Single Payer: Harry Reid Admits the Truth

congressmenWhy not start by scanning the attached photograph of prominent Democrat leadership? It includes from left to right, Pres. Barack Obama, Sen. Harry Reid, and Rep. Nancy Pelosi as they proclaim their commitment to “honest leadership and open government.” Now perhaps you’ll allow me to engage in some light-hearted, linguistic detective work.

According to the good folks at one popular online dictionary, the definition of “honest” includes not only the intention of being honorable, but also the practice of being genuine, sincere, and frank.  “Open” is defined, in part, as having interior intentions immediately accessible, free from obstruction.  I don’t intend to put words into the mouths of the online editors, but I believe it’s reasonable to suggest that “honest leadership and open government,” as a slogan, must clearly suggest that the leaders in question deal with the public in a way that is forthright: in other words, honest leaders speak truthfully. Listening to the electorate, they work in a way that is clear, without guile, and following a path that is not clouded by falsehoods and partial truths.  One might assume that “open government” means that voters can clearly see and understand the goals toward which governmental leaders are working.

To go one step further in our detective work, let’s take a look at the White House webpage concerning the so-called “Open Government Initiative.” That webpage is still accessible despite the government “shutdown.” Political regimes rarely shut down the organs of their propaganda, so while all sorts of other government websites have been curtailed at this time, mediums that pound the public with acceptable program messages continue to run. No use wasting a crisis, especially when it’s a crisis that has been manufactured for maximum political capital.

Note the emphasis on the said webpage dedicated to open government. According to the direct quotation from President Obama, we are in for quite a treat: nothing less than an “unprecedented level of openness in Government” (the capital “G” isn’t my idea–that’s how it’s done on the website, just like the capital “G” in “God”). The page is marked with another lovely idea about government: transparency.

I like the idea of honesty, openness, and transparency–especially in government. But I wonder what happened back in 2009 and 2010 when so many constitutionalists like me were engaged in debate with supporters of the so-called Affordable Care Act (ACA), Obamacare. From nearly the beginning, I argued that the intention of this law was to move us firmly and energetically toward a single-payer health system where the federal government is responsible for the healthcare of all citizens. To review my posts on the subject, click “Healthcare” on the categories list to the right. Those of us who pointed out this fact were called by the vilest of names. They said we were out of touch, we were misrepresenting the facts, we had no clue. When I and others insisted that the long-term intention of Obamacare was to so debilitate the free market so that the only remaining option would be single-payer, we were called conspiracy nuts and fringe lunatics.

Remember those days? I hope so, because Harry Reid has confirmed that we were correct. You haven’t heard about that in the “mainstream” press, have you? It happened in early August. Reid was back in his home state of Nevada during the congressional recess. As reported by the Las Vegas Sun, the shifty senator finally revealed the truth that inspired him and the Democrat majority during the debate over healthcare. Not surprisingly, he made his comments on a PBS program known as Nevada Week in Review. It must surely have delighted his viewers.

In the interview Reid made it clear that the new healthcare exchanges are only temporary. Like public opposition to the healthcare bill itself, the exchanges are something that he said “we must work our way past.”  As it presently exists, Obamacare is simply “a step in the right direction.” It won’t work forever, he said, so we’ll need something more. When questioned by a panelist on the PBS show about whether that meant the country must abandon the free-market health insurance model, Reid was emphatic: “Yes, yes. Absolutely, yes.” He then went on to make it clear that he knew the single-payer system was too unpopular in 2009 and 2010. An intermediate step was necessary.

In others words, dear reader, the Democrat leadership, while falsely claiming to be “honest” and “open,” played loose with the truth. While calling everyone else liars they themselves engaged in a full-court press of misrepresentation and falsehood. In short, we’ve been had. And I’m sure they justified it to themselves by saying that they were giving us what’s best–even against our wills. Some of us saw it for what it was at the time. Now we are vindicated by none other than the two-tongued senior senator from Nevada.

What other misrepresentations were made knowingly? What other falsehoods were foisted upon us? How many other times were truth-tellers labeled as extremists and out-of-touch partisans? How much further will US politics deteriorate before we realize that the liars are the ones pointing out everyone else and accusing them of lying?

We were told in the healthcare debate that abortions would not be covered by taxpayer funding. To guarantee this, the Stupak-Pitts Amendment was introduced but did not become part of the ACA when Pres. Obama promised an executive order to prevent such funding. Yet an accounting gimmick now makes it inevitable that abortions will be covered. You may remember that Rep. Joe Wilson (R-SC) was roundly condemned for yelling “You lie!” when Obama insisted that ACA funds would not be used for illegal immigrants. Now we learn that ACA funds are being targeted toward centers that routinely deal with migrant workers but those centers do not check immigration status. The list goes on and on. We were told that we will be able to keep our current coverage (Obamacare is quickly demonstrating the falsehood of that statement in more and more situations). We were told that the law would be universal in scope. Not so.  Obama is granting exemptions to businesses and the political class–but not to individuals.

In short, the Obamacare we have today is not the Obamacare that was passed in 2010. It’s a moving target with exemptions and changing provisions accomplished by way of excessive power entrusted to the US presidency. It’s a frightening reality that is about to hit the American people in their wallets and pocketbooks harder than any previous legislation in history. As fast as lies are exposed new ones are manufactured. It’s enough to dizzy a circus clown, or to make him cry.

