The Death of Free Speech (And How to Restore It)

Mark Steyn takes note of an outrageous event in Germany – satirist writes an insulting poem about Turkey’s President, German government decides to prosecute the guy under an obscure law which prohibits insulting heads of State:

…A free society does not threaten a guy with years in gaol for writing a poem. If you don’t know that that’s wrong, you should just cut to the chase and appoint yourself mutasarrıfa of Erdogan’s neo-Ottoman sanjak of Berlin.

What a disgraceful person (Merkel) is, the worst German chancellor since …well, I don’t want to go all Godwin’s this early in the piece. But a few years ago, when Maclean’s and I had our triple-jeopardy difficulties with the Canadian “Human Rights” Commission, the Ontario “Human Rights” Commission and the British Columbia “Human Rights” Tribunal, the response of many of my fellow Canadians to the eventual outcome was along the lines of: “Well, I don’t know what Steyn was making such a fuss about. The process played itself out and he was acquitted. So the system worked.”

Some of these people were genuine innocents who’ve never been caught up in a time-consuming seven-figure legal battle before. But many others were making the argument cynically. They know that, if you can tie up a book or a magazine article in court, then there will be fewer books and magazine articles…

As Steyn says, “the process is the punishment”. Now, in the United States our Founders wrote the First Amendment and so it is vastly more difficult to erect speech-suppressing “human rights laws” as they have in the rest of the Western world…but even here in the United States people self-censor in order to just be sure they won’t be the target of a howling mob of Progressive Social Justice Warriors. Remember, one ill-advised Tweet and you can lose your job – but even if you prevail, who wants to put up with that? Better to just keep silent.

It is time to put a bit of teeth into the First Amendment. I suggest a Free Speech Restoration Act.

1. No employer shall in any way sanction an employee for any act of speech made outside of work time. Religious bodies may terminate an employee for acts of speech which deny any of the clearly expressed dogmas of the religious body.

2. Social media companies which allow the exposure of private phone numbers and addresses without a person’s consent may be held liable for civil damages.

3. Persons who spread false statements about private individuals may be held liable for civil damages. Social media companies must provide relevant information upon court order to identify any person who may have spread false statements about a private individual. Private individuals for the purposes of this law are persons who are not an officer of a corporation, an elected or appointed official of government, an employee of a government agency or the employee of any news media entity.

4. Congress shall appropriate a sum not less than $5 billion per year to provide free legal representation to any citizen who needs such representation in order to recover damages resulting from actions taken by employers, social media companies or persons who in any way sanction or cause sanctions to be applied to a citizen for acts of speech. Private individuals who are accused of spreading false information are also entitled to free legal representation.

That should do it. The most important thing is that you can’t lose your job over what you say outside your job. While at work, you do have to toe your employer’s line and if you don’t like it, you can find other employment…but once you clock out, you can say whatever you please and there is nothing your employer can do about it. This, in and of itself, would cure most of the self-censoring which goes on. The second important thing is to provide economic sinews for those who are victims of mob action for stating unpopular opinions…and the fact that such sinews exist, once a few examples are made, would greatly curb social justice mobs. And by excluding those who are in power from protection under this law, everyone is still free to go after the powerful with gusto.

We on the right have a vested interest in this. On the whole, we don’t engage in activity which seeks to suppress anyone’s speech. The left, of course, makes it their business to shut up everyone they disagree with. If we don’t swiftly find some means of ensuring our right to speak, then soon we won’t be able to speak, at all. And I think such a law could garner popular support – certainly the legal industry won’t be against it! But the basic concept of privacy and not lying about other people will be in line with general American ideas of what is right and just. All we have to do is find a candidate who would be willing to run with it.

Can America be Conservative?

You wouldn’t think so, if you listen to the MSM all the live long day. As far as that goes, the MSM Narrative is that one or two aged Christians are all that stands between us and the Progressive Utopia of $15 an hour minimum wages and daily flights bringing in foreigners who will be able to vote from age 16 on. On the other hand, 84% of the American people back a ban on late-term abortions – including 69% of those who identify themselves as “pro-choice”. In other words, this increasingly Progressive America has some how or another managed to latch on to a key aspect of Conservatism – respect for the inalienable right to life enshrined in both our Declaration of Independence and our Constitution. I fully expect a ban on late term abortions to happen before I die – and I expect that one day abortion will only be permitted when it really is crucial to save the life of the mother. The tide in America is set on pro-life. How did that happen?

Patience and charity played a huge roll. We can’t just change a person’s mind overnight. It takes a while – and you also can’t change a person’s mind if you’re being uncharitable to them…that is, condemning them, scorning them or otherwise indicating a distaste for them. While from time to time a rather zealous firebrand would come to the fore in the pro-life movement, it was pretty obvious that such people were (a) kinda shoved forward by an MSM which wanted people to think that pro-life people were like that and (b) they weren’t really representative of the pro-life movement.  It was hard to characterize the pro-life movement as bad when it was almost always people quietly praying and offering counsel and assistance to women in need. It was also rather crucial that being pro-life was, is and always will be to be in favor of not just something good, but something so obviously good that even the most inattentive can see the merit of your case.

Another case of us winning is on the gun control debate. When I was a kid, it was the “thing” as much as being pro-choice was. Of course everyone wanted strict regulation of guns. But by being patient and being charitable and being in favor of something that is obviously good – the right of people to defend themselves – the right to bear arms movement has triumphed. Oh, to be sure, our Progressives are still keen to take away the guns – but they are just as keen to provide federally funded abortion on demand, too…but they won’t get it and they dare not speak their desire openly, because they know the debate is over and they lost. Only in the very deepest blue areas of the country can Progressives proclaim their desire to have taxpayers pay for abortion and to confiscate all weapons. On the national stage, they have to be in favor of “choice” in abortion and “common sense regulation” of weapons.

