Monday, October 29, 2018

Government by Consent or Expertise

I’ve been going through a Hillsdale online course (their newest, I think) called Congress: How It Worked and Why It Doesn’t. In his introduction, Hillsdale President Larry Arnn points out that the title refers to both past tense—“when it worked”—and present tense—“it doesn’t.” There isn’t anything in the title that says, “And how we get it to work again.” I’m halfway through, but I’m hoping there will be something hopeful like that.

Anyway, in our ongoing primer on the Constitution here, it’s appropriate to talk about what has been going awry with Congress over the past century.

According to Article I of the Constitution, legislation happens in the legislature, composed of two houses: the House of Representatives, which is based on population, and the Senate, which provides equal representation for the states. The two houses have to come into agreement on any legislation that they pass along to the president for his signature, before it becomes law.

But the self-proclaimed progressives, such as President Woodrow Wilson, and others of his time—Herbert Croly, John Dewey, both Theodore and Franklin Roosevelt—thought they knew better than the founders about how things should be run.

They set out, rather matter-of-factly, to overturn the US Constitution, and replace it as they saw fit. And they and their followers, over the course of a century, have been far too successful.

The idea, they claimed, was that life in the industrialized world was too complex to be handled by anyone but experts. They liked the idea of using the legislature to express the general will of the people—a desired outcome, like clean water or safer working conditions, for example—and then turning over all the details to some expert administrative body.

They claimed that this would better do the will of the people, and do it more efficiently—and separately from politics.

Dr. Kevin Portteus
screen shot from lecture 5 of
Congress: How It Worked and Why It Doesn't

Dr. Kevin Portteus, the teacher of this Hillsdale course, in Lecture 3: “Politics and Administration,” offers this definition:

Politics is politics in what we might think of as the ordinary sense, the martialing of votes, the changing of public opinion, and the enactment of a political program. Whereas, on the contrary, administration constitutes the implementation of the broad policies laid out in the political process.
It didn’t matter to the progressives that the legislature would be giving up their lawmaking power. Their “progressive” vision was all that mattered.

So Congress would pass vague “laws” requiring a general desired outcome. And they’d turn over the authority to accomplish that to administrative bodies of bureaucrats, with practically unlimited authority to set the rules, enforce them, and adjudicate disputes—all branches of power in one.

So now, besides voters and elected officials, the process has a third party. Dr. Portteus describes these extra-constitutional lawmakers, and three basic characteristics required in order to be one. Pay attention to the second one; there’s a lot there. And then, if you understand the second, how do you square that with the third?

That’s the bureaucrat, the administrator, the official. What does he look like? Well, Croly says, “The experts charged with the administration of these laws would become the official custodians of a certain part of the accepted social program. In other words, they must implement some portion of the progressive social platform. So if you’re put in charge of EPA, your job is to implement clean air and clean water policy. That’s your corner of a just society that’s your responsibility.
But, in order to do that, we need people who have three basic characteristics.
The first one is that they’re experts. They have to be trained experts in their particular fields. And we’ve seen this.
The second attribute of a progressive bureaucrat is that he be independent of the partisan political process. And this was the driving force throughout the Twentieth Century behind the creation of entities like independent regulatory commissions. Get the policymakers out of the electoral process, and get them out from under the control of elected officials, so that the people—public opinion—and the people’s elected representatives don’t get in the way of the application of expertise to solve these social problems.
It’s kind of interesting, when you think about it, because, in the progressive mindset, we’re going to have bureaucrats who are pretty far removed from the political process. And if you follow the logic of this argument, the end result of restricting the people’s ability to control government officials—the end result of that is going to be greater implementation of democracy. That is to say, the goals stated in the people’s legislation are going to be less likely to be subverted, because the people who are implementing them are going to have no interest except serving the public interests.
It sounds kind of naïve to us, but they really believed this. They really believed that you were going to have these people who were not gripped by self-interest in the way that the rest of us were, that somehow they would be outside of the ordinary limitations or foibles of human nature. And they would be responsive only to the public good.
And they really believed this. This was not cynical on their part. They were serious.
But, there was one other characteristic that you could not get around. And that is that these people must be committed progressives. They cannot be anti-progressives. Because, if they’re not committed progressives, then they will not zealously enforce the mission of the agency of the program over which they were put in charge.
Because, the danger in that circumstance is that, if such a person is put in charge of a program or of an agency, he would use that position as a vehicle for circumventing the will of the people as stated in legislation.
To give an example, a while ago, about ’99 or 2000, Bill Clinton had to fill a spot on the Federal Elections Commission, and he chose to fill that spot with a man named Bradley Smith. Now, Brad Smith is the expert in federal campaign finance law. And, so, there’s no doubt that he knows his stuff. And by putting him on the commission, he would be independent of the partisan political process. Now, Smith recounts in his book on free speech that his chief opponent, when he was nominated, was Clinton’s own vice-president, Al Gore. And, as Smith recounts in his book, he says, “The reason that Gore opposed me was not because I didn’t know my stuff, and it’s not because I was going to be a captive tool of special interests, because I had my position on the committee. What he objected to was the fact that I questioned the wisdom and the constitutionality of current and proposed campaign finance restrictions. In other words, that I was not committed to zealous enforcement of federal campaign finance programs and the implementation of new and ever more restrictive programs.”
So, you can’t have someone who doesn’t believe, for instance, in greater restrictions on pollution at the head of the EPA. That person is, by definition, because of ideology, ineligible for the position. He must accept—the progressive administrator must accept the basic progressive impulse of society and of the program he is supposed to run. And, as Croly says, “He qualifies for his work as an administrator quite as much by his general good faith as by his specific competence.” So, in other words, as important as his technical ability is his commitment to progressivism.
So, non-progressives, if you want to call them conservatives, are by definition ineligible to hold any of these administrative positions.
You saw similar dismay over various Trump appointees, but in particular Betsy DeVos over Education. The Department of Education still exists at the federal level after almost two years—which is disappointing to some of us. But the fear from the other party is that she might “gasp!” find something to cut. And the very nature of a federal agency is that it must keep growing. Reagan found similar pushback on his policies as well, even failing to end the then-new Department of Education.

In this and other agencies, some of the difficulty come from within the agency. Perhaps not every employee in an agency is a fully committed progressive (which means Democrat or socialist, but only very rarely a non-conservative Republican). But most are, by definition.

Thomas Sowell
image from here
There’s a story, a pivot point Thomas Sowell talks about his time at the Labor Department, after finishing his PhD in Economics as a Marxist. In short, he was studying the sugar industry of Puerto Rico, and whether the Labor Department’s setting of minimum wages was leading to unemployment. There was a way to test whether this was true, or whether a competing theory about hurricanes harming the crops was the cause. Thomas Sowell figured out they could get data about crops standing in the fields before hurricanes to tell them. That data wasn’t in the Labor Department; it was in the Department of Agriculture. There was huge pressure not to even ask for it, but he filed a request:

That was 1960. I have yet to receive an official reply to my request.
This was more than an isolated incident. It forced me to realize that government agencies have their own self-interest to look after, regardless of the interests of those for whom a program has been set up. Administration of the minimum wage law was a major part of the Labor Department’s budget and employed a significant fraction of all the people who worked there. Whether or not minimum wages benefited workers may have been my overriding question, but it was clearly not theirs. They had reasons to want to believe that it did, but no real incentive to probe too deeply to find out.[i]
Learning that the administrative state had nothing to do with helping people, but only in preserving their own jobs, or putting forward their own ideology—that’s when Thomas Sowell went from Marxist to free-market economist.

In Lecture 5, “Legislation and Regulation,” Dr. Portteus says that government by consent, which we have in the Constitution, and government by expertise, as in the administrative state, are mutually exclusive.

What’s more, any intention of insulating the administrative lawmaker from politics is an abject failure. As Dr. Portteus concludes: 

It does not insulate rule makers from legislative politics. Regulatory agencies are buffeted by all of the political forces that affect legislators and sometimes more so.

It does not base rules on expertise, or even reason. And the CAFE[i] standards example is a wonderful case in point in this regard. And at the end of the day, it doesn’t serve the public interest. That is to say, this process gives undue weight to organized special interests, who influence the regulators and key politicians.
This is why, for instance, it has become so critically important, if you own a business of even modest size, that you have a lobbying operation….
So the regulatory process is something very different from the legislative process…. Over the course of the 20th Century, the regulatory process developed and established in the Administrative Procedure Act is a very different way of making policy from the process established in the Constitution for making laws. The modern one attempts to substitute for, and posit itself as, the parallel legislative process. But it really leads to a transformation of the regime, because it yields a transformation in the way legislation is made.
Another day we can talk about what Congress is doing with its time, if it isn’t making laws. But for now, let’s just remind ourselves of this Spherical Model axiom:

Whenever government attempts something beyond the proper role of government (protection of life, liberty, and property), it causes unintended consequences—usually exactly opposite to the stated goals of the interference.

[i] Thomas Sowell, A Person Odyssey, © 2000, pp. 130-131.
[ii] CAFE is Corporate Average Fuel Economy

Thursday, October 25, 2018

Not All Parties Are Worth Celebrating

Midterm election season is underway. Early voting started in Texas on Monday and runs through next week. Voting day is Tuesday, November 6th. This isn’t a primary election, where you have the opportunity to choose who the candidates will be on the ballot. We did that last spring. Now it’s a matter of choosing to go with your party’s candidates or not.

For people who are paying attention, party choice happened a long time ago. The swing voters, the independents—those are the ones who decide elections. And they’re also the ones who pay the least attention, and make their decisions later, and possibly with less information. And often they’re susceptible to whatever the quick and easily available news tells them.

I write here mainly for people who choose freedom,prosperity, and civilization, rather than the alternatives: tyranny, poverty, and savagery. My effort is to help all of us practice ways of saying things clearly enough that those as yet undecided—or persuadable—can understand and be persuaded.

Democrats probably wouldn’t say they seek tyranny, poverty, and savagery, but since we know what leads in that direction, we can see the connection between their policies and those negative outcomes.
That is not to say that the Republican Party is always the champion of freedom, prosperity, and civilization. But it’s what we have to work with. I am a Republican, a precinct chair. And here in Texas we have pretty good success at directing the party in the right direction, so it’s worth the work I put into that.

I think we’d be a lot better off if the two parties were Republican and Libertarian. Both spend a lot of time above the equator in the freedom zone. Democrats do not. And they get more entrenched in the tyranny zone as we become more polarized.

The solution is not to give in and “compromise” to go just a bit less toward tyranny, rather than run headlong into it. The solution is to be totally clear so that those with ears to hear will hear, and hearken.

Earlier this week Allie Beth Stuckey, a conservative young woman commentator, kindly provided a new three-minute election ad for Democrats. It’s a parody, but as good parody does, it tells a lot of truth about what the Democrats are for:

In contrast, an Austin, TX, group of Beto O’Rourke for Senate cheerleaders put out an ad (watch it here) that is not a parody. Really. Why vote for Hispanic poseur Robert Francis O’Rourke? Because he’s crush-worthy, even though married with kids? Because he used to play in a rock band, like Bernie, but with a tan? If you watch this, think seriously about whether this respects women in any way.

candidate comparison
found on Facebook, source unknown

Which brings us to some other claims of Democrats claims that deny history and reality. Here’s setting some of the record straight:

·       All slave owners at the time of the Civil War were Democrats; no Republicans were ever slave owners. Democrats even in the North supported slavery.
·       Civil Rights legislation was passed by Republicans, while Democrats resisted; but then Democrats (led at the time by LBJ, who was a verified racist) took credit, for political opportunism.
·       Democrats claim to be compassionate, but they mean with your money collected in taxes, to be spent as they see fit. They fail when it comes to charitable giving.[i]
·         Democrats claim they’re the tolerant ones, but they’re the ones running people out of restaurants, or out of business, for the sin of not towing the Democrat line. They treat people of their party this way as well, if they stray from the script. In other words, “tolerance” to them means “you have to believe what I believe, or I will destroy you.”
·       They proved during the trumped up charges against Justice Kavanaugh that the rule of law doesn’t matter; only tribalism matters. And the tribes they hate most are white males, or anyone who disagrees with them about their hierarchy of intersectionality.
·       They’re horrified at capital punishment for the most heinous serial murderers, but they think murdering the innocent unborn is a right some essential that should be funded with taxpayer dollars.
The list goes on. Note that if they are accusing Republicans of something, it’s something they are in fact doing. Their lack of self-awareness is astounding.

So, there’s a huge contrast between Democrat Party ideology and civilized people who love freedom and prosperity. This isn’t an election in which “I vote for the person, not the party” makes sense. Why would you vote for a person who champions tyranny, poverty, and savagery? You’d only do that if you choose evil on purpose, or you don’t know better.

There are occasions when the candidate of my party doesn’t meet my standard either. In those rare cases, I advise a third-party protest vote, or leaving that race blank.

Here’s some inside information about our local Harris County races. For years Democrats have gathered up voters, driven them to the polls, and directed them to vote straight ticket Democrat. That means you press one button, and the whole ballot (of partisan races, which may exclude school boards or city council) gets cast by party. It’s quick and easy and requires no thinking. Straight ticket voting has been ended; but this is the last election in which it still applies.

We’re close to 50% Republican and 50% Democrat in Harris County. Two years ago, the county went Democrat. Some of that had to do with a controversial District Attorney race. While Trump won very red Texas, Hillary Clinton won Harris County. And because of straight ticket voting, that meant that every countywide race on the ballot went Democrat.

We have the longest ballot in the country. It’s because we vote on our judges. There are dozens of them. This county is bigger than several states, with around five million people. So that’s just how it is. Lots of civil, family, and criminal courts. Plus other county races.

Not every race comes up every two years; many are four-year positions. So they alternate. Everything that wasn’t up for election in 2016 is up for election now—with straight-ticket voting still in play. That means it’s very important for Republicans—who resist voting blindly—do their research and vote all the way down the ballot. And get out to vote.

You can vote the easy straight ticket, or vote singly. You can vote straight ticket and then change individual races. But—unless this has changed since the last time I tried it—you cannot vote straight ticket and then change a particular race to blank.

The point is, if you go only partway down the ballot, you are granting uninformed straight-ticket Democrat voters the right to choose for you. And, if that happens again, every countywide position will be filled with a Democrat—someone who believes in legislating from the bench, instead of following the law. And we will have removed all long-standing experienced judges and officials.

Voter integrity nationwide has really flowed out of Harris County. We’ve made great improvements here in efficiency and voter protections. Some thanks should go to Stan Stanart, our County Clerk, for these improvements. Democrats have particularly targeted him—because they like to be able to control voting and counting of votes—for nefarious reasons. His race is way down at the bottom of the ballot. It’s important to vote the whole ballot.

Back to the broader national discussion, it’s an important time to vote Republican all over. I cringe at the possibility of Nancy Pelosi returning to power. Those were not good years. And their plan going forward (backward?) is to impeach the president and obstruct anything that even hints at lower taxes or less regulation.

On the Spherical Model website I wrote about the place of the parties on the sphere. This was in 2010. Still true, but maybe more so. Here’s how I’d still describe the Democrats:

The Democrats are a symbiotic mix of people demanding that government provide for their needs—health care, education, housing, redistribution of wealth, regulating use of resources, even making jobs: the demanding needy, we could call them—along with the elites who are willing to pander to the demanding needy in order to increase their personal power: the would-be dictators.
Republicans tend to think Democrats are uninformed, or motivated by emotion rather than reason. Democrats think Republicans, or all others who disagrees with them, are evil.

We need voters who do better than go with their gut—which is influence by media and academia mischaracterization. Whether you think Republicans are perfect or not (and they’re not, by the way), they are certainly not evil as portrayed by Democrats.

[i] Read Arthur Brooks, Who Really Cares? The Surprising Truth about Compassionate Conservatism, © 2006.

Monday, October 22, 2018

The Enumerated Powers

The Constitution has a two-fold purpose: to set up a government for the nation, and to limit that government to its proper role. Too weak, and it fails to prevent chaotic tyranny; too powerful, and it causes statist tyranny.

The Constitution lays out, in around 500 words, what the federal government is allowed to do. We refer to these as the enumerated powers. Enumerate means to mention one by one. If it’s not enumerated, it’s not a power granted to the federal government. The first ten Amendments, the Bill of Rights, further spell out limits, saying essentially, “And don’t you dare construe anything herein to allow you to mess with these rights.” The Ninth and Tenth Amendments make that even clearer:

Amendment IX: The enumeration in the Constitution of certain rights shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.
Amendment X: The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the Sates respectively, or to the people.
So, the Constitution was very clear about its intent to allow only certain, limited powers to a federal government.

