It's liberals versus the rest
The prevailing notion — and conservatives fall for it, too — is that on one side of the ideological spectrum, you’ll find liberalism, on the direct opposite, conservatism, and directly in the middle is the mainstream of American thought. On the contrary, there is but one extreme in American thought, and that is liberalism.
Recently, a caller to a radio talk show opined that all effective leaders govern from the center. Liberals and conservatives both rouse their bases, lending a pep talk when needed, but even President Obama knows that leadership requires maneuvering from the middle. The caller’s ultimate model, however, was Bill Clinton.
The caller is correct — President Clinton recovered after his party was crushed in the 1994 mid-terms, and he took a giant step to the center (some would argue that he was dragged). Late in his presidency he even boldly declared that the era of big government was over. President Clinton, whether he believed his own words or not, saw the writing on the wall. Republicans, on the other hand, who cling to the center, including John McCain, Bob Dole, both Presidents Bush and numerous others, ultimately banish the GOP to the minority column. Funny how that works.
Whenever liberalism appears victorious, as in 2008, the likes of James Carville inform us that Republicans should prepare for at least 40 years in the political wilderness. With the ascendency of the Tea Party and the 2010 mid-terms, predictably, came word that sides and labels don’t matter, after all. A new group, No Labels, was founded upon that dreary, uninspiring notion and has excited about as many Americans as the Oprah Winfrey Network.
So, eschewing sides usually means that one side, liberalism, is losing. Therefore, if my side is bad, then both sides are bad, so let’s call it a draw. An interviewee on a recent CNN feature on job creation noted that the relevant argument of the day is not small government versus big government but rather SMART government. A vague concept, one that could conceivably work. On the other hand, does the free market demand more streamlined and efficient statism? Are we talking principle here or degree?
Typically, liberalism does well diluting itself and adopting the protective coloration of mainstream thought. According to a recent Gallup poll, 41 percent of respondents identify themselves as conservative, compared to just 21 percent liberal. Granted, poll numbers and trends remain fickle barometers of public thought, but it is liberalism that has been butting heads with the mainstream for at least 40 years.
Even conceding proper stances on civil rights, worker and child protection, etc., liberalism has been seeking to right America, not through our own corrective principles outlined in the Constitution and other founding documents, but through “transformation” and building “new foundations.”
In April 2009, President Obama delivered what is now known as his “New Foundation” address at George Washington University. Transformation has been a dominant theme of his political life, and he said that we need to become a nation where we “save and invest, where we consume less at home and send more exports abroad.” Consume less? What are you willing to give up, Mr. President? Recently, in his insistence on higher taxes on the rich, he declared, “at a certain point, you made enough money.”
Conservatives are far less likely to impose limits on earning and consumption, but liberals recoil, like a vampire from a cross, from the crass, consumption-based lifestyles of ordinary Americans. Liberals have battled Wal-Mart, SUVs, flush toilets, light bulbs, oil exploration in the most God-forsaken outreaches of the country, Happy Meals, Oreos, federal recognition of the Boy Scouts, etc. A few nutjobs on the right notwithstanding, liberals will state, with even more conviction in their unguarded moments, their extreme views (such as candidate Obama’s opinion of Americans clinging to guns and religion) and goals for social transformation (raise your hand if you’ve ever been told that communist Cuba has a superior health care system).
Conservatives and Tea Partiers are rallying for fiscal sanity and Constitutional government. Radical stuff. While those principles are open to debate and discussion, they do not qualify as extreme. The predominantly liberal political-media culture tends to marginalize thought it doesn’t like.
Americans may not always vote conservative, but it doesn’t take an ideological litmus test to locate the nether regions of political thought. Common sense and everyday values will do. Whenever such all-American ideals as success and a fully-stacked pantry are stigmatized, we all know it is liberals wagging their fingers.
Obama-style Democracy: Bureaucrats know best
Most Americans complain that government is unresponsive to their wishes. But not everyone feels that way. In the space of two days, two prominent Democrats have called for less responsive government that ignores public input.
One of them, former White House Budget Director Peter Orszag, penned a piece this week in the New Republic arguing, as the title says, "Why we need less democracy." Orszag wrote that "the country's political polarization was growing worse -- harming Washington's ability to do the basic, necessary work of governing." His solution? "[W]e need to minimize the harm from legislative inertia by relying more on automatic policies and depoliticized commissions for certain policy decisions. In other words, radical as it sounds, we need to counter the gridlock of our political institutions by making them a bit less democratic."
Orszag's view is typical of Obama White House alumni. Last year, former auto czar Steve Rattner wrote in his book, "Overhaul," "Either Congress needs to get its act together or we should explore alternatives. ... If our country wants to do a better job of solving its problems, it needs to find a way to let talented government officials operate more like they do in the private sector." True to the founding ideals of the progressive movement, both men are suggesting that enlightened technocrats who know best should be allowed to operate the federal government independent of popular will.
