Green Room

Principle and Action

posted at 6:45 pm on February 17, 2010 by

Tea Party Patriots rolled out twenty ideas for its Contract From America on Monday, culled from over a thousand suggestions. Their plan is to collect votes and produce a statement of ten principles, similar in structure to the Contract With America, which helped drive the Republican congressional gains of 1994.

This is an important step for the Tea Party movement to take. I don’t believe there has ever been a true grassroots movement of this size, energy, and endurance within my lifetime. It began with the arrogance of the Democrats’ performance at town hall meetings for health care reform. Even the most moderate voter doesn’t like being told he needs to shut up and accept a government takeover of his health insurance, through legislation written behind closed doors and left half-complete at best, voted into law by representatives who would never read it.

This blossomed into a more comprehensive rejection of the entire direction our government is taking, along with a mature understanding that Barack Obama didn’t so much change our course, as radically increase our velocity. The madness of a bankrupt government itching to spend even more money, and incompetent central planners unveiling even more complex and doomed designs, has produced an energetic and determined resistance. Contrary to its media caricature, it’s not an angry resistance – any Tea Party veteran can testify to the level of optimism and determination. Resistance and dissent are not the same as vandalism.

One way or the other, through renewal or systemic failure, the New Deal ends with Barack Obama. If the architects of the New Deal could have reviewed the first year of the Obama presidency, the whole misbegotten affair would have died stillborn… but history has unfolded behind us, and the challenge facing everyone, other than the socialist dead-enders, is what to do next.

It is a formidable challenge. I’m optimistic that we’ll get it done, because America has a long track record of overcoming formidable challenges. Success is not a foregone conclusion, and it will not be delivered to those who “hope” for “change.” Hope is passive. The future demands Courage and Industry, not Hope and Change. To appreciate the magnitude of the challenge ahead, consider that merely trimming our government back to bloated George Bush levels would require the most spectacular reductions in spending and regulation we’ve seen in the modern era… and we have to do much better than just limping back to Day 1 of the Obama Error.

Turning from a critique of failure to positive action for success requires a statement of principle, and a distinct plan of action. These are two different things, something the authors of the Mount Vernon Statement appear to have forgotten. It’s useful as a broad statement of principle, but we must also develop a strategy that supports our philosophy. Perhaps the Mount Vernon group is working on that – I certainly don’t want to discourage their efforts. It seems like the Tea Party is a little ahead of them when it comes to an action plan. Will the two groups compete for the allegiance of conservatives and reform-minded moderates?  I hope so. We’d all benefit from watching such a competition unfold.

This is a unique moment in history. I don’t like the rancid “never waste a crisis” rhetoric of Rahm Emmanuel, because the crisis is awful, and we’d have been better off without it. Teachable moments are not a bargain when they cost thousands of jobs, and trillions of dollars stolen from our children. Nevertheless, here were are, facing the abject failure of a governing philosophy that has been more or less dominant throughout our lives.

I believe we can remain true to our ideals without “frightening independents away.” We should relish the opportunity to persuade them. They’ve seen where misdirection and arrogance lead. Offer them passion and reason instead. The ideas contemplated for the Tea Party’s Contract From America are a great start, provided we fit them into a coherent narrative about the power of individuals, the moral imperative of liberty, and the ultimate truth about caring for the poor and downtrodden: wealth is the only solution for poverty. The notion that governments can redistribute wealth stands revealed as a ridiculous lie. Poverty is the only thing that can be redistributed through the power of the State.

Of the twenty ideas under consideration by the Tea Party, some are simple reforms with immediate practical benefit, such as permitting health insurance to be sold across state lines, or exploiting our energy reserves. A few are reforms that we never should have needed, such as abolishing the “czars.” (How did we ever let it come to that?) I’ve long been a proponent of term limits, which I see as a precursor to more significant reforms… and the only inescapable limit we can place on Congressional power, since it hits them before climb into their seats, and gain the power to squirm around it.

A few of the proposals seem a little small and finicky to me, such as prohibiting the FCC from reimposing the Fairness Doctrine. I think the Fairness Doctrine is an appalling idea, but is that really something that should form one of the ten planks in a grand design for American renewal? Likewise, the requirement to specify the article of the Constitution that justifies each bill is a noble idea in principle, and it would be amusing to see an endless stream of bills with “interstate commerce clause” scrawled in the margins, but it seems a bit cosmetic to me. Constitutional fidelity is not a homework assignment, to be scrawled on the blackboard during detention.

I believe the crucial reforms will be those which compel the federal government to begin devolving power to the states, returning financial independence to the private sector, and balancing the budget through spending cuts. It’s clear that only legal compulsion will force Washington to understand that its supply of money is not unlimited. The Tea Party proposals for statutory spending caps would help limit further bloat, but their flat tax idea looks like the most potent weapon for burning down wasteful government agencies, removing social engineering from the tax code, and giving the private sector an immediate, meaningful boost. Restricting the length of the tax code to the length of the Constitution is cute, if a bit garish. In the end, that might be more space than we really need… more space than we ever needed.

There are plenty of other ideas to be considered. We should not hesitate to present these ideas to the electorate. The other side has only three ideas: give us money, do as you are told, and don’t ask questions. The time to demand better from our political class has arrived.

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The notion that governments can redistribute wealth

That is the fundamental fallacy of leftist ideology. That prosperity results with wealth is shared.

The truth is, prosperity results when wealth is created by invention, innovation, by productive labor multiplied with tools provided by capital.

Wealth is created when labor takes a naturally occurring resource and uses that resource to create something that did not exist. Wealth is created when individuals engage in trade where each gains value trading something that is in surplus for something of relative greater value.

Leftist ideology deliberately rejects the idea of a transaction where both parties gain value. In the leftist universe only one side gains, because the other side loses something in the transaction.

Skandia Recluse on February 17, 2010 at 8:08 PM

Rather than term limits I would like to see a prohibition, probably in the form of a constitutional amendment, forbidding any federal elected official to receive any pension or other taxpayer funded emolument after leaving office.
Politicians would term limit themselves and instead of a political class that thinks it is above the proles we would have citizen legislators who serve the country for a time and then return to private life to live under the laws and conditions they created.

single stack on February 17, 2010 at 8:52 PM

Single stack:

I understand your point, but the well-heeled would arrive in office, and stay, while those with modest resources would be forced out.

Renascent on February 17, 2010 at 9:54 PM

I agree with your take on the Mount Vernon Statement; it feels like preamble, and I’m waiting for the rest.

Also, I’ve said (as you did) that we need to have these competing/overlapping statements out there. Going forward, we can distill these down to some core truths; 3-5 at most, that will help us to fully define 21st century conservatism.

As usual, you have summarized, and cristalized, brilliatly.

Thanks for your work, and for the part you’ve played in making Hot Air sucessfull.

massrighty on February 17, 2010 at 10:51 PM

How about we don’t pay congress critters in any year in which we have a deficit? I have no problem giving them bonuses when there is a surplus either.

But then there’s the problem. No one can make congress do anything, even if the clear majority of American want it. It’s going to take a generation’s worth of constant pressure to make them eventually behave. Good Luck!

sleepyhead on February 17, 2010 at 11:24 PM

The people expect too much from the government. This includes state and local government, which have also been growing at a vociferous rate. Taking a step back in time, schoolteachers were hired by the communities on a year by year contract to teach multiple grades. Even today, there are many volunteer firefighting groups where paid professionals are not used, or used sparingly.

Today, you can pick up the phone and call the police to come out and measure the grass height in your neighbor’s yard. So it happens. