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Did American liberals set the stage for Bush and the neo-cons to take over this country?
That is not a trick question, and the answer is: "Yes, they did."
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How, then? Very simply. Here is a basic outline of what happened:
First, note that a government without rules is a disaster.
Make that, "a government without clear, enforceable rules that give specific protection to human rights." Furthermore, these rules must be actually enforced. For a look at what happens without real protection for human rights, see most of history. The 20th Century alone saw perhaps 262 million murders by governments world-wide, and that is in addition to millions of deaths by war. Really: Why do we put up with this? What other institution causes so much death and destruction?
Second, the U.S. Constitution is the rulebook for America 's government, and despite its very great flaws, the Constitution, including the Bill of Rights, does provide clear protection for many basic human rights. Furthermore, these protections were, to a large extent, actually enforced earlier in our history. Habeas corpus, trial by jury instead of by government employees (judge or military tribunal, for example), free speech, the right to effective (i.e., armed) self-defense, restrictions on takings of property, and many other basic rights were far better protected in the United States than in most other places. The distressingly common historical failure to protect rights in this country shows how bad things have always been in the world generally, because for people in most other nations, the United States was (and for many, continues to be) a haven of freedom and prosperity. Our "haven" status was the direct result of clear rules that restricted the use of government force against the people, either directly or -- as with corporatism or coercively-funded welfare -- indirectly.
Third, these constitutional limitations on government power have always been a source of frustration to those in power and to special interests. To get around these limitations, several approaches have been tried. These include:
1) Simply seizing more power, as when Democrat Woodrow Wilson created the Federal Reserve in 1913 (with plenty of help from Republicans -- government evil in America is almost always bipartisan). The FED is exactly the type of central bank that America's founders warned against, and inflation of the money supply (and thus of prices) engineered by the FED has been a disaster, especially to the poor and those on fixed incomes. Twenty dollars bought roughly one ounce of gold in 1913; as this is written, it takes over $660 to buy an ounce of gold -- 33 times more than before (you can view today's gold price here.) History (going back to Rome and even before) shows repeatedly that inflationary central banking creates first a boom (e.g., the Roaring Twenties) and then, necessarily, a bust -- such as the Great Depression.
1913 also saw passage of the 16th Amendment (via ratification by state legislatures, not by a direct vote of the people), overturning the constitutional prohibition of a tax on income. The tools were now in place to dramatically ramp up the wealth and power of the federal government (and its favored corporations and special interest groups) at the direct expense of -- who else? -- ordinary citizens. Wilson signed numerous pieces of legislation that (unconstitutionally in many cases) increased federal power. Examples include the Espionage Act of 1917 and the Sedition Act of 1918. American citizens were not clamoring for Wilson and his henchmen in and out of Congress to impose any of this tyranny, and, unsurprisingly, not one of these power grabs was put to a vote of the people. Indeed, these assaults on America's freedoms were accomplished without much apparent concern for public opinion -- much as today's Iraq war continues regardless of the "will of the people" being so clearly against it.
2) Promising to take care of people in some fashion. This is a brilliant tactic from the power-elite's point of view, because it makes the victims not merely complicit in their own enslavement but often gets them to clamor for more enslavement! Democrat FDR responded to the Great Depression by dramatically expanding federal government power with his New Deal programs (mostly welfare, make-work, and other forms of "relief"), and when the Supreme Court ruled his programs unconstitutional, FDR threatened to pack the Court with additional members who would "interpret" the Constitution to allow such programs. The Court caved in to FDR's wishes and began ruling, essentially, that the Constitution said things it does not say -- and liberals and progressives cheered.
The ruse of promising to take care of people has created a government larger, more expensive, and more intrusive than even King George could have dreamed of. The opportunities for bureaucratic empire-building, for corporatist "synergy" between business and government, and for oceanic levels of money-flow from the people to those in power simply could not be achieved without conning citizens into thinking that such things were "for their own good."
Charity, retirement planning, and other such things are good -- on their own. Put government in charge, however, and you have at best a bloated, costly, and inefficient program with ever-decreasing customer satisfaction. Examples: the New Orleans fiasco (both the government's efforts to protect against a levy breach and its response after the disaster), FEMA generally, the FDA and the USDA, Social Security (never mind the lousy return on investment and the inability to pass your "investment" on to your heirs: those in charge have already spent your money by borrowing it for the general fund, and an ever-smaller pool of younger workers will be stuck paying for your retirement, so what you'll actually get is . . . well, you do the math), and every single other government program ever devised to "take care of people." All government programs make things worse in the long run instead of better. The goal may be fine, but using government coercion in the service of the goal creates something else entirely.
