Monday, December 31, 2012

A Perpetual Resolution of Principled Passion

About five years ago, I received the church bulletin in the mail from the congregation where I grew up. In it, there was a short passage purportedly from a 12th century monk that I have since kept on my refrigerator. Perhaps because it is almost new year and personally that means I will also be exiting my twenties in a few short weeks, that Monk's words have resonated with me even more so than usual. The passage reads:
When I was a young man, I wanted to change the world. I found it was difficult to change the world, so I tried to change my nation. When I found I couldn't change my nation, I began to focus on my town. I couldn't change the town , and as an older man, I tried to change my family. Now, as an old man, I realize the only thing I can change is myself, and suddenly I realized that if long ago I had changed myself, I could have made an impact on my family. My family and I could have made an impact on our town. Their impact could have changed the nation and I could have indeed changed the world.
I've never had any grandiose plans to change the world, but I've always wanted the world to change--to be better. I don't advocate the kind of holier-than-thou collective introspection (a contradiction in terms) that liberal politicians advocate when there is a tragedy, an attempt to implicate those who had nothing to do with whatever horrific event happened. However, I think that introspection can be fruitful in helping us have a better understanding of our vice and our flaws, but also our passions and our strengths. How can we get rid of our vices and mitigate our flaws? How can we grow our strengths?  How can recognize our passion and turn that passion into action? What can we change in ourselves to have an impact on our families leading to that ripple effect that changes the world?

There is more than just acting upon a passion.We have to remain firm in our principles that are the foundation for that passion. If one of your passions is your faith, in a fallen world, you will face adversity if you stand firm. If one of your passions is service to others--the poor, children, the elderly-- you may face distractions from life's busyness. If one of your passions is politics, you may face the temptation of compromising your ideological principles for the sake of politics. Despite adversity, distraction or temptation, remain strong in your conviction to change yourself to in turn, impact the world around you. Susan B. Anthony, no stranger to principled passion nor adversity, once said:
"Cautious, careful people, always casting about to preserve their reputation and social standing, never can bring about a reform. Those who are really in earnest must be willing to be anything or nothing in the world's estimation, and publicly and privately, in season and out, avow their sympathy with despised and persecuted ideas and their advocates, and bear the consequences."
Reputation and social standing are fleeting, but principled passion is long lasting. Which is more important? A fleeting social status in an every changing world or rock solid principled passion that changes the world? My flaws and vices are numerous and my passion is too often hidden by timidity, but they aren't too numerous for a faithful God to overcome in my life.  As 2012 transitions into 2013, I'd like to prayerfully resolve myself to a perpetual resolution (that knows no calendar) of principled passion, eschewing timidity and embracing assertive confidence.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

New Year's Resolutions for the Permanent Political Class

Every year at this time, many of us make resolutions for the upcoming new year. We resolve to lose weight, quit smoking, exercise more, spend money more wisely, spend more time with our families etc. The common thread in all of these resolutions is that we are resolving to reform something about ourselves personally.  Meanwhile,when government sets out to reform something, it is very rarely a resolution to change something about themselves as elected officials. More often than not, their reforms are aimed about changing something about us "ordinary folks", our relationship to government, or how government spends our money. The word--reform--is generally just a euphemism for government expanding, liberty shrinking legislation. We hear of health reform, immigration reform, tax reform, entitlement reform and all kinds of other reforms, all aimed at changing us as individuals, as taxpayers, and/or as business owners. In essence, these reforms are all variations of "constituent reform". To be sure, much of this reform is needed, but most of the time, this is largely because of government mismanagement, (e.g. entitlement reform). Very rarely will government officials resolve to reform anything about themselves as a matter of policy or legislation.

We only need to look to the news of this past week to see the lack of personal reform and the overwhelming projection of "constituent reform" in our governmental officials. Senator Diane Feinstein proposed a gun control bill that would ban many types of guns, including handguns while she works in a building protected by armed security. In other words, her legislation would enable her to remain protected while us "ordinary folks" would be limited in our methods of protection. In the midst of "fiscal cliff" discussions where President Obama urged Congress to act like "ordinary folks" who do their jobs and meet deadlines,  he issued an executive order that gave pay increases to Vice President Biden, Congress, and some federal workers. "Ordinary folks" don't give or receive even small pay increases during times tough fiscal times, but that was what President Obama did for politicians who are not doing their jobs. (Ironically, the details of this pay raise are found on a government people's money) This kind of behavior is commonplace is government. Politicians create a different set of rules for themselves than they do for "ordinary folks"--be it in the right bear arms to protect one's family or in increases in their salaries while simultaneously discussing confiscating more money from our paychecks.

Very rarely are there politicians who seek to engage in political reform and promote a form of populism that views government largess and political privilege as the villain rather than business or the free market. Sarah Palin took a pay cut as mayor, rejected a pay raise as governor, passed ethics reform aimed at the legislature, executive branch and lobbying among a myriad of other policy reforms and personal populist decisions. Retiring Illinois Congressman  Tim Johnson was one of the first sponsors of the STOCK Act in 2006 aimed at making insider trading by Congress illegal, years before the practice was put under the spotlight by writer Peter Schweizer. Senator Rand Paul once returned half a million dollars in unspent funds (taxpayer money) budgeted for his office. These are a few examples and are all important steps indicating a broader vision about government's relationship to its constituents.

As part of that larger vision of government, I'd like to propose a few new year's resolutions for our government. First, reform yourselves. Don't require your constituents to live under regulations that you are exempt from or give yourselves special privileges that your constituents cannot access. Do your "fair share" (as much as I loathe that phrase) by refusing to accept a pay increase while inflation, tax increases, and regulation shrink the incomes of your constituents. Don't propose legislation without competitive bidding that only provides an avenue for cronyism, waste, and bloated contracts.  Stop giving subsidies, loans, grants, and special deals to your political donors. These are the kinds of political practice that have led to 5 of the 10 wealthiest counties being in the Washington DC metropolitan area.  Government can also take a cue from the resolutions set by us "ordinary folks"--lose weight. Our government is fiscally obese. Most proposed spending cuts are not actual cuts. When legislators propose slowing government spending rather than legitimately cutting it, it's essentially the same as if an "ordinary folk" resolved to gain less weight than last year, rather than resolving to actually losing weight. So, politicians, cut the crap, cut the fat, and sing Auld Lang Syne, just like us "ordinary folk" resolving to reform yourselves, not project reform on your constituents.

Crossposted here and here.

Monday, December 17, 2012

The Seeds and the Fruit:When Government Becomes God

"At its most basic level conservatism is a respect for history and tradition, including traditional moral principles. I do not believer that I am more moral, certainly no better, than anyone else, and conservatives who act "holier than thou" turn my stomach. So do some elite liberals. But I do believe in a few timeless and unchanging truths, among those is that man is fallen. This world is not perfect, and politicians will never make it so. This, above all, is what informs my pragmatic approach to politics. 
We don't trust utopian promises from politicians. The role of government is not to perfect us, but to protect us--to protect our inalienable rights. The role of government in a civil society is to protect the individual and to establish a social contract so that we can live together in peace." 
--Governor Sarah Palin 
Going Rogue page 385-386 (emphasis added)
Following the horrific and ineffably saddening shooting at an elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut on Friday, "gun control" advocates have redoubled their calls for stricter "gun control" laws  This is a part of a larger liberal pattern--governmental control leading to "perfection" of a fallen citizenry. As obesity rates rise, liberals call for governmental bans on soda, sugary foods, and salt. When there are above average temperatures, liberals call for government imposed carbon taxes and increased regulations to help curb what they see as anthropogenic global warming. When an individual makes a lot of money, liberals assume greed of the wealthy punishable with increased taxation. In other words, liberals believe government's role is to "perfect" us--to try to mold their constituents into their version of "perfect".

The idea that government can "perfect" us stems from an ideology that looks at problems from the perspective of fruit, rather than the seed. For liberals, the gun is the problem, not the hatred in someone's heart, which is the real seed of violence. The unhealthy food itself is the problem, not the seed of an individual's lack of self-control or poor understanding of healthy living that contributes to obesity. To the liberal, the solution for "global warming" is envirostatism-- essentially a punishment for carbon consumption.  The liberal solution for the problem of the "greed" of the rich is to confiscate and redistribute what they earn, so the wealthy are punished for greed they may or may not have in their heart. In essence, to the liberal, government is god--capable of casting judgment and punishing "wrongdoing".

Conservatives look at problems from the perspective of the seed. A seed of hatred can drive someone to murder regardless of whether their weapon of choice is a gun, a knife, or their own two hands. A seed of a lack of personal responsibility can lead to behaviors that contribute to unhealthy weight.A conservative rejects the arrogance that we have the power to affect the climate, but still recognizes the value of being good stewards of the natural resources to which we have access.The conservative believes that the seed of greed is capable of growing in wealthy or poor soil, and it is up to the individual to plant or not to plant it. Conservatives believe that God is God, and government is not. The government is not responsible for creating their own value system so that they can punish those who reject their system.

When government becomes god, the true God gets pushed to the margin and personal responsibility is cast as an archaic idea. I am not an advocate for using the Bible as a political science manual. Rather, the Bible is God's inspired word intended to tell the story of God's grace and faithfulness, guide Christians how to live their lives, and show churches how to function. However, our society's rejection of those guiding words has enabled our electorate and subsequently our elected officials, to turn government into god, serving as both moral arbiter and provider. The Bible advocates sowing the seeds of love not hatred, personal responsibility not blame casting, stewardship not negligence, and generosity not greed. The recent seeds our society has planted has yielded a bad crop of fruit. Only when our society and our government realizes that we are planting the wrong seeds will our crop improve. This only happens when we let God reign, and government takes its proper place as what Thomas Paine called, "but a necessary evil".

Crossposted here and here.

Monday, December 3, 2012

The Fiscal Cliff--Compromising Our Founding Principles and Holding Hostage Our Future

As Democrats and Republicans discuss the media declared "fiscal cliff", there has been seemingly more rhetoric than ideas and more focus on political expediency than on principle. In other words, it's business as usual in Washington. Words such as "compromise" and "hostage" seem to be part of any press conference or speech surrounding the debate. Each party indicates a need for the other party to "compromise" so that a certain group, such as the middle class, is not held "hostage" by the other party's lack of "compromise". The fiscal cliff and the debate surrounding "compromise" and "hostage" holding are not static in our current political debate. Governor Palin was right when she noted last week that we've already reached the fiscal cliff, but what remains to be seen is how hard we're going to fall at the bottom.  The actual compromise is not a potential one between Republicans and Democrats, but the compromise that decades and decades of politicians of both parties have made with our Founding principles. Those who are held hostage are not solely the constituents of the present, but also future generations who will have to pay for the fiscal failures of the past and the present.

 The  media declared, nebulous "fiscal cliff" includes the potential tax increases that would occur if the Bush tax cuts were to expire and the large across the board cuts that would be enacted if sequestration was to occur. If no "deal" is reached, then the combination of tax increases and budget cuts are anticipated by some to exacerbate an already bad economy. In reality, as Governor Palin noted, our nation has already gone over the cliff because of burgeoning deficits contributing to a massive national debt. This is not because of inadequate taxation, but because of big government and poor monetary policy.

Spending has gone up immensely over the past three decades specifically. Per capita spending has gone from  just over $6,000 a year at the beginning of the Carter administration to nearly $12, 000 a year currently. Per capita spending stayed fairly constant at about $8,000 per person through the second part of President Reagan's tenure through President Clinton's time in office before increasing again during President Bush's tenure, as shown below in this graph posted at Reason. com:

The Bush and Obama administrations consistently have spent more than 20% of GDP, which was a rare occurrence in the previous fifty years. Under President Obama, there have been four straight years of more than a trillion dollar deficits, which has lead to his tenure generating more debt than the tenures of the first 41 president (George Washington through George H.W. Bush) combined. Additionally, President Obama has supported quantitative easing stimuli, which have devalued the dollar and negatively affected  both employment and interest rates. While President George W. Bush may have engaged in some pretty extreme "fiscal cliff" diving, Barack Obama has made Felix Baumgartner  seem like a risk averse wimp with the astronomic levels he has gone to in his"fiscal cliff" diving. All of this has lead to the current situation where leaders are trying to determine if our continued fall will include tax increases, mandatory spending cuts, increased borrowing or any combination of the three.

This spending has brought policymakers to a point where charged rhetoric is uttered more frequently than  actual solutions. The word "compromise" is thrown around frequently, which generally means that one party think the other party should abandon their principles to capitulate to them. However, the real "compromise" is one that leaders of both parties have made with our Founding principles of limited government and Founding documents like the Constitution.They all have sworn to uphold the precious document only to treat it as a disposable paper towel when they get in office. They  have compromised their oath for the sake of political expediency. President Obama has indicated that he wants complete authority to raise the debt ceiling  as part of a  "fiscal cliff" deal, which minority leader Nancy Pelosi supports as well. However, the Constitution clearly states that Congress holds the authority to borrow money, not the President. The power of the purse lies with Congress, be it to spend or borrow, yet our leaders continue to try to twist the branches of government where one branch can assume the role of the other and the balance of power becomes moved from its fulcrum.

Additionally, President Washington noted in his farewell address that borrowing money was to be done sparingly and generally only in times of unavoidable wars (emphasis added):
As a very important source of strength and security, cherish public credit. One method of preserving it is to use it as sparingly as possible: avoiding occasions of expense by cultivating peace, but remembering also that timely disbursements to prepare for danger frequently prevent much greater disbursements to repel it; avoiding likewise the accumulation of debt, not only by shunning occasions of expense, but by vigorous exertions in time of peace to discharge the debts which unavoidable wars may have occasioned, not ungenerously throwing upon posterity the burden which we ourselves ought to bear.
President Washington understood something that our recent and current leadership has ignored--who is really held hostage by the political decisions of today--future generations. Today's politicians act primarily out of political expediency recognizing that if they can make the other party seem like a hostage taker to a certain segment of the population, then it helps them politically. However, the hostage is not solely the current taxpayer, but future generations who will be paying for the fiscal failures and bloated government of past and present politicians. As Margaret Thatcher famously noted eventually you run out of other people's money. If debt continues to accrue and the dollar continues to devalue, future generations will have to pay the ransom for their own pre-determined capture.

G.K Chesterston once noted of political compromise, “[c]ompromise used to mean that half a loaf was better than no bread. Among modern statesmen it really seems to mean that half a loaf is better than a whole loaf.” Whatever compromise (or capitulation) Democrats and Republicans come to (if they do), the check for the half loaf will ultimately be sent to future generations held fiscally hostage by the compromised leadership of our recent past and our present. We can only pray that someday our leaders will look to Thomas Paine's words as they make decisions, as Paine said, "if there must be trouble, let it be in my day, that my children may have peace".

Crossposted here and here.