The Choices Before Us
I’ve been receiving a number of emails today, some of which were authored by those who think I’ve been too rough on Congressman Paul, Governor Romney, or Speaker Gingrich, or any of the other candidates I may have from time to time examined. A couple of very important and consistent conclusions can be drawn from all of these emails, and I thought it would be proper to consider them together with you. Nearly every one of the notes goes on at length to defend the candidate in question, and each of them goes on to tell me in one way or another that I’m falling for some media narrative or other. This suggests a confusion about what I believe, and I’d like to clear that up for readers, both new and old.
With Newt, I’m “too harsh” because I’m a “Beckerhead,” despite the fact that I’ve been critical of Beck at times. With Mitt, I’m “too inflexible” because I’ve noted that he’s been all over the place on various issues. In the case of Ron Paul, I’m being told that I don’t know what conservatism is, despite spending much of the last half-year discussing that very subject. So arises the question: “What’s the truth?” The truth is that like so many of you, I am unhappy with the current roster of choices, and none of them offer me much hope with respect to electing a “conservative,” as I conceive that term to mean.
Of course, this necessarily leads to the question as to what constitutes a “conservative.” Various people will offer you a range of definitions, and the dictionary will focus on the notion of “conserving traditions,” but I think that’s a tortured application of a term that in our political context has almost no discernible, concrete meaning any longer. In part, it stems from the redefinition of terms over the last century or more of political discourse. The statists sought cover under the labels “progressive,” “socialist,” “liberal,” and more recently, “libertarian.” We’ve concocted new terms to try to differentiate, and most of them have been misused or misapplied with absurd results. Of all the abuses of terminology that makes me angry, it is the misuse of the terms “liberal” and “conservative.” These two have been stretched and twisted and reshaped until they in no way resemble the people who claim them as labels. What this argues for is a little truth in advertising by way of labels. I’ve tired of this nonsense in respect to the way in which it is used to pigeon-hole people into associations with beliefs and ideas they do not share.
Rather than try to tell you a definition under any of the bastardizations of the modern usages, I’m going back to a time when these terms still had some meaning. I wish to go back to the days of our founding to explain to you what it is that I believe. In the end, you will brand me with any label you find useful, but I would have it that you understand at the very least what I believe, and take from that understanding what it implies about the sort of candidates I choose to support.
In the era of our founders, I would have been called a “liberal,” in the precisely classical sense that characterized Thomas Jefferson’s inclusion under that label. It would in no measure imply the sort of collectivist reflex with which the current uses of the term “liberal” are nowadays stained. In the specifics of my belief, I need little beyond this from the preamble of our 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. That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.
I believe that such a government must regard the people it serves as its master, mindful of their individual rights in all things. In this respect, I see government in the place of an honest umpire, neither for nor against any particular person, but in favor of a standard of right and wrong according to an objective set of rules the object of which is only the guarantee of those rights.
I also believe that government, in pursuit of the guarantee of those rights, must exercise its delegated authority in the name of an organized defense. This means I believe in a vigorous national defense, but it also means I do not believe the purposes of our government should include military conquest. It means that I believe in a strong enforcement of our laws against criminals, but it also means I do not believe law should be placed in the service of plunder by some citizens of others. It is this last that under modern constructs and usages characterizes me as a “conservative.” I believe acts of government must serve all citizens simultaneously. In today’s political discourse, there are those that would thereby label me a “libertarian,” and again, I would reach merely to history to make my case that it is not the object of government, as envisioned by our founders, to redistribute wealth or favors or benefits. In this, I adhere to the sentiments of James Madison:
“If Congress can employ money indefinitely to the general welfare, and are the sole and supreme judges of the general welfare, they may take the care of religion into their own hands; they may appoint teachers in every State, county and parish and pay them out of their public treasury; they may take into their own hands the education of children, establishing in like manner schools throughout the Union; they may assume the provision of the poor; they may undertake the regulation of all roads other than post-roads; in short, every thing, from the highest object of state legislation down to the most minute object of police, would be thrown under the power of Congress…. Were the power of Congress to be established in the latitude contended for, it would subvert the very foundations, and transmute the very nature of the limited Government established by the people of America.” — James Madison
This would nowadays be called a “libertarian” by some, but this does not answer all that a government is or must do. It merely speaks to what a government must not do. Madison here offers a warning that our nation’s government has long ago discarded in reckless pursuit of the very objects against which he warned. This is not the government of our founding, nor the government of its re-framing under our Constitution. The argument of some is that we have a living constitution that permits reinterpretation, but that would be a detestable reinterpretation itself. Our founders thought this Constitution ought to be flexible, and so it is, but not in the manner now described by modern “liberals” who I call “statists.” The framers of our Constitution laid a foundation for our republic, and for change of its laws, and most important among the things they enshrined in the Constitution are the only valid method by which it was intended to be flexible. Article V:
The Congress, whenever two thirds of both Houses shall deem it necessary, shall propose Amendments to this Constitution, or, on the Application of the Legislatures of two thirds of the several States, shall call a Convention for proposing Amendments, which, in either Case, shall be valid to all Intents and Purposes, as Part of this Constitution, when ratified by the Legislatures of three fourths of the several States or by Conventions in three fourths thereof, as the one or the other Mode of Ratification may be proposed by the Congress; Provided that no Amendment which may be made prior to the Year One thousand eight hundred and eight shall in any Manner affect the first and fourth Clauses in the Ninth Section of the first Article; and that no State, without its Consent, shall be deprived of its equal Suffrage in the Senate.
