Archive for February, 2010

Are We Ungovernable?

Liberals are questioning America’s fitness to be governed. Their reasoning: Since President Obama cannot get his domestic legislative agenda through a Congress heavily weighted in his favor, the fundamentals of our governing system must be faulty.

Liberal New York Times columnist Paul Krugman, for instance, laments that a minority of Senators can thwart the will of a majority. The Senate filibuster rule allows any 41 Senators to block the other 59. Whether the 41 dissenters are from a minority political party or the 21 least populous states in the Union, the result is the same: minority rules.

America’s founders created a representative republic, not a populist democracy, for a reason: to protect each individual’s God-given unalienable rights regardless of the whims of a misguided majority.

Within the legislative branch, a smaller, more deliberative upper house, the Senate, was designed to cool the passions of the larger but lower House of Representatives.

Yes, a Texas senator represents fifty times more people than one from Wyoming, but a check on the system exists. If I personally wanted more per capita representation in the Senate, I could rodeo to Cheyenne.

Another proof of the liberal left that we are ungovernable is the hyper-partisan atmosphere in Washington. I don’t disagree that today’s perpetual campaigning often forces Congressmen to their home districts on nights and weekends they once spent building camaraderie with lawmakers of all stripes in D.C.

But haven’t politicians always been political? Haven’t egos always resided in those who desire high office?

And gerrymandering is an eyesore, but it’s not a recent phenomenon. Political boundaries have always been drawn by, well, politicians.

Still, many a political subdivision has shifted parties not by the redrawing of boundary lines but by the persistent persuasion of proponents of preferable ideas. Massachusetts’ state lines didn’t change between Ted Kennedy and Scott Brown, mind you.

The Washington Post’s Charles Krauthammer points out this week that people made the “America is ungovernable” argument during the Carter Presidency. The topic subsequently fizzled under Reagan. Why? Effective leadership.

The left made no such argument during the Clinton years, while he was effectively working together with a Republican Congress to reform welfare and cut taxes. The argument seems only to surface during dearths of gifted leadership in times of Democratic majority.

If liberals persuade us that our government structure is inherently flawed, they will then ask that we relinquish control to those who presumably know best: the central government and its bureaucrats. If we delegate decision-making to them, the story goes, they will make us safe and healthy. They will make us get along. They will make us equal.

Here’s the rub: equal people are not free and free people are not equal (as in lifelessly uniform). On the contrary, free people believe in the power of their potential. They are dreamers, pioneers and inventors. They are risk-takers, caretakers and problem-solvers. And they are, most assuredly, governable.

Good-Bayh, Senator

On Monday, Indiana Democrat Evan Bayh joined the fraternity of Democrats retiring from Congress this year. For those keeping score at home, that’s 5 Senators and 8 House members who have called it quits with no plans to run for other office. Sen. Bayh kindly dumbed down his decision for us commoners:

“To put it in the words most people can understand: I love working for the people of Indiana, I love helping our citizens make the most of their lives, but I do not love Congress.”

The centrist Senator’s discontent should have been well-known. In January, he regretted the “tone-deafness” of many in his party, stating that Democrats have “overreached rather than looking for consensus with moderates and independents.” True to form, Bayh’s decision surprised some Democrat leaders.

Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nevada) took little heed of Bayh’s “larger story” reasons for leaving and remained in the lower political drama of which Americans are growing increasingly tired. Reid stated, “I am…confident that the efforts of Senator Bayh along with those of the DSCC will keep this seat in the Democratic Caucus.”

Texas Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison’s current bid for governor proves that disinterest in Washington politics runs across party lines. The popular senior senator (she won 62% of the vote in 2006) is polling a full 24 points behind Gov. Rick Perry in the latest University of Texas/Texas Tribune Poll. You would think she’s a little-known state senator, not a well-known U.S. senator.

One of Hutchison’s statewide campaign leaders described her challenge this way: “We’re behind. There’s a huge D.C. headwind that Kay is fighting.” With Congress’ approval rating lower than usual and Texas’ economy stronger than most, hindsight is showing that 2006 may have been a better time to take on Mr. Perry.

Regardless, it’s remarkable that Congress is no longer viewed as a place where differences can be made. Conventional wisdom would have put a seat there, especially a Senate seat, as one of the most influential places in our republic. Not anymore. Mr. Bayh summarized it this way:

“…there are better ways to serve my fellow citizens, my beloved state and our nation than continued service in Congress.”

I don’t doubt the sincerity of his rationale. Still, he is a veteran politician (two terms as governor, two terms as senator) who has never lost an election. He comes from a political family. Bayh’s father, a 3-term Indiana senator, finally lost a re-election bid in the anti-Democrat surge of 1980. His opponent? A photogenic young congressman named Dan Quayle.

Evan Bayh’s retirement calculations must have included the prospect of success this November. He followed in his father’s footsteps into the U.S. Senate. He surely didn’t want to follow in his footsteps out.

