Wednesday, January 30, 2019

The Propositional Republic Of America

"One day, there really will be a place where everyone,
every man and woman of every race, creed and religion, will
be free and equal to everyone else."
(first published in the North State Journal 1/30/19)
At the end of the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia in 1787, Mrs. Powel asked Ben Franklin: “Well, Doctor Franklin, what do we have, a monarchy or a republic?”

To which he replied: “A republic, if you can keep it”.

But what kind of republic did they create? Republics have meant many different things over history ranging from national legislatures dominated by wealthy Senators to republics in name only where an autocrat ruled with an iron fist behind the scenes.

Ramon Lopez, a post-doctoral fellow in the Tocqueville Program at Furman University spoke to The Institute for the Public Trust which I run last weekend in Charlotte. He pointed out that America was first a “propositional republic” prior to being a democratic republic as established in the Constitution in 1787.

Our country was based on an idea first before the machinery of our current government was established by the Constitution. An idea of freedom and equality, not another government ruled by monarchs.

President Lincoln in his Gettysburg Address said our new nation was “dedicated to the proposition that all men were created equal” in the Declaration of Independence in 1776 long before the Constitution was written and adopted.  All that followed rested upon that propositional phrase.

Professor Lopez pointed out that Rome was a “propositional idea” as well. To be truly “Roman” meant any conquered people could enjoy the freedoms of a Roman citizens regardless of race, creed or religion, as long as they adopted the rules of Roman citizenship while being protected from outside invaders by the Roman army, the most powerful fighting force on earth at the time.

The founding myth of Rome, he said, was that “they were descended from immigrants, exiles, and, criminals. The Romans claimed that a prince had escaped Troy when it was sacked by the Greeks, and that he found his way to central Italy. His descendants eventually founded the city of Rome, inviting anyone to settle it—anyone who was poor, or desperate, or in need of a new home….(T)o be a Roman became a civic designation, not an ethnic one.”

We have a direct intellectual and philosophical umbilical cord connecting modern-day America to the democracies of ancient Greece and the Roman Republic dating up to 2500 years ago. Unless we teach it to the next generations, we will forget it and the underlying principles of equality and fairness to all.

The birth of the United States of America was not tied to the Muslim tradition as President Obama tried to assert several years ago. The men who founded America were deeply ensconced in the history and tradition of both Greek and Roman civilizations. They learned to read by reading the Bible and Plutarch’s Lives; they relaxed by reading Thucydides and Euripides.

Without our collective understanding and embrace of that fundamental philosophical proposition underpinning of our nation, our democratic republic would have failed long ago. Without understanding Jefferson’s proposition as the most essential foundational principle to our government, America will fail as the ancient Greek democracies and Roman Republics failed when they forgot what proposition their nation was founded on in the beginning.

At North Carolina A&T several years ago, an African-American woman asked a simple question: “Mr. Hill, when are we going to stop calling ourselves African-Americans or Irish-Americans and just call ourselves “Americans”?

That is a good question. What is the propositional phrase we can all recognize and accept today and move ahead as if we are playing on the same team?

Perhaps it is a recommitment to the revolutionary idea that “all people are indeed created equal”. No one is better or worse than anyone else. We all have the same aspirations and hopes for a better life as free people.

Maybe then we can move ahead to solve the issues we face together. As equals.

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Thursday, January 24, 2019

The Kabuki Dance of Government Shutdowns

'You Know We Will Re-Open Government; We Know We Will Re-Open Government'
(first published in North State Journal 1/15/19)
After World War II, Japanese diplomats wanted to change the image of Japan from one of being murderous war mongers to being one of creative world leaders.

To cultivate goodwill among the American public during years of tedious treaty negotiations, troupes of Japanese kabuki dancers were sent to the US for entertainment purposes. The hope was that Americans would learn to appreciate the ancient Japanese culture through the intricate, slow motions of kabuki with its stories of deception and intrigue which always ended in a resolution that the protagonists clearly knew would happen from the outset.

