December 14th, 2009

Stay the Course… of the Titanic


photo credit: tmichaelmurdock

An op-ed posted yesterday in the Deseret News blew me away with its statist nonsense to such a degree that I could not help but formulate a rebuttal. Since my own op-ed was published in the paper so recently, and since I would rather not have this response be constrained to the word limit imposed by the paper, I will publish it here. I invite you to first sit down, distance yourself from any breakables, take a few calming breaths, and read the article before returning here for my comments.

The title and focus chosen by the author, one Eric Samuelsen of Provo, encourages the reader to “stay the course” with President Obama. As a preface and prelude to my own remarks, I first will bring in Lee Iacocca, himself no opponent of big government and bailouts, who nevertheless has recently remarked the following:

Am I the only guy in this country who’s fed up with what’s happening? Where the hell is our outrage? We should be screaming bloody murder. We’ve got a gang of clueless bozos steering our ship of state right over a cliff, we’ve got corporate gangsters stealing us blind, and we can’t even clean up after a hurricane much less build a hybrid car. But instead of getting mad, everyone sits around and nods their heads when the politicians say, “Stay the course.” Stay the course? You’ve got to be kidding. This is America, not the damned Titanic. I’ll give you a sound bite: Throw the bums out! (Lee Iacocca, via Quoty)

Agreed. So, let’s break down this article piece by piece.

On charity

At the outset, the author declares that “[he is] a liberal because [he is] a Christian”, thus aligning himself with Harry Reid who just two years ago cited the same comparison. As evidence of his political piety, we are told that he believes that the service Christ would have us render is not effectively done by individuals, and thus government should take charge—and does indeed do so “effectively” and “routinely”.

Samuelsen ignores reality by claiming that his big-hearted liberalism sets him apart from his self-centered conservative counterparts. Consider the study summarized in a book by Arthur C. Brooks who notes the following:

Although liberal families’ incomes average 6 percent higher than those of conservative families, conservative-headed households give, on average, 30 percent more to charity than the average liberal-headed household ($1,600 per year vs. $1,227).

And:

People who reject the idea that “government has a responsibility to reduce income inequality” give an average of four times more than people who accept that proposition.

As for “the best-intentioned private efforts [] never succeed[ing] in alleviating human suffering nearly as effectively” as government, Samuelsen ignores the following:

In 2005, Americans donated more than $95 billion to the developing world. That is almost four times what the U.S. government gives in foreign aid and many times more than what Europeans give in public and private donations, according to a study by the Hudson Institute, to be released next month. (emphasis added)

Imagine how much greater people might give if they weren’t so heavily taxed up front. As for being effective, one look at the Millennium Challenge Act shows the absurdity of our attempts to use foreign “aid” to improve others’ lives. In reality, we are funding corrupt governments around the world who pass on only a meager portion of our money to those in need, as well as financing the purchase of weapons and infrastructure. This is a far cry from meeting the basic needs of impoverished citizens around the world. Samuelsen must be a poor “student of history” if he presumes that governments have ever been effective at allocating capital and alleviating suffering.

Christ said that we should “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” Samuelsen rightly notes that we should serve others, yet he opts for rendering it through Caesar’s corrupt, slow, inefficient apparatus—and forcing others to do the same.

On social services

“Thanks to effective, liberal government”, Samuelsen enjoys “electrical power, potable water, and an effective sewage system”. First, the author conflates all levels of government, lumping them into one “effective” mass. This is folly since local governments have far more authority and ability to administer these services than having it regulated and administered at the federal level. This blurring of governments also occurs in his next sentence where he lauds Social Security and Medicare—two systems that have been horribly administered, poorly funded, and which rely upon inflation and borrowing in order to meet the promises made by those in charge. Sorry, but anybody who points to such socialist enterprises as a success of “effective” government is neither a student of history, nor has a grasp on reality.

Samuelsen “reject[s] as vicious nonsense the idea that government can’t do anything right”, setting aside the evident fact that governments over-promise, underfund, and ultimately rely on force and theft to accomplish their many commitments. I suppose this all depends on one’s definition of “right”, though an individual would have to have both a poor memory and low expectation for success in order to put the stamp of approval on any government enterprise.