What are the enumerated powers? You don’t have to read the whole Constitution to ferret them out. Most of the Constitution is about procedures for each of the three branches of government: Article I: legislative; Article II: executive; Article III: judicial. The enumerated powers are all listed together, in Article I, Section 8, plus a thing or two added as later amendments.

Article I, Section 8 of the Constitution

So, here they are. I’ve numbered them, sometimes separating a clause into two powers, when that made sense to me; and sometimes paraphrasing or clarifying (I hope), since some of the words are either legalistic or are used differently today in common speech. So Article I grants the federal government, through the legislative branch, the power to:

1.      Lay and collect taxes, duties, imposts, and excises—uniformly throughout the US, for purposes of paying debts and for the general welfare (for the good of the country as a whole).
2.      Borrow money on the credit of the US.
3.      Regulate commerce (make it possible and regular) with foreign nations, among the states, and with the Native America tribes.
4.      Establish uniform rule of naturalization (allowing people to become citizens).
5.      Establish uniform laws on bankruptcies.
6.     Coin money, regulate the value of US coined/printed money, and regulate the value of foreign money.
7.      Fix the standard of weights and measures.
8.      Provide for the punishment of counterfeiters.
9.      Establish post offices and post roads (mail system).
10.  Secure copyright and patent rights, to promote the progress of science, arts, writings, and discoveries.
11.  Constitute tribunals (courts) inferior to the Supreme Court.
12.  Define and punish piracies and felonies committed on the high seas, and offenses against the law of nations.
13.  Declare war, grant letters of marque and reprisal (license to act on the seas that would otherwise be considered piracy), and make rules concerning captures on land and water.
14.  Raise and support armies—but no appropriation of money to that use shall be for a longer term than two years.
15.  Provide and maintain a navy.
16.  Make rules for the government and regulation of the land and naval forces (military bases).
17.  Provide for calling forth the militia (National Guard) to execute the laws of the union, suppress insurrections, and repel invasions.
18.  Provide for organizing, arming, and disciplining, the militia (National Guard), and for governing any part that is in service to the US—reserving to the respective states the power to appoint officers and the authority to train the militia according to discipline prescribed by Congress.
19.  Exercise governing authority over the District (Washington, DC, an area not exceeding 10 square miles) as the seat of the government of the United States.
20.  Exercise governing authority over places purchased (by consent of the legislature of the state in which located) for erection of forts, magazines, arsenals, dockyards, and other needful buildings.
21.  Make all laws which shall be necessary and proper for carrying into execution the foregoing powers, and all other powers vested by this Constitution in the government of the US or in any department or officer thereof.
22.  Outlaw slavery and involuntary servitude (except as a punishment for crime), and enforcement of this prohibition.
23.  Sixteenth Amendment: Lay and collect taxes on income.
24.  Fifteenth, Twenty-fourth, ad Twenty-sixth Amendments: Enforce equal voting rights laws across all the states.
That’s the sum total. There aren’t any more powers granted to the federal government. There are some notable things missing:

·         Power to govern education.
·         Power to offer charitable services (welfare).
·         Power to force purchase of a service or product (such as health insurance).
·         Power to require payment into a retirement supplement (Social Security).
·         Power to interfere with commerce that doesn’t cross state lines.
·         Power to redefine marriage in a way that is contrary to long-standing law and tradition, and to enforce acceptance of the new definition, even when it violates personal religious beliefs.
·         Power to subsidize any industry (alternative energy).
·         Power to target industries in accordance with a social agenda (gun manufacturing, automobile manufacturing, nuclear energy, oil and gas, fast food or sugary drinks).
·         Power to use taxpayer funds to support abortion.
·         Power to subsidize or control student loans.
·         Power to take over any industry (as when the Obama administration temporarily took over GM and banks).
·         Power to favor or disfavor individuals or groups for hiring, educational opportunities, or other purposes based on their race or religion.
There are certainly more things the government is doing, or trying to do, that are well beyond the enumerated powers. Some people characterize this desire for limiting government as hating all government, and then claiming we’re hypocritical for wanting a military or border control to protect our sovereignty. That’s a mischaracterization. The pro-Constitutional view favors government—but a limited government. Government must be limited to its proper role: protecting life, liberty, and property. Or, more specifically, as the Preamble to the Constitution says about what a more perfect union is established to do:

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.
The founders assumed those government responsibilities enumerated in the Constitution could be managed on about $20 a year (in current-day dollars). Imagine how easy it would be to pay off the national debt, in a thriving economy (which happens when government gets out of the way), if government only did what it was allowed to do.

We also know that, whenever government attempts something beyond the proper role of government (protection of life, liberty, and property), it causes unintended consequences—usually exactly opposite to the stated goals of the interference.

Conditions would get better, and the cost would be far more reasonable, if we would just follow the laws of the land by limiting government to the enumerated powers.

How do we get back to those limited, enumerated power only? Good question. We vote in only people who understand and love the Constitution, and show a commitment to strictly limiting government powers.

Thursday, October 18, 2018

Great Compromises

Can we agree that our education of the younger generations has been less than stellar concerning our civic heritage? What does the typical high school graduate—or college graduate, for that matter—know about our Constitution, for example?

Let’s do a bit of remediation today.

Going back in time, to 1787, just over a decade post-Declaration of Independence from rule under the British monarch, and just four years after the end of the Revolutionary War, it was increasingly evident that the original agreement among the states, the Articles of Confederation, was inadequate.

James Madison persuaded delegates from the original states to gather that summer to address the inadequacies. Ostensibly they were coming together to tweak the Articles of Confederation, but in reality they would meet to totally replace the Articles with something altogether new. It was a dangerous and daring undertaking, when the United States was still a fledgling nation. It helped that Madison persuaded the well-respected George Washington to both attend and preside.

The Great Compromise
"The Connecticut Compromise" by Bradley Stevens

The Constitutional Convention took place in Philadelphia from May 25 to September 17, 1987. A lot of discussion went on during those months. A thorny question was how to distribute power among the states. What was in it for the little states, if the big states held all the power by virtue of their population size? But how could there possibly be fairness, if tiny states like Rhode Island were held equal to large states like Virginia? The voter in the small states would have far more voting power than the voter in the large states.

A bicameral legislature wasn’t a totally new idea, because Britain had upper and lower houses of Parliament, and several of the states did as well. But it was in using these two houses to balance out the inequities of size that made it possible to unite the states while also keeping them separately sovereign.

The Great Compromise, sometimes referred to as the Connecticut Compromise, was put forward by the delegates from Connecticut, who combined the Virginia large state proposal with New Jersey’s small state proposal. The compromise was to use proportional representation in the lower House of Representatives, and give states equal representation in the upper chamber, the Senate.

Originally, as now, the congressional representatives in the House were voted directly by their constituents in the various states. Large states would of course have more representatives. The Senate, however, was set up to be appointed by state legislatures. The Senate, then, would literally be representing the interests of the states, while the House would be representing the individual local voters in the various states.

Senators began to be elected by direct vote within their states following passage of the Seventeenth Amendment in 1913—which arguably means senators are also responding to the clamor of voters rather than state interests. Nevertheless, the Senate is a slower moving, more deliberative legislative chamber, by design.

Because of the Great Compromise, we are indeed a nation of United States, and not just a large centrally governed nation of majority rule.

If we did not have something to balance out pure democracy, then large population centers would have all the controlling power. An additional discussion for another day is about the Electoral College, which uses the power of states, rather than population centers, to elect the president.

Imagine if only tyranny-leaning high population centers had all the power. That’s what we’d have without the compromise to partially balance power for smaller populated areas. California and New York would reign over us all. Texas gets included as one of the big states, but you’d be giving power to the big cities in Texas: Houston, Dallas, Austin, San Antonio, all of which are usually run by Democrats. And you’d be ignoring the many millions who live in rural, less densely populated areas.

The cry “one person one vote” makes sense, until you realize that your vote gets ignored if you’re not going along with the typical urban voter, who gets to meet the candidates, who end up not actually representing you or your interests.

The Other Compromise

There’s another important compromise in the Constitution, that is even less understood. It is an anti-slavery compromise.

This came after the Great Compromise, so it was already agreed that the House of Representatives would be by population. The question was about whether to count slaves, who could not vote. If they were counted, that would give more seats in the House to slave states, which would mean greater influence from those states to maintain the institution of slavery.

The men who wrote and signed the words “all men are created equal” found slavery out of line with their grounding philosophy. They saw slavery as something imposed on them by the British crown. Delegates in only three of the colonies vocally advocated for slavery: North and South Carolina and Georgia. Many of the founders who had been slaveholders as British citizens freed them as Americans: George Washington, John Dickinson, Caesar Rodney, William Livingston, George Wythe, John Randolph, and others.

Washington, whose property was acquired by marriage, arranged in his will to free the family’s slaves upon his wife’s death. But, knowing that freeing them was his purpose, Martha freed them right away. Jefferson introduced a bill to outlaw slavery. In his state, until they were free to change the law, it was illegal to free slaves, although he wanted to. John Adams made it clear he never had and never would own a slave; his son John Quincy Adams was called “the hell hound of abolition” for his anti-slavery exertions.

The strong majority of the founders were anti-slavery, and were seeking ways to rid the culture of that evil. Wallbuilders catalogs a good list of the founders views on slavery, here

The Three-Fifths Compromise, counting three out of every five slaves as a person, gave the southern states 33 perfect more seats in Congress—and Electoral College votes—than if the slaves had been ignored, but significantly fewer seats than if the slaves had been counted equally with free people.
It was a tough thing to compromise on. But, without it, there would have been no United States. So the compromise was intended to allow for movement towards abolishing slavery, not to continue it.
Historian Carol Swain explains in this PragerU video: 

Compromise isn’t something people of principle like to do. Isn’t it better just to persuade the people who are wrong to convert to seeing things the right way? In theory, yes. In practice, no. Many people are easily persuaded by the wrong things—emotional stories, sound bites that fail to give the whole picture, peer pressure to believe the way those around them believe. That’s the problem with politics, which is about moving the masses of people in a particular direction.

So, sometimes, when there’s a long-term ultimate goal, a short-term compromise might be necessary.
But direction is important. A compromise that takes us north on the Spherical Model—upward toward freedom, prosperity, and civilization—might be necessary as a step toward the goal. The Three-Fifths Compromise went in the right direction, toward freeing slaves, even though it didn’t outright do away with slavery. It took longer for that, but we got there—as one of the singular civilizations in human history to do so.

A compromise that just takes us less far down into tyranny—that’s a harder compromise to justify. Let’s pray that, in working with people who are not of the same mind we are, we can have our representatives use our founders as a pattern and compromise only when it’s a step upward.

Monday, October 15, 2018

Minor and Major Disagreements

It seems like an overly ambitious, or presumptuous thing, to disagree with someone very smart and very well respected. But I’m going to do that today anyway.

Since January, when I became aware of Jordan Peterson, I’ve enjoyed learning a lot from him. But this past week there were a lot of us conservative Americans who took issue with a tweet or two Peterson sent out concerning the Kavanaugh confirmation.

images from here

Dr. Peterson was addressing the polarized tension. And he suggested that one possible thing to consider was for Kavanaugh to be confirmed—which means he was safe from the accusations—and then step aside to allow another conservative justice to take his place. This would leave him with his life intact (he’d still be a circuit court judge, which wouldn’t have been possible if he hadn’t been found worthy of the Supreme Court following the accusations against him). And those who were so upset about him personally would be mollified.

Here’s the thing. Jordan Peterson is Canadian. He isn’t a political person, and it’s hard to pin him down with a label. He talks about justice and Western civilization as though the US, Canada, and Great Britain—and others—are equivalent in their debates between freedom and it’s opposite (which I call tyranny, but is called liberal, leftist, progressive, socialist, and other names). But there’s a reason Canada didn’t join with the colonies to rebel against the tyrannical British crown back in the 1770s, and failed to join us in our constitutional republic in the 1780s. They tolerated more tyranny than we were willing to tolerate.

And then there’s a difference in recent experience. Brett Kavanaugh is not the first US Supreme Court nominee who has been viciously opposed by the tyranny side, who abuse their advise and consent role.

The way “advise and consent” was set up to work, the President would be allowed to appoint justices that shared his political ideas, as long as they were qualified to be justices and were not unsavory characters or simply cronies.

The Republican side, which is the side that actually follows the Constitution, if anyone does, has allowed the president that privilege with very little rancor over the many decades. Republicans have voted to sustain candidates even when there was clear evidence those justices would not judge based solely on the Constitution, but would impose their personal viewpoints from the bench, making themselves an unelected extra-legislative body. The Republicans could have been fully justified—had they had the strength of numbers—to refuse to accept justices such as Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sonia Sotomayor, for example. But, in the spirit of collegiality, they limited their own advise and consent power.

But the Democrats, most obviously with Robert Bork, and certainly continuing since then, have decided to block nominations based simply on their (the Democrats’) political bias. And their bias happens to be against the Constitution. They object to justices who will keep their oath to abide by the Constitution.

Only one Democrat voted to confirm Justice Kavanaugh; that means every single remaining Democrat is claiming the appointee was unfit to be a judge, despite a sterling character record and long and open record on the bench proving he was fully capable. And they were willing to pull out all the stops: wait until after the hearings, toss out a still anonymous accusation about 36 years ago that had no evidence or corroboration, lie under oath, collude with other liars, and orchestrate the character assassination of a good man—because they don’t agree with him.

Kavanaugh was the most egregious since the derailing the Robert Bork nomination—or maybe including that. But they also nearly succeeded in undermining Justice Clarence Thomas’s hearings, with false charges against his character—and to this day they continue to honor the woman who falsely accused him.

Their threats led to less controversial appointments by Republican presidents, for the sake of peace, which took the Court in a bad direction, from which it will take maybe another lifetime to recover. Justice O’Connor and Justice Kennedy are two, both appointed by Reagan (who had to deal with a Democrat Senate and House his entire eight years).  Also Justice John Paul Stevens, appointed by Gerald Ford, and David Souter, appointed by George H. W. Bush.

In other words, Republicans have already tried the conciliatory route, to avoid controversy and tension. And the result has been a much less Constitution-following court. We’re trying to make up lost ground.

There can’t be compromise for the sake of peace over certain things.

Jordan Peterson agrees about that. In a response about what he’d meant by his tweets, he said this: 

And, people said, “No, that’s wrong, because if you let the accusers knock you out of the race, then they win, and that will embolden them, and you should know better than that, because you have told people not to withdraw.” And you know—look, fair enough. I don’t know what the hell is the right way out of this mess. I don’t see a clear path forward out of this.
You know, what I see now is the—  I mean I don’t like the believe-the-accuser philosophy. I think that’s an appalling philosophy. You have to be naive beyond comprehension to think that that’s a good idea. To think that people wouldn’t misuse— If that was the rule, every accuser is right? Oh, that’s a great rule, that is. [sarcasm]
I’m not willing to give up the presumption of innocence. And for the idea that it’s better to let, you know, ten guilty people walk free than to convict one innocent person—that’s a good bloody rule. That’s a good rule. And we don’t just give that rule up because we’re feeling all empathic and morally superior about it.
screen shot from here

So there’s a baseline we can agree on. Whatever we do, we can’t give up on the presumption of innocence. Not even for the sake of peace.

But how do you know when you’re at the point of refusal to make peace for the sake of a relationship? It’s a more personal question that is now playing out on our larger population. These are questions about accountability, justice, forgiveness, and mercy. If you’re trying to be merciful and have peace for the sake of a relationship, how do you hold someone accountable and have justice for the sake of the larger community?

In a relationship the size of this country, when there are essentially warring factions, how do you stand up against the bullying side to keep both your personal sovereignty and your self-respect?

What about mob rule? Can we agree that’s a bad thing? We should. But the opposition, at this point in history, defines “mob rule” as something only “right wing” extremists can do. Meanwhile they mob conservatives to run them out of restaurants. They scare police away from downtown Portland,OR. They riot if a conservative speaker is invited to a university campus.

Eric Holder, Obama’s former attorney general, suggested Democrats forget taking the high road; "kick them." Hillary Clinton called for no civility until they’re in power—that is, wielding power over us. This isn’t about Trump’s lack of civility, as they claim; it’s about their weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth that we the people have not kowtowed to their supposed right to rule over us.

They talk about repealing the Second Amendment, or doing away with the Electoral College, or even doing away with the Senate—which is based on equal state representation rather than population. They want to get rid of anything our founders designed to keep us free from tyranny—because their goal is tyranny, and the Constitution is in their way.

We don't really have a lot of disagreement with Jordan Peterson. He was doing a thought experiment that happened to go down a path many of us have traveled before, so we know how that would go, and we reject it. But there's still this question he was dealing with:

We’ve got a problem. The problem is, is that, I don’t see any way of moving this forward without exacerbating the polarized tension.
He may be right. There may be no path without polarized tension. But he’s the clinical psychologist. So my question for him is, at what cost should peace be the goal?

