Sunday, April 29, 2012

Nixon's Attitude Problem

Whatever crimes Richard Nixon may have committed, his actual departure from the White House may have been due more to his attitude than to his technical legal guilt. Long before the Watergate scandal was uncovered, Nixon was known for having an "imperial presidency" - an distant attitude which did not play well with some segments of the electorate. This perceived elitism, in turn, made the public unwilling to "cut him some slack" when the Watergate scandal became known.

(Quick reference: the Watergate scandal arose from workers in Nixon's reelection campaign breaking into the offices of the Democrat National Committee, and from the subsequent effort to conceal this crime.)

Nixon committed crimes, and was made to pay the full price. By contrast, other presidents committed crimes equally serious, and perhaps more serious, and were able to escape the consequences. Why? Because Nixon failed to create the illusion of personal relationship with the American public - he failed to create the feeling, in the heart of the voters, that he was a "regular person" who was friendly and approachable. Such an impression - regardless of the reality - is important to the career of an elected politician, and the lack of this calming illusions left Nixon unprotected and left him facing the consequences of his actions.

By contrast, President Clinton was found guilty of perjury, and the government permanently removed his license to practice law - two stunning blows to a sitting president. But he remained in office. Why? His ability to project the image of a friendly, approachable "ordinary guy."

The contrast between Nixon - guilty of crimes and facing the consequences for them - and Clinton - guilty of arguable greater crimes, but given a "pass" by the public and largely shielded from the consequences of his actions - is great. Historian Barry Werth describes the "imperial" personality which ultimately cost Nixon his job:

On his last morning in power, President Richard Nixon arose in the predawn darkness after just a few hours of sleep. He ordered his favorite breakfast of poached eggs and corned-beef hash served to him, alone, in the Lincoln sitting room, the same room where twenty-two months earlier he had retreated by himself to watch on TV as he and Vice President Spiro Agnew were reelected in one of the greatest landslides in American history. The most inward, solitary, and reclusive of presidents - who paradoxically was determined to ensure that every word he spoke, and that was spoken to him, was recorded for history - Nixon to a rare degree determined exactly what he hoped to do and say in public beforehand, by himself, by filling yellow legal pads with notes, arguments, talking points, and exhortations to himself. In a few hours he would say good-bye to the people whom he most depended upon, and whom he'd most let down, betrayed, disappointed, and infuriated - his top administration, who'd served and defended him through the agonies of Watergate and Vietnam.

Nixon's last breakfast as president was on Friday, August 9, 1974. He would resign from office later that day.

It is possible to paint a sympathetic picture of Nixon - the shy introvert who had accidentally hired some unethical leaders in his campaign. Whether or not such a picture is accurate - whether or not Nixon was the criminal we understand him to be - didn't really matter in the end. What mattered was Nixon's failure to charm the American people when he needed it most - a failure due, in part or in whole, to newspaper and television coverage motivated by his political enemies - by the Democrat party eager for Nixon's political demise. They got it.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Getting America out of Debt

Since the Warren G. Harding took office in 1921, and possibly earlier, almost every president has faced the question of what to do about the national debt. Some, like FDR, answered that question by viewing the debt as not problematic, and calmly increasing it. Others saw the debt as problematic, but found no easy way to address it or reduce it.

President Reagan took office in January of 1981, and William F. Buckley recalls:

Reagan, arrived in Washington, was determined to do something in the direction of balancing the budget. His predecessor, Mr. Carter, had piloted the country into the highlands of stagflation. This meant that, simultaneously, the country was suffering from price inflation - the cost living rising - and from unemployment. It was a part of the capitalist catechism that the two phenomena would not coexist. If there was a plethora of goods, exceeding the money supply, then the regular, reliable engines of competition would ease the upward pressures, bringing prices down. A reduction in the supply of goods would signal to the market a need to increase the supply: exit unemployment. During Carter's last year in office, the "Misery Index" (inflation plus unemployment) was over 20 percent.

What had caused the economy to lurch into this disastrous condition? As tempting as it is to place all of the blame on Jimmy Carter, part of the responsibility must also be placed on Congress, which was solidly under the control of the Democrats during the four years of the Carter administration. In any case, stagflation was produced by distortions in the natural forces of the market: economies, left to their own devices, will occasionally lurch into period of unemployment and find their way out, and will occasionally lurch into periods of inflation and find their way out. Indeed, natural economies cycle through such things regularly, depending on their self-correcting mechanisms to draw them back toward equilibrium. But to encounter inflation and unemployment simultaneously, artificial forces must be introduced into the market.

What could be done to improve the economy? The classic prescription of deregulation, reduced taxes, reduced federal spending, reduced deficit, and reducing debt would make sense in the case of inflation, or in the case of unemployment. But would it work in the case of both occurring at the same time? The nation would never know. Reagan may have occupied the White House, but the Democrats had control of Congress, and would not contemplate any moderation of taxes or spending. David Stockman, who worked on the budget, realized that as long as Congress failed to address the fraud and waste which were the Social Security program, the Medicare and Medicaid programs, and the Department of Education, there could be no chance of a balanced budget or any reduction in debt. Reagan

had talked about cutting "fraud and waste" in the federal government to get the deficit under control. But Stockman was right in realizing that the problem was far more entrenched.

The Reagan administration was faced with an unpleasant dilemma. The only effective prescription was politically not viable. Either continue recommending an effective course of action, which Congress would refuse to enact, or take those ineffective steps which Congress allowed. The realities of the Democrat party in the House of Representatives meant that Reagan could not reduce the debt or the deficit.

It took Stockman a very long time before he discovered that the Reagan administration, for instance, simply stopped thinking about Social Security as a malleable budget feature. If he had known that, he says, he would not have engaged in the struggle to begin with, for the very simple reason that the struggle was not winnable ... Unless Social Security is made to correspond to contributions to Social Security, you are left with an imbalance that mocks at

an form of fiscal responsibility, and at any expectation for a rational future to the nation's budget.

Nixon's China Policy

There is no doubt that Nixon's diplomatic overtures to China were one of the most important aspects of his foreign policy. Some applauded this outreach, others were skeptical of it, but all acknowledged that it was momentous. It is seen also in the context of Vietnam - as Chinese relationships with America warmed, Mao - who had always been somewhat reserved in his support of Ho Chi Minh - was even less enthusiastic about supporting the Hanoi government.

Nixon's trip to China stands out in history and memory, but there was a longer diplomatic run-up to that journey: it did not simply happen out of nothing. William F. Buckley, Jr., recalls:

On July 15, 1971, President Nixon helicoptered from his Western White House in San Clemente to a television studio in Burbank to make a surprise announcement: not only were we ending our ostracism of Red China, but he would himself visit China sometime before the following spring. The shock waves were everywhere palpable; but Mr. Nixon knew enough about politics to know that he might safely proceed from the television studio to a fancy restaurant in Los Angeles, there to celebrate his diplomatic triumph in a highly publicized private dinner at which the champagne corks popped in complacent harmony with the impending elation. A few precautions were taken, as if by a master electrician running his eyes over the control panel.

Among those "precautions" were domestic concerns: although China was foreign policy, Nixon needed to be assured that various key constituent groups in America were going to be comfortable with his contacts to Mao. Ronald Reagan, California's governor at the time, was watching Nixon's televised speech with friends and family at home.

The governor turned off the television after the network commentators began transmitting the delighted stupefaction of the international diplomatic community. There had been no comment in the room, save one or two of those wolfish whistles one hears when someone on one's side in politics says something daringly risque; kinky, even, gauged by the standards of the old Nixon. The television off, there was silence in the room for a second, not more - the telephone's ring reached us. The butler appeared. "Dr. Kissinger is on the line," he said to Governor Reagan, who stood up and went to the sequestered alcove where the telephone sat. He wasn't gone for very long, but even by the time he returned, somehow we knew that the question Did Richard Nixon say something he shouldn't have said? Did he undertake a course of action he should not have undertaken? was not up for review. The defloration was final. Henry Kissinger, within five minutes of the public announcement, had ready and reassured the most conspicuously

prominent governor in the country. Nixon needed key political leaders, like Reagan, to know "that the strategic intentions of the president were in total harmony with" the nation's security and interests. Nixon managed a masterful balance between establishing contact with a hostile foreign regime while assuring Americans that was acting in the nation's best interests.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Winning the Cold War

The final defeat of the Soviet Union was a matter, not of shooting, but of simply displaying overwhelming strength. Not only did the United States free the Russian people from a tyrannical and cruel totalitarian government, but it did so in way which avoided a third world war. Military power can be used to deter violence, and even to persuade a potential opponent to relinquish. This is the lesson from the end of the Cold War, as the Excellence in Broadcasting Network reports:

President Reagan's no-nonsense attitude toward the Soviets scared them for the first time. Before that, they had had American presidents wrapped around their little finger - remember Jimmy Carter smooching with Brezhnev? But when Reagan began making jokes about starting the bombing in five minutes, and calling the Soviets an Evil Empire and the focus of evil in the modern world, that scared the living daylights out of them. KGB files prove it.

In 1979, President Carter had indeed given Soviet leader Brezhnev a kiss, in a clumsy attempt at what Carter thought was a Slavic custom. But massive amounts of information from the KGB were made available after the fall of the Soviet Union, which detailed Soviet understandings of Reagan's seriousness.

With the Reagan defense buildup, we showed that could maintain a world-class defense and a first-class economy. And we showed that the Soviets could not. They crumbled trying to keep up. They couldn't feed their people. Here was a country that could build state-of-the-art tanks but could not build a washing machine to last five days - or deliver it to the buyer earlier than ten years from the purchase date. That's what you get with a command economy.

The basis of America's winning strategy in the Cold War was economic, not military. Buy engaging the Soviets in an arms race, we forced them to overextend themselves financially, and it was their budget which eventually did them in.

As soon as people in the Soviet Union got the freedom to say what they really thought, many of them began to say very openly that their government was, in fact, an Evil Empire. (What else do you say about a system that murdered at least 40 million of its own people?) And often they quoted Reagan's actual words, because, of course, Reagan's "Evil Empire" speech had been widely publicized in the Soviet Union as evidence of the nefarious designs of American internationalists.

There is a great deal of irony in the Cold War. One bit of irony is that Reagan was extremely popular in Russia after the fall of the communist totalitarian government. That irony is compounded by the fact that Reagan had become so well-known, and so well-liked, among the Russians because that communist government had widely circulated Reagan's speeches, in the hopes that it would build Soviet resolve against American. The publicizing of Reagan's words had the opposite of the desired effect: by the time communism fell, Russians were familiar with, and enthusiastic about, Reagan's speeches.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

What Should Government Do?

One recurring theme in American History is the question of what a government should do. Implied is also the question of what a government should not do. Senator Barry Goldwater addresses both questions when he writes that

Throughout history, government has proved to be the chief instrument for thwarting man's liberty. Government represents power in the hands of some men to control and regulate the lives of other men. And power, as Lord Acton said, corrupts men. "Absolute power," he added, "corrupts absolutely."

Power, explains Goldwater, need not take away a citizen's freedom. If government is properly limited, it can facilitate person's freedom.

State power, considered in the abstract, need not restrict freedom: but absolute state power always does. The legitimate functions of government are actually conducive to freedom. Maintaining internal order, keeping foreign foes at bay, administering justice, removing obstacles to the free interchange of goods — the exercise of these powers makes it possible for men to follow their chosen pursuits with maximum freedom. But note that the very instrument by which these desirable ends are achieved can be the instrument for achieving undesirable ends — that government can, instead of extending freedom, restrict freedom. And note, secondly, that the "can" quickly becomes "will" the moment the holders of government power are left to their own devices. This is because of the corrupting influence of power, the natural tendency of men who possess some power to take unto themselves more power. The tendency leads eventually to the acquisition of all power — whether in the hands of one or many makes little difference to the freedom of those left on the outside.

These thoughts, written by Senator Goldwater in 1960, echo back to the 1776 drafting of the Declaration of Independence, the 1787 adoption of the Constitution, and the 1789 Bill of Rights. Even further, these thoughts find their antecedents in the late 1600's, when John Locke was writing, and in the year 1215, when the Magna Carta was signed.

The framers of the Constitution had learned the lesson. They were not only students of history, but victims of it: they knew from vivid, personal experience that freedom depends on effective restraints against the accumulation of power in a single authority. And this is what the Constitution is: a system of restraints against the natural tendency of government to expand in the direction of absolutism. We all know the main components of the system. The first is the limitation of the federal government's authority to specific, delegated powers. The second, a corollary of the first, is the reservation to the States and the people of all power not delegated to the federal government. The third is a careful division of the federal government's power among three separate branches. The fourth is a prohibition against impetuous alteration of the system — namely, Article V's tortuous, but wise, amendment procedures.

What some people decry as "gridlock" is in fact a safeguard. It is a good thing that our government can't act quickly and easily, that two political parties can stalemate each other, that a president can veto Congress's action, that Congress can block a president's appointments, and that the Supreme Court can block either of them. If the government is doing nothing, that's the best-case scenario: nothing is often the best it can do.

If we can keep the government snarled in its own procedural difficulties, unable to take decisive actions - then that will keep us safe: a government unable to act is a government unable to take away our freedoms.

Social Insecurity

As part of FDR's New Deal, the Social Security program has become a touchstone in nearly every American's life. It has two defining characteristics: first, it is so central to the average citizen's perception of his future income that no politician dare suggest meddling with it in any way; second, it absolutely cannot be sustained and must be meddled with in some way. The simply math of the situation is that, given the lower birth rate of recent decades, there are fewer and fewer young workers, and more and more old retirees. (This is one of many reasons why a higher birthrate is good for the economy; if you reading this, and you are married and of the appropriate age, go have more children!) William F. Buckley sees that a

serious economic case against the federal social security program is based on the certitude of inflation. Given inflation, social security payments would seem to amount, at least in part, to a capital levy, since the dollar paid in when one is twenty-five years old is due to be repaid, forty years later, with a dollar worth only a part of what the original dollar was worth.

The only way to make up the inflationary difference is to tax more young workers at an even higher rate. Other shortcomings of the social security program make it impractical. Social security was instituted as an "insurance" for retirees "in case" they didn't have enough income as they aged. But in reality, people now plan on it and count on it - it's no longer "just in case" but rather viewed as a significant part of financial planning. As Buckley writes,

To the extent the social security program is sold as an "insurance" program, and its "clients" encouraged to think that their employers are paying part of the cost, the program is fraudulent; and let us beware the tolerance of fraud. As we live with it, we do damage to our critical and moral sensibilities.

We are indeed told that our employers are paying a certain percentage toward our social security. In fact, our employers have been forced, by law, to reduce our salaries and wages by exactly that amount which they must send to the federal government on our behalf to fund the program. The fact that this participation is forced - upon employee and upon employer - is also objectionable:

A society has the right to impose negative restraints; but positive acts of compliance it may exact only in extraordinary situations. One may not murder, drive drunkenly, commit libel, undress publicly. But there is not, for each of these prohibitions, a corresponding injunction of an affirmative kind. To require participation in a social enterprise is a fatal habit for a free society to get into. There are times which it must be done. A society may compel its members to serve in the armed forces when that society is clearly threatened. But it must not conscript its citizens except where such a threat is directly posed.

To more directly apply this principle to the social security program:

Assuming that the economic survival of the nation depended on unanimous participation in the social security system: would society then be entitled to require enrollment of all its citizens? Yes. But only if the demonstration could be made; only if it could be shown that the indispensable enterprise, as conceived, could not be executed without unanimous participation; i.e., voluntarily. The argument that the many would, under a voluntary system, find themselves, performing sacrifices in behalf of the few (the alleged injustice on which the case against the right-to-work laws is based) is not applicable here, because social security payment are not "sacrifices." They are payments against a future service. Those who do not enroll in the program do not make the payments, but neither do the benefits inure to them.

One thing is certain: social security cannot continue in its present form - or in anything even similar to its present form.

Doing Things the Rice Way

Condoleezza Rice was Secretary of State, but she was much more: scholar, musician, and athlete. As a professor of political science at Stanford University, she was known as an expert on the Soviet Union and Warsaw Pact countries. As a pianist, she has played with the Denver Symphony, and accompanied Yo-Yo Ma. She excelled in skating and ballet as well. Historian Michael Savage writes:

Condoleezza Rice is one the classiest acts inside the Beltway. Brilliant, personable, loyal, savvy, articulate, and inexhaustibly talented, she very well may be one of the most qualified individuals to ever serve as Secretary of State. She can even ice skate and play classical piano. Where did she learn all this stuff?

Rice got her master's degree from the University of Notre Dame, and her Ph.D. from the University of Denver.

Kudos certainly go to her outstanding parents, both educators, for providing a stable and loving home-life and making sure that education was a top priority for young Condi.

Dr. Rice's father was a Presbyterian minister, and a civil rights activist. The event that seared its way most powerfully into Rice's memory was the 1963 bombing of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church. She heard the blast. Rice recalls the terror she felt as an eight-year-old. "These terrible events burned into my consciousness," she remembers. And, as America shook its head in disbelief at the murder of four girls, Condi was mourning the two she knew personally - including Denise McNair, her kindergarten classmate. "I remember more than anything the coffins, the small coffins, and the sense that Birmingham was not a very safe place." Armed with a shotgun, her father joined the other men of the black community in night patrols to keep the KKK out of the neighborhood. It was in the crucible of that experience that Condoleezza developed her opposition to gun control and came to value what she sees as the Second Amendment guarantee of the "right to bear arms."

There was a clear link between the civil right struggle and the Second Amendment: "I also don't think we get to pick and choose in the Constitution. The Second Amendment is as important as the First Amendment," she said, "My father and his friends defended our community in 1962 and 1963 against white nightriders, sitting there armed. And so I'm very concerned about any abridgement of the Second Amendment. I am a Second Amendment absolutist."

Her university work in political science was impressive, earning her honors, publications, and eventually a promotion to provost of the university:

Her academic credentials are as impressive as her many talents and her upbringing, and her presence as the chief defender of the president's foreign policy is formidable.

