Monday, April 19, 2010

Wolves in Sheep's clothing

After reading a number of my posts, a friend suggested I was prone to hyperbole. She said that I spent too much time focusing on what was wrong with the government and not enough time inspiring people. While I understand the power of inspiration, I couldn't have disagreed with her more. Inspiring is what someone wants to be on Sunday in the locker room before the big game. The goal is to energize the team to hit the field and play the best damn game they can so they can walk home with the trophy and feel like champions.

In politics, as in sports and life, inspiration is necessary, but not sufficient. Sun Tzu said “Every battle is won before it is ever fought.” He was right. The game is not won on Sunday, it’s won in the months and weeks and days leading up to the game. It’s won in the long arduous hours of practice in the sweltering heat of summer, it’s won by lifting weights until exhaustion sets in, it’s won by studying every game tape of your opponent you can get of your hands on so you can develop a strategy for success.

Inspiration is like adrenaline during a marathon; it gives you a burst when the gun goes off and it gives you the energy to surge at the end, but it’s not the fuel that powers you through the majority of the race. Many runners will tell you that the most difficult part of a race is not the end when you have a couple of miles to go and the finish line is just up ahead, rather it is the middle miles where the start is far behind and the finish line is too far off to be a reality. It is during those middle miles, when there’s no finish line to lunge for, that the focus can be lost, when the distractions creep in when some lose sight of why they are running in the first place. During those miles it is not adrenaline that carries one through, but rather it is the discipline forged by the days and weeks and months of hard work and preparation.

So too with politics. It is easy to generate enthusiasm in September and October as the ads start running, lawn signs become ubiquitous and candidates are out on the stump talking about what they want to achieve. The problem, however, is that by the time September and October roll around, many of the battles have already been won or lost. Parties have selected their nominees, candidates have crafted their positions and those less engaged by politics have figured out how to adapt to the latest problems Washington has foisted upon them, and are returning back to life as normal. The challenge is to keep the attention of the citizenry on the fact that the most dangerous threat to their liberty is not going to come in the form of a Pearl Harbor or 9-11 attack, but rather it is going to be the slow creep of just one more fee levied on those who have more than their share, or an innocuous new tax increase to support “the children,” or another ostensibly reasonable regulation meant to protect those lost souls not capable of deciding what they should eat in a restaurant to avoid a heart attack.

The problem with inspiration is that it’s a call to arms, not a plan of action. As such, the question becomes how does one keep people motivated through the April showers, May flowers and dog days of summer? The answer: By highlighting the reasons they should be engaged in the first place. Remind them that Barack Obama and the Democrats are wolves in sheep’s clothing. They hunt by stealth amongst the American polity. They rarely speak of their socialist Utopian dreams – although every now and then one of them will let the truth slip like Barack Obama with Joe the Plumber or Maxine Waters threatening to “socialize” big oil – but those are the nightmares they are saddling the country with.

To add probably one too many metaphors, the boy who cried wolf was not guilty of hyperbole, he was guilty of lying, so when the real wolf came, no one bothered to listen. Had he instead warned that the wolf was lurking it would have been possible to prepare a defense strategy so that when Mr. Wolf did indeed arrive, he could have been vanquished. The Democrat socialist agenda is once again a wolf in sheep’s clothing and the free thinking American sheep are on the menu. We, whose liberty, legacy, freedom and treasure are the main course for their carnivore’s ball, are obliged to point out how Barack Obama and his minions are destroying the things that made America great in the first place. If not us, who? If not now, when? Call it hyperbole if you must, but we call it trying to save our collective hides – no pun intended…

Monday, April 12, 2010

The Death of American Exceptionalism

Seldom are the choices in life black and white, particularly when it comes to politics. If choices were that simple, it would be easy to accept Barack Obama as good simply because he has a disarming smile and easier to vilify Rush Limbaugh simply because he comes across as rather arrogant and suggests that he wants the charismatic Obama to fail.

When it comes to the political debate since Obama’s election, the mainstream media has sought to make the choice rather clear for the simple-minded American masses by painting Obama in language one might find at the base of the Statue of Liberty were it built today:

“Give me your unemployed, your health insurance-less,
Those seeking protection from villainous corporations;
Those yearning for a world free of cars and pristine air and water;
Send me those who seek freedom from offense and their fair share of what this nation has created.
I lift my pen to give you everything, all of which will be paid for by those evil rich who took your birthright in the first place.”

Not surprisingly, Obama comes across as something of a Robin Hood against Limbaugh’s evil Sheriff of Nottingham who seeks to defend the status quo and use those Tea Party racists to put the common man under the thumb of corporate vultures and rich barons.

As helpful as this might be for a Hollywood movie, it is of no use in the real world, indeed it obscures the true nature of this debate. In reality the players are in opposite corners. It is Limbaugh and the Tea Party protesters who are seeking to free the citizens from the yoke of government tyranny and oppression and it is Obama who seeks to increase the burden around their necks.

What might be surprising to most people who get their news from the New York Times, CNN or the Huffington Post, the conservatives do not seek anarchy. They do not hate government for government’s sake. They do not seek to have no government, they simply seek to have limited government, where the government focuses on those things it can do well – and constitutionally - National defense, foreign affairs, law enforcement, border control and adjudication of conflicts and disputes – and get out of the business of rearranging the deck chairs on the Financial Titanic after they’ve rammed the ship directly into an iceberg. Government intervention in the lives of Americans has been ratcheting up for decades and like a frog in a slowly heated pot Americans sat there as taxes were raised one percent at a time and regulation grew by a few sheets at a time. ObamaCare was the equivalent of pouring in boiling water in the pot, and now the frog – in this case the Tea Partiers – have decided it’s time to jump.

The problem in 2010 is a fairly simple one. There is far too much government intervention in our lives. Not only does that intervention stifle individual liberty, but it’s also setting us up to fail as a nation. A decade ago the Cato Institute came out with a brilliant paper called The Scope of Government and the Wealth of Nations. It documented the inverse relationship between a country’s economic growth and the level of government control over GDP. Not surprisingly, the higher the government control of the economy, the slower the rate of GDP growth. We are more than our economy, but that economic juggernaut has been the fuel that has powered the American experience.

That control is at the core of the debate between the Obama socialists and the Limbaugh / Tea Party conservatives. Just as the left is picking up steam in its efforts to remake America in the mold of a fabled European utopia, we are seeing the original European utopias crumble before our eyes. Greece is coming apart at the seams, requiring billions of dollars of support; Spain has unemployment approaching 20% while Italy and Portugal are economic basket cases who can barely service their debt. Across the continent Europeans regularly pay 50% of their incomes in taxes, an additional 20% of their spending on a VAT, all the while enduring high prices for everything from gasoline to restaurants, double digit unemployment and tiny, cramped living spaces. That is the American future if these red tides (financial & statist) are not turned back.

The United States has been the engine of economic development on the planet for most of the last century, despite the fact that our population represents a mere 5% of the world's population. To put this in some perspective, in 1960, just a few years after CEO Charles Wilson told a Senate panel “What's good for General Motors is good for America,” the United States generated 47% of world GDP, while the rest of the world's population, fully 20 times more people, generated only 53%. Today, with General Motors on life support and in the hands of the government, US GDP has fallen closer to 25%. For a century our creativity, innovation and willingness to take chances benefited not only Americans, but people around the world. While our economic tide may not have lifted all boats, over a century it lifted more than any previous tide in human history.

That success (and leadership) is in peril, and the danger comes largely from within. If Barack Obama and the Democrats were really as compassionate as they claim to be they would use their control of the government to rip back the burdens of taxation and regulation that are crippling the our economy and turning the American Exceptionalism that drove domestic prosperity and fueled world development for 100 years into a quaint historical memory. I'll keep my fingers crossed, but I can't say I'm sanguine about the prospects of that happening...

Monday, April 5, 2010

Guns, butter and other Democrat fairy-tales...

For much of the last 30 years the Democrat left in the United States has been professing the superiority of the socialist western European systems where the governments provide (or force what’s left of the private sector to provide) cradle to grave support in the form of everything from child care to health care to month long vacations to generous social security benefits.

What those lefty Democrats fail to mention is that the reason those European countries could heap such generous benefits on their citizens is because the United States provided the security umbrella that allowed them to do so. After World War II American troop strength in Europe didn’t dip below 250,000 until 1991, two years after the fall of the Berlin Wall. Indeed in some years over 25% of American troops were stationed on European soil as a bulwark against the Soviets and their Warsaw Pact allies. Over the course of the last 60 years the United States has literally spent trillions of dollars protecting those European socialist nirvana’s that the Democrats are seeking to reproduce here. Over much of that period many of those European countries spent less than half what the United States did on defense. It’s a lot easier to build a nanny state when you don’t have to worry about the neighborhood bully invading your country.

While the Europeans were busy constructing their socialist paradises under the security umbrella provided by the United States, they were also letting the resulting tax and spend policies eviscerate their economic growth. Over the last 30 years US GDP growth averaged 3.1% while together Spain, Germany, France, the Netherlands, the UK, Greece and Italy averaged 2.35%. That may not sound like much of a difference, but it translates to a full 20% greater economic growth for the United States over the last three decades. Tellingly, when you go back only 20 years the American advantage slips to 2.94% vs. 2.54%. The most disturbing numbers can be found by going back a mere 10 years, where American economic growth almost slipped to parity, with the US recording an average annual GDP growth of 2.86% while the above seven nations averaged 2.83%. If one steps back, what you see is that as government and the welfare state has expanded in the US, the GDP growth rate has declined to the point where it is almost identical to that of the Europeans.

That anemic growth the vaunted socialist European nations experienced came despite receiving billions of dollars annually in direct and indirect expenditures from the presence of 100,000-200,000 American troops and contracts for a wide variety of goods and services from the Department of Defense. Not only did Western Europe benefit directly from those defense expenditures, but they were also saved from having to spend their own money on their own defense against Soviet aggression. Between 1985 and 2003 defense expenditures of the seven countries listed above declined from an average of 4.1% of GDP to 2.17, far less than American expenditures which dropped from 6.1% to 3.5% over the same period. If one were to exclude tiny Greece, which sees itself in a perpetual rivalry with neighbor Turkey, the remaining six would have spent a minuscule 3.5% of GDP on defense in 1985 and that would have dropped to 1.84% by 2003.

Ultimately the relevant takeaway here is not the disparity between the defense expenditures of the United States and Europe, but rather the observation that the European nirvana that Barack Obama, Nancy Pelosi, Harry Reid and the rest of the Democratic party seek to establish in the United States is a mirage. It exists only because the United States provided those countries with an annual subsidy of between 2 & 3% of their GDP in the form of 6 decades of defense spending they did not have to pay for themselves and from which they benefited directly from the American checkbook. Had they been forced to spend an additional 2% of their GDP on defense every year, they would never have been able to build their cradle to grave entitlement nirvanas they have today – which, by the way, are failing. The goal here is not to criticize the way western defense played itself out over the last sixty years, but to point out that the systems Democrats hold up as models for the United States are not sustainable in the real world where self defense and limited resources force governments to make choices between guns and butter. And to those who might suggest that this is hyperbole and that Western Europe was not really threatened by the Soviets, one need look back to Hungary in 1956, Berlin in 1962, Czechoslovakia in 1968 or Afghanistan 1979.

Speaking of the real world, as the true costs of ObamaCare emerge and begin to spiral out of control – just as virtually every other government program has – often by hundreds of percent – it will become clear that the Democratic stories of hope and change, of a paradise where Americans can have everything and anything the government might seek to provide with the rich picking up the tab, are nothing but fairy-tales where reality and fantasy are interchangeable. The November elections are a mere seven months away, but that is plenty of time to debunk the socialist Mother Goose stories that the Democrats have been telling us since Walter Duranty was their man on the street. The question is, will enough people go to the polls and play to role of the hunter as we seek to slay the Democratic wolves who are dressed in Granny’s clothes and are preparing to devour what’s left of Little Red Riding Hood – or in this case, American Liberty?

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