Sunday, March 23, 2014

Ted Cruz, Thomas Sowell and Battles Worth Fighting...

In my opinion Thomas Sowell is easily the smartest man in America. From Basic Economics, to Black Rednecks and White Liberals to his definitive dissection of the most recent economic collapse in The Housing Boom and Bust, his books are nothing short of brilliant. And of course it’s not just books, he writes a weekly column as well, does interviews, lectures and does research at Stanford’s Hoover Institute. His prodigious talents make him one of the great thinkers and writers of our time.

As much as I enjoy and agree with almost everything Sowell writes, I believe he’s wrong about Ted Cruz. He was not happy with Cruz leading the charge for the government shutdown last year and he’s not at all happy with him on his efforts to unseat RINO republicans.

On the shutdown Dr. Sowell suggested that there was no point fighting the battle because it could simply not be won. “Even if, by some miracle, the Republicans managed to get the Senate to go along with defunding ObamaCare, President Obama can simply veto the bill.” That is factually correct. There was no chance that Obama was going to sign any bill that defunded Obamacare… but that’s OK. Sowell is also correct that the GOP was going to get blamed for the shutdown by a bootlicking media. But the funny thing was, despite the Democrat’s and the media’s warnings that the sky would fall… it didn’t. During the “shutdown” 83% of all government spending went on unmolested, and perhaps most glaringly, only 22% of American people said they were inconvenienced by the shutdown at all! That’s a much lower percentage than the number of Americans who had a negative opinion of Obamacare at that same time, 44% and who wanted Obamacare repealed, 34%.

While the media sought to paint the shutdown as a GOP mistake, Ted Cruz gave the GOP leadership an opportunity to harness that attention to articulate why they were fighting to save the country from Obamacare. The fact that the leadership chose not to, or is genetically incapable of doing so is not Cruz’s fault. At a time when the nation’s attention was focused on government policies, Cruz gave the GOP an opportunity to show that “business as usual” was no longer going to fly. Not surprisingly, they failed to do so.

Dr. Sowell is equally perturbed by Ted Cruz’s willingness to attack the GOP leadership, which includes Senators who are up for election in 2014, such as Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and Whip John Cornyn. Also his filibuster in October in an attempt to get the GOP to hold Obamacare hostage to the debt ceiling.

Dr. Sowell often compares (in a negative light) Cruz to George Washington. There is a United States of America today only because George Washington understood that his army was not able to fight the British troops everywhere, but had to choose carefully when and where to fight. Futile symbolic confrontations were a luxury that could not be afforded then and cannot be afforded now.

He makes a similar point using the illustration of the Dunkirk rescue: The British troops who escaped from Dunkirk came back to France four years later, as part of the massive invasion forces that stormed the beaches at Normandy, liberated France and pushed on into Germany for the final defeat of the Nazi regime.

In politics, as in war, you need power to win, and you don't dissipate your forces fighting battles that you are sure to lose. Symbolism and emotional self-indulgence are just not worth it.

While admitting Dr. Sowell is right that Barack Obama’s veto pen would likely rule the day in most situations, I do not agree with his contention that fighting a battle is not worth fighting just because you know you’ll probably lose. That’s because there’s a difference between a battle and a war, and Americans are very much involved in a war. That war may not involve bullets and bayonets, but the stakes are as high as anything George Washington ever fought for. It is literally for the freedom that he won for us and the Constitution secured for us.

Whereas Dr. Sowell compares Ted Cruz’s battles to Washington’s at New York or to the British at Dunkirk, I think a better comparison is to Leonidas at Thermoplyae or the defenders of the Alamo. In both cases the battles were lost, but they inspired the winning of the larger war. Fortunately, in the war effort Ted Cruz is leading the consequences of losing a battle will surely not be fatal, probably even to a political career. But what they might do is finally arouse an American populace that has forgotten that liberty and prosperity are built on the Constitutional principles of individual freedom, limited government and free enterprise and not on government mandates and largesse.

Ted Cruz may lose many of the battles he fights, but the battles are worth fighting. For too long conservatives have acquiesced to the tactics of “establishment” Republicans and as a result we’ve had more than a quarter century of the winnowing of our freedoms and the unfettered growth of government. From farm bills to debt limits to welfare spending to Obamacare, the GOP’s willingness to play it safe has resulted in one unmitigated disaster after another, culminating in the reelection of Barack Obama in 2012. Maybe Dr. Sowell is right, maybe Ted Cruz’s tactics will lose the Senate for the GOP in 2014. If so, so be it. If the American system is going to collapse under its own weight – which is surely the case with the current trajectory – then let the damage be done so that we can get on with the task of rebuilding a nation based on liberty, the rule of law and free markets. I’m not convinced a majority of American citizens are suicidal however, and as Ted Cruz fights the good fight I expect more and more of them will stop and take notice of his message of (very) limited government. With all due respect to the Smartest Man in America, I believe that’s a message worth fighting for.