Perhaps know-it-all bureaucrats can be forgiven for harboring such contempt for the voting public. But elected officials cannot. That's why similar comments by Gov. Bev Perdue, D-N.C., are far more troubling. "I think we ought to suspend, perhaps, elections for Congress for two years and just tell them we won't hold it against them, whatever decisions they make, to just let them help this country recover," Perdue told a Rotary Club gathering in suburban Raleigh this week. "I really hope that someone can agree with me on that."
Perdue's office at first claimed her comments were made in jest. The subsequent release of the audio conclusively demonstrates otherwise.
The federal government's legitimacy is based upon the consent of the governed. This nation's Founding Fathers would have had it no other way. Given Perdue's apparent disdain for the American constitutional system, she might be more comfortable in the private sector, where hierarchical management is the rule. And the voters in her state should remind her next November who's the boss.
The Feds Criminalize Ordinary Life
The overproliferation of federal criminal laws and regulations (the U.S. system was designed to keep most criminal statutes at the state and local level), combined with the extreme weakening of mens rea requirements, now means that ordinary Americans on average commit 'three felonies a day.'
Finally, some front-page attention to a major, and frightening, American problem!
Tuesday’s Wall Street Journal featured an in-depth look at how federal laws increasingly apply criminal penalties for violations involving no mens rea, roughly translated as a “guilty mind.” The stricture against criminal penalties for unwitting violations is an age-old, bedrock legal principle. Alas, in today’s dangerously armed, bureaucratic super-state, ancient legal principles go by the wayside when politicians pretend to be “tough on crime” and when officious civil “servants” indulge their fetishes for power.
U.S. governments at every level these days are prone to “overcriminalization,” which means turning ordinary activity into violations of the law, turning what should be civil violations into criminal ones, and applying penalties far harsher than should be warranted.
On the mens rea front, the Journal explains: “In recent decades, Congress has repeatedly crafted laws that weaken or disregard the notion of criminal intent. Today not only are there thousands more criminal laws than before, but it is easier to fall afoul of them…. Today, there are an estimated 4,500 crimes in federal statutes, plus thousands more embedded in federal regulations.”
The Journal highlighted the case of Wade Martin, who legally hunted sea otters but then sold them to a person not qualified to buy them (Martin says he thought the buyer was legal). Another man was charged with illegal ownership of a firearm for keeping a single bullet (no gun) in a box in his room. Yet another, Robert Eldridge, accidentally caught a humpback whale in his fishing net, took care to free the whale, but was unable to remove about 30 feet of netting from the whale’s body. He was criminally charged because he failed to contact authorities to find a trained rescuer to finish removing the net.
These stories are just a microcosm of the problem. In 2010 I contributed a single chapter to the Heritage Foundation book, One Nation Under Arrest: How Crazy Laws, Rogue Prosecutors and Activist Judges Threaten Your Liberty. I wrote of how Krister Evertson, an inventor trying to produce an environmentally friendly fuel cell, was first arrested for putting the wrong label on an otherwise perfectly legal mailing package – and then imprisoned for improperly “disposing” of an environmental hazard that he had not actually disposed of and that was stored in a non-hazardous fashion.
Other horror stories in the book included that of a 71-year-old imprisoned for importing otherwise legal orchids without proper paperwork, the honor student arrested for having a “weapon” on school grounds (while she moved into her own apartment, a kitchen knife had fallen behind the seat of a car she then parked on campus), the grandmother arrested because her bushes were too high and the seafood importer imprisoned for eight years because he packed lobster tails in plastic instead of cardboard.
The orchid and lobster cases involved violations of one of the most idiotic laws imaginable, the Lacey Act, aimed against “trafficking” in wildlife and plants in ways that – get this – violate not U.S. laws but the laws of foreign nations. This is the same law being used, and abused, by the crypto-criminal conspiracy known as the Obama/Holder Justice Department to conduct the now-infamous raid on Tennessee’s Gibson Guitar factory.
More often than not, these arrests are carried out by gun-wielding thugs in uniform, with the alleged violators treated like murderous madmen rather than ordinary citizens with weak record-keeping skills. Who knew, after all, that even the Small Business Administration and the Railroad Retirement Board need armed agents? That’s at the federal level. At the local level, oft-poorly-trained SWAT teams proliferate unnecessarily, leading to far too many stories like the notorious one of the small-town Maryland mayor whose dogs were killed and family abused in a mistaken drug raid.
The overproliferation of federal criminal laws and regulations (the U.S. system was designed to keep most criminal statutes at the state and local level), combined with the extreme weakening of mens rea requirements, now means that ordinary Americans on average commit “three felonies a day.” That is the conclusion of noted lawyer Harvey Silverglate, whose 2009 book of that title makes the point that all of us, without ill intent, act in our everyday lives in numerous ways that are “potentially criminal.”
