PUTTING THE PIECES OF THE UNRAVELING TOGETHER — PART 4

When we finished Part 3 of this series, The Balance Between Good and Evil, I found myself unsatisfied with the result. I did not know how to proceed. I just knew that what I had written was incomplete. Part 1, Money and Politics, had addressed the lifeblood of politics. Part 2, An Absence of Charity, had demonstrated an alternative model.  However, I had not tied the package together. In this post, we will make that effort.

The Burden of Consequences

To a large extent, comments drive this blog. I read them and wonder how to respond. Tony’s and Mo Johnson’s comments at this post, An Absence of Charity, left me wondering. Why could they not see the problems with government-run charity? Why did they refuse to equate government-run charity with stealing? The problem, I suspect is one of PHILOSOPHICAL CONFUSION OVER ENDS AND MEANS. Even though we addressed the morality of the issue in The Balance Between Good and Evil, we did not specifically discuss the relationship between the means and the consequences (that is, the means and the end).

Why Did Israel Want A King?

In 1 Samuel 8, the People demanded that Samuel appoint a king to rule over them. So Samuel prayed to the Lord. Then Samuel told the People what the Lord had told him. Still the People wanted a king. Why? Well, here is what they said.

1 Samuel 8:19-20 Good News Translation (GNT)

The people paid no attention to Samuel, but said, “No! We want a king, so that we will be like other nations, with our own king to rule us and to lead us out to war and to fight our battles.”

Didn’t the people of Israel know what a king does? Since other nations had kings, of course they did. And what does a king do? He makes everyone one do the “right thing”; he serves as the chief busybody. He punishes anyone who does not obey the will of the people. Thus, for the sake of making certain “other people” do the right thing, the People of Israel surrendered their freedom to an idol, the power they had invested in a king.

Warring Fantasies

Tony and Mo Johnson, those commenters I mentioned earlier, insist that only government can guarantee that the poor and downtrodden will receive the compassion of charity, that private charity cannot work. Are they right? Is the possibility that private charity might produce better results a fantasy?

Of course, we are all familiar with the reaction of the poor and downtrodden to government charity. The poor and downtrodden are grateful to the compassionate bureaucrats that live only to serve. The poor and downtrodden love the taxpayers who are so generous with their dollars. Right?

Thanks to government-run health, education, and welfare programs, don’t we have daily visions of healthy, active, well-educated children raised almost exclusively in stable homes? Haven’t our elderly planned carefully to finance their own retirements? Don’t only a few unlucky souls depend upon government handouts in the latter years.  Haven’t our nation’s generously funded social institutions contributed enormously to our nation’s military, economic, and cultural leadership? Isn’t America the world’s model of social decorum, the place where all learn at an early age what it means to be virtuous citizens highly involved in every aspect of their government?

Yes! As America’s welfare state positively demonstrates, positive virtues flow down from the Olympic peaks of Washington D.C. The politicians we elect know best what is good for each and every one our 300 million people, NOT!

So what is the fantasy? What does government-run charity produce? What has history demonstrated? What has election after election demonstrated? Government-run “charity” buys votes, our votes.

Guilt and Charity

Curiously, when those ignorant of Christianity say Christianity is a religion based upon guilt they are right. What Christianity does, however, is the opposite of what the ignorant think. Because of Christian teachings we do learn about sin. Thus, we understand why we have reason to be guilty. However, Christianity also teaches how we receive forgiveness for our sins. As Jesus explained just before his crucifixion, as His disciples we have peace.

John 16:31-33 GOD’S WORD Translation (GW)

Jesus replied to them, “Now you believe. The time is coming, and is already here, when all of you will be scattered. Each of you will go your own way and leave me all alone. Yet, I’m not all alone, because the Father is with me. I’ve told you this so that my peace will be with you. In the world you’ll have trouble. But cheer up! I have overcome the world.”

With His sacrifice on the cross, Jesus expiated our sins. With His sacrifice, His disciples learned of God’s love for each of them. We need only repent and have faith that His sacrifice will save us. And how do we know our faith is complete? Because we love Him, we obey His commands. We do good works in His name.

James 2:14-17 (English Standard Version)

What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.

Thus, Christians have a powerful motivation to be charitable and little reason to be busybodies.

Rights

Here is where we sum up.

If our rights are God-given rights, then these are rights tyrants can only take away. Government can only protect rights provided by God. If our rights are government-given, then these are rights that our fellow men must be coerced to provide. If we can be coerced to serve another, then we are slaves to that person. We have no rights, and government has given us nothing. Instead, we steal each other’s rights.

Because wisdom is an elusive (See ELUSIVE WISDOM.) quality, each of us is only human, subject to error. So in spite of my faith, I must admit I will die before I am wholly certain Jesus is God. Nonetheless, whether God is Mohammedan, Jewish, Hindu, Buddhist,…., or does not exist at all, I know for certain this. Whatever rights I receive from the hand of another man do not belong to me. Those rights belong to the one who holds the power to give me those rights.

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About Citizen Tom

I am just an average citizen interested in promoting informed participation in the political process.
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39 Responses to PUTTING THE PIECES OF THE UNRAVELING TOGETHER — PART 4

  1. Russ White says:

    Thanks for point this out —I had never thought about it this way. They said, “we don’t trust God to fight out wars, we want a king to fight them for us.” What Samuel essentially replied was, “the king wont’ fight your wars, he’ll force you to fight your own wars, while he amasses a fortune.”

    “Didn’t the people of Israel know what a king does? Since other nations had kings, of course they did. And what does a king do? He makes everyone one do the “right thing”; he serves as the chief busybody.”

    He makes everyone _else_ do the right thing. No-one ever thinks about how the king will impact them, because, of course, they just know that after they put the king in power, he’ll be on “their side.” It just never works out that way, does it?

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  3. Mo Johnson says:

    I just note that you continue to erect strawmen that don’t exist, beat them over the head, and declare victory. Neither Tony nor I ever said private charity wasn’t good or couldn’t work. Charity is actually not that significant of an issue to me. Justice is really my focus. Anyway, I’d just ask people to read what Tony and I wrote and not rely on Tom’s inacurate summaries of what he wishes our positions were.

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  4. Russ White says:

    “Justice is really my focus.”

    The problem is that you tie justice and charity together –these are completely different things. Justice is equal treatment before the law, charity is unequal treatment before the law. To say that a single law or standard can be both just and charitable is to make a hash of words.

    Do you mean you give out charity in a way that is always equal for everyone, rich and poor alike? Then it’s not charity. Do you mean you give out money to those who “deserve it” because they are “less fortunate?” Then it’s not justice.

    Charity is a fine thing –I give things away all the time. Justice is a fine thing –without it, a society collapses into ruin. But the point of charity is that it’s _not_ just. Which is why the term “social justice” was invented –to provide a name for charity that somehow relates to “justice.” So that when people say, “the government should be just,” in terms of treating everyone equally before the law, those who support the government acting as the primary means of charity can say, “the government is being just –socially just.” Which is really just saying, “the government is just when it is charitable.”

    But again, this destroys clarity.

    Justice is justice. Charity is charity. Even God steps outside the Law in order to be merciful, as Paul says.

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  5. Tony Salmon says:

    There are two competing philosophies of “social justice” that are being discussed here and both are very much part of our American tradition. Essentially, those two philosophies are Libertarianism and Utilitarianism. Both philosophies have advocates and both philosophical modes in their purest forms have problems. On the other hand, virtually all Americans believe in each ideology to some extent.

    Put simply, Libertarianism is the concept that every person should have a perfect right to be free from government intrusion or coercion into any aspect of their lives. In other words, they should be completely free to do anything that they want with their own bodies (for example, take any kind of drug or have an abortion) and their own property, or to voluntarily cooperate and refuse to cooperate with or support any kind of community project (roads, national defense, social programs, etc.). In short, under Libertarianism, the importance of the individual preempts that of the herd. Ron Paul is a pretty good and ideologically consistent example of a Libertarian.

    Utilitarian philosophy is based upon the premise that individuals have a responsibility to society to work cooperatively to bring about the greatest sum of happiness, defined as the greatest utility, for the most people in that society. Individual liberty can be sacrificed if the greater, more equal utility of the whole of society is increased. Recognizing that individual incentives (money, fame, ete.) often motivate innovations that benefit all of society, Neo-Utilitarians believe that inequality of incentive is acceptable, but such unequal and increased individual incentives should be no more than is absolutely necessary to stimulate an increase in utility for the rest of society. In short, under Utilitarianism, the importance of the herd is preempts that of its individual members. Socialist Senator Bernie Sanders is perhaps the best example of a Utilitarian.

    Historically and practically, neither a pure form of Utilitarianism nor Libertarianism is the concept of social justice generally believed in by Americans and neither philosophy is “purely” incorporated into the software (our Constitution and Laws) and the hardware (our governmental and social institutions) of the United States. However, a working balance of the individual concepts of both Utilitarianism and Libertarianism are strongly believed by Americans and are very much incorporated into the software and hardware of our country. In summary, culturally, we as a people, and our government as an institutional systemic, historically works everyday as a practical balance between (1) the sometimes conflicting ideal that we, as individuals, have a right to be left alone from abusive intrusion by government and by more powerful individuals; and (2) at the same time that we all, as a society, have a responsibility to sacrifice cooperatively for our general security and our general welfare.

    Two places in our Constitution (also known as the “General Welfare Clauses”) embody elements of both these competing concepts:

    The Preamble: “WE THE PEOPLE of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity . . .”

    Article 1: “The Congress shall have the Power to lay and collect Taxes, Duties, Imposts and Excises, to pay the Debts and provide for the common defense and general welfare of the United States. . .”

    “Social Justice” in the real practical world of our culture and our working democratic institutions that we actually historical enjoy is not the application of either pure ideological or Utopian model, but is instead a living, breathing, evolving and necessarily imperfectly shifting balance between our very American desire for the best of both worlds – to create both a shared responsibility for each other and also to fulfill our need for individual liberty. When they are rational and practical, all of these discussions here are nothing more than an argument over how to find that proper balance between these two goals on any given problem.

    Unfortunately, most of these discussions are not practical and are not reasonable, they lack any sense of balance, and they have little to do with how things really work. They are mostly just the ideological spouting of demagogic platitudes. But what the hell, that’s politics isn’t it.

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  6. Russ White says:

    ““Social Justice” in the real practical world of our culture and our working democratic institutions that we actually historical enjoy is not the application of either pure ideological or Utopian model, but is instead a living, breathing, evolving and necessarily imperfectly shifting balance between our very American desire for the best of both worlds – to create both a shared responsibility for each other and also to fulfill our need for individual liberty. When they are rational and practical, all of these discussions here are nothing more than an argument over how to find that proper balance between these two goals on any given problem. ”

    Now _you’re_ building a straw man, talking about how there are two “forms” of “social justice.” You’re trying to make “caring for others at a societal level” include “welfare,” when this clearly wasn’t the intent from the very beginning of our Constitutional Republic.

    What you’re missing is the difference between positive and negative rights. Negative rights deal with justice, positive rights with charity. What you seem to be trying to say is, “there is a balance between the government promoting positive rights and government protecting negative rights,” but what you don’t realize (or admit) is that every time the government gives you something to promote your positive rights, it must take that same something from someone else –violating your negative rights.

    The difference between charity and welfare is whether it’s voluntary or done at the point of a gun. Again, charity is a really great thing –but charity at the point of a gun isn’t charity.

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  7. Tony Salmon says:

    Now we are having an interesting discussion. First of all, Russ, I disagree with you that I am setting up a any “straw men” or that I am creating a false dichotomy. On the contrary, I have said that what we have in our historic working reality is a very imperfect mix of these two ideological philosophies. And just in case there is any confusion, I will also freely admit that just these two philosophies (or, for that matter, any philosophy or theology) do not sum up or answer the entirety of every modern governmental or social dilemma – these two are not all “all inclusive” and they are not “all exclusive” – many other cultural factors, institutions, philosophies and theologies make up the working elements of a modern democratic society. These two philosophies simply provide languages and models of comparison that seem to fit well with the problems being discussed here and throughout the nation right now.

    Unfortunately, it seems hard to get that far because, rather than responding reasonably with facts, history, working philosophies, or systemics, the default retort on this site always seems to be to run down some back alley for a semantic sideshow. So, here we go again.

    “Charity,” by definition is something done “voluntarily” whereas “social responsibility,” whether it is imposed for the common defense (ie. taxation for the military or police) or for the general welfare (ie. taxation to build roads or to provide for children in neglect or poverty) is, by definition, “not voluntary,” in that it is socially and legally coerced. As a culture and as a government, we all generally believe that both rights and responsibilities can be both legal and moral, and the “voluntariness” of the need to protect and coerce those rights and responsibilities has little to do with anything, including the price of rice in China.

    Russ, perhaps you can define “positive” verses “negative” rights better for me so I can see the practical difference, but, at the working level at least, a “right,” whether to do something or not to do something, is concept enforceable at law. And logically and legally there is little difference between being forced at law to pay taxes for your poor neighbors’ police and fire protection or being forced to pay to provide for your poor neighbors’ children’s education. Both concepts are legally and institutionally allowed in our democracy to promote the general welfare; neither are considered “charity”. We, as individuals, have certain defined legal liberty “rights”, enforceable by our governmental institutions, to be left alone and to be treated fairly by government and by other individuals (essentially “Libertarian” rights), and we also have defined legal “responsibilities” (essentially, “Utilitarian” responsibilities) also enforceable by our governmental institutions, to contribute to the general welfare of our communities, our states, our national government, even internationally.

    Finally, Russ, as for your statement that some of the founders, Madison in particular, “originally” intended for the “General Welfare” clauses to have limited application at that time in that post colonial, pre-industrial, pre-Civil War, pre-civil rights, pre-glabalization America, well, you are quite right, but that is another interesting and much longer discussion about accepted institutional methods of juris prudential interpretation of laws. We can certainly have that discussion if you want.

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  9. Russ White says:

    Let me ask something simple: Can you describe the differences and similarities between paving a road and government provided welfare? Do you see them as the same thing, or different things?

    To put it in a more solid conceptual framework, assume you have four people in a “system,” A, B, C, and D. A decides to take money from B in order to pave a road –what is the set of people who benefit? A decides to take money from B to give to C –what is the set of people who benefit?

    An alternative way of looking at it is: In either situation, what “new thing,” is created? How much “total wealth” is added to the system at large? Is wealth created, or simply transferred? Who benefits from any additional wealth that is created?

    To assert a positive right is to assert that a person has a right to some physical object or way of life. To assert a negative right is to assert that a person has a right to be left alone to take a particular action, or live a certain way. The problem with positive rights is you must _always_ take whatever it is you intend to give to someone who has a “right” to it from someone else. The US Constitution is focused on negative rights, with very little about positive rights. Where the Constitution mentions “positive rights,” they are always in the context of groups, not individuals –and the founders would have argued that these are not within the realm of “positive rights,” because there is no “right” to a road.

    In fact, we don’t claim we have a “right” to a road today, either –you need a license to drive on them.

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  10. Russ White says:

    Let me give a little more clear definition of positive and negative rights. A positive right asserts what someone must do for you, personally, as an individual. A negative right asserts what someone must not do to you, personally, as an individual. Hope that helps.

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  11. Tony Salmon says:

    Russ, under your definition above (“a positive right is to assert that a person has a right to some physical object or way of life”) are not the constitutionally protected rights, such as to speak your mind freely, to practice or not practice a religion, to make contracts, to be safe from unlawful trespass, to have and raise a family, to have equal protection under the law, to be afforded “due process”, to vote, to own weapons, or to own property, positive rights? Each of these concepts are rights to “objects” (property, weapons ownership, etc.) or a “way of life” (political, religious, family, etc.). The government and other individuals are required to afford these rights to each of us, indeed, under the 14th Amendment, the federal government must even protect these (“positive”?) rights from infringement by state or local governments, laws and actors (see USC Sec. 1983). Does someone else then necessarily lose these property and way-of-life rights if someone else is allowed to have them? Are these rights positive until someone tries to take them away and then they become negative because the government protects them?

    Perhaps I am just thick, but this all sounds like some gimmicky word salad to me. Three years of law school and several years of practicing public law and I have never heard of positive verse negative rights. Are you just making this stuff up or does it come from some legal or philosophic authority? I’m always open to new ideas if my small mind can only make sense of them.

    As for your distinction between providing a poorer area police protection that cannot afford it and simply giving the same community the money to pay for that police protection itself, or providing someone with medical care who cannot afford it and simply giving that someone the money to pay for the same medical care, well, we are talking about differences in degree and methodology, not in the underlying purpose or principle. In each case, the government is used to transfer wealth for the sake of the general welfare. We have a community interest in the health, safety, security, education and impoverished suffering of every member of the community. Disease, crime, illiteracy, fire hazards, innocent suffering, etc. in one part of the community hurts the entire community.

    If you have a problem with the government standing on the corner handing out $20 bills to anyone who will stand in line to get one, then I am with you, but only because it is a wasteful and ineffective method for the government to target any specific general welfare mission within the purview of that level of government’s legal sovereign authority. The real question is not whether or not the government has sovereignty to effectively transfer wealth, but as you say, what wealth transfers and what methodologies are most effective to benefit the entire community.

    Nobel winning economist Joseph Stiglitz once wrote, and I am paraphrasing here, that a government function is one that provides a good or service that, at the margin, would not be privately profitable to provide to the next individual, but that the deprecation of that good or service to that next individual would be both catastrophic to that individual and detrimental to society as a whole. Police, roads, fire protection are all traditional examples. However, education, child welfare services, vaccinations for communicable diseases, are other examples.

    We could argue for days about methodology and effectiveness of a given delivery program, about the best way to provide equality of opportunity, about how to arrange programs so as to utilize basic human motivations, about public vs. private delivery efficiencies, or about how to construct programs so as ultimately best elevate the underlying need.

    There is no bright line, no simple equations where government charity always equals bad verses government general welfare always equals good. Some issues will be very close, very complex and, like military security, the most important and difficult problems will always be the most enduring and intractable. And we will always constantly need reform and accountability.

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  12. Citizen Tom says:

    Tony – You want to throw out the morality of these issues, but the basic justification for spending any money on social programs is moral, not economic. So you cannot throw out the moral questions and still make any sense. If not for moral reasons, how can we justify health, education, and welfare programs?

    So why is the difference between negative right and positive rights important? When the government protects my person, liberty, or property, I don’t get anything from government except justice. I can only achieve such justice if I guarantee the same rights to my fellow citizens. When the government gives me a so-call positive right, I get that right by stepping on the negative rights of my fellow citizens. At their expense, when they may or may not get anything of value in return, I can vote myself their property and/or services, thereby corrupting the government we need most of all to protect our “negative” rights.

    Thus, we have a problem with forced “charity”. When charity becomes a right, it corrupts the people who receive it. In turn, forced “charity” corrupts the government that requires it.

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  13. Russ White says:

    Tom: Precisely! Splitting positive and negative rights apart helps us see the problem clearly. You can’t have a “right” to something someone else must do for you, or give to you –because there’s no way to reconcile the positive and negative rights.

    Tony’s examples actually show this –owning a gun is a negative right, not a positive one. If the US Government went out and bought guns for every person in the Country using tax dollars, the howls of outrage would be immediate and dreadful. And yet this could all be done under the concept of giving people the right to life through self defense. What could be wrong with that? And yet, that’s precisely how welfare is handled in the US.

    The illustration of the highway was designed to show why “public works,” are not “positive rights.” If the government takes money from one person (or many people) to build a highway, everyone benefits, including the person paying for the highway. If the government takes money from one person to give to another person, only the receiving person benefits –hence the moral issue of equality before the law is raised.

    Financially, building a highway is also a public good because it adds something of real value to the community –again, everyone benefits in some way through this increase in value. Giving a poor person money, however, isn’t a public good; no additional value was added to the community as a whole.

    So my personal thinking is:
    1. Charity only solutions should be sought, encouraged, etc., in all possible situations.
    2. Failing a charitable solution, funding and control should be at the community level, as in the lowest possible level of government available. If a local community wants to run a homeless shelter, that’s fine –but the tax support must come only from that local community, and control should remain in that community. No State or Federal government involvement in any way, shape, or form –ever.
    3. In the case where a group of people decide to involve themselves in the problem through a local government body, rather than through charity, all care should be taken to be perfectly clear about what’s going on — this is not a “right,” this is charity, plain and simple.

    As an example, the Social Security Administration used to publish posters (might still do?) saying “you have a right to this money.” Um, no I don’t –it’s a defined benefit based on money taken from someone else, and I don’t have a “right” to it.

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  14. Russ White says:

    Tony– “As for your distinction between providing a poorer area police protection that cannot afford it and simply giving the same community the money to pay for that police protection itself, or providing someone with medical care who cannot afford it and simply giving that someone the money to pay for the same medical care, well, we are talking about differences in degree and methodology, not in the underlying purpose or principle.”

    But there is an underlying issue with the principles involved.

    When I lived in a trailer park on a USAF base, the fire department made you sign a statement notifying you that they would _not_ try and put out a fire in your trailer. They would attempt to rescue anyone in the trailer, but if there was no-one in the trailer, it would simply burn, without their interference. The _only_ time they would get involved is if the fire appeared to be ready to spread.

    What is the principle in play here? The fire department isn’t there to save me money, it’s there to save lives and protect the common good –to protect the houses of my neighbors against my lack of “doing the right thing.” If you research the beginnings of fire departments, you’ll find the same thing in play everywhere –they were started to prevent fires from spreading through a city, not to save individual houses. And that remains their mission today, quite honestly. They might try to stop a fire because they have the equipment and they’re on the scene, but it’s not their responsibility to save your house from burning down. In a lot of places, if they do stop your house from burning down, they’ll send you a bill.

    The same thing is in play with the police –many many court rulings say that the police are not there to defend you, personally. They are there to protect the interests of the government and provide for the common good. Hence your need to buy something with which to protect yourself, and get any training necessary.

    So these are not instances of “charity,” or “positive rights.”

    Schools blur the line –is educating the populace adding something of value from which everyone in the community benefits? There are clear arguments to be made in that direction. On the other hand, I always think schools should be locally run and controlled, as if they were a charity.