If Europe and beyond had succumbed to Nazi rule, they would have had peace, of a sort. But they would be subjects of tyranny; that would be the cost. Can we agree that cost would have been too high?

The thing with logic is, if you start with the wrong “if” statement, you’ll get the wrong “then” outcome. So the starting point may not be, “If the goal is peace,” unfortunately. We might be beyond a peaceful outcome with people who are our literal enemies. Peace only comes after we defeat them.

Well, there’s one other way to peace: Those who are seeking to wreak havoc on our constitutional republic could stop it. Life would get better for them—even though they don’t see how—and it would certainly get better for us. But the record of power mongers doing that is pretty dismal.

The problem is that, at a granular level, all of us know Democrats that aren’t actually trying to tyrannize us; they’re just not thinking things through the way we freedom lovers do. So we mostly just avoid talking about divisive issues with them—anything beyond work, weather, food, and sports, maybe. And we can get along fine with them as long as we can avoid being attacked. That’s a sort of peace we’ve been used to for about a century.

The hope, then, has to be separating out regular people who have been among those enemies, but are really just our neighbors who don’t have a good understanding of the alternatives. If they knew they could choose freedom,prosperity, and civilization—rather than tyranny, poverty, and savagery—they’d step over to our side.

But for those who insist on ruling over us—on taking away our liberty, property, and civilization—and who stir up mob violence against us, there’s no path to peace. We are, however, still very hopeful—possibly naively so—that we can defeat them in the arena of ideas, without violence. (Though that explains why they have been calling speech that disagrees with them “violence,” because they prefer to think of us as the bad guys.)

Some of what has to be done is pointing out the extremes of the would-be tyrants—getting that message out despite the complicity of so much of the media and academia who hide the truth.

It’s a time to stand up and speak truth, even when peace is at stake, and even when it looks to bystanders that we haven’t been tolerant enough of tyranny yet. In this case, the bystanders don’t know what we’ve already learned by hard experience.

Thursday, October 11, 2018

Old Wisdom

There is age-old wisdom, and there is sometimes wisdom in age. When things have been known—or at least accepted—to be best for society, we ought to have some respect for that.

Among the age-old wisdom is that family is the basic unity of society. In order to have a strong society—civilization—you need strong families—consisting of a married man and woman. So marriage is important. And having children, and raising them in the safety provided by married parents is also important.

I heard these old notions reaffirmed in a couple of different places this past week.

It was our semi-annual worldwide conference for my Church—The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Among the many speakers was Dallin H. Oaks, always one of my favorites. He was President of Brigham Young University when I attended there. Briefly after that he served on the Utah Supreme Court, before being called as an apostle for our Church. He is now in the First Presidency, and is the senior apostle next to President Russell M. Nelson, who was called as an apostle at the same time as President Oaks.
President Dallin H. Oaks
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President Oaks, with his background in law, lays out information in a very orderly and direct way. That’s his style, and I appreciate that about him. He spoke twice at the weekend conference: Saturday morning, and the Saturday evening Women’s session. Both times he mentioned that truth about marriage.

Quoting from "The Family: A Proclamation to the World,” he said,

We affirm the Lord’s teachings that “gender is an essential characteristic of individual premortal, mortal, and eternal identity and purpose” and that “marriage between man and woman is essential to His eternal plan.”
He commented on the pressure against this stand:

[S]ome are troubled by some of our Church’s positions on marriage and children. Our knowledge of God’s revealed plan of salvation requires us to oppose current social and legal pressures to retreat from traditional marriage and to make changes that confuse or alter gender or homogenize the differences between men and women. We know that the relationships, identities, and functions of men and women are essential to accomplish God’s great plan.
Talking about the importance of children, he said,

[W]e also have a distinct perspective on children. We look on the bearing and nurturing of children as part of God’s plan, and a joyful and sacred duty of those given the power to participate in it. In our view, the ultimate treasures on earth and in heaven are our children and our posterity. Therefore, we much teach and contend for principles and practices that provide the best conditions for the development and happiness of children—all children.
People are upset sometimes when the Church—and other churches—step into the political arena, taking a stand on particular issues. But this is why. These things affect us deeply. Near the end of this address, he was talking about the adversary, Satan’s efforts against what we know is good:

[Satan] seeks to confuse gender, to distort marriage, and to discourage childbearing—especially by parents who will raise children in truth.
I’ve written, multiple times, on each of these issues.

·         Gender confusion: here, here, and here.

·         Defending traditional marriage: the large collection here, but also a three-art series ending here, and also here.
·         Rates of reproduction: here  a three-part series ending here, and also here.

In the General Conference Women’s session, Saturday evening, President Oaks further mentioned these cultural pressures, along with some troubling statistics:

Children are our most precious gift from God—our eternal increase. Yet we live in a time when many women wish to have no part in the bearing and nurturing of children. Many young adults delay marriage until temporal needs are satisfied. The average age of our Church members’ marriages has increased by more than two years, and the number of births to Church members is falling. The United States and some other nations face a future of too few children maturing into adults to support the number of retiring adults.[1] Over 40 percent of births in the United States are to unwed mothers. Those children are vulnerable. Each of these trends works against our Father’s divine plan of salvation.
The solution to the deterioration of valuing family is not to give in to cultural pressure; it is to adhere to the wisdom we know from historical evidence and from the happiness that comes from living in a way that leads away from the chaos, including listening to the wise words we hear from our Eternal Father, in scripture and in words of the prophets.