Presidential Prayer

My best liberal friend who is also my liberal best friend (how’s that for bipartisanship?) requested my thoughts on President Obama’s speech at the National Prayer Breakfast last week.

After foregoing all public National Day of Prayer events last May, I was first pleased that President Obama attended the breakfast. Secondly, these three clips from his speech resonated with me:

“Challenging each other’s ideas can renew our democracy.  But when we challenge each other’s motives, it becomes harder to see what we hold in common.  We forget that we share at some deep level the same dreams — even when we don’t share the same plans on how to fulfill them.”

“While prayer can buck us up when we are down, keep us calm in a storm; while prayer can stiffen our spines to surmount an obstacle. Prayer can also do something else.  It can touch our hearts with humility.  It can fill us with a spirit of brotherhood.  It can remind us that each of us are children of a awesome and loving God.”

“Remember Dr. Martin Luther King.  Not long after an explosion ripped through his front porch, his wife and infant daughter inside, he rose to that pulpit in Montgomery and said, ‘Love is the only force capable of transforming an enemy into a friend.'”

Other parts of his remarks were less compelling. The president spoke about his faith-based initiatives office but gave no specifics about its efforts. He generally claimed that the office is “working so hard,” has “slashed red tape” and “built effective partnerships.” Sounds like community organizing to me, whatever that is.

President Obama commended our country for working together during crises like 9/11, Katrina, earthquakes and tsunamis. Then he expressed regret that our leaders often fail to unite to solve perennial problems like hunger, homelessness and limited access to health care.

Unfortunately, he failed to recognize that what he calls “long-term, but no less profound issues” are really urgent needs themselves. They are, in fact, crisis situations. When a person is hungry, cold or sick, he needs emergency aid and thankfully we have places in our caring society for them to go (soup kitchens, school free lunch programs, homeless shelters, public health clinics, even emergency rooms – as costly as they may be).

Rather than dwell on the standard symptomatic subjects of the left, the president should prioritize truly core issues like high-expectations education, workforce equipping, job creation, innovation, character and independence. These deeper solutions can generate the stability and prosperity to cure permanently the urgent social ills about which he seems to care so deeply.

As I told my liberal friend, I continue to think our president is smart, genuine and generally likable. His first year in office, however, confirmed that he is green (and not just in the environmental sense) and ideologically extreme (he outran many in his own party). Perhaps slowing down for prayer was a good way to start his second year at the helm.

Obudgeting 101

The best commentary I heard on President Obama’s State of the Union address came from two of my favorite ladies. First, from my wife, who marveled at the preposterousness of Mr. Obama’s start date for his newfound fiscal restraint:

“…this [spending] freeze won’t take effect until next year [2011] when the economy is stronger.  That’s how budgeting works.”

Somebody call Dave Ramsey! Evidently, we need spending self-control only when it feels good, not when it hurts.

Note to self from commander in chief: Next time you’re at the bottom of the pool, don’t start swimming toward the surface immediately. First, catch your breath (metaphorically speaking). Let your muscles regroup. Then begin your ascent. Hmmm.

The second piece of State of the Union commentary came from Peggy Noonan, accomplished author and former special assistant to President Ronald Reagan. Ms. Noonan adroitly pointed out that Mr. Obama’s speech argued against itself. The president shot himself in the foot despite D.C.’s handgun ban!

On one hand, he continued his mantras that more and bigger government offer the salve for ailing Americans: The government should provide jobs, health care, financial investment information, etc. In a nutshell, Washington is the answer.

On the other hand, President Obama belabored the brokenness of Washington, how gridlocked, how self-serving the capital is. So, let’s get this straight: Washington is the answer but the answer is broken? The logic couldn’t be more faulty.

This faulty logic beholds why Senator Scott Brown won and nationalized health care didn’t.

People know that Washington’s inability to rein in existing quality of life entitlement programs and other profligate spending has left us with daunting debt levels. (One-third of President Obama’s current $4 trillion budget request will go on the national credit card.) The people weren’t about to give politicians power to push us completely into bankruptcy or exorbitant taxes.

Some have described the Washington stalemate this way: Democrats can’t say no to a spending program and Republicans can’t say yes to a tax increase. To unfurl the logjam, the former must acquiesce to the latter. It’s reality. When families or businesses simply can not increase their income, they must decrease their expenses.

The serendipity of this strategy is that lower taxes will ultimately drive higher revenue (google Laffer’s Curve). Higher taxes didn’t drive federal surpluses from 1998-2001. A roaring economy fueled by venture capital investment did.

What motivated the venture capital investment? A 1997 capital gains tax cut signed into law by Bill Clinton, not the first Democratic president to promote lower taxes.

John F. Kennedy, the most quoted president in the Senator Brown’s Massachusetts campaign, observed in 1962:

“It is a paradoxical truth that tax rates are too high and tax revenues are too low and the soundest way to raise the revenues in the long run is to cut the rates now … Cutting taxes now is not to incur a budget deficit, but to achieve the more prosperous, expanding economy which can bring a budget surplus.”

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