Monday, March 17, 2014

King Barack, the Declaration of Independence and a Textbook Definition of Tyranny

The two great founding documents in American history are the Declaration of Independence and the US Constitution. Today, more than two centuries after each was written, people often conflate the two. How often have you heard someone say “It’s my right… it’s right there in the Constitution… Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness.” Of course, that phrase is not in the Constitution at all. It’s in the Declaration.

That conflation belies the fact that while both documents are important to our history, they are fundamentally different and do different things. The Declaration of Independence severed the ties with Great Britain, explained the grounds for that split and declared that each state was a sovereign nation unto itself. The Constitution on the other hand articulated how those 13 sovereign nations would come together to form a single nation and how the government would be structured, how powers would be distributed both between the federal and state governments as well as the framework of checks and balances within the federal government itself. A critical element in the passage of that Constitution was the Massachusetts Compromise, without which it would never have passed. It was the Massachusetts Compromise that forged the agreement to add a Bill of Rights as the first order of business when the new Congress met.

During the ratification much of the debate could focus on a Bill of Rights because the checks and balances were already in place within the original document itself: Staggered terms for presidents, senators and congressmen and lifetime appointments for justices; The president’s veto and Congress’ ability to override; The election of congressmen by citizens, senators by states and the president by the Electoral College; Representation in the House based on population and in the Senate by equal numbers, etc.

The whole point of the American Constitution is the United States is a nation of laws, not a nation of men. The founders were too early to have been able to reference John Dalbert-Acton’s famous 19th century quote "Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men." but they certainly understood the sentiment behind it. As such they gave us a constitution specifically implemented to avoid just that.  They were quite clear about how the government can enact laws. Congresses passes bills and the President signs them into law. The Executive Branch then implements and executes them. While presidents have a great deal of leeway, their job is to execute the law, not write it. The whole point of the Constitution was to have the law making power in the hands of the people’s representatives, not in the hands of a would be king.

Unfortunately King Barack doesn’t see the Constitution quite that way. To be sure, Congress has a long history of ceding power to the Executive Branch, largely enabled by FDR’s bringing the Supreme Court to heel, but nonetheless, there is a difference between Congresses’ ill advised delegation of authority to the President and his simply taking it. And that’s what we see in Obamacare.

When laws are somewhat open ended, like the 4,000 word document creating the EPA it should come as no surprise that the Executive Branch takes it upon itself to “clarify” the language as it implements the law. The result today is an EPA that is out of control. While that is a bad thing, it’s easy to understand how it came to be. Obamacare has no such ambiguity. It contains over 400,000 words – half the length of the Bible! And in those almost half a million words you find an employer mandate requirement that stipulates: “Effective Date- The amendments made by this section shall apply to months beginning after December 31, 2013.” (Found under the section titled "SEC. 1513. SHARED RESPONSIBILITY FOR EMPLOYERS.") There is no ambiguity there. There is no opaque timeframe for the requirements to take effect. But that doesn’t matter to Barack Obama. In July of last year he changed the rules by Executive fiat… but not the law. That’s illegal. That’s unconstitutional. As Charles Krauthammer says, “That’s banana republic stuff.”

And there are many more instances of the same. We’ve known since 2008 that Barack Obama was not a fan of the US Constitution, but now that he is in charge of the reins of power, he seems to think that he doesn’t need to pay any attention to it at all. How many times have you heard him say something like “If Congress won’t act, I will”? Frankly, that’s a scary proposition for a country that has been largely free for two centuries. There’s a pattern here that seems troubling. Unlawfully seizing property from the rightful owners… check. Using the power of government to try and silence opponents… check. Lying to voters in order to gain their support for legislation… check. Then deciding that that law says what he says it says rather than what it actually says… check. That is a textbook definition of a tyrant and a decent into a banana republic. One can’t help but wonder how much time he’s putting into figuring out how to bypass the 22nd Amendment.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Gay Wedding Cakes, Religious Freedom and the Return of Slavery in America

The most common definition of a slave is: A person who is the property of and wholly subject to another. There is another definition however: A person entirely under the domination of some influence or person. Slavery has been outlawed in the US for 150 years, but some people want to bring it back… but not necessarily in the form you might think. Uncle Sam of course is not a master and citizens are not his slaves. The government – at least not the government defined in the Constitution – doesn’t have the right to tell Americans who they have to work for or who their businesses have to serve.