If you want to know what healthcare is going to look like in America in the near future, chat with your friends who are doctors, insurance agents, and investors. Ask what they are doing to protect themselves, their careers, and their families. To pay for Obamacare (which will necessarily become even more expensive than expected because of its creeping scope), government will be reaching even further into our wallets. The talk among the liberal political class in DC already suggests that they are planning to go after retirement funds and even the cash value of life-insurance policies. And why not? We’ve turned our fears about health into a massive federal system that monitors our personal data, combines our bank accounts and health accounts with real-time government access and uses the Internal Revenue Service to enforce its requirements.

Government is a beast forever hungry. Like an addict who will say anything to get another fix, the elected elite continue to smile and to deny what we so often know to be their true intentions. With ruthless efficiency and the determined cooperation of the mainstream press, the Democrat party has raised this practice nearly to the level of art. Machiavelli or Rasputin would be proud. They are both laughing in their graves. I can hear their side-splitting cackles. Honest leadership? Open government? Sure thing … sure thing ….

The Startling Hypocrisy of Sen. Harry Reid

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Oh! what a tangled web we weave 
When first we practice to deceive! 

Those immortal words were penned by Sir Walter Scott, the 19th-century Scottish poet and playwright.  As I watched Harry Reid stammer and stutter last night on the evening news, they came to my mind.  It seems that the tangled web of Harry’s political deceit enveloped him tightly as he struggled to deny the truth that slapped him aside his senatorial head.

Let’s set the scene.  As all the nation must know by now, the Republican-controlled House of Representatives is locked in a bitter debate with the Democrat-controlled Senate. Constitutionally speaking, the funding of federal spending is a prerogative of the House. Republicans are keen to defund the supposedly “Affordable” Care Act (ACA), also known as Obamacare.  (Low-information voters may not realize it, but the ACA and Obamacare are the same thing.)  Democrats in the Senate are refusing to consider any bill sent to them from the House that doesn’t fund the new healthcare law.  Eager to avoid the appearance of being ogres and haters of the needy, Republicans are sending over bite-sized pieces of legislation to fund particular portions of the federal government–while still holding the line on their refusal to pay for Obamacare.

Got it?  Both sides are playing the political game known as “Washington Song and Dance.” The nation is split right down the middle on this issue.  Don’t let either side fool you otherwise.  What should be done when a nation is divided and when its federal representatives are also divided?  The Constitution actually provides for that.  We are seeing in in the halls of Congress at this very moment.

The stalemate in DC is a good thing.  It’s a product of constitutional checks and balances.  A poorly-designed law was rushed through Congress and is now being implemented.  It wasn’t studied adequately or even read by many of those who voted for it with enthusiasm.  Citizens are torn over its provisions and their disgust is rising as the administration of Pres. Barack Obama gives exemptions to big labor as well as the staffers of big government.

The Democrats and their supporters in the “mainstream” media are painting the Republicans and the Tea Party as extremists and anarchists.  They complain about the refusal to compromise.  Yet all the while, there is no offer of compromise from the Democrats.  It became painfully obvious yesterday how foul a game is being played by Harry Reid and Senate Democrats under his command.

Folks, I have no pretensions here.  I’m not a Republican or a Democrat.  And I’m not happy with either of the major parties in DC.  That’s why I’ve returned to the Libertarian party.  But I’m entirely disgruntled by the fact that Harry Reid is acting so contemptuous and morally outraged and that he’s pointing a finger at the Republicans as if he himself is not to blame.  I’m tired of being told that Democrats care more about the poor and the elderly and that they are “the party of the people.”  I’m also tired of hearing so many of my fellow Christians wrongly think that the Democrat party is more charitable than the Republican party.  Certainly that is the national political mythology.  Many have bought into it with abandon–especially among the media.

Here’s the bottom line:  it’s not true.  Harry Reid proved it yesterday.  Record the date:  Wednesday, October 2, 2013.  He was being questioned by a reporter from CNN (not Fox–CNN).  Her name is Dana Bash and she had an urgent question for Sen. Reid concerning funding for the National Institutes of Health.  She reported to the sidestepping senator that children with cancer were being turned away from NIH clinical trials due to the federal shutdown.  Of course, Reid is eager to blame the nasty Republicans in the House of Representatives for this unfortunate reality.

Not so fast, Harry.  Dana Bash decided not to let him off the hook.  She made him squirm. Oh, goodness, how she made him squirm.  She informed the senator that the House was sending to the Senate a continuing resolution (CR) to fund the NIH cancer trials, and that this CR was coming with absolutely no strings attached.  After all, Democrats love children and the elderly.  They are not as cruel and as politically-minded as Republicans. Democrats are reasonable.  They are the party of the people.  They always put children first.  So goes the mythology.

So what did the fine senator say?  Simple enough.  He showed us his true political colors. He doesn’t care about children with cancer.  He cares about power.  He cares about winning.  The reporter pressed him and challenged him.  “If you can help one child with cancer,” she asked, “why wouldn’t you do it?”

Harry’s answer speaks for itself:  “Why would we want to do that?”

Over at the Atlantic Wire they are taking up for Sen. Reid with a bold headline:  “Come on, No.  Harry Reid Doesn’t Hate Kids with Cancer.”  If you want both sides of this debate, I encourage you to read the article.  Reid’s comments are placed in their fuller context.  I’m nothing if not fair.  Nonetheless, let’s try to keep our focus.  The question at hand has nothing to do with whether or not Harry Reid hates children with cancer.  The question is whether he will allow those children to die in order to gain political capital.  Perhaps he and the rest of the Senate leadership qualify as Obamacare’s first death panel.

Both sides are playing political games.  Neither side has clean hands, but one side is playing particularly dirty.  For my money, it’s the Democrats.  Why is their game so much worse?  Because it’s not just politics as usual.  It’s nasty politics pretending to be objective morality.  It’s akin to the divine right of kings claimed by tyrants throughout all of history. It disgusts me.  It should disgust you, too.

The Truth About Truth

Time Saving Truth From Falsehood and Envy, by Francois Lemoyne (1737)

Time Saving Truth From Falsehood and Envy, by Francois Lemoyne (1737); in retrospect, perhaps it’s a bit of political irony that the day after completing this piece, the artist tragically committed suicide

Last night, while channel surfing, I happened upon a documentary about the flooding of Venice, Italy. According to one city official interviewed on the program, about 100 times a year the tide rises higher than normal and floods the city. The waters of Venice are beautiful when they stay in their canals, but troublesome when they visit themselves upon homes, businesses, and historic cathedrals. Never mind that the Venetians have had problems with their lagoon for centuries or that their city rests atop wood pilings. The producers of this video claimed to know the cause and they proclaimed it passionately. Venice is undoubtedly flooding, they said, because of anthropogenic (human-caused) global warming. It’s worse than that, however. In their own words, “the world is sinking.”

I sympathize with the good people of Venice. But they’ll find an answer to their water problems as they always have. Their history is loaded with past examples of flooding (and taxation to pay for its remedy). In great part this is because its underwater foundation slips a bit lower every year. Even those who believe in human-caused global warming have to admit that “the greatest threat to the city” for most of its history has been “earth subsidence.” In other words, its wooden foundation is slipping deeper and deeper into the mud below.

As a popular science-fiction program once reminded us with the start of every episode, “the truth is out there.” Yes, it certainly is. But to get to it there are a few things you need to understand about the truth. In other words, there is some truth about truth that you need to know–truly!

First, let’s realize that we humans are “wired” to find explanations for things. That, along with our advanced brains, has given us a biological advantage over the other species on the planet. They may be bigger and stronger, but we’re smarter. We’re driven to find answers.

Before you become too proud of your genetic superiority, remember a second important point. We humans are also, in a sense, sociological herd animals. We move in psychological “packs.” Rather than doing the hard work of thinking for ourselves, we often accept what others believe. This can happen for any number of reasons (affection, political preference, religious belief, admiration, physical attraction, etc.). I confess to having a strong distaste for this tendency. As a child, when I did stupid things, my father wisely challenged me. His challenges stuck with me. When I see a parade of others following a “Pied Piper” of any sort, I shy away to watch … and to learn.

A third truth about truth that we must recognize is that money changes everything. Even truth–or what is presented as truth. There are plenty of people who would sell their souls for money. There are even more who would manipulate data for money or accept funding with “strings” attached. When billions and billions in government funding is involved, there simply is no way to know how deeply the influence and corruption have drilled themselves into a search for truth. Big money can come from big government or big corporations. Sometimes both.

Finally, let’s remind ourselves that there is no such thing as pure objectivity. Perhaps Leonard Nemoy’s Mister Spock came close, but even he was half human. We humans are motivated by all sorts of things, and not all of them are bad. Please don’t interpret my words to suggest that I’m a pessimist or misanthrope (a people hater). I’m not. But I am a realist. Call it sin, or imperfection, or simply human reality–but let’s face it. We humans aren’t perfect. Sometimes we respond to our base instinct for self-preservation. Sometimes we’re selfish or greedy. Other times we act with real generosity. Quite often we are a mix of “good” and “bad” at the same time. (As an aside, it strikes me as odd that when government starts doling out money to those “in need,” our human failings are no longer suitable for discussion.)

Lack of objectivity isn’t a bad thing. It’s a very human thing. The problem isn’t that objectivity is lacking. The problem is that we’re not honest about its absence. Wouldn’t it be nice if people claimed their biases so that when they speak of their greatest beliefs and philosophical commitments we can understand where they’re coming from?

Imagine a Fox News broadcast beginning like this:  “Good evening. We here at Fox believe that Barack Obama is the devil. Now on with the news.” Or imagine that CNN begins its nightly programs in this way: “In the interest of honesty, the broadcasters of CNN wish to remind you that we believe that conservatives, Republicans, and Tea-Party people are selfish bastards who want to screw Mexican immigrants and the poor. Here are this evening’s highlights.”

I always find such honesty to be quite refreshing, actually. It’s one of the reasons I named this blog “The Liberty Professor.” If you’re looking for absolute objectivity, you won’t find it here. The truth is that you won’t find it anywhere. But I’m honest about that. Get it?

With all of these caveats in mind, here are a few of the so-called “truths” that I have rejected. I speak only for myself, but I do so after reasoned reflection and research. Each of the issues described is what Patricia King and Karen Kitchener refer to as an “ill-defined problem.” If you’re a teacher or have a philosophical bent, you might enjoy their book entitled Developing Reflective Judgment. In it they argue that an ill-defined problem has more than one possible outcome (as opposed to a well-defined problem with an easy solution).

Let there be fanfare and the blast of trumpet … here are some “truths” that I robustly reject!

1. The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (“Obamacare”) was intended by its creators to lower healthcare costs and “fix” what’s wrong with America’s healthcare system. Nope. Not even close. It was designed to move us toward a single-payer healthcare system in which the federal government is financier and supervisor. Promises were made about how much it would cost and how much freedom would be granted to those who already have health insurance. Guesses, estimates, and even lies were offered to us for our mental consumption. The most recent estimate I heard is that it will cost three times as much as promised in the first ten years. In addition, its thousands and thousands of pages of regulations are going to cause premiums to go up for nearly everybody, especially young men. Remember the promise of Barack Obama about your own health insurance? “If you like it, you can keep it,” he insisted. Maybe. If you can afford it. Most of us won’t be able to. We–along with our employers–will be forced to drop private coverage to move into the single-payer (federal) system. The entire law was designed with this in mind. As they say, “out with the old and in with the new.” Don’t forget the words of Barack Obama to the Illinois AFL-CIO in June of 2003: “I happen to be a proponent of the single-payer, universal healthcare program.”

2. Federal gun-control initiatives are being designed to reduce crime and protect our children from violent criminals. Even I have to say that this sounds nice. It’s a feel-good proposal if ever there was one. But that’s not the primary factor for the unconstitutional gun grab taking place before our very eyes. (It has hit some temporary road blocks, but as with Obamacare, its proponents won’t stop until they get what they want.) The real goal is to have a nation in which guns are in the hands only of government officials and to outlaw them for everyone else. When that happens the government will have little to fear from dissenters, and only outlaws will be armed. Everyone with a weapon, whether it’s used in a crime or not, will be subject to arrest and punishment. In addition to maneuvers in Washington, international pressure is being put upon Mr. Obama to sign the UN Arms Trade Treaty. That treaty, like all treaties, will require Senate approval. We can look for one heck of a mud slide when that battle comes. Obama is widely expected to sign the treaty since it moves us one more step toward his goal, and since it provides cover for the confiscation of many types of civilian-owned weapons as well as a UN-supervised, international gun registry. That’s right. According to the president of Iowa Gun Owners, if allowed to keep my .38-caliber pistol I’ll have my name on a UN list as well as a US list.

3. IRS officials did nothing wrong when they targeted conservative groups,Tea-Party organizations, and groups favoring Israel for special scrutiny. Oh, really? That must be why IRS division director Lois Lerner invoked her Fifth-Amendment right against self-incrimination when called to answer questions before Congress. That’s a constitutional perversion of the highest order. Here’s why: She is a government employee called before the people to answer for her actions. The Fifth Amendment of the Constitution was enacted to protect the people from the government, not the other way around. She and her minions at the IRS have the power to pry, to search, to seize, to confiscate, and to order the arrest and imprisonment of citizens. They carry guns. When we, the people, call her to an accounting she suddenly wants to invoke her constitutional rights. She needs to be held in contempt of Congress and the investigation into the matter must continue. Without a doubt, the trail will end in the Oval Office. White House visitors’ logs already demonstrate this.

4. Global warming is a rising disaster caused by human industrial and economic activity. Look, I reject this proposition. But I don’t reject the idea that we should be responsible stewards of our environment. Another of Dad’s witty and wise sayings recognizable to many fellow Southerners is that one should never put fecal material on the handle of the water pump! But the global-warming hype isn’t being controlled by reasonable people who care for the environment. It’s being directed from the upper echelon of government for the sake of raking in more tax money, penalties, and fees to fund bigger government. The “science” behind human-generated global warming is tainted with government money. As some very bright but mistaken academics have argued, the scientific consensus is that human-caused global warming threatens the planet (not just Venice). They insist we need severe limits on economic activity, travel, and energy production; we need more taxes and government-controlled carbon credits. My own research brings me to the conviction that global warming is entirely natural and that the recent warming trend is tapering off. We are probably entering a new period of global cooling. It wouldn’t be the first time, as historians recognize from recent history. Perhaps our children and grandchildren will be subjected to overblown predictions of a new Ice Age!

5. The solution to our economic problems and social injustices is to be found in more government activism. So said Benito Mussolini, Joseph Stalin, Mao Tse-tung and a veritable host of central planners. But when central planning fails it fails big. Guns are needed to keep people in line. Perhaps you’re seeing a pattern? American constitutionalists do not reject all centralized government activity. The Constitution makes provision for the activities of the federal government. But once it’s engaged, the power at the top tends to be centripetal. In other words, it exerts a pull toward itself. Power exercised at the top tends to increase and multiply toward the top, or toward the center of power. The founders of the United States recognized this fact. They had overwhelming historical precedent for it. That’s precisely why power was invested primarily in citizens organized by states, not in the federal government. It’s also why they chose a federated system and not a national government (there is a difference). Only a small number of powers were granted to the federal government. Was it a perfect system? No. It didn’t recognize the rights of slaves, for instance. But its inspiration (that everyone is “created equal” in rights, not abilities) would eventually blossom to repair this immorality as well as other defects.

6. Fatty foods are making us fat and high blood cholesterol is putting us at risk for heart attack. So says an official US government blog and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (the CDC). There is even a new government push to monitor the cholesterol of children and to put them on statin drugs if necessary. Research is moving us rapidly away from this thesis. Fat isn’t making us fat. Carbohydrates and sugar are making us fat. They increase inflammation and cause heart disease. Among the scientists and medical doctors now arguing for a new approach to the matter can be counted Dr. Jonny Bowden and Dr. Stephen Sinatra. Check out their excellent and well-researched book, The Great Cholesterol Myth. According to them, the “four horsemen” of the cardiac apocalypse are inflammation, oxidation, sugar, and stress. Dangerous statin drugs, they insist, should be used only by those who already have heart disease. They show strong evidence that statins are useful only because of their anti-inflammatory properties and that lowering cholesterol isn’t the proper approach for stopping heart disease. In their opinion statins should never be given to children. To get the updated research full disseminated, the tie between big pharmaceutical companies and big government must be broken. And doctors who treat patients should never be paid advocates for particular companies or brands. The ties between these entities amount to a contemporary medical mercantilism or corporatocracy–similar to the military-industrial complex that guides so much of our foreign policy.

7. If you love someone you’ll never hurt their feelings. Well, you might not hurt their feelings intentionally–but that’s a whole different matter. Love isn’t a feeling. As Jesuit theologian William O’Malley has pointed out, love is a conscious and active commitment to the well-being of someone. I bring up this point because too many people these days, when arguing politics, seem to be guided less by intellectual consideration and more by emotion. They decide what’s right based upon how their proposals make them feel. The Christian virtue of love is shared by many religions. One doesn’t have to foist one’s Christianity on others to love them, but love nonetheless is a terrific guide for making political decisions. Too often our political debate is framed as if it’s a choice between the people who care for others (the “liberals”) and those who don’t (the “conservatives”). That’s just downright stupid. There are people on both sides of that divide who genuinely care to increase the well-being of others. My complaint is that we can’t decide what’s best based upon how it makes us feel. We need to think and think hard.

So there they are. Seven “truths” that I reject because I don’t think they are true at all. There are others, such as immigration reform (the real reason for which is to secure votes). Each of these is an ill-defined problem with adherents who passionately argue that I’m wrong. So be it. As Martin Luther is reputed to have said, “Here I stand. I can do no other.” But my stance isn’t based upon any attempt to be hard-headed or belligerent. It’s based upon my appropriation of the best information I can find. Don’t take my word on any of it. Do your own research. If I found the information, you can find it as well. I make my own choices and live with the consequences. You must do likewise. Gosh, we don’t hear that too often, do we?

In the final analysis, remember one thing, please. Only in a free society can divergence exist when it comes to values, beliefs, and ideologies. Wherever you stand on the issues, I beg you to be consistent and to be honest with yourself. Don’t give a pass to politicians or government bureaucrats just because they share your preferred political agenda–especially not if they have the privilege of carrying government-issued sidearms.

Avoid schadenfreude. That German word describes the human tendency to take pleasure in the suffering of someone else. If it pleased you to see certain groups targeted by the IRS, remember that it may one day be a group you admire. It could even be you. Political winds blow where they will.

Tyranny hurts us all. Even when it’s applied to our political adversaries.

Wounding the Cause of Liberty

untitledIt’s being reported that President Obama boarded Marine One (the presidential helicopter) Friday morning, that he was saluted by a member of the United States Marine Corps, and that he failed to return the salute. It is also reported that the president climbed out of the helicopter a moment later to shake hands with the marine and to engage in a brief conversation.

Within moments (thanks to Twitter and members of the White House press pool), the event was reported online. It’s especially popular among the political adversaries of the president as well as those who just don’t like him.

On Thursday of last week the Turkish prime minister visited the White House.  When it began to rain, Obama asked nearby marines to help out by holding umbrellas over his head and that of the visiting dignitary. As with today’s episode, it was quickly reported as a sign that Barack Obama is not respectful to the military or that he expects special treatment. This is being done despite the fact that previous presidents have been accorded the same privilege.

In the long run, and in view of the genuine threats to our constitutionally-guaranteed rights, these incidents mean absolutely nothing. When liberty-minded citizens harp on such minor realities (“non-issues”) we actually do terrible damage to the political cause for which we stand. We look silly. We come off as hyper-critical, ridiculous, even childish–and the mainstream press is given another full quiver of arrows to aim at the genuine concerns of constitutionalists.  In other words, the silliness of trivial issues is pasted right on top of the critical issues for which we’re arguing. In the end, we shoot ourselves in the foot by pursuing the non-issues of presidential salutes and umbrellas. We are written off as kooks who have no respectable agenda rather than patriotic Americans who want the Constitution to be preserved for the benefit of all.

untitledIf you want to know exactly what I think about the politics of Barack Obama, you don’t have far to go. This blog is laden with very specific charges, along with explanations in profound detail. I believe I have legitimate concerns and I post those concerns in order to help others see the dangers that are inherent in the policies of our current government. The political vision and the economic goals of Barack Obama have no stronger opponent than me. Count me among the loyal opposition–loyal to the Constitution and opposed to every threat being levied against that sacred document.

But please don’t expect me to chime in and complain every time an umbrella is held for Obama, a salute is overlooked, or a presidential comment is misunderstood. My fellow constitutionalists, our energy and influence are better invested by dedicating ourselves to the challenge of reigning in excessive government. Don’t sweat the small stuff.

We’re in troublesome waters. The ship of freedom is in danger of sinking. We have no time to argue over the location of deck chairs or the music being played as the vessel goes down.

The Disturbing Favoritism of Ocean Springs Government

pottedflowersImagine if your child came home from school one day and announced that she had received an “F” on her test because the teacher refused to answer her questions during a study session in class. You would certainly be puzzled as to why that was so. But then imagine how angry you would be if you learned that the teacher had randomly chosen a few students to assist, while ignoring the rest. Perhaps the teacher chose only the students he likes. Perhaps he chose them based upon where they sit in the classroom, or whether they smile often. It would not matter why the teacher made such an arbitrary choice … it would be wrong.

What if your elementary child’s principal decided that the school needed new equipment for the baseball team? There might be lots of positive ways to raise the funds for such a need, but let’s imagine that the principal in question makes a poor choice. Rather than arranging a fundraiser or seeking donations, let’s imagine that the principal goes through an alphabetical list of all students, choosing the name of every third student. To the parents of each of these students she then sends a bill for $100 while asking nothing of the rest. Would that be just?

We Americans normally recoil in shock when we encounter such examples of unfairness and immorality. For some reason, however, our moral outrage too often fades when it comes to government. As long as it’s being spent in a way that meets our approval we seem quietly unconcerned about the source for public funds. But let’s be honest. As Margaret Thatcher once said, “there is no such thing as public money, there is only taxpayers’ money.” 

The fictional examples I cite above are adequate metaphors for exactly what’s happening in the City of Ocean Springs in that award-winning area of downtown known as “Main Street.” To be sure, Ocean Springs has no street that I’m aware of with that name. “Main Street” is a special program that brings particular privileges to a tiny portion of the city. From what I’m able to determine from the perks provided under the program (some of which are shown here in photographs), it seems to include Washington Avenue from Highway 90 to Porter Street as well as Government Street between Washington and the Mary C. O’Keefe Cultural Center.

benchOSIf you happen to own a business in this privileged area, you are fortunate indeed. The smile of city governance falls upon you with great regularity, as do the dollars of your fellow taxpayers. The Main Street Program is the result of a “strong partnership” between the city government and the Ocean Springs Chamber of Commerce (or, as I prefer to call it, the Chamber For Some But Not For Others).

To grasp the full extent of the difference between “Main Street” and the other streets of the city, just wander a few dozen yards off the exalted path to view those businesses on side streets. You will notice that the sidewalks get less attention (if they exist at all) and there are usually no stylish street signs or lamp posts. Neither will you find the sturdy, extra-large benches or the metal garbage receptacles that line Washington and Government Streets. Most noticeable of all is the absence of lovely decorative flower pots and floral gardens tended by city employees. Outside the “Main Street” project, the beauty you encounter–and there is much beauty in Ocean Springs–is paid for by property owners themselves. They receive no support from city coffers, no appreciation from city leaders, and very little attention from those leaders (unless they happen to get behind in their taxes or forget to renew their business license).

In the interest of integrity I happily point out to you, dear reader, that my wife and I own a small business in downtown Ocean Springs known as Lagniappe Restaurant & Catering. We dropped our membership in the Chamber of Commerce when we realized the lack of equity in the way it showers attention on one part of town above all others.

Because we serve prepared food, our city leaders have seen to it that our customers pay 2% more in sales tax than other types of businesses in Ocean Springs. Nonetheless, because we are not on “Main Street,” we purchase and plant our own flowers. We pay someone from our own pockets to cut the grass. Any outdoor furniture or trash receptacles we have on our property are purchased and maintained at our own expense. We don’t expect our neighbors or fellow business owners to pay for the perks that make our location attractive.

Fortunately for the municipal budget, there is no sidewalk in front of our business. The city doesn’t have to find the money to keep it in good repair since it doesn’t exist. We get lots of foot traffic in our neighborhood but for some reason the city doesn’t think the pedestrians on our street deserve sidewalks. Sometimes we get elderly people walking past or driving their handicap scooters as they go between the Villa Maria Retirement Community and Hartz Fried Chicken. They do their best to stumble or scoot by, dodging traffic and the uneven edges of street pavement.

Sign.FlowersPerhaps at our business we should install a sign on the lawn that reads, “No Municipal Funds Used in the Upkeep of This Property.” To do so, I’m sure we’d have to apply and pay for a sign permit. But here’s the good news about that sign fee. I’m sure the City of Ocean Springs and the Chamber of Commerce would be delighted to have a few more dollars to spend on “Main Street.”

I realize taxes are a necessity for every community. But a sense of fairness would be appreciated if it showed itself among our city leaders. Taxing one particular type of business seems unfair when the revenue is going to benefits for everyone. On the other hand, taxing everyone in order to spend those tax dollars on a certain privileged part of town also seems unjust.

Of course, if you have a business on “Main Street,” you may just hope that the owners of the back-street businesses don’t wise up to what’s going on. And if you enjoy the flowers on “Main Street” you may not realize that we who own businesses on the back streets are helping to pay for that lovely vegetation and its upkeep. In either case, I hope you enjoy the beauty provided to you by my taxes. In the meantime I’ll keep trying to save enough to pay for the upkeep of my own business while the burden of taxes gets higher each year.

Every dollar taken from us for taxes is another dollar we can’t spend on improvements to our business. But it’s another dollar that the city can spend on someone else’s business.

I hold no grudges about the success of others. In fact, I celebrate and relish the success of any business owner–especially in the current economic environment. But no business owner or particular section of town should receive more attention from city government than any other.

Sex, Love, and Liberty

THE KISS, by Francesco Hayez, 1859, oil on canvas (located in the Pinacoteca di Brera, Milan)

The Kiss, by Francesco Hayez, 1859, oil painting on canvas (located in the Pinacoteca di Brera, the primary public gallery of Milan, Italy)

As I have often remarked to my students, the most fascinating topics of human existence are sex, religion, and politics (not necessarily in that order). Each is imbued with layers of meaning. Each can be a source of profound liberation and joy, but each can also be used by manipulative individuals for unhealthy control over others. From my perspective as a Christian, the moral quality of all three is enhanced by the presence of genuine love, accurately defined by Jesuit theologian William O’Malley as a conscious and active commitment to another person’s well-being.

All three topics (sex, religion, and politics) merge into a sometimes volatile intersection as Americans debate the issue of gay marriage. After months of reflection, the Liberty Professor has decided to weigh in on the topic. I have hesitated for some time now simply because I recognize that this is a controversial and sensitive subject–and my parsing of the details and components involved will probably offer to everyone something about which they will be unhappy. As the French remind us, c’est la vie.

I trust that my readers come here for honest, libertarian commentary–not necessarily to find total agreement on all issues of the day. My goal in this post is to untangle some of the many threads that combine to make this issue so contentious. It is a complicated subject; the political outcome of the debate, no matter how it ends, will have consequences. The liberty-minded citizen must move cautiously in these waters in order to remain faithful to his or her constitutional values.

1. Let us begin by reminding ourselves that we live in a society of profound moral diversity. This is nothing new. What is new is described by psychologist Kenneth Gergen as “social saturation.” Technology, social mobility, and ease of travel have resulted in a world in which it’s more difficult to withdraw into moral and religious enclaves where we can ignore those whose views differ from our own.

Dealing with such diversity of beliefs has been a hallmark of the American experience from our very beginnings as a people. It resulted in a form of federalism (not nationalism) that intended to leave most decisions in the hands of localized entities (sovereign states) and which forbade governmental favoritism or prohibition in matters of religion. In other words, citizens do not have to agree with one another on the greatest issues of human existence, but they must tolerate one another and refrain from infringements upon one another’s rights.

2. Since I am not an anarchist (neither do most Americans identify themselves as such), let me also propose a second foundation for our discussion on gay marriage: human society functions best when the rights and obligations of its citizens are delineated clearly and fairly enforced. This is not an argument for bigger government. Far from it. What I intend by this statement is to say that citizens have the right to freely enter contracts and agreements as they wish, whether it be for personal or professional reasons. They also have the right to refrain from such contracts, even to their own detriment.

With the perspective of a strict constitutionalist, I argue that government should stay out of those private agreements unless invited in by one or more of the parties involved due to fraud, misrepresentation, or default resulting in damage or loss. This attitude applies even when people enter contractual agreements that I believe to be unwise (such as poor business choices), immoral (such as prostitution), or potentially dangerous (such as the use of an experimental drug). The key to this point is full disclosure and personal freedom. I’m arguing that adults of full mental capacity have the right to arrange their lives and their moral activities as they see fit, with a minimum amount of governmental interference. When such interference is necessary (such as the just hearing of grievances between parties), it should take place on the most local level possible, with only a small and enumerated list of powers being exercised on the federal level (as proposed by the Constitution).

3. Sexuality is an inevitable and vital part of the human experience. It is one of the legitimate pleasures emerging from the fact that humans have bodies. It is also a powerful and mysterious procreative reality–one that should not be used to cause harm to others. Some social prohibitions upon sexual behavior are urgently necessary. The first to come to mind is protection of children against pedophiles. When it comes to fully-informed, consenting adults such as those described in the paragraph above, I am of the opinion that government entities should mostly refrain from the attempt to regulate behavior.

4. Evidence (both scientific and anecdotal) increasingly supports the understanding that genuine, exclusive or predominant homosexual orientation is not experienced as a choice but as a given. My reading of science and my experience with friends and students who self-identify as gay has led me to believe that when it comes to lifestyle “choices,” sexual orientation is not a choice. It’s a situation that must be dealt with by the millions of people who experience it. At this point in the discussion I refer the reader back to point #2, above. I do not find it necessary to address the question of morality here since the decision about this issue doesn’t rest with me. It rests only with those who find themselves in the particular situation being addressed.

5. Speaking philosophically, I believe that the Constitution must be read in light of the Declaration of Independence. In proposing the constitutional thesis that individuals must be allowed to live by their own beliefs and morals, I understand this to be based upon the differing opinions we citizens have with regard to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” (that phrase comes from the Declaration). Constrained only by the few limitations listed in point #2 (above), citizens should be free to live as they choose so long as they cause no harm or loss to others (there are exceptions to this). In addition, it is the constitutional role of the federal government to treat citizens with equal rights before the law (though it is not the role of government to force all businesses or employers to give identical benefits or services).

6. Both marriage and homosexuality have been around for a long, long time. Their presence cuts across human cultures; I have encountered both in every society that I have ever studied, from primitive to postmodern. Cultures have handled homosexuality in differing ways throughout history. Some have been intolerant of it while others have provided a comfortable niche for it.

Some societies have distinguished between male and female homosexuality. Some cultures have assigned special religious roles to homosexual persons. Even among those societies that find it acceptable, homosexual relations have been distinguished from marriage, with marriage understood as a relationship between man and woman. This understanding was present even in polygamous societies (those where men could have multiple wives) and also in societies where married men were allowed to have male lovers (such as in ancient Greece). In other words, with or without social approval, homosexual relations were deemed to be distinct from marriage. Not surprisingly, it was understood as a different kind of relationship–even when it was given social and religious recognition.

Now let’s get to the crux of my point. Let me spell it out as clearly and as precisely as I can. As a constitutionalist I believe that government should not be in the business of giving benefits to some citizens while denying them to others. As a steadfast general rule, I’d like to see government (especially federal government) do less, interfere less, spend less, dictate less, and possess far less power than it does now. If it’s true that well-ordered relationships are good for society as a whole (such as marriage in which duties and rights are clearly delineated and the relationship is supported by law), then I can find no constitutional reason to deny that same protection to gay couples who freely choose to establish similar relationships.

In other words, I’m arguing for nothing more than equal status before the law for all citizens, including gay couples. To do this, however, government does not have to change the definition of marriage–a definition that seems to be as old as humanity itself. Nor should it. 

Gay couples should have the same legal rights and opportunities as all other citizens. Married couples have a right to see the definition of their relationship remain the same as it was on the day they entered that relationship. This distinction does not constitute an act of bigotry or hatred.