    Emergency medical care also blurs the line –but I don’t see why the Federal Government should involved in such matters.

    “The real question is not whether or not the government has sovereignty to effectively transfer wealth, but as you say, what wealth transfers and what methodologies are most effective to benefit the entire community.”

    Does the government have the power to do such things? Clearly they do.
    Does the government have the moral right to do such things? This is very problematic.
    Is the government the most efficient means to do such things? The answer here is clearly “no.”

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  15. Citizen Tom says:

    Russ – What you suggest would be a definite improvement.

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  16. Tony Salmon says:

    Russ, now we are getting somewhere. My good brother, Tom, seems to think that if he spouts the same slogans over and over again, they will somehow magically become immutable, true at all times and in every complex situation. The real world just doesn’t work that way. It is refreshing to hear from someone who recognizes that in the real world, the application of the Tea Party line isn’t really a bright line answer to every systemic dilemma because the real world is indeed often “blurry” and “problematic.”

    When you talk about the “efficiency” of the governmental solution to a given problem, you might be surprised at how much we might agree, but then the discussion is no longer doomed to the polarization of black and white jingoistic truisms, but instead is one of the efficiency of a given methodology. The issue ceases to be only all or nothing governmental involvement, but instead one of the degree of involvement and based upon the particulars of a given set of complex facts. And we are no longer shouting anti or pro government platitudes at each other across a chasm of historical knowledge, but instead we can both recognizes that whether the federal, state or local government exercises a given power within that level of government’s historical, legal and constitutional sovereignty is not an issue of “morality” but one of competing efficiencies between the lowest level of sovereign decision making and accountability verses that of economies of scale, especially when competing in an increasingly threatening and globalized planet. .

    You know the odd thing about all the polarization in politics right now is that we really have a very broad consensus about the goals that we all want as Americans. All the misunderstanding stems, not from where we want to go, but on how to get there. Even the most rapacious capitalist can be enlightened enough to know, as Henry Ford did, that real prosperity could only come if his workers could actually afford the cars that they were building. Even the most starry eyed socialist can be pragmatic enough to realize that, without incentives for leadership and innovation, the increases to the general welfare wrought by such entrepreneurship would stagnate and decline. If one looks at their commonality of goals, Henry Ford and Samuel Gompers actually had more in common that they had differences. So what goals do we share in common?

    Well, I think that we can all agree, right and left, liberal and conservative, Tea Party and Progressive, on these goals from the Preamble to our Constitution:

    We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

    Much like us, our Founders were not monolithic in how they thought we should achieve these goals. With much of the population in slavery and without suffrage rights, the systemics of our original Constitution actually ran counter to these goals. In fact of history, our founder’s divisions on the most basic systemic premises of federalism and democratic accountability ran so deep to the heart of our democracy that ultimately we were, as Lincoln quoted, “a house divided” that could not continue to stand without drastic systemic change . It ran absolutely counter to our constitutionally enshrined common goal of “securing the blessings of liberty” for all if individual states could be allowed to continue to maintain severely separate sovereign standards concerning the liberty of individuals based only upon race and ethnicity. It took a bloody Civil War, the Fourteenth Amendment, and ultimately, an “activist” Supreme Court (through cases like “Brown vs. Board of Education”) along with federal intervention into State governance through the enforcement of the Civil Rights Acts (sometimes at Army troops’ gunpoint) to finally make “the blessings of liberty” homogenous in the application of law throughout our nation. The systemic shift of governmental sovereignty in the protection of individual liberty from the state to the federal government was so dramatic that in antebellum writings people most often referred to us as “THESE United States” and ever after we refer to ourselves as “THE United States.”

    For reasons of simple efficiency and taxpayer accountability, it still makes sense for sovereign power and decision making authority in most things to be vested at the lowest possible levels of community and state. Those who rampage against certain instances of the tyranny of federal regulatory overreach or the waste of a bloated and voracious federal bureaucracy often have a very valid point. Federalist principles that make individual states the crucibles of experimentation and change still bring value that is worth maintaining this sometimes shifting sovereign balance.

    In contrast, however, a nation that is competing in a rapidly globalized economy will simply fail if it has 50 different standards for the necessary regulation of business predation and fraud, for regulating the money supply, for providing the minimum national education level that affords equal opportunity, for providing the standardized, efficient and safe infrastructure that lubricates commerce, and for the numerous other areas where the corruption, ignorance or abject poverty of a given local, state or region will become the weakest link in the chain that holds up our leadership status for freedom and prosperity for ourselves, our posterity and around this smaller and smaller world. Quite simply, in globalized modernity where, of the 50 largest economies in the world half of them are multinational corporations with no principled allegiance to anything except to profit, where other governments are actively targeting our manufacturing jobs for their citizens’ benefit, where the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction can make any rogue power or group an existential threat to our security, we simply cannot afford to make ourselves once again “a house divided” either economically or socially and hope to survive, much less prosper.

    Similarly, anyone who thinks that we do not now have a single national standard and enforcement to our common national goal of “securing the blessings of liberty” for every part of our nation, or who fails to acknowledge that the Federal Government is now and has been since the Civil War the main protector and enforcer of that common individual liberty standard, is completely ignorant of our history and of the monumental legal and Constitutional shift of sovereign power that occurred as a result of the post Civil War constitutional Amendments (particularly the 14th Amendment)

    Notwithstanding the latest shallow minded and hopelessly glib Tea Party slogans about “limited government” that are being shouted all the louder the more they are misunderstood, by those who scream them, once we can agree about our common goals, the ones enshrined in the Preamble and quoted above, then we are really only debating efficiency of methodology and degree, not principle. Reasonable people can and should disagree on such matters. Reasonable people are willing to compromise on methodology realizing that perfection is the enemy of getting anything done and that sometimes the most workable alternative lies in finding a balance between often conflicting goals (for example, legislating the most personal liberty with the greatest social welfare). We are only then arguing for elegance and efficiency.

    Russ, from what you have written, you seem to have at least a glimmer of recognition that every complex issue is not answered by a stupid slogan. However, when you guild your mere opinion on systemics with some moral dogma and demonize my opinion with the slander of immorality, well then you are just demagoguing the issue, and we are back to getting nowhere and solving nothing. The federal government has an historic and legal sovereign role in insuring the general welfare and equality of opportunity by combating poverty and sickness and by promoting a minimum level of education throughout the country. Very often the federal government is not the most efficient means of carrying out these goals. We are better served through more local, private or charity services. Unless we are talking about real corruption, the only thing means that we are talking about here that is truly “immoral” or “unchristian” here is making accusations of immorality just so you can make it your way or no w

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  17. Tony Salmon says:

    Sorry, the last sentence was messed up. It should have said:

    Unless we are talking about real corruption, the only thing that we are talking about here that is truly “immoral” or “unchristian” is the making of such accusations of immorality just so you can have it all only your way or else no way, and doing so even though we both agree on the place that we are trying to get to.

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  18. Russ White says:

    When you talk about the “efficiency” of the governmental solution to a given problem, you might be surprised at how much we might agree, but then the discussion is no longer doomed to the polarization of black and white jingoistic truisms, but instead is one of the efficiency of a given methodology.

    The problem isn’t whether or not the government is “efficient.” It’s whether or not it’s moral. A government that treats people differently before the law because of their circumstances, age, the color of their skin, or the family they were born into isn’t just, no matter how you slice it.