Like many in the civil rights movement, Rice's father voted Republican, and she eventually followed:

Rice admits that she was driven from the Democratic Party into the ranks of the GOP by the incompetent foreign policy of Jimmy "I never expected the Soviets to invade Afghanistan" Carter. That notwithstanding, even Bill Clinton's top Russia advisor, Strobe Talbott, recommended that Clinto should appoint the prim but prowling [Rice] as the U.S. ambassador to Russia. He should have listened. She would later characterize Clinton's foreign policy with Russia as "happy talk." The ivy-covered walls of Stanford University weren't the only place where Clinton's foreign policy was considered a joke.

The linkage between Rice's memories of the civil rights movement - domestic policy - and her eventual appointment to the highest position in foreign policy lies in her family's experience of racism: she told the 2000 Republican National Convention, "My father joined our party because the Democrats in Jim Crow Alabama of 1952 would not register him to vote. The Republicans did."

The Carter Years

Jimmy Carter's political career was influenced by two events: the Watergate scandal and the Vietnam War. Without either of those, it would have been unlikely that he would have become president. But given those two factors, the American voters were looking for something different in the election of 1976. Historian Michael Savage writes:

Most people consider James Earl Carter good and decent. He doesn't drink. He doesn't gamble. He's been married to the same female for the past sixty years.

Carter managed to leverage his image at a time when the electorate was disenchanted with the political process and suspicious of most candidates:

It's largely because of those qualities ... that he was elected the thirty-ninth president of the United States. Still, the fact that he is "good," "decent," and "married to the same mate for umpteen years" should not qualify him for the highest office in the land.

During the four years during which Jimmy Carter was

at the helm, the United States was tossed into a tailspin of gross overspending, monumental inflation, and an oil and gasoline crisis that made even the post-Katrina madness seem like a bargain hunter's paradise.

Carter had been a peanut farmer in Plains, Georgia. He had graduated from the Naval Academy at Annapolis, and had technical experience working with nuclear power. He had also been governor of Georgia. While technically adept, he lacked skills or experience in diplomacy and in powerbrokering. His

most ignominious contribution to history ... was his bungling of the Iran hostage crisis. By sanctimoniously undermining the Shah of Iran ... Carter threw open Teheran to the Ayatollah Khomeini.

The world was struck by a double blow: first, innocent civilians taken hostage; second, Iran losing its civil freedoms and falling under the oppression of a dictatorship which explicitly ignores basic human rights.

Fortunately, though, after Carter's interminable first term, Americans returned to their senses in time for the 1980 election and voted in no-nonsense Ronald Reagan by a landslide. This sent a clear message to Iran that the days of negotiation and failed rescue attempts in the desert were over. It's no coincidence that on the day of Mr. Reagan's inauguration, the hostages were finally released.

Students who want to understand the Reagan presidency must first understand the Carter presidency. The United States, hoping for a recovery of national confidence after Vietnam and Watergate, was instead subjected to further loss status, both in domestic economics and international diplomacy, during the Carter administration.

To be fair, Carter did make an achievement of some type in the Camp David Accords, which established a better relationship between Egypt and Israel; for this international agreement, Jimmy Carter deserves credit as a sincere peacemaker.

He also has been recognized as effective in his role with the Habitat for Humanity organization, which has harnessed mostly private-sector capital and volunteer labor to help homeless families.

Friday, April 20, 2012

The Venona Project

As every fan of spy movies knows, cryptography is an important skill for an intelligence agency to have. Various wars have hinged on codes, and someone's ability or inability to break them. The Cold War is no exception. The Venona Project was a big code-breaking effort which informed the American government about dozens of Soviet spies who had been planted inside the State Department and other agencies. Historian Ann Coulter writes:
The Venona Project was begun in 1943 by Colonel Carter Clarke, chief of the U.S. Army's Special Branch, in response to rumors that Stalin was negotiating a separate peace with Hitler. Only a few years earlier, the world had been staggered by the Hitler-Stalin Pact. Unaccountably, Colonel Clarke did not share President Roosevelt's trust in the man FDR called "Uncle Joe." Cloaked in secrecy, Clarke set up a special Army unit to break the Soviet code. Neither President Roosevelt nor President Truman was told about the Venona Project. This was a matter of vital national security: The Democrats could not be trusted.

Historians have hotly debated the degree to which FDR was taken in by Stalin. FDR did manage to talk Stalin into at least making the gesture of preparing to engage the Japanese in a militarily significant way, and this may have sped up Japan's timetable for surrender. So maybe FDR wasn't always easily fooled. Truman also had his doubts about Stalin's integrity. Yet both presidents were lulled into thinking that Stalin's word, or his signature on a document like a treaty, had meaning. It was clear that Stalin would say anything, or sign any document, while planning to do the very opposite.

