Thursday, May 13, 2010

Conservative Revisionism Equates To Historical Amnesia. Just Ask Dr. Moreno From Big Government.

Big Goverment is at it again!  They had posted an article by Dr. Paul Moreno about the success of the American democracy, and how it is in trouble again, facing "tyranny" from the left, but does Moreno even read what he writes?
Because of the spectacular success of American democracy over the last two centuries, we are apt to forget how discredited democracy was in 1776. The lesson of history was that, in democracies, demagogues would led the passionate and fickle masses would vote themselves the property of the rich minority, and tyranny would result.

The lessons–how Greek city-states destroyed themselves and were conquered by larger despotic empires, how Rome morphed from a republic into such a despotic empire–were well known to the authors of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. James Madison observed that the ancient “democracies have ever been spectacles of turbulence and contention; have ever been found incompatible with personal security or the rights of property; and have in general been as short in their lives as they have been violent in their deaths. Even more familiar was England’s experiment in “commonwealth” democracy during their seventeenth-century Civil War. “Democracy” was a bad word at the time of the American Revolution.

The state governments under the Articles of Confederation repeated many of these ancient maladies. In particular, they engaged in the kind of inflationary debtor-relief polices that demagogues always proffer in times of economic distress. The American Constitution was in large part an effort to save democratic government from the tendency of majorities to vote themselves the property of minorities. Thus James Madison in the tenth Federalist argued that the new Constitution would help prevent a “rage for paper money, for an abolition of debts, for an equal division of property, or for any other improper or wicked project,” from going nationwide.

The Constitution created a government strong enough to protect us against foreign enemies, to establish a national free-trade area, and to prevent the states from conducting their own foreign or monetary policies. Its structure was meant to prevent majority tyranny. It succeeded fabulously, making the United States the most prosperous and powerful nation in the world by the end of the twentieth century.

After a century, American intellectuals began to think that the Constitution was out of date. They imported European ideas, such as historicism and relativism, which they Americanized into “pragmatism.” They concluded that the Constitution was OK for 1787, but was unable to meet the needs of the new industrial and urban order. They looked to European political systems, especially that of Bismarck’s Prussian welfare state.

As a result, we have gone through several waves of statism–progressivism, the New Deal, the Great Society. They all amount to the same thing–demagogues telling “the people” that they will save them from “the interests.” Democratic majorities have voted themselves all kinds of benefits. Worse still, they have traduced genuine democracy by using unelected judicial and bureaucratic power to override the will of the majority when the majority doesn’t follow the statists’ agenda.
It seems like each paragraph Moreno writes contradicts itself.  To start, lets break it down, starting with the scond sentence.

Moreno writes that "in democracies, demagogues would led the passionate and fickle masses would vote themselves the property of the rich minority, and tyranny would result."

I can't help but be reminded of the Republicans and the Tea Party, which represent the minority, and before you try to dismiss that as just lies from the mainstream media, just consider the facts that there are less registered Republicans then Democrats and that a recent poll found that found only 18% of Americans support the Tea Party movement.  The poll conducted by the New York Times and CBS also found that the Tea Party minority is also wealthier then the average person, with 76% earning over $50,000 a year, so it makes sense to make the minority fearful of the majority, by threatening their security.  Add the fact that they treat their "demagogues" like Sarah Palin and Glenn Beck like the second coming of Jesus Christ, and it would appear that Moreno is writing about the impending conservative tyranny.

As a side note, why do so many celebrities, who would be part of the "rich minority," back the administration that supposedly desires to strip their wealth?

Obviously the article is intended to paint the president as a "demagogue," but considering the stories from the right talking about Obama's low approval rating and his inability to solidify the Democratic party, Moreno's accusations, when placed alongside the various other right-wing narratives, just makes no sense.

Moreno moves on from his allusion of the fringe to discuss the history of failed democracies and how it pertains to the founding fathers (saw that one coming a mile away).  Moreno claims that all democracies prior to the American version were failures, and the founding fathers understood this and made the corrections in the Constitution.  What surprised me more was Moreno's reference of the Articles of Confederation, which right-wingers conveniently forget.
The state governments under the Articles of Confederation repeated many of these ancient maladies. In particular, they engaged in the kind of inflationary debtor-relief polices that demagogues always proffer in times of economic distress. The American Constitution was in large part an effort to save democratic government from the tendency of majorities to vote themselves the property of minorities.
Moreno makes it sound as if the poor, unwashed masses toppled these ancient governments, including our own Articles of Confederation, by trying to sieze wealth from the rich.  Could this be the dreaded socialism conservatives are worried will rob them of their possessions?  If that is the case, and the Constitution corrected these problems, then what was with Alexander Hamilton's "Report on Credit" delivered to the House of Representatives in 1790, during the presidency of George Washington (a founding father), outlining that the federal government should assume the debts of the states.  Congress had eventually failed to adopt Hamilton's plan to fund the domestic debt and pay off the states' debts, causing a "serious economic depression."

This earliest example seems to punch a hole in Moreno's assertion that "inflationary debtor-relief policies" were prevented with the Constitution, when it is apparent that doing nothing did more to diminish confidence in the nation then had they assumed the states' debts.  Moreno quoted Madison's Federalist #10, authored in 1787, not the historical events that followed this theoretical piece of literature.  The Federalist paper was pure speculation.

A funny thing about the Federalist paper Moreno cites - he cuts off the comparison to the spread of a religious sect through the Confederacy:
The influence of factious leaders may kindle a flame within their particular States, but will be unable to spread a general conflagration through the other States. A religious sect may degenerate into a political faction in a part of the Confederacy; but the variety of sects dispersed over the entire face of it must secure the national councils against any danger from that source. A rage for paper money, for an abolition of debts, for an equal division of property, or for any other improper or wicked project, will be less apt to pervade the whole body of the Union than a particular member of it; in the same proportion as such a malady is more likely to taint a particular county or district, than an entire State.
Considering the fringe of conservatism, it appears that such religious sects have degenerated into a political faction.  Don't believe me?  Just look at the comments on Big Government's site - the home of this Moreno article - and read the numerous "America is a Christian nation" and anti-Islam comments posted by their readers.  Considering the Federalist paper, which Moreno uses to warn against "statism–progressivism,"one could logically draw the conclusion that the same paper warns against Moreno and the people that follow his warnings.

Another problem with Moreno's citation is that the Federalist paper warns against the pitfalls of the Confederacy and democracy, while praising the potential of a constitutional republic, stating that the mechanisms will be in place in elevating the most qualified people to represent the citizenry, which would seem to be the opposite of the right-wing claims that the liberals are a bunch of unqualified socialists who are working to undermine the nation.  Such accusations would seem to be insulting the system deemed perfect by their own interpretation of the founding fathers, as well as insulting to the millions of Americans who the right claims were duped, while alleging that their own party is one that is informed.  This essentially boils down to the childhood taunt of "I know you are but what am I?" 

Madison wrote the following:
In the first place, it is to be remarked that, however small the republic may be, the representatives must be raised to a certain number, in order to guard against the cabals of a few; and that, however large it may be, they must be limited to a certain number, in order to guard against the confusion of a multitude. Hence, the number of representatives in the two cases not being in proportion to that of the two constituents, and being proportionally greater in the small republic, it follows that, if the proportion of fit characters be not less in the large than in the small republic, the former will present a greater option, and consequently a greater probability of a fit choice.
So, considering the right's claims that communist/Marxist subversives are undermining the government, and that would be bad, then by the logic of the same Federalist paper Moreno cites, the size of government needs to be increased because the liberal cabal was able to gain control of the government.  This seems contrary to the calls of limited government by Moreno.

As Moreno travels through history, he gives vague references to insist that the Democrats and liberals are pushing an evil agenda, such as the monarchic Prussian welfare state (were Mitt Romney's claims of liberal's being neo-monarchists correct?), which historically was a conservative invention, and anyone familiar with history would understand that it was the conservatives who pushed for a national bank and federal funding of the infrastructure.  Moreno points to the New Deal and the Great Society, but he offers no details, leading his readers to assume the worst, and that is they advance a progressive evil.

Some could also argue that the Prussian welfare state stemmed from the push by Otto von Bismarck to unify the German states, and if that is the case, then what Moreno and his brand of conservatism is preaching is that of decentralized rule and state sovereignty, which is very anti-American.

An essay by Thomas J. DiLorenzo points to the economic interventionist policies of the Republican party - the party supposedly for less government.  In his essay, DiLorenzo attacks revisionist conservatives like Moreno for not comprehending the things they write about.
Incapable of ever doing anything but praising the early GOP, most contemporary historians, who are largely ignorant of economics, praise this "achievement" to the treetops. A good example of this appears in the October 2004 issue of The Smithsonian magazine, in an essay by Lincoln biographer David Donald entitled "1860: The Road Not Taken." The essay is part of a "what if" symposium that poses the question of what America would look like had the outcomes of the presidential elections of 1860, 1912, 1932, and 1980 been different.