So, as we can see, conservatism can win – we can conserve things; the right to life and the right to keep and bear arms. We can also conserve things like property rights, the family and the free exercise of religion, as well – but only if we go about it with patience and charity and carefully selecting our issues so that we are defending what is obviously good. Leaving aside family and the free exercise of religion, let’s use property rights as a means of illustrating how we’re doing it wrong.

At bottom property rights are the fundamentally conservative thing in economic policy. The right of a person to own what he or she makes or inherits is what we’re supposed to be about. But what we do is essentially winding up defending money – we do it by defending capitalism, as a thing, and the net result is that in the public mind, we’re defending those who have bags of money. And the really irritating thing about that is that while we’re in the public mind defending the wealth of robber barons we’re actually defending the wealth of Progressive billionaires who use their money to undermine the things we actually must defend – property rights, the family and the free exercise of religion.

We can’t win the fight to save property as long as in the public mind we’re defending billionaires and multi-national corporations. In point of fact, someone who has billions of dollars and a corporation as large as, say, General Electric is a negation of property. General Electric is a behemoth making a few people very rich. A billionaire doesn’t have property like, say, a farmer or small retailer has property. A billionaire has investments and interests and wants to defend them – and will use his wealth to ensure special dealing for his investments and interests (and large corporations do the same). A farmer just wants his farm to work. A retailer just wants his store to be profitable. Do you see the difference?

To win the fight to save property rights, we have to champion those who actually have property – not those who have buckets of money. In fact, we have to stand athwart those with buckets of money…because a key thing for us to conserve, if we are indeed conservatives, is the bedrock, “small r” republican concept that any great concentration of power is a danger to the Republic. Large amounts of money under control of one person or a few people are dangerous concentrations of power…just as much as any large government bureaucracy. We have to be seen as curbing the power of billionaires and large corporations – and our battle ground would be best defending small business operators and other small property owners against the regulations of government, often done at the command of large corporations and billionaires who are trying to use government power to protect themselves.

What I’m talking about is well illustrated by a proposal from Senators Diane Feinstein (D-CA) and Susan Collins (R-ME) to regulate soap – specifically, a requirement for soap makers to register with the FDA any time they change their ingredients. This will not adversely affect  large soap manufacturers – they only rarely change their ingredients and the economies of scale allow them to easily absorb the cost of new regulations. But small soap makers who can’t buy ten tons of their ingredients at a time and, at any rate, might just decide to, say, put a little more of Ingredient A into their soap can’t afford the freight. The big soap manufacturers are entirely behind this proposal – from Procter and Gamble to Revlon and everything in between…because they know full well it will drive a lot of small competitors out of the market, thus increasing their profit margins. We should be taking up the banner of the small operators against the big players…people will see, easily, that we are on the side of the good guys. And we’ll make our point that property rights are something worthy. A battle over this – and similar battles that come up – will allow us to cast ourselves as the defender of the little guy…and will show up Progressives like Feinstein and Collins for what they are: tools of the rich.

Other things that are obviously good can be defended, as well. The family, for instance. Don’t get wrapped up too much in some of the debates currently raging. They are trivial. But in Nevada the governor recently signed a law which empowers families to control the education of their children (it has to do with Education Savings Accounts which allow parents to easily save money to pay for private education). That is obviously good – in defending such a thing as that, we’re defending the ability of strong, responsible parents to be deeply involved in their children’s education, rather than having faceless and corruptible bureaucrats decreeing from on high what sort of education the kids will get. The difference here is not in attacking the public school system, which only allows Progressives to absurdly (but effectively) paint us as anti-education – we’re not attacking anything; we’re just empowering people to do for themselves, if they want. And in doing this we’re also defending family, as a thing. We’re not saying what is a family, at all – we’re just saying that families have rights and privileges that are worthy of defense. And that is a winning way to approach it – because no matter how crazy it gets out there, most families will remain what they have always been…mom and pop and the kids.  And in defending that, we’ll set the cultural stage for a revival of all the things which go along with strong, independent families. And into the bargain with our defense of strong, independent families is a death blow to Big Government: the more power we secure for families, the less power there necessarily will be for government to exercise. Think what happens to government mandates in education once, say, even 25% of the kids are being educated as their parents wish in institutions the government has no control over?

I guess if I had to nutshell it, the revival of a conservative America depends upon us finding the good things we want to defend, and then going out there an defending them without acrimony. People do wish to be fair  and if we’re defending what is fair, we’re going to win.

 

 

 

It’s the Arbitrariness, Stupid

Arbitrary government operating by force, by terror, must destroy the best, the boldest dissenters in sheer self-defence; soon it finds itself destroying all who, on the one hand, do not actively assist it or, on the other, do not passively submit. – Edward Crankshaw

In other words, if you won’t have a government of laws and customs, then you simply must destroy the very best people you have…those who think in the boldest terms and seek to do the best. Arbitrary government cannot exist except when everyone is beaten down…and mindless, bureaucratic hacks are free to just grind away.

A strict – even Draconian – legal code is no problem, at all. If you know what the law is and if the law applies equally to all, then we all know where we stand. We can take care. We can take evasive action. We’re fine, even if rather inconvenienced. But when what the law is resides in the merest whim of those who enforce the laws, then no one really knows the law – no one knows what may be done, or what may bring punishment. People become fearful, dissent and innovation dry up…and the world is left to those who enjoy wielding arbitrary power (and make no mistake about it, some people do enjoy it…such people exist in all societies…and an arbitrary society just brings such people out of the woodwork in droves).

What we saw in Wisconsin is an example of arbitrary law – even if one wants to believe that Walker supporters were breaking the law, it was still an arbitrary enforcement…and done with such crude (disgusting, actually) force that everyone involved in right of center politics in Wisconsin became fearful. What our liberals – who are still mostly silent on the issue – don’t realize is that while they might think it good for such things to be done to conservatives, they will eventually be done to liberals, as well. People who like to arbitrarily enforce laws in a cruel manner never get tired of it – and when the enemies are all destroyed, they simply go after the friends, as well. You see, once you’ve got people empowered to do whatever they wish, they’ll do it – and, indeed, they have to, in a sense. If all the enemies are disposed of and it is now time to close up shop, that forces a bunch of people off the government gravy-train. They’ll invent new enemies as needed in order to justify their continues bureaucratic existence.

The lesson for all of us here – left and right – is strict rules strictly enforced. There is no half-way house. It is liberty or tyranny – no shading in between. We, as a people, must demand that our government officials scrupulously follow the rules…and if we find a gap in the rules, then we must fix it, and the government must follow the new rules, as well.

Being Clear on Religious Liberty

Indiana passed a Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) which is fundamentally the same as the federal RFRA and the RFRA’s in force in 19 other States – and liberals went ballistic. Given the rapidity with which the outrage spread, I can only presume that it was all orchestrated – liberals, at any rate, not being given to doing anything until they are so ordered by the liberal leadership (no liberal wants to get out in front just in case the Party Line turns out to be different from personal opinion). As to why it was orchestrated – I figure that the left is trying to gin up its base for 2016 and this is just the start of it, and as Democrats have zero chance of winning Indiana in 2016, it makes the perfect target for liberal slander and hatred. Expect more and more of this sort of manufactured outrage as time goes on – Hillary’s only chance (other than the GOP nominating Jeb) being people upset over nothing rather than paying attention to what is happening.

Still, there is an actual issue here. Liberals are attempting to frame it as a replay of Jim Crow – the RFRA, it is alleged, will allow a “straights only” lunch counter and this will be a horrific violation of homosexual rights. The truth, of course, is completely different. The purpose of RFRA is not to harm anyone, but to protect the rights of a minority – in this case, a religious minority (orthodox Christians). Jim Crow was different – that was laws which required the treatment of non-whites as second class citizens by all and sundry. RFRA is just a way out if someone tries to get someone to do something in violation of their deeply held religious beliefs. It would not allow me, if I were a baker, to refuse to serve homosexual customers – it does excuse me from participating in a same-sex wedding by making the cake which will be consumed at that wedding. If I were a baker – and being that I am Catholic – you could get just about anything you want form me…but you couldn’t get a cake celebrating a same-sex wedding. There are other sorts of confections you couldn’t get from me, as well…I probably would not want to bake a cake which, say, proclaimed some dogma of Christian Science. You just want a cake – you got it; you want a cake which requires me to sin: it ain’t happening.

And that is all RFRA does – it allows me to not do something for you. If I am not doing something for you then I am also not doing anything to you. I am not violating your rights by not providing a service. In fact, if you were able to compel me to do something for you, then not only would you likely be violating my religious beliefs, but you’d also be forcing me into involuntary servitude…and slavery is explicitly prohibited in our Constitution.

I would never dream of asking someone to do something against their conscience. I’d never ask a pacifist to serve in the army. I’d never ask a Jew to provide me a ham sandwich. I’d never ask a Muslim to sell me some wine. It is just plain and simple courtesy that I do this – it would be the height of arrogant oppression if I were to demand that everyone do for me as I wish. We do live in a pluralist society – in the United States there really are all kinds of people and the only way such a society works is if everyone respects everyone else. Doing it any other way just leads to anarchy, oppression, a disintegration of the ties that bind and a risk of complete societal breakdown.

Live and let live – wise words to live by.

The Conservative Circular Firing Squad

Scott Walker hired Liz Mair to be a communications outreach staffer – and while I can’t say that I know Ms. Mair (we are Facebook friends and have met some years back – I think at CPAC in 2007), everyone who knows her says she’d be splendid in the position. I have no doubt that this is true. As it turns out, however, Ms. Mair had to very swiftly leave the Walker campaign – from what I’ve read, she’s made some disparaging remarks about the whole Iowa caucus system and that caused a ruckus. On the other hand, Erick Erickson over at Red State is holding that Christian conservatives went after her because of her liberal stance on some social issues. In the end, it was probably more the latter than the former – making fun of Iowa is almost a political standard…but being socially liberal is much more problematic.

The other day Ms. Mair took a break from her Lenten fast from Facebook to post the following:

I’m breaking my rule against no social media during Lent to share that I’m a little bit proud and excited that my name is on this amicus brief filed with the Supreme Court.

The amicus brief in question was in support of legalization of same-sex marriage. By judicial fiat. Votes of the people be damned.

To this post, I responded with words to the effect of, “so, by doing this what, exactly, are we conservatives supposed to be conserving?”. My comment isn’t there – so perhaps I forgot to post it. No matter. The main thing is that I find it astonishing that conservatives – of any stripe – do this sort of thing. Same-sex marriage is not just a stand-alone thing. It is not something that once done will be over and done with. It is not, no matter how much one might want to believe, merely a matter of whether or not the privilege of marriage shall be extended to same-sex couples. It is just another tool in the liberal armory. Liberals have many tools – and this one is to be used to further break down the traditional family but even more important, to the left, to attack Christianity. For a conservative to support the imposition of same-sex marriage (especially via judicial fiat!) is to be working for the destruction of conservatism. In theory same-sex marriage might be within the tolerable eccentricities of mankind – it might be something, that is, that a broadly tolerant and reasonable Republic allows to happen…but we are not living in broadly tolerant and reasonable Republic. We are living in the tail-end of a Republic which is mere steps away from becoming a Third World banana republic.

If we just give the left this, then they will use it – and they’ll use it against Christians. It is already being so used in Europe…and if you think liberals will actually care about the 1st Amendment, you’re nuts. Heck, if you’re even of the opinion that when push comes to shove that the Supreme Court will protect the 1st Amendment rights of Christians, you’re still nuts…suppose it happens? Ok. So the Court carves out an exception which allows Christian churches to not perform same-sex marriages…but that would only be after a massive, lengthy and expensive legal fight against the left. And, meanwhile, anyone who can’t afford such a battle just retreats into silence…including political silence. I don’t know how our more libertarian minded conservatives expect to survive when we more socially minded conservatives are forced into the political wilderness.