The Soviets used a code that was, in theory, unbreakable. But by the war's end, the Americans had cracked it. And when the Venona cryptographers read the Soviet cables they discovered something far more sinister than Stalin's war plans: The Roosevelt administration was teeming with paid agents of Moscow. Stalin's handmaidens held strategic positions at the White House, the State Department, the War Department, the Office of Strategic Services, and the Treasury Department.

This discovery provoked a crisis. People had been appointed or hired into positions which gave them access to sensitive information - people whose stated and sworn objective was to destroy the United States. Men and women were working in departments and making decisions about national policy - men and women who were attempting to implement a plan for a communist takeover in America, a takeover which would have eliminated political freedom as we know it.

Given the large volume of communications between Soviet agents in the United States and their headquarters in Moscow, "only a small number of the intercepted Soviet cables have been decoded. But even that much proves" that America was in grave danger. "The U.S. government had a major Communist infestation problem." In hindsight, FDR's and Truman's "gravest error was in underestimating the problem of Communist subversion."

Saturday, April 14, 2012

A Bitter Harvest from the New Deal

The pain of the Great Depression made people willing to go along with FDR's New Deal. In hindsight, they probably began regretting it soon thereafter. National debt went up immediately, as did the deficit; but the unemployment rate didn't go down. But the tax burden to pay for it all began to crush Americans, both rich and poor. It has been doing so ever since. On January 18, 1960, almost thirty years after the New Deal began to take millions from American wage-earners, the New York Times printed, on its front page, that:

The President estimated that the expenditures of the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare in the fiscal year 1961 (including Social Security payments) would exceed $15,000,000. Thus the current results of New Deal legislation are Federal disbursements for human welfare in this country second only to national defense.

The huge amounts of money - back then, $15,000,000 was a lot of money - were spent in the name of "human welfare," but in fact only created misery in society. The net result of these expenditures was an increase in the divorce rate, the numbers of children born illegitimately, and the numbers of chronically unemployed. FDR's programs also created a dependency mentality, in which people saved less earnestly for their retirement, assuming that the government would pay for it all.

In the 1960's, LBJ's "Great Society" programs would extend the New Deal mentality, and Senator Barry Goldwater would note:

The currently favored instrument of collectivization is the Welfare State. The collectivists have not abandoned their ultimate goal - to subordinate the individual to the State - but their strategy has changed. They have learned that Socialism can be achieved through Welfarism quite as well as through Nationalization. They understand that private property can be confiscated as effectively by taxation as by expropriating it. They understand that the individual can be put at the mercy of the State - not only by make the State his employer - but by divesting him of the means to provide for his personal needs an by giving the State the responsibility of caring for those needs from cradle to grave. Moreover, they have discovered - and here is the critical point - that Welfarism is much more compatible with the political processes of a democratic society. Nationalization ran into popular opposition, but the collectivists feel sure the Welfare State can be erected by the simple expedient of buying votes with promises of "free" hospitalization, "free" retirement pay and so on ... The correctness of this estimate can be seen from the portion of the federal budget that is now allocated to welfare, an amount second only to the cost of national defense.

Senator Goldwater correctly projected the future tactics of certain politicians. Taxes would continue to increase, as would national debt, yearly federal deficits, and the promises made to care for various needs. In fact, domestic spending for such projects would soon exceed defense spending, and eventually the government would spend, annually, twice or thrice on domestic welfare what it spent on defense. Yet the class of urban poor and chronically unemployed would only grow with each new spending initiative. Even when well-intentioned, such programs only harm those they are supposed to help.

How to Create Economic Growth

The economy of any nation is cyclic - ups and downs happen over and over again. History shows us that if we simply wait it out, the downs will eventually pass, and we will return to the ups. But sometimes people grow impatient - understandably, given the human cost of the downs - and want the government to "do something" to "fix it." But well-intentioned attempts to intervene in the economy can only make things worse, never better. Senator Barry Goldwater wrote:

Let us, by all means, remember the nation's interest in reducing taxes and spending. The need for "economic growth" that we hear so much about these days will be achieved, not by the government harnessing the nation's economic forces, but by emancipating them. By reducing taxes and spending we will not only return to the individual the means with which he can assert his freedom and dignity, but also guarantee to the nation the economic strength that will always be its ultimate defense against foreign foes.

Whenever we hear the calls for "more jobs" or "job creation" or "better jobs" - whether in the 1960's (when Goldwater wrote) or in the present - the answer is always to reduce regulation, reduce taxation, and let creative people explore new ideas in industry and business. Steve Jobs was allowed to create the iPod, iPhone, and iPad because of this economic freedom. Future creative geniuses will be able to continue such artistry only if government gets out of the way and lets them work.

Economics in the 1960's

President Lyndon Johnson, with the cooperation of a Democrat majority in both houses of Congress, created two of the nation's biggest spending schemes: the war in Vietnam, and the "Great Society" programs. These big-ticket items created deficit spending and debt which would continue for decades. Looking back, we can see the fiscal disaster, but at the time it was not so obvious. There were some people at the time who saw clearly the looming financial disaster which LBJ's programs would cause. Senator Barry Goldwater wrote:

Here is an indication of how taxation currently infringes on our freedom. A family man earning $4,500 a year works, on average, twenty-two days a month. Taxes, visible and invisible, take approximately 32% of his earnings. This means that one-third, or seven whole days, of his month labor goes for taxes. The average American is therefore working one third of the time for the government: a third of what he produces is not available for his own use but is confiscated and used by other who have not earned it. Let us note that by this measure, the U.S. is already one third "socialized." The late Senator Taft made the point often. "You can socialize," he said "just as well by a steady increase in the burden of taxation beyond the 30% level we have already reached as you can can by government seizure. The very imposition of heavy taxes is a limit on a man's freedom."

From our later perspective, an annual salary of $4,500 may seem small, but the percentage numbers are still relevant. If we add together sales tax, income tax, property tax, gasoline tax, cell phone tax, and dozens of other taxes on everything from beer to airplane tickets, we realize that the government is taking a greater and greater portion of every working American's income. We're feeling the pain of such taxes now, but the seeds of this suffering were planted in the 1960's.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Pondering MLK

Books, articles, and movies have been produced in great quantity, narrating and honoring the life of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. The amazing amount of material produced about him is appropriate: he is pivotal in the history of the twentieth century. Almost everything that can be said or written about him has already been said or written.

We might ask about the causes of his success - both during his short lifetime, and in the decades afterward. There were many leaders in the civil rights movement; few rose to his heights during their time on this planet, and few have endured in human memory so vividly after they left it. What was it about MLK which made him so distinctively impactive? Historian William F. Buckley, Jr., writes:

What moved so many about what King had had to say was its ground, not in constitutional exegesis, but in Christian dogma. Equality under the law, in America, had been a focus constitutional evolution - blacks, women, minors. The Constitution, as everybody knows, implicitly condoned slavery. The approach to equality continues to be progressive. The Thirteenth Amendment abolished slavery, Plessy vs. Ferguson authorized a prolongation of inequality, Brown vs. Board of Education reversed Plessy, the Civil Rights Acts parsed equality. The ground of this evolution has been a religiously transcendent view of human beings, in the absence of which the bell curve is king.

In the absence of spiritual view of humans, in which each human life carries equal worth and dignity, we are content to value some people as more valuable than others. If we adopt MLK's worldview, we demand that every human being be acknowledged, in Jefferson's words, as having a "sacred and undeniable" right to life and liberty.

"The lights that motivated Martin Luther King (by his own words) are" essentially spiritual: he was a clergyman, who earned his paycheck preaching the New Testament. He challenged America to live up to the words of its founding documents, but in order to issue such a challenge, he stood on a still deeper form of foundation. This is what gives MLK's enduring legacy such power.

Electoral Disconnect

More than once it has happened that voters elect a candidate, even if his views aren't theirs. Such instances illuminate the question of how voters cast their ballots - do they elect the candidate as an individual, or do they see him as a bundle of issues?

In the 1964 presidential election, voters overwhelmingly rejected Barry Goldwater, and elected Lyndon Johnson. Yet the polling data revealed that voters were more likely to agree with Goldwater on major national questions. Historian William F. Buckley, Jr., reports that

no less than 94 percent of the American public believed that the government had been lax in security ... 88 percent agreed that prayer in schools should be reinstated ... sixty-four percent believed that Goldwater was uniquely serious about wanting to curb extremist groups; 60 percent felt that government power should be trimmed; and, again, 60 percent agreed that state welfare without stringent eligibility rules encouraged laziness. A solid 50 percent believed that Goldwater would do a better job than Johnson on the issue of morality and corruption in government.

So most voters agreed with Goldwater, but voted for LBJ. Why? Possible answers: the 94% statistic about security may have overstated the public's sentiment in the wake of Walter Jenkins scandal. Johnson had been coy on the school prayer issue, simply deferring to the Constitution's separation of powers rather than expressing a concrete view. In recent legislative matters, Johnson had departed from his segregationist views long enough to endorse the 1964 Civil Rights Act during an election year; Goldwater had departed from his integrationist views long enough to cripple his political capital by opposing the same legislation, not in principle, but on a technicality.