FDR's other affronts to constitutional protections include (in the "simply seizing power" category) forcing Americans to turn in their gold to the government in 1933 under severe penalty of law (yet the Constitution's never-repealed Section 10 requires our money to be gold and silver, for good reason) and putting roughly 120,000 Japanese-Americans into concentration camps during the war. Despite such crimes by FDR -- and "crimes" is exactly what they were -- liberals in academia, in the press, and elsewhere continue to praise FDR as if his violations of the Constitution were something positive. In fact, by treating the Constitution as a blank check for those in power, FDR helped create the lawless conditions which allowed for the rise of today's Republican neo-cons. A government without rules is -- well, pretty much what we have now, isn't it?
3) Another tactic for grabbing power involves scaring people, which leads to that most profitable of government programs: war -- including "wars" on drugs and other pseudo-dangers. Since everything (even eating, breathing, or walking down the street) has dangers, the potential for fear-mongering is endless. The power elite know that frightened people will give up their freedoms and their money without much struggle -- in fact, when the tactic is executed properly, the public will beg to have their money and freedom taken away in exchange for "protection" from the threat. (Even if the public resists, the compliant and complicit major media can make it appear otherwise). The "protection" offered by government is a lie -- it reliably makes things more dangerous -- but that's fine for those in power because the more unsafe life seems, the more money and freedom the public is willing to give up for protection. Booga-booga!
Democrats, at least as much as Republicans, have been involved in our wars of all types including the War on Drugs (FDR was president when the Marijuana Tax Act really got things going in 1937, for example) and no matter which of the two old power parties is in the White House or in control of Congress, the War on Drugs continues and grows worse. Even having a Baby Boomer president who admitted to smoking pot in college (Democrat Bill Clinton) did nothing to slow the persecution of ordinary citizens who preferred pot to booze.
Democrats have also been leaders in the fight to keep America's war machine busy, from Wilson (WWI) to FDR (WW2) to Truman (Korea, not to mention dropping two atom bombs on civilians in Japan at the end of WW2); from Kennedy and especially Johnson (Vietnam) to Clinton (the depleted-uranium-soaked war in the Balkans and the intermittent bombing of Iraq during the long, deadly embargo). Today's Democratic majority in Congress could defund the Iraq and Afghanistan occupations tomorrow -- actually, they could have done that months ago -- but they won't. We have too many permanent bases in Iraq and around the world (courtesy of bipartisan efforts between the Dems and GOP) to upset the military-industrial apple cart in any real way -- unless and until we see a determined effort by the people of this nation to take their freedom back.
In short, liberals, even more than conservatives, have worked to destroy the rulebook for America 's government. They did this with the best of intentions, but the result is what we have today: a government nearly out of control, run by tyrants, corporations, and special interests; a government which has become famous and despised around the world for torture, aggressive war, and arrogance mixed with self-destructive stupidity (our massive trade and budget deficits, for example).
How to Not Solve the Problem
There are several possible ways Americans might take back their freedom. Begging for even more government is not one of those ways, however, and this means that liberals and others who see themselves as "progressive" must accept the truth that coercion is evil -- even when used by your favorite politician for a program you personally support.
Charity is important, but government charity ruins lives by the millions while slowly (and sometimes not-so-slowly) eroding a nation's prosperity. Why? Because government charity is funded coercively via taxation (and thus does not benefit from competitive market forces); because central planning from afar (especially by those who are neither rewarded nor penalized for their results) never works well; and because bureaucratic costs and corruption siphon off increasing amounts of the money intended for the recipients. Government charity frequently destroys self-respect and entrepreneurship, leading to multi-generational dependency and poverty, as with Johnson's "Great Society" programs and their aftermath. In Africa , massive (mostly government-supplied) charity from foreign nations has propped up dictators and kept practically the entire continent poor for decades. Government charity is not merely inefficient: on the whole and despite occasional exceptions, it is actively harmful.
Medical care is important, but government runs the medical system about as well as it runs farming or industry -- not well at all (see any Communist nation). American medical costs increased by a factor of ten (inflation adjusted) from 1960 to 2000, as government contributed ever-more to medical spending and as related government regulations increased dramatically. The high-tech factor in the medical field should be creating better and cheaper products and services (consider computing or consumer electronics, for instance); it is only government involvement preventing this. "Free" medical care provided by government can be reasonably well-run or not (here's Cuba's, as ordinary Cubans apparently encounter it when American celebrities are not around), but the long and sometimes deadly wait times and rationing typical of government health care are not the best we can do.
Business regulation is important, but government regulations create stagnating, corrupt, and overpriced industries that are more dangerous than necessary. Industries without government regulation provide better and cheaper products and services (for example, supplements, computers, and consumer electronics), with improvements over time instead of ever-higher prices and ongoing degradations in service quality. For an example of non-government regulation, see Underwriter Labs, or simply note the lower prices and higher safety levels of over-the-counter supplements versus pharmaceutical drugs. European regulation of supplements has created much higher prices for consumers without offering any benefit in return -- except to the medical and pharmaceutical cartels.
Education is important, but government education is a disaster even on its own terms, and is abusive to children in the bargain. See Sudbury Valley School or Summerhill School for positive examples of what schools can be.