As cultures and societies around the globe have recognized for thousands of years, there are different kinds of relationships. Changing the definition of marriage is not the way to guarantee equal rights before law. It will open the door to limitations on liberty, not to an increase in liberty. If we truly wish to live in a society that tolerates moral diversity, we must refrain from using the law to enforce moral uniformity.

Let’s allow people, associations, and religious congregations to make their own decisions about how to understand these different relationships. Should the federal government try to redefine marriage, it will open the door to legal actions against the very institutions we cherish most by further eroding the constitutional limits placed upon that government. This realization explains why there are voices condemning the proposal–even among our fellow citizens who happen to be gay.

GOP Dinosaurs

lindsey-graham-john-mccainConstitutionalists around the nation were thrilled to see the recent filibuster by Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY). He wanted an answer from representatives of the current presidential administration regarding their use of drones against US citizens. He couldn’t get that answer, so he took the bold step of staying at the Senate roster, on his feet, for hours. In the end his action probably assisted in putting some pressure on Eric Holder, head of the Justice Department. In direct questioning from Ted Cruz (R-TX), Holder admitted that “we absolutely do not have authority to kill Americans on US soil.”

It wasn’t much of a victory. Representatives of the Obama administration–and even the president himself–have made it clear that they’ll say just about anything necessary to advance their agenda. For them, reality isn’t “out there,” it’s in the mind of President Obama. It’s whatever he and his political allies say it is. He smiles. He speaks. He meets with Republicans. He talks the great talk of a statesman willing to compromise. All of that means nothing in terms of genuine dialogue. He will not compromise. He only speaks the language of compromise–he never walks the walk. Watch him carefully. He always finds a way to avoid compromise while preserving the illusion of compromise.

Add to this the fact that too many in the “mainstream” media are Obama’s willing accomplices and the ridiculous, shrill mantra that “to criticize Obama is to be a racist,” and you have a recipe for continued escalation of the war on constitutional liberties occurring every day in Washington, DC.

The greatest slap of all, of course, is the way that Old-Guard Republicans continue to play the Democrat game. Like poor Charlie Brown who forever falls for Lucy’s promises not to jerk the football away, they come to the table as if their political opponents really intend to bargain in good faith. They don’t. They come for absolute victory. They use scorched-earth tactics, and their intention is to walk away seeming to be the reasonable ones while Republicans are left looking like a bunch of greedy white men who hate women, minorities, immigrants, the poor and the elderly. Over and over they fall for this ploy.

This fact was confirmed this week by former Democrat pollster Pat Caddell, a political contributor to the Fox Network. Speaking as part of a panel at CPAC 2013 (the Conservative Political Action Committee), he showed why Democrats are so successful. It’s because they come to the table to win, not to compromise. “In my party we play to win. We play for life and death. You people play for a different kind of agenda ….”

Here’s a perfect example. While Rand Paul stood on his feet during his filibuster for freedom, establishment GOP senators were dining with President Obama. They included Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and Sen. John McCain (R-AZ). The event was hailed as an “outreach dinner,” arranged and personally paid for by President Barack Obama. Reportedly, GOP invitees were hand-picked by Obama and Graham. (How interesting it is that Rand Paul and Ted Cruz weren’t in the group.)

Hailed as a gesture of respect on the part of a generous and reasonable president, the event was nothing more than a gimmick. Obama will not compromise. He wants $600 billion in new taxes and he intends to get it. Taking the GOP dinosaurs to dinner was his way of covering his determination with the smoke of his seeming generosity and fake stance of political cooperation.

By referring to Graham and McCain as “dinosaurs,” I am not alluding to their age. I’m not an age bigot. Nor am I a racial bigot or a sexist bigot. But I am an unabashed bigot for the cause of freedom. I’m a partisan for liberty–not only mine, but that of every citizen in the nation. As Barry Goldwater once said, “extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice.”

Senators McCain and Graham wrongly believe they are dealing with up-front Democrats as they may have done in the past. But the past is the past. The Democrat party of today is more extreme than it has ever been in its political liberality. It is a steamroller headed toward the Republican party and toward any other political entity that may stand in its way. This includes the Constitution. McCain and Graham, and all those of their camp, are political dinosaurs because they don’t recognize that. They sail in the mystifying fog of Washington make-believe, wrongly thinking that what they see among Democrats is real. Nothing could be further from the truth. What they perceive on the American political stage is crafted for their consumption and for the consumption of busy citizens who don’t have time to look deeper.

It’s bad enough that Charlie Brown allows Lucy to fool him every time. At least he never criticized the rest of the cartoon kids for refusing to fall for the trick. The same cannot be said for Graham and McCain. Each of them stood on the Senate floor to denounce the Rand Paul filibuster. Barack Obama certainly got his money’s worth for the dinosaur dinner.

Constitutionalists can only pray that Rand Paul has sparked a new fervor in the GOP. For my money, the only Republican worth his or her salt is a liberty-minded Republican. Obama and the Democrats are driving the steamroller; somebody needs to be constructing a blockade big enough to slow its momentum. That somebody isn’t John McCain, nor is it Lindsey Graham. Nor will it ever be. Obviously, it wasn’t Mitt Romney either. All three of these Republicans have spent too much time agreeing with Obama.

The presidential election of 2012 demonstrated just how demoralized Republican voters are these days. Millions fewer of them voted in 2012 than in 2008. Even I was fooled by how deep the dissatisfaction runs. Now I rejoice that it runs as deeply as it does. It may yet be the power strong enough to put GOP dinosaurs out to pasture.