It was not the first time, nor the last, that the American voters would choose a candidate with whom they disagreed and rejected a candidate with whom they largely agreed. These are the cases which keep campaign managers employed.

Breaking Ranks

Occasionally in the history of politics we see an individual who decides to move in a direction opposite to his party - whether out of conscience or out of cold calculation: someone who chooses to do the antithesis of what his party is doing.

The modern civil rights movement in the United States produced a dizzying array of legislation: The Civil Rights Act of 1957 was followed by The Civil Rights Act of 1960, and the same for 1964 and 1968. In addition, there was The Voting Rights Act of 1965, and numerous other bills introduced into the House of Representatives and into the Senate during these years.

All of these pieces of legislation had one thing in common: they were carried through Congress by the votes of Republicans. The Democrat party had its power base in the Old South, or the Deep South, and was firmly segregationist. The 1965 Voting Rights Act, for example, had the votes of 97% of the Republicans in the Senate, while a group of Democrat Senators worked against it.

But there were exceptions: Senator Barry Goldwater, a Republican from Arizona, joined with the Democrats in the Senate in opposing the 1964 Civil Rights Act. We'll probably never know whether he did this out of personal conviction, or as a political strategy: he was running for president at the time, and perhaps hoped to get Democrats to vote for him, if he voted against the Civil Rights Act.

In any case, his fellow Republicans were dismayed. The political party of Abraham Lincoln had maintained its record of supporting African-American civil rights for more than a century; Goldwater would be a blemish on the party's record if he joined the Democrats in the filibustering and obstructionism. Rather than help Goldwater, his choice would actually hurt his chances of becoming president. Historian William F. Buckley, Jr., recalls:

But it mattered that there was continuing, even hardening, opposition to Goldwater's voting position on the Civil Rights Act then before Congress. Only five other Republicans had announced their opposition to the bill, which would come up for a vote later in June.

The response to Goldwater's decision was the harmful to his presidential aspirations. The informal and unwritten power structure in Congress had left the Democrats in control for decades, allowing Jim Crow laws to flourish in the South. The Republicans, a large minority in Congress, had developed a successful tactic by persuading a few Democrats to vote with the GOP on civil rights bills, creating a coalition large enough to vote them into law:

The Democrats' leverage over Congress had been achieved, over several decades - including the decades of Franklin Delano Roosevelt - by the most artful dissimulation in American political history. The Democratic Party was hailed as the party of reform, of social conscience, the progressive vessel of a modern and permanently altered nation born with the New Deal. For two decades the Democrats' life and strength had depended critically on the party's hold on the U.S. Senate. And this had been effected with the compliance of a dozen Southern senators given power by the rules of seniority. And all of them were agents of the Jim Crow Southern tradition.

The electorate was waking up to the irony that the political party which labeled itself 'progressive' was in fact the party which had kept segregation firmly in place - the voters were realizing that the Democrat party, hailed as the compassionate party, was in fact the party which instituted and maintained Jim Crow laws after the Republicans lost their influence in the South at the end of the Reconstruction era.

As a heightened awareness of civil rights arose among the public, the Democrats were in an awkward position. Within their ranks were the staunchest segregationists, yet in the searching light of public opinion, they needed to be seen as promoting equal opportunity. Thus it was that LBJ saw fit to support the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which many in his own party opposed.

What they faced now, with Lyndon Johnson reborn, was a looming transformation by the Civil Rights Act. In the spring of 1964 it lay in the bowels of Congress like a fetus teeming with life, but not yet quite born. It was ardently backed by President Johnson, whose backing was all the more eloquent for his historical anti-civil-rights legislative and executive devices. But today he was the principal champion of a bill that would assert a federal right to seek out discrimination in every quarter of Southern life and to harness the dormant engines of the federal government to fight such discrimination. It would bring to life equality before the law in the little courthouses of the South which, pleading states' rights, had for so long devised means of frustrating the liberal passions of the high-minded.

The complexities abound: President Johnson was now supporting the type of civil rights legislation he had previously opposed; he was now in conflict with members of his own party. Goldwater, on the other hand, was now opposing the legislation which his party supported. LBJ, a renegade Democrat, was opposing his own party by supporting the civil rights legislation; Goldwater, a renegade Republican, was opposing his own party by opposing the civil rights legislation.

Whether LBJ and Goldwater were acting out of calculation or conviction, the results of history are clear. Goldwater lost the support of many in his own party, and so lost his chance to become president. LBJ gained momentary plausibility as a supporter of civil rights, but over time failed to persuade the voters that he was a true champion of equality for Blacks.

The lesson is that one must not only be right, but be right consistently.