Ordinary life should not be treated as a criminal conspiracy.
Former U.S. attorney generals Ed Meese and Richard Thornburgh asked Congress last winter merely to ensure that any bills carrying criminal penalties be referred to the Judiciary Committee for review. To their great discredit, the House GOP leadership failed to adopt such a rule.
In truth, Congress should do far more. It should undertake a comprehensive review of the federal criminal code – and perform some radical liposuction on it.
How Wilson Greatbatch 'Gave Back'
He invented the pacemaker. Wasn't he a benefactor of humanity even before he paid his taxes?
Wilson Greatbatch, 92, died this week a wealthy man. Investing $2,000 of his own money way back in 1958 and tending a garden to feed his family, Greatbatch invented the pacemaker. He licensed it to Medtronic, a company now valued at $36 billion that sells and continues to improve pacemakers and defibrillators. Greatbatch did his part to improve society, create wealth and increase, quite literally, our standard of living. But apparently that's not enough. President Obama suggested under a Cincinnati bridge this month that "if you've done well . . . then you should do a little something to give something back."
Give something back? Greatbatch did well specifically because he provided something that society needed. His and Medtronic's profits are what you and I are willing to pay above costs for these life-enhancing devices. This is true of Apple iPhones and Genentech Herceptin and Google Maps and Facebook Likes.
Ever since the mid-19th-century era of so-called Robber Barons, this country has had a philosophical divide over the role of business in a democracy. It's time to set the record straight.
History has proven that the road to increased standards of living and wealth was built on productivity—doing more with less. It was the Industrial Revolution that got us out of the growing fields and into factories, which allowed us to pay for roads and teachers and civil servants. And now the move out of factories into air-conditioned offices is creating anxiety. It shouldn't. Labor replacement is productivity. James Spangler's vacuum cleaner. The Walker brothers' dishwasher. Clarence Birdseye's flash freezing. DuPont's Kevlar. And John Simpson's guidewire catheter for angioplasty and heart stents—the list goes on. Each invention generated wealth because it improved our lives, not because someone "gave back."
Aside from outsized government-assisted profits (think telecom, asbestos removal and Derek Jeter), it is the delivery of these productive goods and services that increases our wealth. The inventors get wealthy but society gets wealthier. No forced giveback needed.
Steve Jobs gets taken to task for his lack of visible charitable giving—"no hospital wing or an academic building with his name on it," wrote the New York Times's Andrew Ross Sorkin recently. Never mind how much more productive and wealthy we all are because of Apple. Jeez. The old "I already gave at the office" has never rung truer. And don't get me wrong—I'm all for charity. I give, but those who collect it and spend it need to appreciate both where the money comes from in the first place and that they can never match the power of free enterprise to improve lives. Never.
Sorry, but the egg comes first. The welfare state doesn't exist without productive businesses and workers to pay for it. Yes, we need bridge builders, park rangers and even a few postal workers, but our economic policies need to encourage wealth-creating productive industries, not crush them with the burden of an unproductive state.
According to a 2004 MIT study, a modern worker needs to work 11 hours to produce as much as someone in 1950 working a 40-hour week. In other words, we could have knocked 30 minutes off the average work week every year since 1950 and still maintained our 1950 standard of living. But of course we don't run in place. Who wants black and white TV? And no Boeing jets? Nor do we want to be stuck in 1970 with three TV stations, or 1990 with 386 PCs, or even 2010 with the mere iPhone 3GS. So we work constantly to increase our living standards.
The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is spending billions to eradicate malaria and other diseases in Third World countries. I admire their work and hope they succeed. But note that Bill Gates's fortune came from Microsoft, whose software has done more to help bring Third World countries out of poverty than any charitable or government program.
Google founders Larry Page and Sergei Brin have saved all of us hundreds of billions of hours of research and driving around, far more value than their $20 billion each in wealth. They can give to whatever alternate energy project they want and it won't match the wealth they have already created for me and you. Same for Jeff Bezos at Amazon and the founders of Facebook and Twitter and LinkedIn and the rest. Will we soon disparage these Robber Geeks?
It's inevitable but wrong. Because they, like Wilson Greatbatch, have done their part to create wealth for society by inventing and being in business and investing their profits into even more productive products and services. That's "giving back." Taxes and charity are just gravy.
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The Big Lie of the late 20th century was that Nazism was Rightist. It was in fact typical of the Leftism of its day. It was only to the Right of Stalin's Communism. The very word "Nazi" is a German abbreviation for "National Socialist" (Nationalsozialist) and the full name of Hitler's political party (translated) was "The National Socialist German Workers' Party" (In German: Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei)