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July 04, 2012

On Independence Day, An Old Struggle Continues

I wrote these words back in June of 2005.

About one week from now, we will celebrate the Fourth of July. All over America, these words will be read:
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

--That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed,

--That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.

What are those words worth today? Not much, apparently. Do we still believe them? Are they still engraved on our hearts? Do we still believe that ALL men are created equal? I keep hearing that the Arabs are "not ready for democracy". I consider that an appallingly condescending statement.

I submit that in 1776, those words were not worth the parchment they were scribbled on. Utter and absolute rubbish.

They did not become real until nine long years of bloody, miserable warfare breathed life into them. They were purchased at the cost of incalculable human suffering.

Bloodshed. Starvation. Sickness. Injustice. Abuse. Ugliness. Imperfection of every sort imaginable. And as Ignatieff mentions at the beginning of his piece, they did not apply equally to every American for a long, long time. Not to the Irish, nor to women, nor to Jews, nor Catholics, nor blacks, nor non-landowners. But this experiment we call America truly did 'light a fire in the minds of men'. And that fire was seen from a great distance.

It became a beacon to others, even with all its imperfections, because it was better than what had come before. This glorious dream: this democracy. It remains an imperfectly-realized ideal, because humans are still flawed and we bring all our sins and weaknesses with us on this journey. But we are vastly improved for having reached beyond our baser selves, for having dared to dream. We are still improving. And so will the rest of the world, if we can find the courage and the resolve to help them. We are on a road to the stars, but we progress one faltering step at a time.

Who are we to think that Freedom is ours to spread, Ignatieff asks?

We were the First. We are the guardians of the flame. Not perfect beings, but in all the world the only ones, it seems, still naive enough, still brave enough, still daring enough to put our money where our mouths are. We are the only ones who are still willing to defend the dream with our lives, our fortunes, our sacred honor.

Not all the time. Not in every single instance, because that is impossible. And honest liberals will admit that: in a universe with limited resources, choices must be made. But where we can, where it aligns with our interests and with the interests of the rest of the world: yes.

Our own Revolution was not without blemish. Innocent men were tarred and feathered. Families torn asunder. People bled, and suffered and starved. There was even [shudder] terrorism. But it lit a flame that has burned brightly for over 200 years. There are signs that this is happening in the MiddleEast: Arabs are looking at election day in Iraq and Afghanistan and demanding democratic reforms in Egypt and Lebanon and Kuwait. The fire in men's (and women's) hearts is spreading.

We would like certainty. We would like painless progress. We would like closure. We will not get any of those things.

On July 4th we must ask ourselves, what do we believe? Our military - brand new immigrants who enlist before the ink is dry on their visas - believe in those words so strongly that they will lay down their lives to spread the fire of democracy. They also believe (as I do) that their purpose is to serve American foreign policy aims, no matter how abstract and long-term they may seem. No matter how difficult to explain to the American people. No matter how frustrating in the short term.

What kind of world will we bequeath to our grandchildren? It may be that long before we know. But our actions today will have an incalculable effect on that far-off tomorrow. And if our policy is not firmly grounded in the spread of those long-ago words:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights...

...then I wonder if we shall not be the first Americans who fail to pass the blessings of liberty on to the next generation?

It's amazing, even to one who has often recommended the study of history as an antidote to the lack of perspective that characterizes our 24/7 news cycle, how much has changed in the seven short years since these words were written. In 2005, America was deeply embroiled in two wars half a world away. Liberals vehemently opposed to the war on terror questioned every decision made by a Republican administration. Every assertion of executive power was cited as evidence that the freedoms they held dear were in danger of extinction. Other Americans viewed these same actions as essential measures to preserve our national security.

Critics of the government, anonymous leakers, and whistleblowers were widely regarded by some as brave, truth to powering patriots. Others saw them as cowardly traitors seeking to undermine the foundations of our system of government. Some in the anti-war movement took dissent beyond mere speech, urging soldiers and Marines to frag their officers. Violence, it seemed, did in fact solve some problems (even if one professed to abhor it). Two polar extremes, each animated by what to them seemed fundamental questions about the role of government, struggled to articulate their positions. The passion of those who hated and feared the Bush administration was matched by those who defended its actions. We were engaged in what - to us - seemed a titanic struggle to define the proper role and the legitimate authority of that government created in 1776 by men who themselves did not agree about a great many things.

A mere seven years later, Americans are still arguing about the role and legitimacy of the federal government. But the two parties do so from different sides and are motivated by different issues. Progressives, now that a Democrat occupies the Oval Office, are all in favor of a strong federal government with an assertive Executive branch. And conservatives of all stripes, now that we're out of power, fear that a strong federal government is in danger of extinguishing the freedoms we hold dear. Different freedoms, and different dreams.

Seven years. In the vast panorama of history, they represent little more than the blink of an eye. We view the past through rose colored glasses and current events through a microscope, at once magnifying our current troubles and obscuring the just causes behind actions we - from the safe remove of ignorance and intervening years - now dismiss as foolish overreactions.

During the Bush years there was much talk of moving to France and the threshold, past which a free people were justified in rebelling against or resisting government. Now it is conservatives who whisper of rebellion and armed resistance; of lack of consent.

These questions have faced every generation for over two centuries. They are not new to us, nor are our current discontents greater in kind or severity than the many follies and abuses that gave past generations ample cause for outrage. The old struggles divide us, still.

If I have one wish for this Fourth of July, it might be that we stop for a moment to contemplate our long history, considering both the great good and the equally great evils this nation has experienced. If we did not consider the governments of the past to be illegitimate when they made very great mistakes, by what rationale do we seek to undermine the legitimacy of our present government, however deeply we disagree with its policies?

I would also wish that we take a moment to count over the blessings of liberty secured for us at such great cost in both blood and treasure by men and women long dead. We do not value enough, that which we have not personally sacrified for and I very much fear that we ourselves pose the greatest risk to that glorious dream conjured up by a committee of five men in Philadelphia.

I'm not sure when compromise ceased being the quality that gave us our Declaration in 1776, the Articles of Confederation in 1781 and - when that minimalist framework proved insufficient to the task of governing a handful of former colonies - the Constitution in 1789 and become a threat to the principles outlined in them. The men who signed all three of these documents did not agree about a great many things. To secure their signatures and their consent to the greatest experiment in representative government the world had yet known, compromise was needed.

And if we hope to hold onto what our forebears bequeathed to us, we had better relearn the skills that made our way of life possible in the first place.

Posted by Cassandra at July 4, 2012 09:12 AM

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"I would also wish that we take a moment to count over the blessings of liberty secured for us at such great cost in both blood and treasure by men and women long dead. We do not value enough, that which we have not personally sacrified for and I very much fear that we ourselves pose the greatest risk to that glorious dream conjured up by a committee of five men in Philadelphia."

I would wish every person fortunate enough to be a citizen of this nation take such a moment once every day.

What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly:

A Happy Independence Day to M'lady, The Unit, and all the Villainry.

Posted by: bthun at July 4, 2012 11:37 AM

BZ Cass. As always, you hit the nail squarely on the head. We are lucky you are an American and are able to so eloquently state the reality that is often blurred by the struggle.

I love your "Love Letter To America" and never fail to post a link to it on my fb page so that others can gain a little insight and perspective. You ma'am, are a treasure, and I for one appreciate all you do for us. I feel I am not alone in that sentiment.

Kevin

Posted by: Kbob in Katy at July 4, 2012 12:03 PM

Yup... What Kbob said!

//The old hun will raise a libation towards Old Glory this evening in honor of his shipmate, Kbob, along with all U.S. Military Veterans, past and present, and for their essential Support Units too.//

Posted by: bthun at July 4, 2012 12:32 PM

In more recent history, "compromise" in US politics only has one definition: when Republicans/conservatives give in to what the Democrats/liberal want.

If we actually had true compromise where both sides have to give up one thing they value in order to get some other thing they value, I would agree that compromise is a good thing. Right now, I can't trust that our federal government works that way...

Posted by: Miss Ladybug at July 4, 2012 01:59 PM

I don't agree with your assessment, though, MLB. The Democrats/liberals did NOT want the individual mandate and they're not particularly happy about it either.

They wanted the public option. So they very much DID give up something. And if they had their way, we'd be living in a true welfare state with far more benefits than our current system allows for.

Just because you don't value what they gave up doesn't mean it doesn't have value to them.

bthun and Kbob: without people like you, civilians like myself would not have the freedoms we enjoy. We are the ones who have not paid, and we owe you a tremendous debt we can never repay.

The least we can do in return is not to take what we have for granted. The rest of the world recognizes something we have lost sight of: for all its flaws, America is still a beacon of freedom, and a rarity in a world where the vast majority of citizens enjoy nothing like what we have.

Posted by: Cass at July 4, 2012 02:48 PM

Happy Independence Day!

It seems to me there are two different issues here. First, on the matter of what we owe to those who came before us, who risked everything to give us the country we have, absolutely we should “contemplate our long history” and even more absolutely we should “count over the blessings of liberty” and value most highly the men and women who secured them for us. We owe our gratitude and we owe our best efforts to preserve what they gave us.

Second, the issue of compromise and here I have both a practical and a philosophical disagreement with Cassandra. The practical one is that sometimes a compromise gives us something worse than either of the options being compromised on (or between or whatever that preposition should be). I believe ObamaCare is one of those times. I believe we would be best served by an approach that is more free-market oriented. However, second best would be a true government-run healthcare plan. ObamaCare gives us the worst of both worlds: government running health care through puppet corporations.

The philosophical disagreement is that while we should not abandon compromise lightly, it is worth remembering that the Declaration of Independence does include the very lines Cassandra quoted in part:

That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.

Such has been the patient sufferance of these Colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former Systems of Government. The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States.

In other words, the signers of the Declaration were unwilling to compromise with the monarchy of Great Britain.

Does this mean now (or four years ago or after this November) is the time when evils have become insufferable? I don’t know. I’m just finishing Ross Douthat’s Bad Religion and he points out that we have reached a point in this country where the political party in power is messianic - and the political party out of power is apocalyptic. Apocalypse has an exciting quality to it, allowing us to cast the same old questions. discontents, follies, abuses, and struggles as something calling for vigorous action - and vigorous action is always more interesting than the drudgery of governance. There is an undeniable thrill to righteous destruction. And yet.

Government can in fact become destructive of the ends of securing “unalienable Rights”. How do we know when we get there? Perhaps one way we know we’re there is when people start objecting to government action on principle - always opposing an overbearing executive or an activist Supreme Court, for example - rather than objecting only when their side is losing.

Posted by: Elise at July 4, 2012 04:11 PM

Happy Independence Day to all. It is, indeed, well worth remembering the sacrifices of those past, and today, who thereby secured the opportunity to ruminate on the variety of topics that we have today.

On another subject, The Democrats/liberals did NOT want the individual mandate and they're not particularly happy about it either. They wanted the public option.

The single-paying public option has been State Senator Obama's goal from the jump, as it has been for many of the other Progressives in and out of government. And they're on the path to that. They knew they couldn't get it in one move; Obamacare is a planned waypoint on their route.

On the matter of compromise, sometimes, as Elise has pointed out, it's just not possible. A contemporary example: much of the current discussion between Progressives and conservatives in the Federal government has to do with the role and size of government. Progressives operate under their principle of increasing taxes, increasing spending, and increasing government size. Conservatives operate under their principle of shrinking taxes, shrinking spending, and shrinking government size. How is compromise possible between these two fundamental principles? An agreement to a smaller tax increase than originally proposed is an agreement to a tax increase--a loss of the conservative principle. An agreement to a smaller spending cut than originally proposed is an agreement to a spending cut--a loss of the Progressive principle.

We've had this discussion before.

Eric Hines

Posted by: E Hines at July 4, 2012 04:53 PM

Elise: +1.

Mr. Hines: Compromise is possible on those terms if we return to the 10th Amendment: the progressive states can have exactly what they want, at the state level, while the conservative states can do the opposite. The total size of government and its relationship to individuals can vary widely within the American model.

There's no reason for most of this political conflict at all. There really is a compromise available that fixes it all: and because we are free to move to any state we like, if you didn't like the particulars of your own state's choices, Delta is ready when you are.

If we continue the process of using the Federal government to enforce hostile values on the part of America currently out of power, we will eventually get a war out of it. More, we will deserve one, because the kinds of values are the things that are worth fighting for.

Posted by: Grim at July 4, 2012 07:04 PM

Compromise is possible on those terms if we return to the 10th Amendment....

Yes, of course. My arguments are entirely centered on the Federal government, since that's where the bulk of the problem lies.

Although the same compromise problem easily can exist within individual States, also.

Eric Hines

Posted by: E Hines at July 4, 2012 07:10 PM

Happy Independence Day!

http://tinyurl.com/7zozydd

We'll get through this, and arrive on the other side somewhere, and the struggle will make us a better people. I have not lost faith with either this country, it's people or the future.

Our founders pledged their lives, their fortunes and their sacred honor to bring this nation into being. We all might have to step up and do a litle bit more than what we thought we would. It is going to be a great struggle. Embrace it.

Posted by: Don Brouhaha at July 4, 2012 07:25 PM

Second, the issue of compromise and here I have both a practical and a philosophical disagreement with Cassandra. The practical one is that sometimes a compromise gives us something worse than either of the options being compromised on (or between or whatever that preposition should be). I believe ObamaCare is one of those times. I believe we would be best served by an approach that is more free-market oriented. However, second best would be a true government-run healthcare plan. ObamaCare gives us the worst of both worlds: government running health care through puppet corporations.

Well, I'm not sure we disagree on this one Elise :p In fact, after reading your entire comment, I think you're disagreeing with an argument I don't think I made.

Government can in fact become destructive of the ends of securing “unalienable Rights”.

Of course it can. But it's worth noting that the inalienable rights cited are few: Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness.

Anyone can already cite many laws that interfere with those rights: capital punishment, for instance. Or sending people to jail. Or any law that prevents me from doing something that makes me happy. So clearly these rights, though inalienable, are not absolute.

How do we know when we get there? Perhaps one way we know we’re there is when people start objecting to government action on principle - always opposing an overbearing executive or an activist Supreme Court, for example - rather than objecting only when their side is losing.

That's one possibility. Another is when some critical mass of people take serious steps to form another government (which of course will require the consent of the governed, else we would be exchanging something imperfect for something worse).

On the whole issue of compromise, there seem to be a lot of objections to arguments I haven't made.

I haven't said that compromise is always good, nor that it is always possible, for instance.

Posted by: Cass at July 4, 2012 09:05 PM

I also haven't said compromise is mandatory. Nor have I confused compromise (exchanging something you want for something I want, even if neither of us gets everything we want) with capitulation (getting nothing you want). Those two c-words seem to be conflated an awful lot but they're not the same.

The single-paying public option has been State Senator Obama's goal from the jump, as it has been for many of the other Progressives in and out of government. And they're on the path to that. They knew they couldn't get it in one move; Obamacare is a planned waypoint on their route.

Perhaps. Some of us rather thought that if the Court struck down the individual mandate entirely, that would hand the Dems the public option on a silver platter. Some of us still believe that :p

Progressives operate under their principle of increasing taxes, increasing spending, and increasing government size. Conservatives operate under their principle of shrinking taxes, shrinking spending, and shrinking government size. How is compromise possible between these two fundamental principles?

Not all politicians are governed by ideology and "government" isn't some fungible mass, Eric. There are parts of government that the Dems hate and would gladly shrink or even eliminate. And Dems don't want government to offer services to all sectors of American society - they care more about the poor and minorities. There are issues they care more about protecting and ones they care less about protecting. Groups they care more about, and ones they care less about (businesses, corporations, churches).

At the end of the day, if you have the votes to get your way, you don't need to compromise. But so far, that hasn't happened (for us or them, actually, which is why they're still trying so hard to transform America).

It's not the way they want it to be yet.

As long as they don't have everything they want and don't have the votes to effect the changes they want alone, compromise is possible.

Posted by: Cass at July 4, 2012 09:47 PM

...we would be best served by an approach that is more free-market oriented. However, second best would be a true government-run healthcare plan.

Absolutely disagree--between a free market solution and a government solution, there is no second best.

capital punishment, for instance. Or sending people to jail.... So clearly these rights, though inalienable, are not absolute.

But, if we've adjusted our laws and sanctions properly in our social compact (whether this is a fact is a separate argument), those who've merited those sanctions have, by their actions, placed themselves outside our compact, and have no right to our compact's protection, by making war on us. We have an obligation, however, to our fellow members, to protect the community from those outlaws. With the ultimate sanction, if necessary, as the outcome of their war on us.

Some of us rather thought that if the Court struck down the individual mandate entirely, that would hand the Dems the public option on a silver platter.

That's a valid political concern. If, though, the Court determined its outcome on anything other than the merits of the Act, then this is a Court that is a cancer on the body politic for its duration.

Not all politicians are governed by ideology and "government" isn't some fungible mass, Eric.

Look who's disagreeing with an argument not made.

And Dems don't want government to offer services to all sectors of American society - they care more about the poor and minorities.

This has yet to be demonstrated. Looking strictly at results, it would appear what they care about is the dependency of others on their programs. With too many RINOs agreeing with them.

Eric Hines

Posted by: E Hines at July 4, 2012 10:25 PM

Cassandra, I know you have heard it before as a milspouse, but those who sit and wait serve just as much, if not more than those who go. I know that my bride had her own battles to fight when I was deployed and when I was in a combat zone on terra firma, she held her breath until she was sure I was OK.

I will stand tall and count you as an integral part of the effort. Without you, your deployment packaged unit could not have done the job!

KP

Posted by: Kbob in Katy at July 4, 2012 10:54 PM

This has yet to be demonstrated. Looking strictly at results, it would appear what they care about is the dependency of others on their programs. With too many RINOs agreeing with them.

Eric, I am going to step in here and interject. I know it can appear that way, but I believe in the vast majority of liberals/progressives their goal is no such thing. For the majority of them, it's all about helping "the less fortunate". They honestly believe that. And when my liberal/progressive friends start in on "conservatives want the poor to just die, and only care about the rich, and want to control women's bodies" I interject and tell them that they're attacking a straw man that they've constructed in their heads, and that the vast majority of conservatives want no such thing.

The problem is, it becomes all too easy to assume that the other side in a debate holds their position for nefarious reasons. They can't honestly believe that nonsense, so clearly their position is either derived from them being evil or stupid. And I won't stand by and let folks say things like that unchallenged. My father is a conservative. My mother is a liberal. Neither one is evil or stupid. Nor is anyone I am friends with. For if they were, I would not be friends with them. Now, they may believe things I think are foolish, but they didn't arrive at their position because they're fools. They're operating from a different set of first principles than I am.

Point is, your run of the mill, everyday liberal isn't interested in making anyone DEPENDENT on the government, they just want everyone to be happy. I think they're naive, but they're not evil.

Posted by: MikeD at July 5, 2012 08:31 AM

The problem is, it becomes all too easy to assume that the other side in a debate holds their position for nefarious reasons. They can't honestly believe that nonsense, so clearly their position is either derived from them being evil or stupid. And I won't stand by and let folks say things like that unchallenged. My father is a conservative. My mother is a liberal. Neither one is evil or stupid. Nor is anyone I am friends with. For if they were, I would not be friends with them. Now, they may believe things I think are foolish, but they didn't arrive at their position because they're fools. They're operating from a different set of first principles than I am.

Amen, Mike. Amen.

Conservatives aren't for small government in all instances, either. Eric's formulation suggests that for liberals, big government is the ideal. But it isn't - the ideal is making sure the poor and disadvantaged are taken care of. They rightly observe that this kind of care is NOT something the market will supply left to itself (just as national defense and roads and bridges are not something the free market will supply, left to itself).

And when it comes to defense spending, conservatives are NOT for small government at all. They have no problem with deficit spending when we're talking about something they believe in.

That's the problem with the blanket statements I'm seeing - they're overly simplistic. Many liberals are just as disturbed as we are about the deficit, and they actually agree that entitlements aren't sustainable in their current form.

Or to quote my oldest and best friend, a staunch Democrat, "If you believe in the safety net, you can't ignore the price tag. At the end of the day everything in life has to be bought and paid for by someone. We can't wish away the cost of these programs if we want them to survive."

So, we're back to compromise. Scorched earth rhetoric that broad brushes the opposition into evil/stupid malefactors who want to destroy the country doesn't help, especially when it's factually inaccurate. They don't want to destroy the country.

They just have different values, and many of them also (wrongly, I believe) believe we can tax ourselves into paying for these programs without harming the economy.

Posted by: Cass at July 5, 2012 09:16 AM

Well, I'm not sure we disagree on this one Elise :p In fact, after reading your entire comment, I think you're disagreeing with an argument I don't think I made.

Well, that's awkward. There's nothing like an impassioned response to something that wasn't said. :+)

"Government can in fact become destructive of the ends of securing 'unalienable Rights'."

Of course it can. But it's worth noting that the inalienable rights cited are few: Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness.

Well, actually, it says "among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness." (Sounds like a compromise statement to me: "We have to include Property!" "No! That makes us sound like we're all about the 1%.")

Also, those three few rights cover - or can be made to cover - a lot of ground. ("And, besides, no one is going to be happy if the government is taking his stuff. In fact, he'd probably starve. So we've got Property covered. Chill!") If I think ObamaCare makes it more likely people will end up dead, well, there's Life. If I think I should able to make my own decisions about, say, what I build on land I own without having 16 government agencies telling me what I can and can't do, there's Liberty. And if I can't, say, start an ice cream cone store because the FDA decides ice cream is a health hazard, there's Pursuit of Happiness - for me and for all the people who would have flocked to buy my triple cream, triple chocolate, triple scoop cones.

Posted by: Elise at July 5, 2012 10:01 AM

To some extent I don't get too wrapped around the axle about what it says in the Declaration b/c that's not where my rights come from. It's just a statement of reasons why the Founders decided to part company with England and form their own government.

those three few rights cover - or can be made to cover - a lot of ground. ("And, besides, no one is going to be happy if the government is taking his stuff. In fact, he'd probably starve. So we've got Property covered. Chill!") If I think ObamaCare makes it more likely people will end up dead, well, there's Life. If I think I should able to make my own decisions about, say, what I build on land I own without having 16 government agencies telling me what I can and can't do, there's Liberty. And if I can't, say, start an ice cream cone store because the FDA decides ice cream is a health hazard, there's Pursuit of Happiness - for me and for all the people who would have flocked to buy my triple cream, triple chocolate, triple scoop cones.

Yes, but as I've already pointed out, pretty much all laws limit one of those supposedly inalienable rights in some way. The idea that this means there can be NO laws that affect these rights is contradicted by the vast number of laws that do just that.

This is why I have such heartburn with folks who contend that Constitutional laws are simple and cut and dried. They're not - in the majority of cases, we're talking about that same question: when does the infringement become so substantial that we can say the right is imperiled?

It's a balancing test, and balancing tests are anything BUT simple. Except, of course, on the Internet :p

Posted by: Cassandra at July 5, 2012 10:36 AM

At the meeting for the Declaration, it was going to include "property", but they thought it was so obvious, they skipped it.

Interesting that the whole idea of private property is marginalized by an unwashed band of overgrown adolescents who know nothing about how things actually work.

And the results of the ACA will not be immediately apparent, with respect to who gets what kind of care, but it will definitely change the way that people relate to government. Instead of the people being sovereign, and the government a servant, the people will come to be viewed more and more as a problem to be "managed".

Unalienable rights exist only as long as someone is willing to defend them. Unaliendable rights may be our birthright as children of a Divine
Providence (God, a Supreme Being), but unless they are vigorously defended, some government apparatchnick will be only to willing to abrogate them for the convenience of the State.

Posted by: DonBrouhaha at July 5, 2012 10:43 AM

...the vast majority of liberals/progressives their goal is no such thing.

No doubt. But I fail to see the relevance of this blanket statement. As I pointed out to Grim, I'm talking about the Federal government. The vast majority of liberals/progressives are not there.

Dependency of others is how these incumbents stay in power. Goal, or tool, that dependency is what they're after, not helping the less fortunate.

That's the problem with the blanket statements I'm seeing....

And here's another flawed blanket statement, at least in the context of my argument: Conservatives aren't for small government in all instances, either.

This answers what argument I've been making? I've been talking about Progressives in the Federal government; nowhere have I addressed Republican--or conservative, or Democrat--incumbents.

Back to the actual subject, as I understand it to be: They rightly observe that this kind of care [taking care of the less fortunate] is NOT something the market will supply left to itself....

Nowhere have I made this argument. I have suggested that if the free market were left to deal with this, the less fortunate would be far fewer in number, and so far easier to be handled locally, leaving a miniscule number for Federal intervention.

At the meeting for the Declaration, it was going to include "property", but they thought it was so obvious, they skipped it.

As I understand it, this was part of a discussion over whether to try to enumerate our inalienable rights, with all the meaning such an enumeration would entail--vis., only those on the list would be inalienable. A tack many tried later with the Constitution's Article I, Section 8. This discussion then seemed to be over whether to include property in the "among" summary. I speculate that John Adams' definition of Happiness, which he later entered into the Massachusetts Constitution, was a well understood concept.

Eric Hines

Posted by: E Hines at July 5, 2012 12:36 PM

Eric:

Let me address these one by one.

1. I don't believe that all Progressives in the federal government want big government for the sake of big government. So it doesn't matter whether we're talking about progressives in or out of government - my response would be the same.

Merely asserting your opinion, for instance, wrt the motives of progressive politicians does exactly zero to establish its truth. You are asserting that you know their motives. You can do that, and I'll respond by saying, "How do you know?" If you accuse someone of having base or self-serving motives (as you've done here) the burden of proof is on you:

Dependency of others is how these incumbents stay in power. Goal, or tool, that dependency is what they're after, not helping the less fortunate.

2. Saying that not all conservatives support small government isn't a blanket statement. It's the opposite, because it explicitly points out that conservatives differ.

This answers what argument I've been making? I've been talking about Progressives in the Federal government; nowhere have I addressed Republican--or conservative, or Democrat--incumbents.

OK, now I am really confused. If I accept that "progressives" here means "progressive incumbents", then it would seem that "conservatives" means "conservative incumbents". There's nothing indicating otherwise:

... much of the current discussion between Progressives and conservatives in the Federal government has to do with the role and size of government. Progressives operate under their principle of increasing taxes, increasing spending, and increasing government size. Conservatives operate under their principle of shrinking taxes, shrinking spending, and shrinking government size.

3. I have suggested that if the free market were left to deal with this, the less fortunate would be far fewer in number, and so far easier to be handled locally, leaving a miniscule number for Federal intervention.

That's quite an assertion. I don't think history backs it up. Before the welfare state, were there really fewer "less fortunate" people? Again, where is the evidence for this assertion?

4. I speculate that John Adams' definition of Happiness, which he later entered into the Massachusetts Constitution, was a well understood concept.

So "happiness" can be enlarged upon to include "property"? (we can infer that based on.... what?)

The originalist argument usually tends more to saying that if something was not explicitly included, it was left out for a reason.

People have been debating the nature and requirements for human happiness since before Plato's time. There has never been any established consensus on this question.

Your arguments seem to imply that conservatives can read whatever they like into very vague words or phrases, but the same tactic is off limits for progressives. I assume this suggestion was unintentional, as it doesn't square with your other comments over the years.

Posted by: Cass at July 5, 2012 01:01 PM

Looking strictly at results, it would appear....

Wrt respect to your wrt the motives: Where am I asserting motive? I am inferring, based on outcomes, but that's all that can be done. And since I flunked mind-reading in college, all I can do is look at the results.

much of the current discussion between Progressives and conservatives in the Federal government....

I thought I was clear in offering that as an example to illustrate a point, and not as a claim that all held to one of the other.

Before the welfare state....

Is there such a time, when government wasn't overwhelmingly involved in directing the economy? Other than the free market that evolved in England and more so in the US--which created vast wealth for everyone? The number of people not on government handout programs is greater now than ever before, and government intervention is markedly more, also.

When the handouts were reduced, the economy improved, and the "less fortunate" became less so, both in number and individually: a Northwestern University economist found that for every 10% increase in the amount of after-tax lost wages that were replaced by an unemployment "benefit," the period that a recipient remained unemployed increased by a week and a half. The impact on (finally) going back to work also increased markedly as the unemployment "benefit" began to run out: the likelihood of an individual going back to work tripled as the remaining time on unemployment insurance dropped from six weeks to one week (Meyer, Bruce D., "Unemployment Insurance and Unemployment Spells," Econometrica, July 1990).

During the Clinton administration, legislation was enacted that created the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program, which pushed states to require an active search for employment by the prospective "benefit" recipient in order to receive that subsidy. The TANF also imposed a five-year lifetime limit on the subsidy. Following TANF's institution, there was a 60% drop in the welfare rolls—and this was not due simply to pushing people off the rolls. Employment rose as the ex-benefit recipients actually went back to work, and this had, among other effects, an associated reduction in child poverty rates. In addition to this, a 2007 study by the Congressional Budget Office showed that income sources for the affected families shifted from roughly one-third from earned income and roughly 40% from Aid to Families with Dependent Children in 1991 to a split of roughly 60% from earned income and 9% from TANF by 2000. This was no spike, either; that division held substantially constant through 2005, the latest year in the CBO study ( "Changes in the Economic Resources of Low-Income Households with Children," Congressional Budget Office, May 2007).

So "happiness" can be enlarged upon to include "property"? (we can infer that based on.... what?)

This:

All men are born free and independent, and have certain natural, essential, and unalienable rights, among which may be reckoned the right of enjoying and defending their lives and liberties; that of acquiring, possessing, and protecting property; in fine, that of seeking and obtaining their safety and happiness.

From Adams' "A Declaration of the Rights of the Inhabitants of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts," which he included in the 1780 Constitution of Massachusetts as Article I of the First Part.

As I said, I'm no mind reader, but it seems to me that he did not invent this concept after the Declaration of Independence.

Eric Hines

Posted by: E Hines at July 5, 2012 02:34 PM

I have been in a funk since the decision. I believe that the Thomas Sowell column of July 3 "Judicial Betrayal" expressed my feelings accurately.
While watching the celebrations last evening I could not find a celebratory mood, my sense is that 236 years of sacrifice has been undone by his Honor over thinking!

Posted by: Steve at July 5, 2012 02:46 PM

You assert motive right here:

Dependency of others is how these incumbents stay in power. Goal, or tool, that dependency is what they're after, not helping the less fortunate.

Posted by: Cass at July 5, 2012 03:02 PM

You are equating "people on government assistance" with "the less fortunate". If government assistance were cut back, of course there would be fewer recipients.

That doesn't automatically translate to their being fewer of the "less fortunate", though.

Posted by: Cass at July 5, 2012 03:04 PM

You are equating "people on government assistance" with "the less fortunate".

What's your definition of "less fortunate" in the context of this discussion--the appropriateness, in some minds, of using government resources to help the less fortunate?

Eric Hines

Posted by: E Hines at July 5, 2012 03:33 PM

The idea that this means there can be NO laws that affect these rights is contradicted by the vast number of laws that do just that.

I don't think I said there could be no laws that affect these rights. My point was that although, as you said, the rights enumerated in the Declaration are few, they are not the only rights (hence “among”) and they are subject to wide and vast interpretation. Someone who supports ObamaCare would probably argue that by *not* having it, I am causing people to die, hence taking away their right to Life.

So the reason I quoted such a long passage from the Declaration was because, as you say, Governments will always restrict rights to some extent. Hence the Declaration’s references to “a long train of abuses and usurpations” and to “a history of repeated injuries and usurpations”, and its recitation of specific grievances is important. “We’re not just angry about ObamaCare. We also angry about Roe v Wade and the deficit and crony capitalism and immigration policy and this and that and the other thing.”

Further, I agree with this:

... folks who contend that Constitutional laws are simple and cut and dried. They're not - in the majority of cases, we're talking about that same question: when does the infringement become so substantial that we can say the right is imperiled?

So I think we're either talking past each other or talking in circles or perhaps both. Again, the reason I brought up the Declaration of Independence was not because it said anything about Constitutional tests but because it defined the circumstances under which the signers believed they were justified in no longer considering the English monarchy their government. This line of thinking was in response to your saying:

If we did not consider the governments of the past to be illegitimate when they made very great mistakes, by what rationale do we seek to undermine the legitimacy of our present government, however deeply we disagree with its policies?

The point I was trying to make (apparently very badly) is that we have in the past and may in the future come to the conclusion that our current government is, in fact, not legitimate. The Declaration of Independence gives us a template for deciding when such a decision is appropriate.

I don’t think there’s anything wrong with discussing whether we think our government is still legitimate. If what we’re really saying is that when my party is in power the government is legitimate but when the other party is in power the government isn’t legitimate, well, that’s not right. The whole point of our form of government is that it doesn’t matter (a lot) who is in power; the form itself limits the actions the President and Congress can take and limits the damage they can do.

I believe that you see the fact that the supporters of the in-party see government as legitimate while supporters of the out-party see it as illegitimate as a sign that this isn’t about the form of government: it’s about hardening partisan politics. I’m sure you’re right to some extent, perhaps a large extent, possibly entirely. However, it’s also possible that it means there is now so much “play” in our form of government that it can be bent too far to suit the ends of the party in power.

And, finally, there is the whole bedrock conflict over whether rights are negative (telling the government “thou shalt not”) or positive (telling the government “thou must”). The HHS mandate makes clear to me that the two different approaches cannot co-exist; positive rights eventually infringe on negative rights.

Posted by: Elise at July 5, 2012 05:20 PM

Elise:

I agree that we are mostly talking past each other :)

FWIW, I understood the point you were making. I just wasn't sure you (or others) understood what I was trying to say. But here, you make it clear that you do understand my concerns very well:

I don’t think there’s anything wrong with discussing whether we think our government is still legitimate. If what we’re really saying is that when my party is in power the government is legitimate but when the other party is in power the government isn’t legitimate, well, that’s not right. The whole point of our form of government is that it doesn’t matter (a lot) who is in power; the form itself limits the actions the President and Congress can take and limits the damage they can do.

This is precisely my sense of where we are now.

I believe that you see the fact that the supporters of the in-party see government as legitimate while supporters of the out-party see it as illegitimate as a sign that this isn’t about the form of government: it’s about hardening partisan politics.

Yep. I don't like harping on inconsistencies in my own party's rhetoric, but they're so blatant and in-your-face sometimes that it gets to me.

I’m sure you’re right to some extent, perhaps a large extent, possibly entirely. However, it’s also possible that it means there is now so much “play” in our form of government that it can be bent too far to suit the ends of the party in power.

Perhaps. I'm inclined to think it's less a matter of play than power. The more power the fed has, the more one party (if they dominate) can sway the country.

But in another sense I think that has always been true. We are so much less rational and more emotional than I had always thought us to be (and I didn't start off with all that high an opinion of the rationality of the average voter). That really, really bothers me.

...finally, there is the whole bedrock conflict over whether rights are negative (telling the government “thou shalt not”) or positive (telling the government “thou must”). The HHS mandate makes clear to me that the two different approaches cannot co-exist; positive rights eventually infringe on negative rights.

This is a crucially important point, and one area that absolutely makes compromise very, very difficult.

If you have one party that defines the inalienable rights in such a way that it includes positive rights, and the other includes only negative rights, you do have an area where you're asking people to compromise on rights you've previously declared to be God given and inalienable!

Not that most progressives believe in natural rights, mind you. They are more inclined to social contract theory, possibly because there's no real limiting principle other than the observable fact that when you push people too far, they'll eventually go haring off and start a revolution :p

Posted by: Cass at July 5, 2012 06:07 PM

Regarding social contract theory v. natural rights, this post and the original VC post it is based upon are relevant. Their point -- a very good one -- is that the social contract theory of Locke's was in the context of natural rights. That isn't true for the French version so much; Rousseau was willing to endorse a more willful state, whose whole purpose was to shape people. Locke mostly thought the state was to help you protect your property, and no social contract could legitimately agree to violate natural rights.

Regarding positive versus negative rights, there's an example I can think of a positive right that conservatives support: at least, it's the only positive right I can think of that is enshrined in Georgia's state constitution. This is the right to hunt.

That may not seem like a big deal, but if you have a right to hunt the state ends up having to devote some pretty serious resources to making sure that right is practical. The state has to maintain significant tracks of land put aside for the purpose (although they can also be used for hiking or camping outside of hunting season). They have to hire game wardens and institute seasonal limits so that one guy doesn't kill all the game (like Teddy Roosevelt did on safari -- it's amazing the slaughter his little expedition produced). Etc.

I'm not sure that this transgresses any negative rights I can think of, and it is compatible with some (2nd Amendment rights, freedom of expression, freedom of association, etc). I suppose it could, though, if we got to the point that we were condemning people's property to turn it into hunting lodges and new wilderness tracks.

Posted by: Grim at July 5, 2012 07:10 PM

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