Archive for April 24th, 2006

In a recent conversation on the upcoming midterms over at conservative site, mtpolitics, Gman left a comment trashing Matt Singer’s liberal worldview by calling it “immoral.” Now I agree with Matt on most issues. So I took…well, not offense…but I disagreed with the premise. I don’t think my views are “immoral.” I also don’t think I’m a political naïf who just fell off the bread truck.So I wrote up a lengthy rebuttal.

Here’s the original comment:

Matt, what amazes me about your comment that you want honest government is that the government you want cannot be honest. (Read Frederic Bastiat’s The Law.) The government you want is grounded in an immoral premise — take from one individual to give to another — i.e. legal plunder. It’s really no different than the Marxist dictum “From each according to ability, to each according to need.” How can a system that is corrupt on its face be honest? “Honest government” is just a platitude anyway. What does it mean, really?

How about instead of pining for “honest government” we all strive for “limited government” or “constitutional government.” But, our culture has no clue what honesty is anymore, how can we expect it from our government? In fact, I might as well throw out any hope for constitutional, limited government if the people cannot be moral. It is the foundation of our system. As John Adams said:

“We have no government armed with power capable of contending with human passions unbridled by morality and religion. Avarice, ambition, revenge or gallantry would break the strongest cords of our Constitution as a whale goes through a net. Our Constitution is designed only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate for any other.”

Add to Adams’s astute observation what Edmund Burke said about the French Revolution:

“It is written in the eternal constitution of things that men of intemperate mind can never be free. Their passions forge their fetters.”

There are so many wrong premises and contradictions in this worldview found in this comment, I don’t know where to begin.

Let’s start with the basis of American government. American Democracy is found on the idea that government is derived from the consent of the governed. The Declaration of Independence:

We hold these Truths to be self-evident, that all Men are created equal, that they are endowed, by their Creator, with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness:

That to secure these Rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just Powers from the Consent of the Governed, that whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these Ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its Foundation on such Principles, and organizing its Powers in such Form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.

The government, then, is an agreement between governed and governors. In essence, the government is supposed to work for the people, and the people for the government. In this model – the American model – we are a community working towards communal goals.

The “unalienable rights” Jefferson named – “Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness” – represent the inherent rights that citizens have in equality of opportunity. That is, a government is not legitimate if it blocks its citizens’ “pursuit” of labor, sustenance, and political freedom.

And how is “pursuit of happiness” defined? By law, written in stone? Jefferson:

On similar ground it may be proved that no society can make a perpetual constitution, or even a perpetual law. The earth belongs always to the living generation. They may manage it then, and what proceeds from it, as they please, during their usufruct. They are masters too of their own persons, and consequently may govern them as they please.

(“usufruct” = The right to use and enjoy the profits and advantages of something belonging to another as long as the property is not damaged or altered in any way.)

Government of the people, by the people, and for the people cannot be immoral according to these premises, as gman claims. If the people of the United States through a peaceful and legitimate democratic process wish to institute some “socialist” reforms into their culture – such as a single-payer health care system – that is not immoral, but perfectly in accord with American democracy.

(Incidentally, Fredric Bastiat’s “The Law,” quoted by gman as defining what’s moral and immoral in government, ironically seems to support liberal efforts to change the current form of government. Bastiat’s work was apparently written with the sole purpose of slighting socialism by saying that any government that “plunders” – takes income from one citizen and gives it to another – is “immoral.” Of course what Bastiat tacitly acknowledges is that a government in thrall with “free market” forces is abetting “lawful plunder” of the labor of working- and middle- class citizens’ property by a few wealthy individuals.)

Government already does many communal projects that we all take for granted. Our government paves our streets, ensures water, telephone access, and electricity to our homes. It provides fire and police departments, public transportation, libraries, schools, and universities. It provides the very structure all our commerce and daily traffic use to pursue our unalienable rights. Our government also ensures that those in the minority – whether they are minority by race, politics, or economic class – be protected in their rights, as well.

Government, in its ideal, is citizens meeting to take on communal projects that better the community.

Why shouldn’t we pool our resources and ensure affordable health care to all?

And on the subject of “morals.” First, I strongly and vehemently disagree with Gman that our community is not “moral.” This is patently absurd. U.S. society is remarkably diverse: hundreds of ethnic and religions groups live alongside another in relative peace. Tolerance, charity, and industry reign — despite deliberately hateful and divisive efforts by some to chain the country to a single extremist faction of Christianity, and others to devote all the government’s resources to a handful of corporate interests.

That Montanans might knowingly re-elect a crook to the US Senate does not indicate a newly sprung tolerance for dishonesty – dishonest populist politicians are an American staple and always have been. That some of us want to institute “honest” government may be naive, but it’s also another long-standing American tradition originating in the afore-quoted Declaration of Independence. In fact, I’d argue that our Constitution was created with the structure to allow ordinary folks to struggle against corrupt government.

Quoting John Adams on constitutional government is like quoting hammers on the subject of nails. Adams was a prig with authoritarian tendencies.

Still, and again, I’m with Jefferson, who believed that an innate sense of morality exists within the people.It’s quite simple, really. Most people want peace, and they want to prosper.

All we ask, as liberals, is let us.

Two letters appearing recently in the Missoulian touted the work of Clemens Work, who is busy clearing the names of many who were criminalized under Montana’s infamous WWI Sedition Act, and decrying a recent paranoid attack on Work’s work by Missoula man, Harvey Weinstein. (A recent 4&20 “creep.”)

First a nice letter from Richard Barrett of Missoula calling Weinstein “outrageous”:

Attack on professor an example of hysteria

Martin Weinstein apparently believes that he is defending academic freedom and integrity, the Constitution of the United States, and the country itself in his outrageous attack on professor Clemens Work in the April 16 Missoulian. He accuses Work of indoctrinating students, grading by political correctness rather than quality, destroying the Constitution, trying to lead us to a neo-Marxist utopia, sowing the seeds of defeat in Iraq and being the unholy ally of Islamic terrorists.

Even casual readers of the Missoulian will realize that the story about Work (“Righting a Wrong,” Missoulian, April 9) contained absolutely no information that could possibly lead Weinstein to these bizarre conclusions and vicious accusations. Weinstein bases all of his tirade, apparently, on Work's concern regarding the impact of the Patriot Act on First Amendment rights. Weinstein should realize that this concern is hardly radical. It is even shared by some Republican members of Congress. And the tone Weinstein sets in his letter bears more than a “stark resemblance” to the hysteria that prevailed in Montana when the Sedition Act was in force.

Fabricating accusations out of whole cloth and attacking Work personally and falsely, rather than dealing with his ideas, are the hallmarks of a demagogue. They are unworthy of the scholar and defender of academic freedom Weinstein claims to be.

True that Weinsteain’s hysteria is shared by some Republican Congressmen. Whether they truly believe their paranoia, like Weinstein obviously does, or whether they use it as part of the GOP’s standard fear-mongering, is another debate. But we see similar hysteria in Burn’s rhetoric concerning the takeover of the country by liberal “elites” like Hillary Clinton and Ted Kennedy. (In reality, probably not much would be different here in Montana. In fantasy-land, however…)

Letter two, from M. Chessin of Missoula, gives a shout out to those involved in the amnesty project:

Kudos to students, teachers on project On Jan. 26, 1991, professor Harry Fritz, then serving in the Montana Senate, offered a motion of exoneration to clear the name of Judge Charles L. Crum of Forsyth, who had been impeached by that body during the wartime hysteria of 1917. His crime? That he had offered advice to some who were facing trial for “seditious” speech.

Fritz's motion was approved unanimously by his colleagues, who gave a standing ovation to the judge's grandchildren then present in the gallery.

So, kudos are in order for the journalism and law students at the University of Montana and their teachers Clem Work and Jeff Renz, who have recently undertaken to initiate pardons for the many others who were victims like Crum of the super-patriots of those days. Those events are chronicled in Work's book “Darkest Before Dawn,” which was superbly researched.

And brickbats to Martin Weinstein who outrageously compared their efforts to those typical of Hitler and Stalin! (Missoulian letters, April 16).

He would be better off to concern himself with the crimes of the G.W. Bush regime, which include, among others, the shredding of our Constitution and misleading us into endless pre-emptive war.

Amen, brother! …or sister!

This should be a bi-partisan project, one that everyone should support. That right-wing extremists such as Weinstein see it as part of a radical Stalinist plot to subvert the United States should warn us to the attempt from many on the right to criminalize or, at least, marginalize dissent. And “dissent,” according to these nutjobs, is anything negative said about the Bush administration or its policies.

Like it or not, the US provides its citizens with certain inalienable rights. One of them is to speak out against the government. After all, as according to an Edward Abbey quote read on Sarpy Sam’s blog, “A patriot must always be ready to defend his country against his government.”

Seriously, which poses more real danger to us? Freedom of speech, or criminalizing speech?


Guam: Burns earmarked $20 mil to a friend of Delay in an appropriations bill. Burns: Guam lies.

Holy smokes! Intelligent Discontent has a slew of new Conrad Burns news! First Boss Hogg gives a million bucks to a company that puts his daughter and a former staffer on its board. Then there’s a WaPo article on Burns that…well…gets it all wrong. (Liberal press, my *ss.)

Sarpy Sam gets angry at Montana voters over the Wapo article, and finds in it reason to abandon Morrison.

Legislating boredom”: Get ready for our government’s war on sex toys.

Tom Tomorrow shows us the only graphics we need to defeat the GOP.

California students block Bush’s motorcade on Stanford campus; Bush’s “October Surprise”; and more.

Instead of sending out miscommunication, the White House is apparently interested in not communicating at all. Where is Scotty’s replacement already? (And where’s the new director of FEMA? Isn’t hurricane season upon us?)

Daily Kos’ Georgia10 on the importance of the New Hampshire phone-jamming scandal.

Washington state does the right thing: the State Board of Pharmacy ruled that pharmacists can’t refuse to fill a prescription because of moral objections. Montana?

Certain conservatives…uh…individuals…representing larger forces, but not all conservatives…just the more powerful ones, like the ones, you know, running the country…want to criminalize dissent. Why do Republicans, er, conservatives, er a mere handful…or more, possibly…on the right…hate democracy?

Firedoglake: “Al Gore’s evolution on same-sex marriage.”

Matt Stoller introduces a fight all of us can get behind: save the Internet! So the free market promotes liberty? Faugh!

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