Along these lines, during a very long (2 ¾ hours) interview of Jordan Peterson by Dr. Oz, Peterson was responding to a question about where he lands on the political spectrum, which is a challenge for someone who isn’t a political thinker, but a thinker in the fuller sense. He’s a traditionalist, temperamentally (which is a much fuller conversation with Dr. Peterson), but also creative. So he doesn’t fit easily into prearranged boxes:

It’s not like I don’t think that the dispossessed deserve a political voice. Now, that’s why I was interested in socialist politics when I was a kid, and I understand perfectly well that hierarchies dispossess, and that something has to be done about that. But I also think that we mess with fundamental social structures at our great peril.
Dr. Jordan Peterson (right) talks with Dr. Oz
screen shot from here
What does he think we’ve been messing with to our detriment? The same things Dallin Oaks has mentioned, mainly marriage.

So, here’s a social scientist/clinical psychologist’s view on throwing out the tried and true:

I think we’ve destabilized marriage very badly, and that that’s not been good for people, especially not good for children. But I don’t think it’s been good for adult men and women either.
And I certainly, as a social scientist—one of the things you learn, if you’re a social scientist, and you’re well educated and informed, is that, if you take a complex system—let’s imagine that you have a complex system, and you have a hypothesis about how to intervene so that it will improve. OK, so what will you learn? You’ll learn, once you implement the intervention, that you didn’t understand the system, and that your stupid intervention did a bunch of things you didn’t expect it to, many of which ran counter to your original intent. And you will inevitably learn that.
So, I learned that via a whole series of very wise mentors who insisted, to everyone they talked to who was interested in public policy, for example, that when they put in place a well-meaning public policy initiative, that they put aside a substantial proportion of the budget to evaluate the outcome of the initiative. Because the probability that the initiative would produce the results desired was virtually zero.
That sounds an awful lot like our Spherical Model saying, particularly about government interference:

Whenever government attempts something beyond the proper role of government (protection of life, liberty, and property), it causes unintended consequences—usually exactly opposite to the stated goals of the interference.
So Jordan Peterson tilts conservative on that basis. But another clue is that he’s not looking at the world in disgust that we haven’t fixed everything yet; he’s in awe that things work as well as they do:

I don’t expect systems to work perfectly. If they’re not degenerating into absolute tyranny, I tend to think they’re doing quite well. Because, if you look worldwide, and you look at the entire course of human history, degeneration into abject tyranny is the norm.
And so, if you see systems like our system, say, in the democratic Western world, that are struggling by, not too badly, you should be in awe of those structures, because they’re so difficult to produce and so unlikely.
What is the so-called liberal approach (sometimes called “leftist” but actually southern hemisphere tyrannical approach)? Interfere. Badly.

You take a system that’s working not too badly. “Well, I’m going to radically improve it.” It’s like, “No. You’re not.” You’re not going to radically improve it. You might be able to improve it incrementally, if you devoted a large part of your entire life to it, and you were very humble about your methods and your ambition.
But if you think that some careless tweak of this complex system, as the consequence of the illogical presuppositions you learn in three weeks in your social justice class at university, and that’s going to produce a radical improvement? It’s like, you can’t even begin to fathom the depths of your ignorance.
 Dr. Oz asks him what specifically does he think has derailed marriage. He speculates that some of it is the changing roles from women becoming more autonomous—mainly from technological advances surrounding hygiene and birth control. Many of these changes are for the good, for women certainly, but also society, because we are able to benefit more from the genius of women. But the changing roles are still very new, anthropologically speaking, so there’s going to be some stress there as men and women renegotiate.
Dr. Jordan Peterson
screen shot from here

He totally disagrees with the assertion that women were previously oppressed by men; mostly men and women worked together to struggle out of poverty and oppression any way they could, which, without those technological advances logically placed women mostly at hearth and home.

Anyway, what has done the most harm to marriage?

The other thing that’s happened, as far as I’m concerned, is that we got a little too careless about liberalizing the divorce laws and changing the structure of marriage in general. I don’t think that that was good for people, especially not for children. Because, the evidence that children do better in intact two-parent families is overwhelming. No credible social scientist that I know of disputes that.
That’s what I have seen in the data[2] as well. And if that weren’t affirming enough, he goes on to say what we know about the family:

It might be because the minimal viable social structure is actually the minimal nuclear family: two people. One isn’t enough. Two is barely enough. But it’s a minimum.
Especially—I think the reason for that is, this is how I look at it: Everybody has lots of flaws, and tilts toward insanity in at least one direction. And so, partly what you want to do is, you want to link up with someone over the long run, because they’re— They might be sane where you’re not, and vice versa.
So, if you have a partner, and you put yourself together—and this is also how marriage works symbolically, by the way; it’s the reunion of the original man, before the separation into man and woman. You put yourself together. You have one person who’s basically sane….
Because, if [children] have parents, if they have a parental unit, let’s say, that’s communicating, and that’s straightening each other out, then the child can adapt to that unit as a microcosm of broader society. And so, if the child can figure out how to get along with the parents, in the best possible sense, then they’re also simultaneously figuring out how to get along with everyone else.
And I think, if you go below that pairing, things fragment in a way that can’t be easily rectified.
Maybe it's time we turned back to the old wisdom. Because the only way to rectify the situation now requires rebuilding: more people living the tried and true way that leads to civilization; and speaking truth, loud and clear enough that those who’ve been persuaded by those trying to meddle with what has worked for millennia will hesitate—and think again.

[1] This footnote was included in the print version of Pres. Oaks' talk: See Sara Berg, “Nation’s Latest Challenge: Too Few Children,” AMA Wire, June 18, 2018,
[2] For a collection of data, see “Why Marriage Matters: Twenty-One Conclusions from the Social Sciences,” 2002, Institute for American Values.