It can however, at least according to the Civil Rights Act of 1964, demand that businesses that offer to provide services to the public not discriminate based on race, color, religion, sex, or national origin. That means however that if you are offering to sell cakes, you must not decide that you will sell cakes to men and not women, to Jews but not Christians, to blacks but not whites, or to a native born American but not a naturalized citizen born in Canada.

Interestingly, other than religion all of the limitations are innate, things that people are born with or had from birth. That prohibition also applies to the later characteristics defined by the Americans with Disabilities Act. The CRA says what a business can’t do, it can’t discriminate based on a clear set of criteria… but it says nothing about what they must do. A black chef can’t legally refuse to provide service to someone who walks in simply because he’s white. He can however choose not to provide service to him when the man tells him that the event is a celebration of KKK history. That’s discrimination, but it’s legal discrimination and its well within the chef’s rights.

The CRA lists specific criteria upon which a business is not allowed to discriminate: race, color, religion, sex, or national origin. But that’s it. Other than those reasons any business can choose who they would like to serve. A 7-11 store is well within its rights to say “No Shirt, No Shoes, No Service”. By the same token a gun store can choose not to sell a gun to a drunk person and business can choose not to hire people with tattoos. A community can limit its inhabitants to those over 55 or a storekeeper with a Napoleon complex can choose to never serve customers over 6 ft. These restrictions may or may not be prudent, but none of them are illegal as businesses have the right to choose to whom they provide services within the framework of the CRA, the ADA and the Equal Protection Clause upon which both are based.

Which brings us to the issue of bakers and photographers and others. The question is, working under the shadow of the Equal Protection Clause, do such businesses have the right to refuse to provide services for a gay wedding, something their faith tells them is a sin? Absolutely. Do they have the right to refuse to provide services for a gay wedding? Absolutely. Should they be protected from lawsuits for doing so? Of course.

The point is, in almost every one of these cases the service providers did not refuse service because someone was gay. Rather, they declined to participate in an activity their faith tells them is sinful. Indeed the baker in the case actually offered to let the gay couple purchase any one of the cakes in his shop. He was simply refusing to bake a gay themed wedding cake.

The distinction between the activity and a customer’s gayness or lack thereof may be a fine one, but it is an important one. The CRA says businesses cannot discriminate against customers based on various innate or unchangeable characteristics. Significantly, the characteristic of being gay is not among them. Which means that theoretically businesses have the right to discriminate against gays or 22 year olds or journalists with no threat of government sanction. Nonetheless, most Americans oppose discriminating against people for their sexual orientation and the businesses in question were not doing so. (Similarly, 85% of Americans believe service providers should be allowed to decline to participate in gay weddings.)  They were simply declining to participate in an activity that their faith says is sinful.

The jilted couples in these cases looked to the government to force the said businesses to provide the services they wanted. In all three cases the government obliged stating that the religious objections of the business owners were trumped by the couple’s equal protections. That is both unfortunate and absurd. If the government can force a Christian baker to bake a cake for a gay couple, can it force a Muslim grocer who does special orders to special order pork? Can it compel the aforementioned black chef to cater the KKK’s event? Can it force a vegan landlord to rent his building to someone wanting to open a steakhouse? The answer of course is no, no and no and the reason is because Americans are not slaves and the government has no right to compel them to do things that go against their moral convictions.

That is likely news to people in government (and their liberal enablers) who believe they are the masters of the American people. They are not. Americans are free and by constitution they have given government limited powers – even if the government is increasingly obliterating those limits. Of those freedoms,  religious freedom is among the most important.  It is what brought the Pilgrims to America 400 years ago and it’s been a hallmark of American society ever since. A government commanding its citizens to do things beyond its scope is never a good idea, which Obamacare demonstrates on a daily basis. A government commanding its citizens to do something that goes against their religious faith is even worse because it undermines the fundamental legitimacy of the government itself. If these rulings stand, if the most basic freedom to abstain from participating in activities your religion tells you are sinful is now largely gone, then the progressive barbarians are no longer at the gate… they’ve entered your home, taken control of your life and have carte blanche to force you to do whatever it is they demand – or face ruinous consequences otherwise. Such is the kindling with which revolutionary fires are often started…