I’m sure Ms. Mair is sincere about it. Fine. A thousand points for adherence to personal conviction – but minus a million for lack of political sense. We are in a crisis in this nation and the very survival of the United States is the stakes we play for over the next 10 to 15 years. To be sure, she’s just one person who got caught up in the political meat grinder – and she seems a tough enough person to go through it without too much trouble. I’m sorry it happened to her – I wish we had a Republic where tolerance was the order of the day. But we don’t. Liberals forbid tolerance – they are out to destroy us, social and libertarian conservatives, alike. It is time to firmly choose a side – time for all of us on the right to cease the circular firing squad and keep our eye on the ball. We can’t work across the aisle. We can’t generate an alliance to advance one liberal thing and expect to follow up by advancing a conservative thing. For goodness sakes, people: do any of you on the right backing same-sex marriage think that liberals will now come to you to help advance school choice? Go ask your liberal allies about it. See if they are willing.

It is all or nothing – either we go all one way, or we’ll go all the other way. The left has set up the battle just like that – and giving them concessions is akin to surrendering a hill top wherein they now dominate our lines of supply. Every issue has to be taken in consideration to its position in the overall battle. Will an action help or hinder the advance of the overall right? If it will, then do it – if not, then put it aside and concentrate on some other aspect of your agenda which will.

Time For a New Political Party?

Joy Cost makes a strong case that if you’re conservative, the GOP is not really your friend. I do recommend reading the whole thing. Cost points out that the GOP while being the political home of conservatism is not a truly conservative party. He’s right about that – and also right that the part of the GOP which is loyal to big business is not actually in tune with conservative principals.

This is something I’ve been yammering on about for a while – that big business and big government are actually quite in tune with each other. This is especially true as the sort of people who rise to the top in both areas are alike as peas in a pod. They mostly go to the same schools, have the same social backgrounds – they marry each other, attend each other’s events and, in the end, have the same world view, which is almost entirely liberal, save that big business types are often in favor of lower taxes, at least for big business. This is why the GOP leadership – which is often beholden to big business – infuriates us so often. There isn’t in big business – and thus there isn’t in a lot of the GOP leadership – the real will to reduce government, to end subsidies, to reduce regulation…because big business profits off the system as much as liberals who man the government system do. Think about it: if we really reduced regulation, then a lot of small time operators would be able to enter the market and start competing with the established companies…that means that profits would shrink! Can’t have that…

On the social issues side of the ledger, those who inhabit the world of big business are almost entirely on the side of legalized abortion, endless immigration, affirmative action and same-sex marriage. Why? Because it would be uncool to be otherwise – it really does go to that shallow a level. If you’re working at some large investment firm in New York City, do you want to go to the Manhattan party and admit that you think marriage should be between one man and one woman? For goodness sakes, everyone would think you entirely out of it…you might not get invited to the next party! Most, if they started with conservative social morals, will drop them like a bad habit once they reach the upper echelons…because that is just the way things are, and most people lack courage to stand against what is fashionable (and this condition is even more pronounced among those who rise high up in the bureaucracy or government or business).

For years now I’ve stuck with the GOP because I believe it is the party most likely to be taken over by conservatism – and I do believe that this is still the case. But suppose we work hard and battle our way to victory in 2016? We get even someone like Walker as President and we have a GOP controlled Congress. All that would be good – but suppose we get to 2019 and there’s still no ban on abortion after 20 weeks? Suppose the Department of Energy still exists? Suppose government spending is higher than it was in 2016? What have we really accomplished? Even supposing we’ve got taxes cut, our defense rebuilt and the economy is humming along? We’ve got nothing, as conservatives – we’ve neither reduced the size of government as more libertarian-minded conservatives demand nor have we even made a start at reviving American morality as social conservatives demand. All we’ve done it tinker around the edges and left in place the government monster built up by liberalism – and eventually to be reconquered by liberalism in a future election.

I have been wondering of late if it is time for a new party? Maybe even two new parties? To be sure, we have to be careful – we don’t want to spit the non-liberal vote and thus merely ensure endless liberal political dominance…but we do need some mechanism to ensure that what we, the base of the GOP, demands actually gets done.

What I wonder is if we split off, only for Congressional purposes, from the GOP about 100 Representatives and 10 Senators and formed, say, a Christian Democrat Party…without those Representatives and Senators, the GOP cannot control either house of Congress. Democrats can’t, either. In fact, no one can – absolute gridlock…unless certain demands are met. Boehner wants to be Speaker? Then there are certain actions which must be taken. You get the picture. Such a thing would become even more crucial if there is a Republican President because that is when actual laws which can be enacted can be sent up…if Congress does so; but the GOP as currently constituted might not really want to send up the sort of laws the base wants. Holding them to ransom (ie, do as we bid or you’re no longer Speaker) would be a convincing argument to actually move conservative legislation along. And if some on the right don’t want to be part of a Christian Democrat Party, they can form a Liberal Party (taking back a word which the Progressives have co-opted) to pretty much do the same thing…withhold support to the GOP unless, say, the GOP agrees to, for instance, reign in the power of government to spy on the American people.

I’m not at all sure this would work – but as you can see, what has happened here is that the three main elements of the GOP (business, social conservative, libertarian) are broken up for Congressional purposes into three different parties, and no one on the right gets anything unless everyone gets something. There is a risk that one party will join with the Democrats to form a Congressional majority, of course, but I think it pretty small as Democrats won’t openly embrace business and can’t embrace social conservatism…the libertarians might from time to time be swayed by Democrats, but such would never last long because, well, Democrats are just increasingly fascist. The best way for the new parties of the right to work is that they all nominate the same person for President…but if a real lousy GOP candidate emerges, then the Liberals and Christian Democrats nominate someone more acceptable and the GOP goes down to flaming defeat…which would make the GOP more likely to seek a candidate who can appeal to both Christian Democrats and Liberals. And there’s always that chance that a Liberal or Christian Democrat in a three or four way race could win the White House with a plurality…which works even better for the right.

This is all just an idea – for now, I’m still back in the GOP, especially in the White House, for 2016. But I think it something worth thinking about.

Yes, There are Limits

There’s been a lot of back and forth on this since the Charlie Hebdo attack, and now Pope Francis has chimed in:

Pope Francis suggested there are limits to freedom of expression, saying in response to the Charlie Hebdo terror attack that “one cannot make fun of faith” and that anyone who throws insults can expect a “punch.”

The pontiff said that both freedom of faith and freedom of speech were fundamental human rights and that “every religion has its dignity.”

“One cannot provoke, one cannot insult other people’s faith, one cannot make fun of faith,” he said. “There is a limit. Every religion has its dignity … in freedom of expression there are limits.”

The pope was speaking to reporters on a plane as he flew from Sri Lanka to the Philippines on his tour of Asia…

Over at Ace, they are little disappointed about this. Allahpundit is also not too pleased. I’ve seen over the past week plenty of comments from conservative and libertarian people who are really not thinking this thing through. To be sure, there is the understandable desire to defend against Islamists who, after all, will kill us no matter what we do – but just because we’re dealing with people like that doesn’t mean we have no responsibility for our own actions. Too many people are getting themselves into the position that unless we applaud the most vile expressions, we are letting the terrorists win. There’s a word for that – but I won’t use it, because it is vulgar and might cause offense…and because I’m someone making failing, weak efforts at being a Christian gentleman, I try not to be offensive.

I’m five feet, seven inches tall. I weigh about 175 pounds. I’m not exactly of the body-builder sort. Now, suppose I had a neighbor who is six feet, six inches tall; weighs about 280 and bench presses cars. I take a dislike to this neighbor because he’s a jerk – and I express my views about him by drawing insulting pictures of him and posting them on a board out in front of my house. Now, to be sure, my gigantic neighbor – who is a jerk, as I said – should still take my insults in stride. There is no actual justification for him to pound me into a pulp because I drew unflattering pictures of him. On the other hand, if I did get pounded into a pulp, how many of you would be thinking – at least – that I shouldn’t have been writing checks my body can’t cash? Even if you called the police to have the man arrested and were willing to testify against him in court because, still, he shouldn’t have pounded me, wouldn’t any reasonable person say that I had played a role in bringing on the pounding? There are plenty of ways I can deal with a jerk – including if really pressed to it, fighting. But if I’m going to fight, then I’d better be ready to fight. If I’m not prepared to actually fight, then maybe I should seek other means of redress? Thinking is a very important part of deciding what to do.

In our definition of free speech there is no license to print whatever you want. You might have heard the word “libel” from time to time. Also, the famous “you can’t shout ‘fire’ in a crowded theater” exception is well known. Even in good, old, First Amendment USA, there is no absolute right to say what one pleases. We have these reasonable restrictions on free speech because they are, well, reasonable. Of course, this still allows a very wide latitude for people to write things – and in the United States, we tend to have the widest latitude in the world. And this is a good thing – a thing I would die in the last ditch to defend. There was nothing legally wrong in what Charlie Hebdo printed. No reasonable person in the United States – or even in France, for that matter – would want Charlie Hebdo shut down over the offensive cartoons. Furthermore, no reasonable person would assert a right of the offended party to do violence against Charlie Hebdo for their offensive cartoons. There is no justification for what happened – and if it had happened in the United States and the perpetrators were caught and brought to trial, I would be only too pleased to pronounce a guilty verdict against them in court…nor would I shed tears if the perpetrators wound up killed by the police, as the French perpetrators ultimately did. But with all those caveats, I still have to say – as unpopular as it might be – that Charlie Hedbo did play a role in bringing on the attack. And they played that role without having made any provision for repelling an attack. I’m guessing because they never imagined that there would be such an attack – or, perhaps, they thought that the French government, which has been slack as all European governments, would protect them?

Choose your battles: that is an old saw; but none the less wise for having been used often. People who have read my stuff over the years know that I’m on board with fighting Islamist terrorists. In fact, I’m in favor of much more vigorous war than we’re doing – and even much more vigorous war than President Bush engaged in. I’m incensed on a regular basis at the crimes of the Islamists – especially, these days, the horrific massacres of Christians. I’d like us to really take the fight to the enemy. But I’m not going to sit here and just write nasty things about Muslims and think I’m doing something against Islamist terrorism. It might make a person feel good – though I really can’t imagine why – to do such things, but I don’t see any point in it. All it does is take our eye off the ball and, additionally, provide additional recruiting tools for the very people we want destroyed. We are, indeed, supposed to be better than the enemy – true, we should be physically stronger and better able to apply force against them, but we should also be more just, more merciful and more respectful of their innate, human dignity. Better. You see?

We’re doing it all wrong, in my view. Obama and the liberals are wrong in that they believe that Muslims are the offended party and if we’ll just show forbearance, they’ll quit. Plenty of conservatives are wrong in that they believe if we just give brag and insult and drop bombs, they’ll quit. Other people are a combination of these things. Me? I want to win the war. I want Islamism destroyed. To do that will take intelligence, foresight, courage and a fine and sensitive touch with the great mass of the Muslim people.

Of course, our real handicap is that far too many people in the West – and probably a majority; especially in Europe – don’t really believe in anything. They don’t believe in honesty. Don’t believe in decency. Don’t believe in self-sacrifice. All they want is their creature comforts and a life free from responsibility – and they’ll bury their heads as deep in the sand as necessary to live like that. We’re easy pickings for people like the Islamists – I am the person entirely unsurprised when Western people volunteer to join them. People, if they are not utterly craven, want to believe. We in the West offer nothing to believe in – just more gadgets and more moral disintegration. Those in the West who do have good beliefs are ridiculed, and absurdly compared to the terrorists, as well. A kid who has been taught to believe in nothing worthy – who, indeed, has been told that worthy beliefs are flat out wrong – and who has been fed a steady diet of nonsense is especially prone to fall for the first charlatan who comes along.

The Islamists offer something to believe in, and a lot of people go for it – and that we know it is stupid and destructive doesn’t alter our position or our peril. The Islamists are not the first people to sucker large numbers into doing evil, while thinking they are doing good. Ultimately, we won’t win this war unless we start to believe in something superior to the Islamists. We’d better figure out real quick who we are and what we believe. Defending a vulgar, little paper like Charlie Hebdo won’t do the trick – in fact, it is our celebration of such that is at the heart of our problem. It is a sign of strength if we tolerate such things in our midst, it is suicide if we praise such things…and while a collection of liberals apparently had a long held feeling of hate towards Charlie Hedbo, that was more a function of cowardice than a desire for standards of decency…we know this because the only thing liberals didn’t like about Charlie Hedbo was that it insulted Islam. This is just a species of “please cut my throat last” cowardice. If we were a people who condemned Charlie Hebdo for all its insults – you know, including the insults against Jews and Christians – while never making a move to suppress it, then we would be morally healthy, and better able to fight and win against Islamists. But that would also be a people who condemned 80%+ of what is in popular culture these days.

I’m getting a little long in the tooth at age 50. No one in their right mind is going to place me on the battlefield – but I assure one and all that I am ready to defend Judeo-Christian, Western civilization. I’m not so willing to die to defend the right of adolescent jerks to insult people. Do you see the difference? I’ll fight and die for “We hold these truths to be self evident…” and “I believe in God, the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth…”, but I’m not really pleased at the thought of dying so that the next vulgar little reality series can be broadcast on television. In fact, no one is willing to die for that. The Islamists have their dogmas they are willing to fight and die for – what dogmas are we willing to fight and die for? And if we do have some people believing in dogmas worth fighting for, are there enough of them?

Ultimately, there are limits – because there have to be. The limits are necessary for us to have civilization. You can’t have it all. You can either hold to rigid standards of conduct or you can be destroyed by people who hold to rigid standards of conduct. Those are your choices, boiled down. Among the rigid standards of conduct in our civilization is a cautious courtesy of speech – an unwillingness to cause needless offense. Gracious, there are enough things to offend us all just in day to day living – we don’t need to add to it. Yes, at times we must take the course of King St. Louis – when someone is insanely persistent in demanding death and destruction, we must drive a sword through him as far as it will go. But good King St. Louis also would never have dreamed of just insulting people for the fun of it – and he was a Crusader, my friends; a more devoted enemy of Islamic aggression you will not find in the annals of history.

I really do love this country of ours – warts and all. I really do think that in secular terms, we offer the best that humanity has to offer. I do think our nation worth defending. But it is worth defending only if we live up to the standards upon which it was founded. Look through the Declaration and the Constitution and you’ll see it shot through from start to finish with decency. Even when Jefferson condemned George III before the bar of history, he didn’t offer insult. No one reading that sublime document could conclude other than that the king was in the wrong, and right and justice were on our side. Jefferson offered truth, well written to appeal to the better angels of human nature. Contrast it to the cowardly tripe of modern liberals, or the school-yard insults hurled by some. We’re better than that. At all events, we had better be better – because if we aren’t better than the enemy, we won’t beat him.

Can the Constitution be Saved?

Charles Cooke notes that some on the right appear to be eagerly anticipating the time when a Republican President can invoke the “Obama rule” and just start doing whatever he or she pleases – and he doesn’t like it:

…I am afraid that I consider this approach to be little short of suicidal, and I can under no circumstances look forward to a system in which the executive may pick and choose which laws he is prepared to enforce. On the contrary: I consider the idea to be a grave and a disastrous one, and I would propose that any such change is likely to usher in chaos at first and then to incite a slow, tragic descent into the monarchy and caprice that our ancestors spent so long trying to escape. During the last 500 years or so, the primary question that has faced the Anglo-American polities has been whether the executive or the legislature is to be the key proprietor of domestic power. In one form or another, this query informed both the English Civil War and the Glorious Revolution that followed it, and it was at the root of the Revolution in America. Cast your eyes across the Declaration of Independence and you will notice that the majority of the “long train of abuses and usurpations” have to do with the violation of the rights of assemblies by individuals who believe themselves to be the dominant arbiter of the state’s affairs…

I don’t like it, either; but the question is, can the cat be put back in the bag? That is where we get into very doubtful territory. Earlier in his article, Cooke notes the impossibility of actually explaining what is at stake to the average audience – which either won’t know the issues (thanks, public schools!) or won’t have the patience to deal with it. We are a very long way from any sort of America which fully understands what is at stake. This puts anyone who wishes to have a constitutional republic at a disadvantage as it is useless to discuss the finer points of what is actually a human right against someone who is promising the sun and the moon in a political campaign.

No system will ever work better than the people who run it. And the trouble with all human systems is that they are run by human beings – human beings who are prey to cowardice, greed, pride, flattery and all that. The historian Will Durant, in discussing the Principate established by the first Roman Emperor, noted that in legal terms the powers the Emperor had were no greater than those of an energetic American President – how, then, did the Principate so swiftly degenerate from the high tone of Augustus to the madness of Caligula and Nero? Because the people who ran the system allowed it to happen – it was easier to just let the Emperor rule; to take the bribe, the obtain the sinecure position, to let things slide. Fighting for principal only forced you to work and exposed you to attack. Better to go along to get along. One would have hoped in 2009 that Congressional Democrats would have been keen to preserve their own power vis a vis the White House, regardless of who is in office. But, nothing doing – once Obama was sworn in, Congress became the merest rubber stamp…and once the GOP gained the House in 2010, nothing happened in Congress because Reid, the alleged leader of the Senate, decided that it was just easier to let Obama do whatever he pleased. This it the nature of things in human affairs – and no system we have or can create will really change it.

Our now-tattered and broken system had a good run. From 1787 until 1950 it pretty much worked as planned, aside from a few abuses. It worked because everyone kept it working – the President didn’t abuse and Congress was vigilant in protecting it’s power. Since 1950, though, it as rather fallen apart (the signal for this, by the way, was Truman’s commitment to war in Korea without obtaining prior Congressional authorization: going to war in Korea was correct American policy – but Truman should have got a declaration of war from Congress, first). We have just drifted along with the tide of events – and Congress passed its legislative powers away: first to the Courts, later to the bureaucracy and now to the merest whim of the President. The one defense the Founders gave us against Executive abuse – impeachment – is a dead letter. It never really worked (if it had, a good dozen Presidents would have been removed from office over the years), and it was killed off when Clinton was acquitted by the Senate even though he clearly had broken the law and should have been removed from office. Unless by some political miracle you can get 67 Senators in opposition to a President, impeachment will never happen – and I can’t see either major party ever getting to 67 Senators while the other party is in the White House. Freed from any fear of impeachment, a President can do as he pleases while in office – there’s really no way to stop him (some people hold that the power of the purse can still be invoked: I ask, how? Suppose the President draws money out of the Treasury which hasn’t been appropriated; what is the only sanction you can hit him with? The aforementioned dead letter of impeachment…).

I don’t know how we get back to a place where the President holds himself in check and/or the Congress vigorously protects it’s own power. It could be that we’ll need to go through a period of executive tyranny (you know, dictatorship) which leads to revolution and the re-establishment of constitutional law. I hope it doesn’t come to that. And as a means of trying to prevent that, I do have some suggestions:

1. Don’t be afraid to rake over the past a bit. When a new Administration comes into office, one of its first orders of business should be the investigation of the previous Administration. This is especially true when it is a change of political party as well as a new Administration. Sure, this means that Bush Administration officials would have been raked over the coals by Obama people – but it also might mean that Obama people get the same raking over by President Walker’s troops. The thought that in just a few years the other guys might be in power and thus looking to send you to jail would produce a great deal of fear about abusing power and breaking the law.

2. Term limits. Part of the problem with Congress is that they can stick around too long…you’ve got a nice office, a large staff, things are going pretty well: why rock the boat? Might cause you to lose office. Better to just go along to get along. Term limits brings that to an end – if you can’t re-seek your current office next year, then might as well do your job (true, some people will just coast along to the end of their term…but others will be ambitious for different office, and what better way to make a name than to shake things up?).

3. Make all government officials – elected and appointed – directly responsible for their actions. No more government pays when official so-and-so screws up: nope, the official pays. In criminal and civil penalties. No more immunity for government officials: and no more anonymity, either…their names, salaries, positions and performance reviews are on line for everyone to see. Having the people kinda looking over their shoulders might make them less willing to do wrong.

That is just a few things; other people can come up with other ideas. But do keep in mind that there are two ways to make a government behave: have honorable men and women as a majority of the government, or put the most intense fear of retribution into the minds of government officials. We can’t ever be sure that anyone is actually honorable (even the best of us can go wrong), so we should concentrate on putting the fear on them – the thought that you are to be hanged in a fortnight does concentrate the mind wonderfully…and if a government official is worried every day that he might be called to account for his actions, he’ll either do as little as possible or be as honest as possible…in either case, we’re ahead of the game.

Turley’s Testimony

In all of the chaos that has been swirling around the last week or two, i.e.; the border crisis, the Malaysian airliner, and the Gaza Strip, what has been lost or certainly under reported is the very important Congressional lawsuit against Executive Authority. Notable George Washington University law professor and admitted Obama supporter Jonathan Turley testified in front of Congress this last week in support of the lawsuit, and his testimony was very compelling and should get the attention of anyone who respects the Constitution and the founding of our country. Turley warns not only of unlawful unilateral changes to legislation by the executive branch, but also of the “fourth branch” of government, and the increasing power of agency deference, and the enactment of law through regulations. The testimony is found in full text here, and is a good weekend read. Many of us here have spoken to this issue quite a bit calling for the need to limit the size and scope of the federal government, and to see that the House, through elected representatives, and the States assert their Constitutional authorities. Unfortunately, in the face of those statements, we have been called racists and extremists by the very people who either support the expansion of unilateral power and the departure from the tripartite system our founders intended, or by those who are so willfully ignorant they pose an extreme danger to our republic. I contend it is the latter. In his testimony, Turley explains how he sat in bewilderment when the President stood in front of the Congressional body and told them straight up that he would go around them if they failed to act and many of them stood up and cheered. How sad is that? Congress cheering a President that promises to strip them of their elected responsibility. This lawsuit must go forward, and it must succeed, and this is just the first of many actions the people must engage in to regain control of this government, and of this country. Below are some excerpts:

While the President is clearly exasperated by the opposition that he has encountered in Washington, the Framers created a system that often forces compromise between factional and political groups. That legislative process tends to produce laws with a broader base of support and, frankly, a better product after going through the difficult revisions and conferences. What emerges is not always perfect but it does have the legitimacy of a duly enacted law. It is that legislative process that is the key to the success of the American system. Thus, the loss caused by the circumvention of the legislative branch is not simply one branch usurping another. Rather, it is the loss of the most important function of the tripartite system in channeling factional interests and reaching resolutions on matters of great public importance. 

The rise of this fourth branch in our tripartite system raises difficult questions.65 Today, the vast majority of “laws” governing the United States are not passed by Congress but are issued as regulations. Adding to this dominance are judicial rulings giving agencies heavy deference in their interpretations of laws under cases like Chevron. Recently, this Supreme Court added to this insulation and authority with a ruling that agencies can determine their own jurisdictions — a power that was previously believed to rest with Congress. In his dissent in City of Arlington v. FCC, Chief Justice John Roberts warned, “It would be a bit much to describe the result as ‘the very definition of tyranny,’ but the danger posed by the growing power of the administrative state cannot be dismissed.”

Is the Solution to Obama a Parliamentary Government?