If you want to know the means by which ours was to be a “living constitution,” there in Article V you will find it. Notice that it does not say that the meaning of the law is to be amended by reinterpreting its words. It gives us the ability to change the meaning of the law by changing the law itself, either by the Amendment or Convention procedures as outlined therein. I am a strong believer in this, because I know full and well how the statists have long preyed upon the ignorance and indulgence of the American people. It offers me some hope that so many now finally understand what has been at stake in the progressive era, begun arguably with the presidency of Theodore Roosevelt, but nevertheless in full swing by the time of Woodrow Wilson’s inaugural.
This would at first make the case of those who say I am therefore a modern-day “libertarian,” but I eschew that definition by virtue of all that term has now come to encompass. Under this definition, I would necessarily reject any foreign involvements at all, but this is not so. I recognize as all conservatives do that there is the matter of reality from which one cannot escape. Am I satisfied with the manner in which we have tended to a changing reality? Hardly. Am I satisfied that the measures we’ve undertaken were “necessary?” Not at all. Despite this seeming contradiction, I believe that we must fundamentally address this if we’re to restore our constitution to its proper meaning.
As an example, I don’t believe the method by which we’ve circumvented the Constitution’s restrictions on military establishment is right and proper. In our modern world, with push-button warfare of potentially devastating arms, it is necessary to consider that we ought to have not only a standing Navy at sea, but also a standing Army, which we do in fact have, even if Congress has continued the charade of no appropriations to that purpose for more than two years in technicality. The National Security Act of 1947 does not amend the constitution, but merely adds to the charade. I believe we ought to amend the constitution to provide for this necessity rather than carry on with the fiction.
One must look at Madison’s quote above, in consideration of the government we now have, and wonder which Amendments provided for the growth of all those things against which he had warned. The answer, of course, is simply: There haven’t been any. Nowhere will you find an amendment providing for the welfare state, or education, or NASA, or a million other things that were considered by our framers as obscenities. Whether I support them or not, still we have not amended the Constitution to permit them, but have instead acted on the notion of “necessity” as a matter of pure political expedience. For this, I would be called a “radical” inasmuch as I present the radical notion that we ought and must adhere to our Constitution, or dispense with it and call our government something else, but it is not the government prescribed by the US Constitution, and has not been for many years.
This will lead inevitably to the question put forth by the adherents of Ron Paul, who will argue summarily on the basis I have outlined that I must be his kind of “conservative.” This too is erroneous, for in fact what troubles me about Dr. Paul is that which has troubled me about much of modern “libertarian” dogma with respect to matters of national security: An unwavering belief in the absurd, the impossible, and the Utopian. It is the key consideration among such “libertarians” that we must not involve ourselves in any matters but trade beyond our border, but since that will remain largely within the conduct of the private sector, the government need not be involved.
This is a lie, and an abrogation of our responsibility to the truth. When Thomas Jefferson dispatched the Navy and its Marine forces to Tripoli in combat against the Barbary pirates, he did so not as an adventurist, but as a defender of American shipping. It is preposterous to suggest that one’s trade will be sufficient intercourse with the world, because in truth there is yet another underlying and fundamental flaw that lies at the heart of such contentions: The abiding assumption that all others are guided by a similar reverence for those natural, unalienable rights of man that government exists to guarantee. As Michele Bachmann said in Thursday night’s GOP Debate on FoxNews, only a knave or a fool believes this to be the case, and yet with nearly every dose of modern “libertarian” thought to which I exposed on the matter of defense and foreign policy(including Dr. Paul’s,) this juvenile, almost hippie-like presumption about the motives of all men emerges to a degree and extent that makes of their positions a laughing stock in the face of reality.
Contrary to the latter-day peacenik propaganda, we do not all “cherish the same things.” If that were so, there would be no crime and no war and no strife anywhere among men, and yet it persists in our world, in our nation, and even in our neighborhoods and homes. No unreality is more dangerous than such an assumption of the sort of Utopian relation of men and civilizations. For what purpose do we have a government if not to defend us against those who do not share our views of the rights of man?
Damn me if you please, or if you feel as though you must, but do not permit yourself to believe I have not fully considered these issues. Of late, I’ve given consideration to little else. This entire blog is in service to that consideration, and to arouse yourselves to the belief that I would so casually entrust the future of this country, or its government to somebody on the basis of an unthinking support is patently absurd. I don’t care if you call me “conservative” or “libertarian” or “liberal,” because I know in our current context, all those terms have lost their original meanings, but this much I do know: I know what sort of candidate I would happily support.
I would support a candidate who shares my reverence for the Constitution in terms of the government’s relationship to its masters: We the people. I would support a candidate who understands that our government now needs vast reforms, that some would call “sudden and relentless,” because our government has inverted its role in our lives, by which means it has become the master and we have become its servants. I would support a candidate who understands the cruel and dangerous realities of our world, and is willing to act to bring our government and its operations into compliance with them by legal, constitutional means. These are all the things, in general, that I would support, but I will not support any candidate absent any of these to any substantial degree.
These are the characteristics of the candidate I would support, but therein lies my personal dilemma, whatever you choose to call me: None of the candidates now in the field have shown me that they are substantially, and in the greatest measure, what I believe such a candidate ought be. I suspect the rapid climb and descent of one candidate after the other means that while many of you may not share my views entirely, the greater number of you are dissatisfied with your choices, and you now find yourself choosing from among what you consider an imperfect lot. In truth, I expect many people feel as I do in this matter, but this may be the nature of the choice we will have in 2012, and I fear, as do so many of you, that it will be insufficient to the grave national tests that lie ahead. This may be my dilemma, but many of you share in it, and I wish for you the wisdom of Solomon. We cannot afford to see this infant be rendered in halves.