On health care

The “moral imperative”, nay, the “highest possible” one is, according to Samuelsen, none other than the hot topic of the day: health care. We have doctors, he argues, but “we deliver health care services poorly.” I’m sorry, is the author a doctor? For to be included in the pronoun “we”, he would have to be one who delivers health care services. Lest we constrain our definitions rationally, we must remember that the author is a self-identified liberal, and thus considers government to be a companion to every association and relationship. Thus, by inference, he is part of the collective “we” that administers health care services to others, and can therefore advocate changes and make demands as he sees fit.

By citing our “richest nation” status, the author notes that “we can afford to fix” the health care system. Despite later hollowly praising the Constitution, Samuelsen nowhere makes a compelling argument as to why the federal government (“we” the people?) should be involved, nor where it derives the authority to do so; it is enough, for him, that we can. So much for “cogent arguments”.

As further ammunition against this alleged moral imperative, the LA times posted an article this morning declaring that it’s actually cheaper, literally, to do nothing:

Analysts in the Obama administration’s Health and Human Services Department reported Friday that the nation’s $2.5-trillion annual healthcare tab will not shrink at all under the Democrats’ legislative blueprint as being pushed by happy Harry Reid of Nevada, the Democratic leader in the Senate.

Instead, they said, the nation’s medical costs will actually grow faster under the new bill than they would if that chatty crowd of Washington spenders did absolutely nothing nada zippo about it. And even if they did pass the existing version for all that money, 24 million Americans would still remain uncovered.

Moral imperative? Maybe. Government as the best and proper vehicle through which to alleviate suffering, administer health care needs, and discharge that moral obligation? Fat chance.

On regulation

Samuelsen seems to fall in the camp that believes that a lack of regulation led to our current economy morass. This, of course, requires founding one’s opinion solely on the sound bytes of the financial media and politicians; the truth is that everything is already regulated.

Nevertheless, our dear author believes in government regulation of big business “to encourage competition and innovation”. Funny, I thought price wars and perceived market needs did that. To champion regulation as the method by which we enjoy competition and innovation is to deny the moral hazard that exists as a result of such regulation, to say nothing of the oppressive burdens such regulations impose on those smaller entities who would otherwise be able to more effectively compete and innovate. Big business can fund expert lawyers and lobbyists, hence the corporatism that has substituted capitalism in our country; those who would compete and innovate cannot sway the regulations in their favor as “big business” can. Samuelsen has his sights set on the wrong target.

On taxes

For the next “cogent argument”, we are presented with another “belief” held dearly by the author. This appears to be more of a testimony meeting in the church of state-worshipping neo-liberalism than it does a rational analysis of sound policy, but we’ll work with what we must, I suppose.

Wealthy people, Samuelsen writes, “can and should pay higher taxes” than those who do not command as much capital. Well, this is already the case: according to IRS statistics, the top 1% of Americans make about 23% of total income, but pay around 40% of the federal income tax. Also, the top 1% pays more federal tax than the entire bottom 50% of Americans. The author should be elated by these numbers.

The question should be: is this right? The communist economic theory is summarized as “from each according to his abilities to each according to his needs”—an eerily similar sentiment to the one advocated by the author. As the rich are more “able” to fund the government’s policies, they should, Samuelsen argues, be required to do so. To what extent, one wonders, should the rich be “soaked” through taxes? Samuelsen does not realize that the wealthy are far more able to pack up and move than the rest of us—look at the steady exodus from California as an example. Keep up the desire to rob these individuals more so than their less-wealthy neighbors, and they’ll simply leave. Who then will fund your Caesarian do-goodery, Mr. Samuelsen?

The author claims that “we know now that tax cuts for the rich have no stimulative value and increase the deficit.” Last I checked, high government spending caused deficits. This is part of the statist’s playbook: assume an individual’s wealth belongs first to the government and must be delivered in order to fund the various programs and policies to be enacted, and make no mention of reducing government spending, thus leading people to think that the need and support for high spending is a foregone conclusion. Why not reduce bloated government spending (to, you know, adhere to that Constitution the author later claims to revere) and let people keep their own money? Shocking!

On stimulating the economy

Another belief: “that government spending can have a stimulative effect on an economy in recession”. What, pray tell, is a “stimulative effect”? If it is like having a momentary buzz through artificial drug use, while ignoring the long term consequences of one’s actions, then the author is correct. This, however, is far from sound economic policy, and much farther from constitutional and moral use of authority. More on this topic here.

On the shortcomings of the Constitution

Samuelsen loves the Constitution, or so he tells us. And yet citing the document for verbal praise—perhaps to quell the conservative uneasiness towards his liberal diatribe—hardly implies any constitutional validity to any of his “beliefs”. But the next line brings us the real reason he even bothered to mention the framework of our government: to dismiss it as the work of old, white farmers whose work should be relegated to history books, and not public policy.

The Constitution protected slavery, he says. It allowed the continued slaughter of native populations, he further argues. Far from protecting slavery, the Constitution actually reduced the political power of those who enslaved others, and imposed a deadline by which the nefarious practice would have to be cut off from its main supply.

As Richard Allen, once a slave in Pennsylvania, said in an address “To the People of Color”, he said:

Many of the white people have been instruments in the hands of God for our good, even such as have held us in captivity, [and] are now pleading our cause with earnestness and zeal.

One professor notes the following regarding the Constitution’s treatment of slavery:

[T]he Constitution allowed Southern States to count three-fifths of their slaves toward the population that would determine numbers of representatives in the federal legislature. This clause is often singled out today as a sign of black dehumanization: they are only three-fifths human. But the provision applied to slaves, not blacks. That meant that free blacks–and there were many, North as well as South–counted the same as whites. More important, the fact that slaves were counted at all was a concession to slave owners. Southerners would have been glad to count their slaves as whole persons. It was the Northerners who did not want them counted, for why should the South be rewarded with more representatives, the more slaves they held? (Thomas G. West, “Was the American Founding Unjust? The Case of Slavery,” p. 5.)

Yet Samuelsen would lead us to believe that the Constitution enshrined and perpetuated slavery. The reality is the opposite: it was the Founders who succeeded in sowing the seeds of its eventual demise.

And the second amendment? Our liberal friend considers it “an embarrassing anachronism of no contemporary relevance”. That’s right: in our contemporary utopian world, there is apparently no need for self-defense! Samuelsen would, I’m sure, maintain his disdain for guns if an armed intruder entered his home, violated his wife, and kidnapped one of his children. After all, the average police response time would be a speedy seven minutes—ample time for the author to politely criticize the assailant’s use of a gun as being “anachronistic” and explain the contemporary irrelevance of individual gun ownership. Good luck with that.

On our President and his agenda

“It’s time to support the president. It’s time to stay the course.”

So concludes Samuelsen’s tirade. I cannot conjure up a better response to this intellectual idiocy than this one by Theodore Roosevelt:

Every man who parrots the cry of ‘stand by the President’ without adding the proviso ‘so far as he serves the Republic’ takes an attitude as essentially unmanly as that of any Stuart royalist who championed the doctrine that the King could do no wrong. No self-respecting and intelligent free man could take such an attitude. (via Quoty)

And there we have our insight into Samuelsen’s mind. Forging their own fetters, he and like-minded liberal statists beg for the government that enslaves them. Oddly, they revel in their bondage. Samuel Adams’ words seem to apply to those that so openly and eagerly desire the nanny welfare state: “Crouch down and lick the hand that feeds you; May your chains set lightly upon you, and may posterity forget that ye were our countrymen.”

15 Responses to “Stay the Course… of the Titanic”

  1. David
    December 14, 2009 at 11:37 am #

    Not to be picky Connor, but you correctly point out that:

    the author conflates all levels of government, lumping them into one “effective” mass.

    Then you promptly make the same mistake.

    Samuelsen “reject[s] as vicious nonsense the idea that government can’t do anything right”, setting aside the evident fact that governments over-promise, underfund, and ultimately rely on force and theft to accomplish their many commitments.

    If you were to be accurate you would have to acknowledge that some governments at various levels do manage to do some things right without over-promising and under-funding. Admittedly that is the exception and not the rule, but it does happen and it’s disingenuous of you to accuse him of generalizing right before you do the same thing.

  2. Jeremy Nicoll
    December 14, 2009 at 11:38 am #

    Nicely said! I couldn’t help but commenting on the article, but your reply is so much more articulate. Too bad that you can’t post a link to this in the comments section…

  3. Connor
    December 14, 2009 at 11:42 am #

    David,

    Point taken. Perhaps I didn’t explain enough that my reference was to the government’s involvement in social services (see the heading of that section), where I believe that the government (at all levels) should not be involved, and has never once been involved as effectively (and morally) as the private sector.

  4. David
    December 14, 2009 at 11:59 am #

    Connor, that clarification makes it much more accurate. Thanks.

  5. December 14, 2009 at 12:44 pm #

    I am still shocked that someone who is honest with themselves, and a christian, would have liberal views. It kind of scares me. Thanks for the interesting read and rebuttal connor.

  6. December 14, 2009 at 2:42 pm #

    Good points. Shame this sounds like a noisy conservative rant, which is easy to write off for people left of center.

    I’m tempted to borrow some ideas for a reply to DN, but that would take time I don’t have this month.

  7. Gary Nuila
    December 14, 2009 at 3:13 pm #

    (please forgive the length)

    I agree with most everything you said Connor, so like David, I don’t like to nit pick, but I thought I would comment on your claim that “it was the Founders who succeeded in sowing the seeds of [slavery’s] eventual demise.

    I revere the founders as well as the Constitution, but I have to take the position that despite the many genius features of the document in 1787, it was also pro-slavery, and the founders as a collective whole designed it so. Further, it was the Constitution’s pro-slavery features, particularly the 3/5 clause, which caused it to fail—roughly 70 years later—to do its first stated purpose: “form a more perfect Union.” The Constitution quite literally stopped working at that later moment, and it took hundreds of thousands of lives and radical revisions to fix it.

    The 3/5 clause was pro-slavery because it provided a powerful incentive to have as many slaves as possible. “The more slaves the Deep South could import from the African continent—innocents born in freedom and kidnapped across and ocean to be sold on auction blocks—the more seats [a state] would earn in the American Congress” (Akhil Amar, America’s Constitution: A Biography, 90). Gouverneur Morris pointed this out at the convention in scathing terms: “The inhabitant of Georgia and S.C. who goes to the Coast of Africa, and in defiance of the most sacred laws of humanity terams away his fellow creatures from their dearest connections & damns them to the most cruel bondages, shall have more votes in a Govt. instituted for protection of of the rights of mankind, than the Citizen of Pa. or N. Jersey who views with laudable horror, so nefarious a practice….Domestic slavery is the most prominent feature in the aristocratic countenance of the proposed Constitution” (id.). This gift of political power to slave holders was unconstrained. It was perpetual and it would continue to grow as slave masters had every incentive to import and breed as many slaves as they could.

    A neutral slavery clause would have apportioned no representation to slaves, an anti-slavery clause would have penalized a state’s representation for each slave.

    Since slaves were solely considered property at the time, a state had more representation and more power in the initial government, solely because they possessed more of certain type of property. No other kind of property got this kind of special recognition, so the Constitution enshrined slaves as a sort of special property and slave holders as special property-holders.

    The Constitution also gave states great leeway in how they would apportion their congressional districts intrastate, so many states took advantage of this to skew apportionment so that slaveholding regions in the state had more political clout than regions with less slaves. In 1820 in Virginia, the “districts with the highest percentage of slaves averaged only 25,000 free fold compared to an average 37,000 in other districts…” (id. p.97). This made it so not only were there more Congressmen per state than there would have been without the 3/5 compromise, they were also more pro-slavery than were the people themselves because of this factor of interstate apportionment.

    Article I section 9—which some peculiarly see as a slavery limiting provision— is also pro-slavery. It protected slavery for a number of years, years in which the South thought it could build up enough white population and increase their slave population to prohibit any constitutional amendment banning slavery or perhaps even any congressional limitations on slavery.

    Going back to the 3/5 clause. This not only influenced the make up of Congress, it directly influenced the presidency, because the electoral college is built upon congressional representation. Presidents nominate Supreme Court justices, and so even the Judicial Branch was directly effected by the pro-slavery 3/5 clause. With this is mind, it’s not so difficult to understand how a person such as Roger Taney could ever have made it into the position of Chief Justice and so ably misread the Constitution in his infamous Dred Scott opinion.

    Consider some of the other real-life effects this clause had: “For thirty-two of the presidency’s first thirty-six years, a (slaveholding, plantation-owning) Virginian would occupy the nation’s highest office” (Id. p.158). One historian’s tally says “no prominent antislavery leader was appointed to high federal [executive] office before Lincoln’s administration…no southerner was too extreme in his proslavery views to be ineligible for such an honor” (id.). Also interesting is that John Adams would almost assuredly have been elected for a second term if Jefferson had not been benefited by the extra representation in southern states afforded by the 3/5 clause. Finally, although no state legislatures had granted the 3/5 bonus for apportionment purposes prior to 1787, by 1840, several Southern states had. Since the state legislatures chose senators, the 3/5 factor came to directly influence the makeup of all branches and divisions of US government.

    So, rather than ensure the eventual ending of slavery, I think the founders who signed the Constitution perpetuated and incentivized it. I don’t know if would have been possible for them to have done otherwise and still form the United States, so I’m not one to vilify them. Like I said I still revere them, and I find it fully acceptable to see them both as great men and fallible men.

    Most importantly, the people of the United States eventually fixed these things—though at tremendous cost—so there’s a happy end to the story. And I for one am glad we amend our Constitution the way we do, putting the new text at the end rather than modifying the original text. I think its good to stare at the 3/5 clause, Article I section 9, and Article II section 1 and then go take a good long look at the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments. That can be a powerful experience, and one I hope we all do from time to time.

  8. December 14, 2009 at 5:02 pm #

    Well said!

  9. December 14, 2009 at 7:31 pm #

    VERY well done, Connor. Thank you for all you do to remove the mist of darkness out there.

  10. December 14, 2009 at 10:22 pm #

    Thank you Connor!! It makes me sick seeing “Liberal” Mormons unwittingly supporting the very anti-Christ power spoken of throughout the scriptures, which we have been warned about repeatedly by modern prophets- the counterfeits for charity and Consecration which are Communism/Socialism/Fascism. And to spew it out there in a newspaper for others to read and be lead into falling for the big lie too… disgusting!! By their fruits we shall know them and the fruits of these Liberal policies and politicians are disastrous.

  11. Clumpy
    December 14, 2009 at 11:40 pm #

    Honestly, I have to say that the editorial for the most part seems to propagate the same kind of ignorance I see under the guise of the tea party movement – self-righteous pandering to ideas while falling prey to selfishness (ignorance and paranoia on the Right, elitism and often unfounded idealism on the Left).

    I wouldn’t say that every one of Samuelson’s points is completely wrong, however, though I’ve argued many of these points of Constitutional ambiguity before. It’s definitely motivated by the same type of self-assuredness and confidence in one’s opinion that really can’t be trusted.

  12. Andrew
    December 15, 2009 at 2:09 pm #

    Great post Connor — thoroughly enjoyed it.

  13. Connor
    December 16, 2009 at 5:52 pm #

    On the topic of charity (referenced in the post), a friend pointed me to this must-see infographic on the subject.

  14. December 18, 2009 at 1:00 am #

    That article made me cringe. There is a concentration of liberals in the arts, I have observed.

    Mr. Samuelson is obviously misled. Unfortunately, someone like him, a prominent figure in Mormon Arts, is bound to have an influence on others who admire him and his work. I wish there were more “high profile” people who were on the right track on this subject who were willing to speak up.

  15. December 18, 2009 at 4:29 pm #

    Clumpy, why do you case judgment against the participants of the tea party movement? You are only demonstrating your own self righteousness and ignorance in making such generalizations. If that was your intent.

    Regarding Samuelson’s view points, I have this to say.

    When one man is compelled to serve another man that is when service becomes slavery. How does using government as the instrument of force change that? It does not. As a Christian, Samuelson ought to have a supreme regard for his and other’s God given agency or free will. Agency was the key issue in the War in Heaven and it continues to be the key issue here on earth. Has Satan’s objective changed? Is Satan opposed to using government to achieve his ends? The answers are No and No.

    Lastly, I believe that religion and morality have much to offer to science and that science has much to offer to religion and morality. It is truth that should be taught in our homes, our schools, and our churches. I believe God loves the earnest seekers of truth. It is why I find his proclamation of his Christian ideal of service to be at odds with his statement on scientist education. For if this is his view then he should apply it to the science of politics as well and he should keep statements like, “I’m a liberal because I am Christian” out of the discussion. Statements like these imply anyone who differs from him in beliefs is unchristian. That is not true.

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