    And that’s just what welfare programs and progressive taxes do. So this isn’t about the “best way” to solve the “poor problem,” or to “obtain social justice.” This is a moral question, as all questions about government really are.

    It is specifically immoral for the government to take money from me to give it to someone else (again, notice this is not for the common good, which is a different case).

    What I will say is that because this world is fallen, and not perfect, there is room to bend from “perfection,” as long as you understand that what you are doing is not just, and you minimize the damage to true justice. The way to minimize that damage is to keep things local, so they’re tightly controlled by the people who know the situation best, and so they can’t grow to a scale that takes on a life of its own. And never, ever, to call them “rights.”

    Unless we are talking about real corruption, the only thing that we are talking about here that is truly “immoral” or “unchristian” is the making of such accusations of immorality just so you can have it all only your way or else no way, and doing so even though we both agree on the place that we are trying to get to.

    What you’re arguing for is “pragmatism,” which just means “doing whatever works to resolve the problem I think I see in front of me.” And I can’t agree with that.

    I think you really need to read Numbers 12. Doing the right thing the wrong way is still wrong.

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  19. Tony Salmon says:

    Russ wrote:

    “What I will say is that because this world is fallen, and not perfect, there is room to bend from “perfection,” as long as you understand that what you are doing is not just, and you minimize the damage to true justice.”

    If that is not an argument for “pragmatism” then I don’t know what is. However, what you are really talking about here is the classic morality question of whether immoral means can justify moral ends. On that we probably agree that in black and white cases of immorality, no they certainly don’t. Unfortunately, in the real and complex world (your“fallen” world I suppose), things are rarely so black and white, and, based upon what you wrote above, even you seem to recognize that.

    As for the immorality of taxation in one case and not another, except in the extreme situation where the government actually takes your money out of your wallet and arbitrarily hands it to the next poorer person without regard to any social welfare (or “common good” as you call it) justification, then, in the real world of what our government actually does and has historically done, we are just talking about differences in degree, not moral absolutes.

    An economist will tell you that every regulation is a taxation of sorts, and every taxation for whatever purpose is a redistribution of wealth of some sort, even if that regulation is only to prevent you from obtaining the wealth that you would have gotten by robbing me, absent that governmental intrusion into our private lives. Environmental regulations cost companies money that they could have saved by freely polluting, but they also force the company to “internalize” the pollution prevention cost into the price of their product rather than “externalizing” that cost to the poor community downstream. Wealth and risk is being transferred by force of government in many such cases, often from the powerful and rich to average and the poor, and both the ends and the means of that transfer are quite moral.

    Furthermore, why would we want a more corrupt or desperately poor state community upstream to be able to set weak regulations that the states downstream have to suffer for just because they think “they know the situation best” for their own polluters? Don’t you think that sometimes the “life of it’s own” that such local regulation takes on is less of a “virtuous cycle” and rather more just “a race to the bottom” in the local and state competition to get business into their communities? Are you really so obtuse that you cannot see where reasonable national (and even international) regulation in some areas creates a more even playing field, where, like the abolition of slavery itself, we cannot be a “house divided” on many important issues of liberty and justice and economics?

    All that said Russ, for very pragmatic reasons, I am NOT in favor of the welfare state, not because I think it is immoral but because it just doesn’t work. However, let me reiterate, programs like education of the poor, providing police, fire, water and sewage, public parks, and virtually every local, state or federal regulation, are all, for all economic purposes, redistribution of wealth programs in one way or another. Although I actually genuinely agree with you that many decisions are often made best and most efficiently at the lowest common denominator, you should also recognize that the need for economies of scale and homogeneity regulation. And while I whole heartedly agree with you that every governmental action, whether it is a regulation or providing a good or service, should serve a “common good” goal, I find it ironic that you find such programs with the most altruistic purposes also the most “immoral”.

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  20. Russ White says:

    If that is not an argument for “pragmatism” then I don’t know what is. However, what you are really talking about here is the classic morality question of whether immoral means can justify moral ends. On that we probably agree that in black and white cases of immorality, no they certainly don’t. Unfortunately, in the real and complex world (your“fallen” world I suppose), things are rarely so black and white, and, based upon what you wrote above, even you seem to recognize that.

    There is a far cry between using pragmatism as your entire basis for government, and realizing that people are sinful, and therefore you must have guards and flexibility in place to deal with that sin. You are trying, unsuccessfully, to get me to say, “sure, I agree, we are just arguing over what the best means are.” And I simply won’t agree with you on that point, no matter what method you try to get there.

    You move from there into a long discussion based on your assumption of pragmatism –that, in essence, there is no difference between taxes to build a highway and taxes to give food, shelter, and clothing to someone you think deserves it in some way. To get to this point, you have completely and totally ignored my questions about the differences between taxing for the common good and taxing for the personal gain of a specific person, or a certain class of people.

    Go back to the beginning, and answer the questions I asked. Start with a definition of justice –is justice equal outcomes, equal treatment before the law, or some “balance” you think you know how to define? On what do you base your definition? Scriptures, or what you think is “pragmatic?”

    IMHO, until you get back to the basics –and start actually trying to understand what I’m saying before you try to “draw me along,” to your point of view by continuously repeating the same things, there’s no real point in answering your missives.

    Time to move on to other things.

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  21. Citizen Tom says:

    Tony – It has become hard to figure out what you are arguing for. Controlling interstate pollution would obviously require Federal involvement. Which clause would apply in the Constitution? Since much pollution results from commerce, I suppose we could apply the interstate commerce clause. Where, however, the Feds get the authority to regulate sewer systems I don’t know. Sitting on the toilet is interstate commerce? Somehow I don’t believe the lawyers in Congress want to answer that question.

    There is no question that the Federal Government has taken on too much. Even you must admit that. Moreover, much of what the Federal Government has taken on is unconstitutional. We cannot find authorization for health, education, and welfare (as currently defined) programs in the Constitution. Given the clear intent of the Constitution to define the powers the limited powers of Federal Government, your two quotes cannot justify what we have done. We cannot justify the Dept. of Education, Social Security, Medicare, and so forth by pointing to the Constitution. It is an outright lie to do so.

    We know FDR demanded great authority. It’s history. Under the pressure of the Great Depression, the Supreme Court caved. So just as this Great Recession lingers, the Great Depression lingered.

    Because we fear to stand for our principles, we go bankrupt. We are so afraid and so greedy we do not think. We elect people who swear on Bible and then break their oath to give us what we demanded they promise us. We trust people whose first official act is to put their hand on the Bible and lie. For no good reason except we want to believe their damn fool promises, we give these public officials trillions of dollars of other people’s money to manage on our behalf. And they dribble it away into countless rat-holes.

    Such is the prosperity that results when a People grants itself the right to redistribute the wealth.

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    • Tony Salmon says:

      Hope you won’t take offense, Tom, but law libraries are filled with what you don’t understand about the powers granted in the Constitution, and how those powers have changed through Amendment and through practical application and interpretation by the institutions that the Constitution itself defines and empowers. By definition, constitutionally, the Constitution says what the Supreme Court says it says. Something cannot, under the Constitution itself, be unconstitutional if the Supreme Court defines it as constitutional.

      Does that mean that the Supreme Court has the godly power to be always perfectly correct in their interpretation? Of course not. We do not have a perfect Utopia; we have a constitutional democracy, And the rules that our, mostly lawyer, Founders laid down for our particular constitutional democracy grant the courts the institutional power to define constitutionality. That’s the rules of our particular ball game, and you don’t get to take you ball and go home just because you disagree with the umpire’s call. Whether you are actually physically or morally out or safe, by the rules of the game of baseball, you are out if the umpire says you are out, no matter how much you whine about it. If you don’t like rules of the constitutional democracy game, then go somewhere else and play some other game.

