessons to Learn from European Policy" Daniel Hannan, a British Member of the European Parliament warned America of the impending disaster if we followed the course the European Union has taken for the past 30 years on their march to a socialistic and utopian society.
A clear sign of troubling impact on American society, the Heritage Foundation reports that 70 percent of government spending now goes to individual assistance programs. One in five Americans (more than 67.3 million) — the highest number in the nation's history — relies almost entirely on government and not himself for everything from housing, health care, and food stamps to retirement assistance — all paid for by others. This is clearly not what our Founders envisioned when the pledged their lives, their fortunes and their sacred honor.
To make matters worse, estimated government spending by states and local jurisdictions nearly matches the federal outlay. Larry Arnn, president of Hillsdale College, in a recent interview, reveals what this means:
“The GDP is near $15 trillion while government spending at all levels is $6.7 trillion. So; we're $800 billion away from half, and health care is coming. That means that government will become greater than the rest of society. How can the rest of society watch it? There are endless possibilities of corruption in such a situation with resulting loss of public morality.”
Clearly, spending on such a gigantic scale has hit home for many terrified Americans. They see the future for themselves, their children, and their grandchildren doomed to an era of continued low prosperity and massive corruption. Taking money by coercion from one to give to another has been historically called "theft" — not "fairness." Receiving largess without effort crushes the drive and work ethic of each able-bodied recipient. The current turmoil in Europe, even now being copied on a smaller scale by the "entitled poor" of the Occupy Wall Street crowd, clearly shows the ugliness ahead.
Will the Obama administration, by dispensing largesse on a massive scale in exchange for votes, subvert the limited central government model inherent in our Constitution? Will we revert to governance under the age-old model of strong central authority maintaining top-down power and control as demonstrated by King George? Can the Republican candidates for president and Congress articulate the blessings of widespread wealth and prosperity resulting from unleashing individual liberty with individual responsibility versus powerless masses scrambling to just get a piece of the dole? Or have Democrats convinced a sufficient number of voters to let "economic justice" replace "economic opportunity"?
Our own historic Plymouth colony and the European collapse today reveal lessons for all to see. The coming election provides voters the first real opportunity afforded by our Constitution for Americans to render their decision on which worldview they wish to adopt, since Mr. Obama has made the choice so clear. Resolution of this coming clash of worldviews will have profound significance for us all.