ACertainDoeBear commented on this post:
Which reminds me, perhaps the ‘purpose’ of the US ‘country’ is to act as a container for the Holy Founding Fathers ideas. Hmm.
It’s certainly true that many on the conservative side, Tea Party folks and others, have an abiding admiration and reverence for the US Founding Fathers. I am among those who feel this admiration.
It isn’t that I think that they were infallible, or even entirely admirable as individuals. Many were, some had notable flaws.
Thomas Jefferson, for example
Jefferson, a brilliant thinker, was a mixture of traits. I don’t actually hold the slavery bit against Jefferson; that was normal for the time and a situation that he inherited and worked toward solving; he was a loud voice against slavery, and his success would have freed his own slaves. He was overruled by the need to compromise to put a country together, but it’s worth noting that his own early draft of the Declaration of Independence would have triggered the end of slavery.
At least that compromise (brokered by Benjamin Franklin) had elements to reduce the power of slave-holding states (the “three-fifths” deal I wrote about here), and a provision to end slave trade a few years later.
No, my problem with Thomas Jefferson was his actions as a politician, later, acting for his own self-interest (in the matter of the US paying its debts, the Debt Crisis of the 1790s), and in his fairly underhanded attacks on his political opponents, writing anonymous allegations against them, and putting them in the hands of others. He did this to Alexander Hamilton, for example, writing a document intended to cause the impeachment of Hamilton (who wanted the US to pay its debts). Jefferson put this poisonous document in the hands of a congressman to put forward as his own idea. It didn’t work. It was many years later that Jefferson revealed that he had actually written it.
As a politician, Jefferson argued strenuously against the usurpation of power by the President — until be became President Jefferson, at which point all bets were off and he began to usurp new powers for that office. A big example was the Louisiana Purchase, which was done without the Senate’s knowledge or involvement despite the Constitution’s mandate of Senate approval for treaties. And he fought against imprisoning people who opposed the President, but once he became President there were suddenly other issues more important. Jefferson’s hypocrisy on these topics was loudly noted at the time.
Nevertheless, Jefferson was a brilliant thinker, and his contribution to the Declaration and the founding principles of this country are extremely valuable. To an extent, this is true of his involvement of the Constitution as well, though it was mostly his previous best writings involved, as he was serving as a diplomat overseas while our new government was being designed.
Not Perfect Men, but
It isn’t that these men are “Holy Founding Fathers” in my mind. They weren’t perfect, they were not religious authorities (though many of them were certainly quite religious), they were not interpreters of religious doctrine. They were not saints. To a religious person, the “Holy Founding Fathers” notion is somewhat sacrilegious, and to a non-religious person it’s rather a non-starter.
But to me, there is no question that the process that these people undertook together, from the beginnings of the Revolutionary War through the creation of the US Constitution and Bill of Rights, was inspired, and its ultimate product was something never before seen and without equal as a system of government. It has continued to inspire people, and leaders of people, around the world ever since.
As I wrote recently, a Canadian government official (and law enforcer) noted that he was not obliged to honor “freedom of speech,” as it was an American concept that did not apply in Canada.
It was one of many uniquely American concepts: That government should be limited, and self-limiting. That a free people should be able to make their own decisions, and through representation have others translate those decisions to law. And that even that process should be limited by a constitution, such that merely having a majority does not automatically equate to tyranny over the minority. (These are what is meant by a Constitutional Republic.)
Charles Krauthammer wrote recently that “The System Works” — and he’s correct. As messy as the public debate over the debt limit has been, the process itself worked. There is much more work to do; the actual deal reached is trivial (and not good!), but it has engendered conversation about limiting government growth again, and this is a good thing.
The divisions of power laid out as checks and balances, the individual freedoms protected by the system (from speech to religion to assembly to right of due process), the notion that “all men are created equal” but then have a fair chance to make something more of themselves … all of this is part of the American Experiment.
It’s not that this process, or these people, are “holy” or religious icons. What is clear is that those ideas worked, and were new, and the subsequent “improvements” on them have generally not been.
The US versus the Usual
Most governments have not been so much “designed” as “accreted over time.” Monarchies begin by conquest, and dictatorships sometimes begin the same way or by internal coups executed against those in power before. Sometimes, masses of people have been enraged into supporting a revolution to replace their oppressors with new, much worse oppressors. (Such has been the case, generally, in Communist countries, and the Communist Party of the USA, which counts about one-in-six US professors amongst its members and supporters, plans the same thing for the United States.)
The US system is quite different/ It is a constitutional republic that was designed from the beginning with an idea to limit its own power. But that aspect, the famous “checks and balances,” has been under attack from the early days. We have seen, famously, long-term representatives in Congress who don’t even know what the three branches of government are, and we have had presidents (Wilson and Obama leap to mind) who actively oppose our Constitution and have written about disabling its checks and balances. (In both cases, these writings began long before they became presidents.)
When you focus on equality of opportunity, not equality of outcome (i.e., “equal chance, not equal misery”), you unleash powerful forces of prosperity and productivity that does good things for the poorest among us. The Soviet constitution was full of platitudes about “equality,” but they held the top position of organizing equal misery until they were supplanted by the Chinese communists. This is not an accident; whenever you talk about equalizing outcomes, you are guaranteeing misery for almost everyone.
Not absolutely everyone, of course. The leaders in communist regimes feel quite happy to commandeer the material trappings that capitalists earned and simply appropriate them for their own use. When the Sandinistas, a communist regime who took over Nicaragua by rebellion in the 1980s, came to power, they immediately “liberated” the mansions and property of the largest landowners, and moved in. The communist leaders suddenly developed very refined tastes for caviar and other fineries. (One communist leader shortly after the revolution was reportedly showing his mother around his new mansion, complete with a full staff of servants and objects of wealth she had never seen. Halfway though the tour, she started crying. “What’s wrong, mama?” he said. “Oh, Tomas,” she replied, “what will happen to all of this when the revolution comes?”)
The Soviet dachas, the Imperial palaces of the Chinese Communist leaders, the palaces of Saddam Hussein built with the money that was supposed to be feeding his people — these communists and national socialists are perfectly happy with wealth stolen or forced from the work of others. (Saddam Hussein’s country was officially called “National-Socialist” Iraq until recently, ruled by Hussein’s Ba’ath [“Reborn”] National Socialist Party.)
The recent government trend toward equal misery does not produce productivity. And for a government that mandates “sustainability” as a part of all government projects (I write such project documents these days), they completely ignore any notion of sustainability of entitlement programs, or of the country itself.
An Example of the Problem
Here’s an example of the US government accumulating power over time, to the point where this becomes accepted despite not being supportable Constitutionally: The so-called Commerce Clause (Article I, Section 8, Clause 3 of the US Constitution).
The Commerce Clause says that the US Congress shall have power “[t]o regulate Commerce with foreign Nations, and among the several States, and with the Indian Tribes.” Little of controversy came of this for a century or so after the Constitution was enacted, but then expansion of power began to creep into the perception of “commerce.” Franklin Roosevelt during the Depression launched a broad expansion of government power through the Commerce Clause (and others), suggesting that any transaction anywhere in the country could conceivably have an effect upon the entire economy, and thus across state borders, so Congress should be able to legislate it using this clause.
I’ve written about the Commerce Clause here and here. That debate continues, and just this week, as part of Obamacare was overturned by the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta, the dissenting judge on that panel Marcus Stanley wrote of the “undeniable fact that Congress’ commerce power has grown exponentially over the past two centuries, and is now generally accepted as having afforded Congress the authority to create rules regulating large areas of our national economy.”
Think about that. He’s on the progressives’ side, of course, but even he admits here that the power was not always there in the Constitution — it has “grown exponentially.” This clause is one of the largest sources of the “big government” crisis we face today, along with a newly-contrived notion of what “promote the general welfare” in the Constitution’s Preamble means.
Unsustainability versus Core Principles
But no matter whether one considers such things as part of the Constitution or not, it is clear from any projection of the numbers that current arrangement is unsustainable. This scheme of spending that presidents and Congress have created beginning with FDR in the 1930s (and ruled upon favorably since FDR replaced almost all the Supreme Court during his term) is projected to eat the entire budget alive. And it replaces (and actively attacks) a system of private donations that did a better, fairer job for much less money.
The Founding Fathers were not Holy Men speaking Infallible Wisdom. But they “sure as Hell” knew what they were doing, and the result could fairly be termed miraculous. Wanting to get back to those core principles, as I and conservatives in general want to do, is not done from religious conviction, it is driven by the evidence that the system they built works, and did work for us for a long time.
===|==============/ Keith DeHavelle