      I thought conservatives were supposed to be practical maintainers of our traditional institutions. Yet, simply because you don’t understand how these institutions of law work, you want to tear them down and destroy their authority. Doesn’t sound very conservative to me bro.

      As for the rest, I disagree with your interpretation of the history of the Great Depression and the effect that government programs had or did not have, but that is a much longer discussion.

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      • Citizen Tom says:

        Hope you have fun participating in interstate commerce the next time you sit on the toilet. I hope:

        • You are thankful to the Washington busybodies who make this precious moment ever so perfect.
        • You note how carefully they regulate the composition of the food we convert into a dump. FDA
        • You mark the cleanliness of the water your toilet. EPA
        • You sit. If you are not disabled, I hope you appreciate that especially awkward throne. DOJ
        • You can still dump at the moment of your choice.
        • You wipe your bottom. Don’t worry. If you are at work OSHA will make certain some toilet paper is available.

          http://www.osha.gov/pls/oshaweb/owadisp.show_document?p_table=INTERPRETATIONS&p_id=22932

        • You flush twice. Why? http://www.epa.gov/watersense/docs/revised_het_specification_v1.1_050611_final508.pdf Federal water constraints tend to be optimistic.
        • You feel you can rest assured that your government will make certain that stinky stuff you flushed away is made clean and wholesome.
        • You can stand and observe the bowl refilling with clean water in the light of that Federally regulated light bulb.
        • You thank your Federal Government for taking care of your bodily waste.
        • You wonder who did the all the work and paid the bill.

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  22. Tony Salmon says:

    Russ wrote:

    “There is a far cry between using pragmatism as your entire basis for government, and realizing that people are sinful, and therefore you must have guards and flexibility in place to deal with that sin. You are trying, unsuccessfully, to get me to say, “sure, I agree, we are just arguing over what the best means are.” And I simply won’t agree with you on that point, no matter what method you try to get there.”

    True enough to some extent. I have been trying to find points of common agreement and to make an interesting argument, but I am puzzled at how I am supposed to get anyone here to say anything that they don’t want to, especially if they have decided in advanced that no amount of logical, historical or legal persuasion will change their minds. Sounds laudable, but sorry, I lack the time and motivation to climb such a mountain.

    Next Russ wrote:

    “You move from there into a long discussion based on your assumption of pragmatism –that, in essence, there is no difference between taxes to build a highway and taxes to give food, shelter, and clothing to someone you think deserves it in some way. To get to this point, you have completely and totally ignored my questions about the differences between taxing for the common good and taxing for the personal gain of a specific person, or a certain class of people.”

    Russ, first you say that I gave you a long discussion that there essentially IS NO moral or practical difference between (a) governmental transfers of wealth to build such things as schools and highways and alternatively, (b) transferring wealth to provide such things as food and shelter for immunization for children in poverty or neglect for example, and then, oddly, you complain that I am not telling you the difference. I am not sure what to say about that.

    Next Russ wrote:

    “Go back to the beginning, and answer the questions I asked. Start with a definition of justice –is justice equal outcomes, equal treatment before the law, or some “balance” you think you know how to define? On what do you base your definition? Scriptures, or what you think is “pragmatic?””

    Russ, if you go back several posts above, you will find that I provided a fairly long explanation of the philosophical basis for justice in this country (essentially, it is an evolving compromise between the utilitarian and libertarian principles that we share in common). The description is based upon our working legal, cultural and governmental reality. These are not my ideas. They are pretty well documented in the legal and philosophical writings of others. I can provide references if you are interested in reading them. (As for scripture, being a Christian, I do have some definite opinions, based solely upon what Jesus said and did in the New Testament when He pretty well proclaimed ambivalence about government, wealth and materialism in general, but I have not completely provided that quite yet. Essentially, it seems to me, based only upon what He said, Jesus wanted us to quit focusing on such materialism if we want to get to heaven, but that deserves a longer explanation later)

    Finally, Russ wrote:

    “IMHO, until you get back to the basics –and start actually trying to understand what I’m saying before you try to “draw me along,” to your point of view by continuously repeating the same things, there’s no real point in answering your missives.

    Time to move on to other things.”

    Suit yourself Russ. I have enjoyed the discussion, however. And I do plan to make a couple of further points on this topic later as I have time, but you certainly shouldn’t let yourself be “drawn along” into anything that you can’t handle. Been fun debating and cheers.

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  23. Pingback: Two Competing Visions of Law (via Thinking in Christ) | Citizen Tom

  24. Tony Salmon says:

    I remember when a river caught on fire once before the Clean Water Act was enacted. I remember when Lake Erie was literally becoming a dead inland sea. More close to our old home, I remember when Biloxi oysters from Back Bay were banned from eating because the raw sewage that was pumped right out of everyone’s house in every state along the Gulf Coast and pooled into the Mississippi Sound had contaminated those oysters with hepatitis. Crap may not look much like “commerce” until you’re the one that’s getting commerced upon. Then you’ll be the first one screaming out of both ends for a federal solution to your intestinal problems. ;-)

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  25. Citizen Tom says:

    Tony – Consider how you are defining commerce. Using your squishy definition, with 300 million people, we can define anything as commerce. And that is what has been done.

    The technologies we use these days, including sewage processing, are new. At about the same time citizens and scientists began to discover we could seriously pollute the environment (and cause each other disease), panic slowly ensued. Using the news media crisis of the day as an excuse, State governments and then the Federal Government began acquiring more powers. Yet when local governments and private industry do most of the work and pay most of the bills, the Feds have relatively little reason to be involved.

    When we treated our environmental problems as a crisis and did not thoughtfully consider the governmental problems involved, we risked making our government the problem. For the sake of “pragmatism,” we set aside our principles. Yep, we wanted to get things done NOW! Thus, we now have an EPA that grabs for power — an EPA that has become very intrusive and too unaccountable.

    State and local governments like spending the money the Federal Government offers, but the mandates, the deficit spending, and the absurd regulations have gotten out of hand.

    Should there be a Federal role with respect to the environment? Because pollution can cross interstate boundaries, yes. But let’s get serious. Sitting on the toilet is not commerce. When we need to amend the Constitution so that we can define an appropriate Federal role, we should do so.

    Anyway, the Feds have no business telling us how to make toilets or light bulbs. That’s not regulating commerce. And things such as Social Security, the Dept of Ed, and Medicare just plainly ignore the Constitution.

    By defining what the Feds can do, the Constitution is suppose to limit the power of our officials. In the name of momentary pragmatism, we have removed that restraint. That’s foolish. Over the long haul, it is more pragmatic to stick to our principles.

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  26. Tony Salmon says:

    Tom, you are committing the fallacy of confusing every imperfection with sin. In your imagined conspiracy theory of our history, all the natural errors of systemic inelegance exhibited by our democratic institutions, as our forefathers have necessarily and very successfully adapted our democracy to rapid tectonic and turbulent economic, technological and social change, must suddenly morph into some dark malevolent march away from the glory of an arcane past perfection that never was and steadily into the tyranny of some current Orwellian Big Brother state that only exists in your mind.

    It takes very little imagination to complain that literally anything can go too far. Bureaucracies of any kind and level, whether it be big government or big business or even big churches, can become bloated, self-serving and corrupt. Some things are more efficiently done by the lowest local decision maker and, as a matter of safety, security and economy in an increasingly smaller, more competitive and more threatening world, some things necessarily must be done at the national and even the international level. Either way, in any system, negative unintended consequences will likely need constant correction if they are not predicted. Certainly, one could find a moral element if we made a habit of abiding gross systemic inefficiency, but you have not proved that every sensible and well intentioned incremental innovation is malicious and unprincipled just because you can find some imperfection, some negative unintended consequences, that eventually arose out of that change.

    As they say, success always has many fathers but failure is an abandoned orphan. But in order to believe your strange fiction that we suddenly woke up one day and realized that our nation and our democratic institutions have strayed down some evil path over the past ONE HUNDRED AND FIFTY YEARS, we have to ignore the very recent paternity of most our economic problems and magnify those problems out of all proportion to our actual history. If we are to believe your fantasy, we also will have to demonize the last several generations, our own parents and our grandparents, for immorally engendering this supposed “big government” tyranny when they corrupted our Constitution from it’s original pristine perfection by following the sweet sinful temptations of those multiple incarnations of Satan: Lincoln, Teddy Roosevelt, FDR, Truman, Eisenhower, LBJ, and now apparently, President Obama. But, in order make them, our fathers and grandfathers, the parents of such an evil bastard, must we not also somehow forget that while delegitimizing our federal government, those same wayward past generations also ended our racial apartheid and advanced new levels of equal protection, cleaned up our air and water supply, made our work environments safe, created a world class mass transit infrastructure, created an educated populous that “was” the envy of the world, defeated the twin totalitarian threats of Fascism and Communism, created the greatest increase of middle class wealth in the history of mankind, and ultimately made this the strongest, most free, most diverse, most egalitarian, and most powerful economy in the world?

    If only we could forget all our history and all our traditions, if only we could be ignorant of how our constitutional institutions actually works and have worked, if only we are willing to demonize our forefathers, if only we chose to suspend all notions of reality, then your dramatic conspiracy theory has real populist appeal because we all love a story that blames some dark malevolence for our every problem and imperfection. It’s all quite entertaining and strangely comforting. It also would also be pretty destructive to our democracy if all of us actually started acting as if such fantasies were true.

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    • Tony Salmon says:

      By way of a Part II to what I wrote above, and the risk of sounding a little personal note, I would like to remind you that our parents grew up during The Great Depression and saw first hand desperate dehumanization of national grinding poverty and joblessness and at that time, without even any hope of a social safety net. They knew the federal government programs that they voted for and supported didn’t come in and just supplant space that was already being adequately filled by charity.

      No doubt charity was there but it was overwhelmed by the shear scale of the social and economic upheaval that was going on at that time. These social programs came into being out of gaping need to fill many thousands of distended bellies. And if you think that Christian leaders were complaining at that time that the government was taking over their role, then you don’t know much about the history of the Christian movements in this country because the historic truth was just the opposite – they were screaming for the government to help. Although our parents knew that wild speculation by fat cats in banking and finance lead to the financial collapse that magnified the suffering, unlike the Tea Party today they didn’t spend all their time running around with pitchforks trying to find the wrong party to blame. They just expected the government to come up with regulatory and institutional changes to fix the problem and to make sure it didn’t happen again, and until we relaxed all those efforts during the last couple of decades, they worked.

      Our father fought in WWII and our mother sacrificed her first husband to that war. As you know, our father went on to help battle totalitarian aggression as a communications and computer specialist in the Air Force during the Cold War. Unlike Al Gore, I believe Dad really did play some part in helping to invent the internet. Our mother followed him around the world from base to base and threat to threat, raising us and our siblings. Because of all this, our parents knew first hand exactly what the tyranny of a national government’s overreach looked like because it was an existential threat from other nations that they had known and fought and sacrificed against all of their lives..

      On Sundays and Holy Days our parents went to Mass. Our mother said the rosary regularly for most of her adult life, especially in her later years. They were honest people. They worked hard and they sacrificed for their families. If there is such a thing in God’s heaven, I feel certain that our mother is resting peacefully at the bosom of Jesus and Mary. Because that Irish son all too often abused the drink, perhaps Dad may have to do a stint in something like a purgatory. I don’t really to know the particulars of such metaphysical things, but I do know that they were both basically principled and religious people.

      At risk of sounding a little hyperbolic, I also know that, as far as our parents were concerned, the sun got to rise every single day on their personal liberty and prosperity because FDR and Harry Truman caused it to do so by what those presidents did during their terms.

      I point all this out about our parents, not to make this overly personal, but instead because I don’t think our parents were that exceptional. I think that they were pretty average for their generation and their time. That generation was not perfect and everything that they did did not turn out perfectly, but our parents’ generation changed the country and changed the world for the better, and in some cases they saved it’s very existence.

      Tom, when did you wake up and become so much smarter than that generation, than our parents, that you think wrong all the programs that came about during their time, created by the leaders that they voted for and greatly admired, and that they personally witnessed as having saved themselves, the country and indeed the free world? When did you and the Tea Party suddenly wake up and decide that institutional changes that came about almost a century ago suddenly violate all your all your glib slogans about constitutionality? And as if that were not enough, how do you get off calling our parents and grandparents unprincipled?

      Although it is based upon very moral goals that we all agree upon (such as those in the Preamble), our democracy always was and always was meant to be, from the very beginning, a theory of government and an experiment to see if those theories worked. When the experiment has not worked, we have judiciously adapted the theory within it’s own inherent systemic rules. The original theory was never perfect, and no change to it will ever be perfect, but the theory and the experiment itself allows and has always allowed for its own incremental adaptation in an effort to become, hopefully, “more perfect.” Reasonable people can disagree about what systemic change works best and changes that do work should be thrown out or adapted, but we should not do so ignorantly, not by simply denying any authority of knowledge or history.

      It is bad enough to say that the changes that they made did not work when it is obvious that they did, but it is insulting to our parents’ entire generation to say that they lacked principles just because you woke up one day nearly a century later and decided that you do not agree with those changes. And if you really think that using Jesus to make such insults to our parents and their entire generation is Christian, then it is hard for me to imagine how you could have ever understood the most basic meaning of what Jesus said and did.

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      • Citizen Tom says:

        Tony – If I don’t agree with you, I don’t love our parents? I think they are stupid? Why stoop so low?

        Go back and consider your arguments. You don’t even try to refute anything I actually said. Instead, you call me names. You say I am too ignorant to understand. And now this? Have you no pride?

        There is nothing new about fighting over the Constitution. People started fighting over what the Constitution means Day 1. Ever hear of the Alien and Sedition Act? The Civil War? Of course you have. In fact, you noted what I said about FDR and his New Deal programs, and you blame it all on fat cats. Yep! Fat cats get fat by throwing all their money away. The politicians had nothing to do with it.

        These arguments were going on before our parents were born. If we can hold our nation together, these arguments will survive us. So cut the crap. What is different today? Well, there is almost always something. In the past, Americans fought over what the Constitution supposedly means. Now too many of our leaders don’t even pretend to take the Constitution seriously. They just pass their damn legislation and try to stack the courts in their favor. When their colleagues challenge them, they just stick their noses in the air and march on. Therefore, they give us little reason to take their oath to support and defend the Constitution seriously. So, we may as well just call them oath-breakers.

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  27. Citizen Tom says:

    Tony – Are you debating somebody else? Where did I confuse every imperfection with sin? I just said that when we do not stick to our principles we make things worse. I said pretending the Constitution is a living document is a sin. When lawmakers pretend the Constitution does not inconveniently restrict their powers, that is wrong.

    I have complained that we have gone too far, but that understates what I said. Too many of our leaders don’t even try to obey the Constitution. When the Federal Government starts financing bicycle paths, isn’t that quite obvious? A bicycle path is a postal road? Of course not, but Senator Harry Reid thinks it very important for the Feds to build bicycle paths. Look it up.

    Is the fact our leaders are ignoring the Constitution a sudden discovery? After a fashion, it is. What President Barack Obama and the 2009 Congress did for two years (when Democrats had the majority) scared quite a few people. People started looking at the reason for our past successes. Then they realized America had succeeded for two reasons:

    • The American people did not serve their government. Their government served them.
    • The American people had a limited government. When our government had nothing to contribute, it tended to stay out of the way.

    Did I accuse anyone of Satanic crimes? I did not have to do so. Because men are too easily tempted, our Constitution dictates numerous checks and balances. Realizing their own weaknesses, the best of men wrote that document. If men were angels…..

    Did I speak of a dark story? Well, I suppose I did. Human history is mostly a story of slavery, of a dominating elites and large subservient classes. In the last several centuries, Western Civilization has only begun to free itself from that history of tyranny. There is nothing inevitable about our success. The price of liberty is high, eternal vigilance. That’s a price that imperfect men pay only reluctantly.

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  28. Russ White says:

    Tony: Read The Forgotten Man, by Amity Shales. Learn something about the Depression before you go running off spouting how wonderful those “government programs” were –or why they were necessary in the first place.

    Like all postmodernists, you refuse to be tied to a single set of facts or concepts, much preferring to change the deck on which everyone is standing so you can win your arguments. You’d better watch it, that deck is going to slide right out from under you one of these days, and you’re going to get really wet. And the government’s not going to be there with a life preserver.

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    • Tony Salmon says:

      Russ, nice to hear from you again. I thought that you took your ball and went home. Sure, I will take a look at it, but I’ve got quite a reading list on the Depression for you too if you like. I don’t claim to be that smart, but I also don’t think that I could possibly be as unknowledgeable as you appear to presume.

      So, as some sort of “post modernist,” that is what I am suspiciously doing and just so I can win an argument, huh? I don’t suppose simply falsely labeling someone just so you can dismiss their opinion just so that you can win your argument violates your sensibilities though? Good try. Hope that you come back and play again.

      Got to go fly planes for a living now though. We’ll chat later I hope

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  29. Tony Salmon says:

    Tom wrote:

    “I said pretending the Constitution is a living document is a sin.”

    And this seems to the the central point of our disagreement. Do you have any idea, not just how historically asinine that statement is, but heinously insulting it is?

    Reasonable moral people have been passionately disagreeing about various methods of constitutional interpretation from the very beginning without resorting to calling the other side “sinners”. Strangely enough, I might even agree with your opinion of constitutional overreach more than you think in some cases. However, the Constitution has always been a “living document,” even at the time of the Founders. If you don’t think so, just read “Marbury vs. Madison,” the first precedent where the Supreme Court essentially gave itself the sole power to interpret the Constitution (in Dicta, I might add).. No where in the Constitution is the Supreme Court explicitly granted that authority. However, no one really questioned the judicial power then or ever since because, as mostly lawyers who were steeped in the common law tradition that we inherited from England, our Founders and everyone else since just assumed that, of course, that was how it should be done.

    Since you seem to think that some huge unconstitutional usurpation of power just suddenly happened under President Obama and Harry Reed, you also need to be reminded that the constitutional precedents that authorize Obamacare are nearly a century old. The Commerce Clause didn’t just last week get the Federal Government the power to do all the things that you think are suddenly sinful; those interpretations began even before FDR and have expanded ever since. They are basically the same precedents that GW Bush and the Republican Congress used to enact the largest expansion of entitlements in decades, the Medicare Drug Program (and, like everything else Bush did, not even pay for it). If you are going to blame President Obama and the Democrats as “sinners”, then you need to keep going. Why don’t you just accuse the entire Twentieth Century of being sinful? That makes about the same absurd moral sense.

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  30. Tony Salmon says:

    Dear Big Brother, I couldn’t leave without responding to this:

    “Tony – If I don’t agree with you, I don’t love our parents? I think they are stupid? Why stoop so low?

    Go back and consider your arguments. You don’t even try to refute anything I actually said. Instead, you call me names. You say I am too ignorant to understand. And now this? Have you no pride?”

    If you reread everything that I wrote, I never once said such things, nor did I ever call you “a name.” I simply laid down the obvious implications of your calling everyone who has a constitutional interpretation different from you “a sinner”. Since I disagree with you and sincerely believe that the Constitution is, was, has always been, and was always meant to be “a living document”, are you not calling me “a sinner”? I know our parents, like most of their generation firmly supported FDR’s expansion of the Commerce Clause during the New Deal, and I am simply asking the question, “are you calling them also sinners” ?

    However, I never said that or even ever intended to imply that you did not love our parents and you should no that, yes I have a little pride, far too much I suppose, but I would never make such a false accusation – although, on the other hand, as you know, I am sure that Mom loved me best of all. ;-)

    (Before anybody gets mad, you should know that his is an old family joke – we all think that).

    Don’t take me so seriously. As overly passionate as I know you and I can both be about these things, you should know that I still see it as still just an intellectual discussion, not the end of the world yet. We probably agree more than we disagree, but what would be the fun for you or your readers if we just echoed each other. Love you Bro.

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  31. thatmrgguy says:

    This is/was a great discussion, but Tony, I do have to correct you on one thing. The United States IS a Constitutional Republic, NOT a Democracy.

    Mike G.

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    • Tony Salmon says:

      I appreciate your semantic point Mike, but most of us consider a “Constitutional Republic” just one kind of “Democracy” just as a Parliamentary Monarchy is another kind.

      All words are just conventions, and even political scientists find it difficult to define what a “democracy” is but the convention for most of the experts and for most of the rest of us is to think of the U.S. system as fitting under the broad rubric of Democratic systems. Because, in the discussion above, we have been debating matters that particularly concern the broader category, I have used that broader word, but when it becomes particularly important to make a distinction about our particular kind of democratic system (which I readily agree is a Constitutional Republic), I will be happy to do so.

      As a matter of reference, in a book that I discussed earlier, Francis Fukuyama defines a modern democracy as having:

      1. A central sovereign state,
      2. A system of accountability to the people (for example elections and representative government), and
      3. A system of institutional “Rule of Law.”

      I would also include some emphasis on individual liberty which perhaps, although he doesn’t specifically say so, Fukuyama includes under the Rule of Law. The reason that I mention this is that one could design a communist or socialist state that is perfectly accountable to the broad majority of people and governed by laws, but if those laws did not protect individuals’ liberties, even from infringement by the majority, then most of us would not consider such a state a “Democracy” under modern semantic conventions.

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      • thatmrgguy says:

        Tony,

        First, thanks for your reply.

        Unfortunately, a lot of people think of America as the kind of Democracy where majority rules and it’s not supposed to be like that. That’s just what Thomas Jefferson warned about…mob rule. We see it in every election where pols promise entitlements attempting to solicit votes for their election/re-election.

        That’s one of the reasons I’m against “Social Justice” so many liberals spout off about. Paul Krugman and Elizabeth Warren come immediately to mind since they were recently in the news.

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  32. Citizen Tom says:

    thatmrgguy – Glad you thought it worthwhile.

    Have to give Russ and Tony lots of credit. Both put a great deal of thought into it.

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