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In an earlier essay, I posed these questions:
"Would you choose something with a track record of mass murder, famine, war, extortion, and other violent crime -- for anything? If you wanted to foster compassion, or to improve the world in any way, would you use the most dangerous and deadly tool in the history of mankind?"
Liberals (with help from their conservative neighbors) have done exactly that, with predictable results: a nightmare.
Love and freedom are the only answer to our problems, and love needs freedom, just as freedom needs love. Coercive government is neither, and the less we have of it, the better.
We will not solve the problem of America 's out-of-control Republican government by turning the reigns over to out-of-control Democrats. I suspect that most Democrats know this by now -- the Democratic Congress has approval ratings nearly as bad as President Bush's -- but do not know what to do about it.
Ultimately, the solution to the horrors of coercive government is to stop using coercion to run society. No, that is not "utopian" but instead sane and compassionate and practical. We won't get rid of government-run wars and government-run death camps and government-enabled corruption any other way. To save ourselves (and our civilization, and our species, and perhaps our planet) we really must, at last, understand what Henry David Thoreau wrote in Civil Disobedience (1849):
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I heartily accept the motto, "That government is best which governs least"; and I should like to see it acted up to more rapidly and systematically. Carried out, it finally amounts to this, which also I believe -- "That government is best which governs not at all"; and when men are prepared for it, that will be the kind of government which they will have. . . . The objections which have been brought against a standing army, and they are many and weighty, and deserve to prevail, may also at last be brought against a standing government. The standing army is only an arm of the standing government. The government itself, which is only the mode which the people have chosen to execute their will, is equally liable to be abused and perverted before the people can act through it. Witness the present Mexican war, the work of comparatively a few individuals using the standing government as their tool; for in the outset, the people would not have consented to this measure.
This American government -- what is it but a tradition, though a recent one, endeavoring to transmit itself unimpaired to posterity, but each instant losing some of its integrity?
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America 's government has lost all the integrity it can stand to lose. Assuming that few of us would yet stand with Thoreau to support "no government," we can nonetheless begin moving back in the direction of "less government" -- the direction of sanity, freedom, and compassion. We can stop America's aggressive wars, its commonplace use of torture, its evil war on (disproportionately minority) drug users, its suicidal fiscal policies, its corporatism, its counterproductive pseudo-wars on "poverty" and "terror" and everything else our masters can think to scare us with (and to make billions from in the process), and all the rest of the tyranny our government has become famous for. We can restore the rulebook for our government -- not, I hope, as an endpoint (we've seen where THAT leads) but as a starting point, as a last-minute save, as a desperate attempt to prevent what comes next if we fail.
If we must have a government, let it at least follow the rules, and let those rules clearly forbid using government coercion in all but a handful of sensibly-chosen areas of life. The Constitution, including its Bill of Rights, is that rulebook -- the highest law of the land, which no signing statement, no law from Congress, and no bureaucratic decree may legally violate. "Whatever is repugnant to the Constitution is null and void": that would be most of today's federal government.
How can you truly and effectively support a return to lawful, limited government in this country? Surprisingly, there is a way I can recommend: become familiar with -- and support -- libertarian (although running as a Republican) Dr. Ron Paul and his presidential campaign.
Dr. Paul put himself through medical school as a milkman; he is not the "rich white male" that some have called him. He has had a long career in the private sector, caring for young mothers and delivering babies. Because he strictly and consistently votes against laws which violate the Constitution, some of his positions will seem strange to those used to thinking of ever-more government as the only way to do things. For example, Paul is against federal "hate crime" laws. Why? Crime is a problem for states and localities, not the federal government (which has no constitutional crime-fighting mandate at all). Besides: making a crime against you (or because of who or what you are) a bigger deal than the same crime against your neighbor is discrimination we don't need. "All men are created equal," as our Declaration of Independence puts it, and the more we live up to that, the better.
Dr. Paul's views are the same as in 1988, when he ran for President as a Libertarian. Few take third parties seriously, and Paul's showing was in single digits. Yet today, running as a Republican -- and with massive help from the internet -- Ron Paul's support is growing so fast that if it continues at this pace, he could be the outright winner in 2008. Paul has more cash on hand than McCain (who has raised more but has spent more). I refuse to be optimistic about an actual win for Paul, but am enthusiastic about the power of his campaign to reach and to educate Americans who are ready to have love and freedom replace cruelty and tyranny in their nation. That could be enough to spark a real change.
For readers who are interested, here are four links to video with Dr. Paul:
A collage of clips and quotes, titled "Stop Dreaming" (8 min 46 sec):
The full 65 minute interview/Q&A session with Dr. Paul at Google headquarters from last week. Note that, as always, Paul answers extemporaneous questions in full, intelligently, without notes, and without evading the issues.
Youtube's current list of Ron Paul video.
Google Video's list.