Part of the genius of our Founders was the really clever way they blended three forms of government into one.  We are part monarchy, part Republic, part democracy.  The Democracy, of course, is the House – one man, one vote and everyone counts.  The Republic is the Senate – each constituent State has equal representation regardless of population.  The monarch, of course, is the President.  Most people don’t fully realize this aspect of our government – but the President is as much a king as anyone who ever sat a throne except for one thing:  his term of office is limited by years rather than by his life span.

It is interesting that in Churchill’s history of the First World War – The World Crisis – the description he gives of the American government observes that in practical terms, in 1917, the American President held more power than any other single individual on earth.  That was written before the enormities of Stalin and Hitler, but by Churchill’s lights at the time, it was correct – even though Russia had a Czar and Germany and Austria-Hungary had Kaisers. The President is at once party leader, head of State and head of government.  A vigorous person in that office is able to impose his will upon Congress and the people and move policy in the way he desires, even without violating the Constitution. And the President can pretty much get America into war any time he wants by simple fact of moving military forces under his own authority anywhere he wants, and letting the resultant events almost compel a declaration from Congress.

I believe that our Founders set this up quite deliberately – that they wanted a system which embodies what they perceived as best in all forms of government, but with each side checked vigorously by other Powers in government. And it worked very well – we had our leader who could act decisively in an emergency while also ensuring that final power to actual change things was in the hands of elected officials, with a final referee, as it were, in the Supreme Court to ensure that neither President nor Congress strayed beyond the bounds of settled law.  There was, however, a weakness in the system and it is a weakness which cannot be avoided in any system: it is dependent for its operation upon the actions of human beings.  Human beings are Fallen and thus get things wrong; usually very often. But we had a great bit of good luck at our start in that our first President – our first King, as it were – was George Washington.  Here was a man who genuinely held himself to be no more than the first magistrate of a free people and while he could have stayed in office until he died – and, indeed, at one point could have gotten himself crowned as actual king – he voluntarily gave up office and retired to private life.

This example of humble Presidential leadership stood us in good stead for quite a long time, but by the time Theodore Roosevelt took office, it started to wear thin as he and most of his successors thought of themselves not as agents of an impartial government, but men of destiny who had to place their indelible imprint upon the nation and the world.  From Theodore Roosevelt to Wilson to Franklin Roosevelt to Lyndon Johnson to Barack Obama is a pretty straight line, only slightly pushed off course by Calvin Coolidge and Ronald Reagan, who did have a much more Washingtonian ideal of the Presidency than most over the past century.  It was Theodore Roosevelt who first denied the limitations of power in the Founder’s system – saying that unless something was specifically forbidden a President in the Constitution, the President was free to do it.  This was a watershed event – and quite in contrast to Roosevelt’s recent predecessor Grover Cleveland who routinely vetoed legislation for the sole reason that he found no warrant for the law in the powers granted to the government by the Constitution. Now we’ve finished the task and in Obama, we’ve got a President who is essentially claiming that unless someone can actually stop him, he can do as he wishes – the pen and the phone are mightier than the Constitution.  And, so, how do we fix this?

The Founders thought they had provided sufficient safe guards against such things by inserting into the Constitution the power of the legislative to impeach the executive. It was thought that out of a jealous desire to preserve legislative power that the legislature would vigorously oppose the executive and be willing to use the extreme sanction of impeachment when a President started abusing his office.  It didn’t really work out like that – the first impeachment of Andrew Johnson was the merest bit of partisan hackery where the legislative majority simply  wanted to do away with an uncooperative executive; the second against Nixon was only successful because Nixon’s own allies abandoned him; the third against Clinton failed because Clinton’s allies refused to abandon him even though it was clear that Clinton has committed “high crimes and misdemeanors”. And that was that – once it became clear that partisanship would rule the day in impeachment, then it became a requirement that the Senate have 67 firmly committed members to vote for conviction before impeachment would even be considered and given the partisan nature of things, this means a Senate wherein at least 67 members are from the opposition party.  You can look back in time and see how few and far between are the times when any party controlled 67% of the Senate seats.  This means that impeachment is functionally impossible. We need another means of controlling the executive.

We could decide to lower the bar on impeachment convictions, and that might be a sorta-good way to go.  Better than no restrictions, after all.  But if we made it so that only 55 Senators had to vote to convict, then we would see more partisan hackery in the matter of impeachment where the Senate majority just wants to get rid of a President who isn’t cooperative.  That is fatal to good government quite as much as an out of control executive.  Maybe, and this is just me starting to think it over, we should remove the President from day to day executive authority?  That would be to interpose a Prime Minister between the President and the operations of government on a day to day basis.  A Parliamentary regime.

We’d still want a Commander in Chief for war time and other such emergencies, but we also very much want a President who can’t use his pen and phone to alter law.  So, we amend the Constitution to command the President to nominate as Prime Minister the leader of the party holding the most seats in the House of Representatives, and that person – upon confirmation via the Senate – nominates the heads of the government Departments and monitors and controls their actions subject to approval or overthrow by the House. We would make it so that the President signs laws into approval, or vetoes them as he desires.  He would still command the armed forces, negotiate treaties (with the advice and consent of the Senate as now) and could recommend legislation – but in what the Departments would do, he would have no say. And the people who do have the say in the actions of the Department, they can be removed by a simple majority vote in the House – and if the people don’t like how government is going, then every two years they get a chance to change the composition of the House, and thus get a government hopefully more to their liking.

Yes, this could lead to a situation – as it does in France, from time to time – where the President and the Prime Minister are of different parties.  Would it really be that bad if they had to work together?  The PM can want this, that or the other thing, but he’s not going to get it into law unless the President agrees – ditto on the President’s side. Other changes can also be made (I’ve long been in favor of limit the President to one, six-year term, eg), but we do have to think seriously about how we are going to ensure the means of cutting off a President – like Obama, but also like Johnson and FDR and Wilson in the past – who doesn’t care what the law says and is just going to do what he wants, defying anyone to stop him, secure in the knowledge that his opponents won’t have those 67 Senators necessary to convict on impeachment. At any rate, if anyone has a better idea, I’m all ears.