The effort failed miserably. Returning GIs were too busy buying tract homes and fathering and raising Baby Boomers in a bustling post-war economy to want to learn about the culture of a nation that attacked Pearl Harbor, caused 426,000 American casualties and ended in atomic warfare.

In 1961, Henry Taylor of the Los Angeles Times called a political maneuver by President Kennedy to fire undersecretary of State Chester Bowles a ‘left-wing kabuki’ dance and political machinations on both sides have been labeled ‘kabuki theatre’ ever since.

The Current Government Shutdown Is A Kabuki Dance Masterpiece.

Government shutdowns are bad policy. They hardly ever achieve their stated goal, which, in this case, would be the construction of The Wall between the US and Mexico.

Everyone knows we are going to re-open the federal government 100% sometime. The actors on stage, President Trump, Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, are going through the same long drawn-out and very slow motions of deception and intrigue seen in every other government shutdown that failed as well.

What is the ‘pressure point’ that makes a shutdown seem like a good political tactic to employ in the first place?

No money is ever saved during any federal shutdown.

85% of the federal government is operational today under the ‘partial shutdown’ scenario established after past shutdowns.

2/3rds of the $4 trillion federal budget is spent on mandatory spending programs such as Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. ALL of those checks flow because they are ‘mandated’ by government to be paid at all times which would include during nuclear warfare.
850,000 furloughed federal workers will be paid in full once they return to work after the shutdown ends. Some single-earners may find it difficult to pay the bills unless a federal credit union will float them a short-term loan but essentially, shutdowns become ‘paid vacations’ for federal workers.

Net interest costs continue to accrue on $21 trillion of national debt already on the books. With interest rates rising from the near-zero levels under 8 years of President Obama to more ‘normal’ rates of 3-4%, the total net cost of interest paid will roughly double in 2019 over 2016 levels.

Most of the 300,000 currently furloughed federal workers live in the Washington, DC, Northern Virginia, Maryland metro area. Those areas never vote for a Republican President anyway so President Trump won’t be punished at the polls in 2020 in those areas for his role in the shutdown.

What is a better way to get The Wall done?

Cut a deal.

$5 billion is ‘decimal dust’ in federal budget terms. $5 billion is 0.125% of annual spending.

We incur additional debt of $5 billion per day.

Find 10 states with heavy Democratic representation that need 1 bridge built for $500 million each.

Get those Democrats to support The Wall in exchange for a bridge in their states, $5 billion for $5 billion.

A second option would be to grant permanent work status for 700,000 DACA recipients in return for the entire $25 billion to complete The Wall, be it physical, electronic or an Invisible Fence along the Rio Grande border.

There’s a deal to be made. Make it and end this senseless kabuki dance once and for all and forever.

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Wednesday, January 23, 2019

Democracy is God's Government

(first published in North State Journal 1/23/19)

“You see, the Founding Fathers were really influenced by the Bible.

“The whole concept of the ‘imago dei,’ as it is expressed in Latin, the ‘image of God,’ is the idea that all men have something within them that God injected.

“Not that they have substantial unity with God, but that every man has a capacity to have fellowship with God. And this gives him a uniqueness, it gives him worth, it gives him dignity.

“And we must never forget this as a nation: there are no gradations in the image of God.

“Every man from a treble white to a bass black is significant on God’s keyboard, precisely because every man is made in the image of God.

“One day we will learn that. 

“We will know one day that God made us to live together as brothers and to respect the dignity and worth of every man.”

— Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. “American Dream” sermon, Ebenezer Baptist Church, Atlanta, July 4, 1965.

In 1710, the Rev. John Wise, a Congregationalist minister in Massachusetts, preached from the pulpit: “Every man must be acknowledged to be equal to every man. … The end of all good government is to cultivate humanity and promote the happiness of all and the good of every man in all his rights, his life, liberty, estate, honor…”

The Rev. Wise would preach to the American colonists that democracy is God’s chosen form of government for both the church and the state because it relies on the natural state of man being made free by God in the first place over civil government having dominion over them.

It was certainly preferable over rule by a single fallible, fallen creature monarch, the King of England at that time.