Donald zeroes in on the Lincoln administration’s "social legislation." Had Lincoln not been elected, the Pulitzer Prize-winning biographer writes, a sizeable Democratic minority in Congress
Would have blocked the important economic and social legislation enacted by the Republicans during the Civil War. Thus, there would likely have been no high tariff laws that protected the iron industry, so essential in postwar economic development, no Homestead Act giving 160 acres to settlers willing to occupy and till land out West, no transcontinental railroad legislation, no land-grant colleges, no national currency or national banking system, no Department of Agriculture to offer expert guidance on better seeds and improved tillage. Without such legislation, the economic takeoff that made the United States a major industrial power by the end of the century would have been prevented . . .
Moreno references the New Deal only by name, without detailing what it included, although almost every conservative is bound to hate the policies of the New Deal because they included the Social Security Act, but it also included programs to aid tenant farmers and migrant workers, and I don't understand why the right-wing claims the New Deal brought us closer to socialism when after World War II, the Conservative Coalition shut down many of the New Deal organizations, such as the WPA or the CCC, and whatever remained was left intact by Republican president Dwight D. Eisenhower.

Moreno also mentioned the Great Society, but fails to mention what it offered.  The Great Society tackled civil rights issues, the war on poverty, provided funding for education, promoted the arts and cultural institutions, established public broadcasting, funding for infrastructure projects, and of course Medicare and Medicaid.  I don't see why Moreno is complaining, considering during the health care debates, the Republican party had actually came out defending the health policies of the Great Society, and provided funding that was inline with the vision of the founding fathers, such as George Washington's promotion of federal support of education as indicated in his Farewell Address:
"Promote then, as an object of primary importance, institutions for the general diffusion of knowledge. In proportion as the structure of a government gives force to public opinion, it is essential that public opinion should be enlightened" said Washington.
Consider these "liberal" policies enacted in the past that advanced "statism–progressivism":
  • Morrill Tariff (1861)
  • First Income Tax (1861)
  • Expanded Postal Service (1861)
  • Homestead Act (1862)
  • Morrill Land-Grant College Act (1862)
  • Department of Agriculture (1862)
  • Bureau of Printing and Engraving (1862)
  • Transcontinental Railroad Grants (1862, 1863, 1864)
  • National Banking Acts (1863, 1864, 1865, 1866)
  • Comptroller of the Currency (1863)
  • National Academy of Sciences (1863)
  • "Free" Urban Mail Delivery (1863)
  • Yosemite Nature Reserve Land Grant (1864)
  • Contract Labor Act (1864)
  • Office of Immigration (1864)
  • Railway Mail Service (1864)
  • Money Order System (1864)
If you take notice of the dates, then you would realize that these policies were enacted by Republican hero and president, Abraham Lincoln. This list was compiled by historian Daniel Elazar as "Lincoln's New Deal."

Just look at the list and the economic interventionist policies, like the subsidization of industry, the interference with the marketplace by the imposition of tariffs, the creation of the National Academy of Science, which under the latter founded the Institute of Medicine, which was created to "provide national advice on issues relating to biomedical science, medicine, and health, and its mission to serve as adviser to the nation to improve health."  That sounds like the definition of what the Sarah Palin "death panels" were going to do.

Many of Lincoln's policies sound vaguely like those enacted by presidents Roosevelt #2 and Johnson #2.

And now I get to the last paragraph I cited from Moreno:
They all amount to the same thing–demagogues telling “the people” that they will save them from “the interests.” Democratic majorities have voted themselves all kinds of benefits. Worse still, they have traduced genuine democracy by using unelected judicial and bureaucratic power to override the will of the majority when the majority doesn’t follow the statists’ agenda.
Apparently, liberal demagogues keep telling "the people" that they will protect them from "the interests."  I'm pretty sure that this statement holds true for every politician.

Here are some excerpts of a speech from September 4th, 2008 (I had removed some of the flavor text inbetween the paragraphs, but kept the entire sentences and their paragraphs intact):
And maybe that's because they realize there is a time for politics and a time for leadership ... a time to campaign and a time to put our country first...

I pledge to you that if we are elected, you will have a friend and advocate in the White House.

But here's a little news flash for all those reporters and commentators: I'm not going to Washington to seek their good opinion - I'm going to Washington to serve the people of this country. Americans expect us to go to Washington for the right reasons, and not just to mingle with the right people.
Politics isn't just a game of clashing parties and competing interests.

I pledge to all Americans that I will carry myself in this spirit as vice president of the United States. This was the spirit that brought me to the governor's office, when I took on the old politics as usual in Juneau ... when I stood up to the special interests, the lobbyists, big oil companies, and the good-ol' boys network
If you couldn't guess from the last paragraph, those words were spoken by the Oracle of Wasilla, Sarah Palin.

I also feel compelled to mention the McCain-Feingold bill, coauthored by conservative John McCain, to help combat the flow of money from "the interests" into political campaigns.

The other assertion Moreno makes is that liberals engage in judicial activism, but considering Obama's latest Supreme Court nominee, Elana Kagan, she is hardly the radical the right wing media makes her out to be, and compared to the nominees President Bush had made, she seems like a saint.  Just consider the comparisons all of the right-wing media are making, comparing Kagan to Bush-nominee Harriet Miers.
The New Republic seems to be keeping Dana Milbank's 1998 profile of Elana Kagan behind a paywall, but I read it on Nexis (Update: Here's a free version) and it's a good reminder that though Kagan's thin written record makes her relatively hard for the public to know, she's arguably better known to the people appointing her than any recent nominee. It's not just that she's served as Obama's solicitor general, but that she served on the Domestic Policy Council and in the White House Counsel's Office under Clinton, and then as a dean at Harvard while Larry Summers was leading the university.

Of course, that sounds like the same argument George W. Bush made about Harriet Miers. But it's not, really. Miers was a Bush loyalist, which made her personal politics extremely cloudy. Kagan has served multiple terms in Democratic White Houses, and her association with the Domestic Policy Council and Summers makes it pretty safe to say that she's on the technocratic center-left that's defined the last two Democratic administrations. She's a Democratic executive-branch staffer, not a loyalist, which makes less of a wild card.
Here is an article by Adam Cohen from the New York Times, fresh after the last two Supreme Court justices appointed by President Bush, a year after his second appointment to the court, Justice Samuel Alito, pointing out the rise in conservative activism:
The most basic charge against activist judges has always been that they substitute their own views for those of the elected branches. The court’s conservative majority did just that this term. It blithely overruled Congress, notably by nullifying a key part of the McCain-Feingold campaign finance law, a popular law designed to reduce the role of special-interest money in politics.

It also overturned the policies of federal agencies, which are supposed to be given special deference because of their expertise. In a pay-discrimination case, the majority interpreted the Civil Rights Act of 1964 in a bizarre way that makes it extremely difficult for many victims of discrimination to prevail. The majority did not care that the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has long interpreted the law in just the opposite way.

The court also eagerly overturned its own precedents. In an antitrust case, it gave corporations more leeway to collude and drive up prices by reversing 96-year-old case law. In its ruling upholding the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act, it almost completely reversed its decision from 2000 on a nearly identical law.

The school integration ruling was the most activist of all. The campaign against “activist judges” dates back to the civil rights era, when whites argued that federal judges had no right to order the Jim Crow South to desegregate. These critics insisted they were not against integration; they simply opposed judges’ telling elected officials what to do.

This term, the court did precisely what those federal judges did: it invoked the 14th Amendment to tell localities how to assign students to schools. The Roberts Court’s ruling had an extra fillip of activism. The civil rights era judges were on solid ground in saying that the 14th Amendment, which was adopted after the Civil War to bring former slaves into society, supported integration. Today’s conservative majority makes the much less obvious argument that the 14th Amendment protects society from integration.

With few exceptions, the court’s activism was in service of a conservative ideology. The justices invoked the due process clause in a novel way to overturn a jury’s award of $79.5 million in punitive damages against Philip Morris, which for decades misrepresented the harm of smoking. It is hard to imagine that Chief Justice Roberts and Justice Alito, who were in the majority, would have supported this sort of “judge-made law” as readily if the beneficiary were not a corporation.

The conservative activism that is taking hold is troubling in two ways. First, it is likely to make America a much harsher place. Companies like Philip Morris will be more likely to injure consumers if they know the due process clause will save them. Employees will be freer to mistreat workers like Lilly Ledbetter, who was for years paid less than her male colleagues, if they know that any lawsuit she files is likely to be thrown out on a technicality.

We have seen this before. In the early 1900s, the court routinely struck down worker protections, including minimum wage and maximum hours laws, and Congressional laws against child labor. That period, known as the Lochner era — after a 1905 ruling that a New York maximum hours law violated the employer’s due process rights — is considered one of the court’s darkest.

We are not in a new Lochner era, but traces of one are emerging. This court is already the most pro-business one in years, and one or two more conservative appointments could take it to a new level. Janice Rogers Brown, a federal appeals court judge who is often mentioned as a future Supreme Court nominee, has expressly called for a return to the Lochner era.
It seems that Moreno has historical amnesia, because everything he wrote about in his article contradicts everything he is advocating for, and this is indicative of the conservative movements of today, and what makes Moreno worse is that while attacking so-called liberal demagogues, he has elevated himself to the position of a conservative demagogue - just look at the comments on Big Government left by the "passionate and fickle masses."

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