He was not advocating the establishment of America as a theocracy to be ruled by church leaders. He was talking about every citizen having been given the equal natural right by God to pursue their happiness and not live under a dictator or tyrant who demanded they pay taxes to support their rule first over pursuing their own personal dreams and ambitions.

The same ideals John Wise preached were the same ideals MLK preached 250 years later for everyone, including African-Americans and women who were excluded before at the time of the Rev. Wise’s preaching. Equality, liberty, popular sovereignty and individual rights were the same ideals people hoped for in the 18th century as they were in the 20th and now in the 21st century.

In a speech commemorating the 150th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence, President Calvin Coolidge expounded on the sermons of the Rev. Wise and said: “Governments do not make ideals, but ideals make government.”

Any law or regulation that restricts entry or competition in a marketplace of ideas, products or services is less than “ideal.” It contradicts the natural law freedom of that person to pursue their happiness and provide for themselves and their family.

We cannot unwind the mistakes of the past. We can set a course for the future to “live together as brothers” and “respect the dignity and worth of every man” as the Rev. King wished for in his “American Dream” sermon by encouraging more freedom, not less, in every aspect of American life.

America was not perfect at the beginning. We certainly are not perfect now. The only way we can make this a “more perfect Union,” and we have to keep trying, is through our currently existing democratic republic form of representative democracy.

Not through an experiment with “free-for-all” (except the taxpayers) democratic socialism.

You will never hear anyone talk about “republican socialism.” It would antithetical to the principles of natural law individual freedom expressed by both the Revs. John Wise and Martin Luther King Jr. 250 years apart.

Forced involuntary socialism is not God’s government. Democratic republicanism is. Let’s keep it that way.

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Wednesday, January 9, 2019

"Remember Rick McIntyre!'

'Congressman-Elect McIntyre: You're the winner!'
'Nope, Congressman McCloskey:
You are the winner!'

The empty congressional office of the 9th District of North Carolina brings to mind other close congressional elections in the past.

In 1984, former Harris Teeter executive Republican Alex “Landslide” McMillan defeated Democrat D.G. Martin by 321 votes. In 1986, former Republican Congressman Howard “Landslide” Coble won his first re-election by 79 votes in a rematch with the incumbent Democrat he defeated in 1984, Robin Britt.

Both elections were scrutinized for “discrepancies” and “voting irregularities” post-election. Ballot boxes were impounded and recounts were ordered. Weeks went by before final election results were certified by state authorities and the winners were allowed to serve in the 99th Congress.

Nothing took the cake, however, like the 8th District Congressional race in 1984 in Indiana.

Congressman Frank McCloskey appeared to be the winner election night by 72 votes only to be reversed several days later when an “accounting error” (sic?) was found that gave state Rep. Rick McIntyre a 34-vote margin of victory.

There were two very important issues at play then as now. One is the somewhat confusing and overlapping responsibilities governing elections given to the states and Congress in Article I, Section 4 of the Constitution.

The second is the apparent lack of progress in electoral verification despite all of the computer and technological advances since 1984. “Voting irregularities” still haunt our elections.

Indiana’s Republican secretary of state certified McIntyre as the winner and a subsequent recount extended his lead over McCloskey. However, the Democrats — under Speaker Tip O’Neill, who controlled the 99th Congress by 71 votes — set up a “bipartisan” (again sic?) task force of two Democrats and one Republican that conducted a review and somehow deemed McCloskey the winner by four votes and seated him in Congress instead of McIntyre.

Eight Democratic operatives were indicted the next year in 1986 under charges they conspired to pay voters between $15 and $35 apiece to vote a straight Democratic ticket in 1982 and 1984, including the contested McIntyre race.

All of this was too late to help McIntyre, who went on to lose his 1986 rematch with McCloskey. To all of the detractors who deny voter or election fraud ever happens anywhere in America because everyone in politics is too virtuous to commit fraud, this is just one more data point refuting such naivete.

To our knowledge, no incoming Democrat has been refused a seat in Congress under Republican control in recent history. Republicans tend to believe states should make their own rules for election even if some of the winners are less than virtuous, to put it politely.

One former member was overheard saying when a thrice-convicted congressman was elected from Louisiana: “Well, even scoundrels and crooks need representation too!”

Should the majority party controlling Congress be able to overturn any election anywhere in the country? Or should states be the final arbiter of any election outcome in their state be it a federal office or state or local?

In the 1984 election, 234,092 registered Indiana voters voted for either McIntyre or McCloskey. Were they denied their “one-man/one-vote” constitutional right to decide who their congressman would be when Democrat leaders in Congress made their unilateral decision to seat McCloskey instead of McIntyre?

Last year, 282,717 registered North Carolinian voters voted for either Mark Harris, Dan McCready or Libertarian candidate Jeff Scott, who got 5,130 votes. Should they have the right to decide who should represent them on the big issues in Washington, or should Nancy Pelosi and Steny Hoyer have that responsibility?

Voters in the state of North Carolina should have the final say in who represents them in Congress. Either certify Harris as the congressman or hold a special re-election as soon as possible so the people of the 9th District have a representative vote in the 116th Congress.

(first published in North State Journal 1/9/2019)

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Wednesday, January 2, 2019

How To Remain Sane Through 2019

Michael Cromartie: Meet St. Augustine
Augustine: Meet Michael Cromartie

(first published in North State Journal 1/2/19)

Here are the headlines optimists and conservatives want to see in 2019:
  • Economic Growth Hits 4%!
  • Unemployment Falls to 2%!
  • Stock Market Hits 30,000!
Here are the headlines pessimists and liberals want to see in 2019:
  • Trump Impeached! Second President Forced to Resign from the White House!
  • Economy Tanks! It Is All Trump’s Fault!
  • America Gives Up On Capitalism and Turns to Socialism!
Will any of these come true next year?

No one knows what will happen 1 year, 1 month or even 1 day in the future with 100% certainty.

Think of the poor weathermen; they have science and satellites on their side and they often predict a snowmageddon that turns into nothing.

Each person can control how they respond to life, however. They can turn off the 24-hour news and cable show talking heads if they are driving them crazy; shut down their social media accounts; start reading great literature; go on daily hikes; volunteer more in their after-work hours to help others in need and generally take better care of their own personal health, physical, mental and spiritual.

One truth of the matter in 2018 is that many of us spend far too much time worrying about politics and what other people are doing when we could spend that same amount of time doing whatever we can do to make things better in any number of ways.

A dear departed friend, Michael Cromartie of the Ethics and Public Policy Center in Washington DC, (yes, there is such a place) used to talk about returning to an ‘Augustinian sensibility’ about the role of politics in our daily lives. As he described it:
‘We need to adopt a form of Christian realism that recognizes that, because of the Fall, we live in a world that will remain sinful and broken until the end of time. While living in a broken world, our task, if it’s political, is to help the state curb that brokenness and that sinfulness in a way that aims toward justice.
I use the phrase “Augustinian sensibility” to lean against a Utopian temptation for people on the Right or the Left who give the political realm more significance than it should be given.
So it’s a chastened view of politics, but it’s not anti-political. People should have firm, clear political convictions on what justice means, without becoming so ideologically wired that they have over-expectations for what can happen in the public policy realm.
It’s a Christian cast of mind. Having that cast of mind can help nurture a form of Christian civility that is really important in these times, when we have a culture that is more shrill than ever.’
The same should be said by the atheist, the agnostic, the Jew or the Muslim. We can all lean against the temptation to think that mere mortal men can establish a Utopia here on earth through politics and coercive government and seek to do justice and spread mercy through our daily interactions with as many people as we can.

Will universal adoption of this ‘Augustinian sensibility’ mean 2019 will see a historical budget deal to balance our budget signed by President Trump after 100% buy-in from Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and all the Republicans in the US Senate and Congress? Will it mean The Wall will be built? Will it mean any of the big public policy problems we face will be solved by some clever creative bipartisan compromised legislation?

Probably not all by itself.

However, if we adopt Michael Cromartie’s ‘chastened view of politics’, we will be spared the hypertension of watching the evening news or listening to talk radio 24/7 and be pleasantly surprised by anything positive happening in 2019 instead of disappointed by the new year.

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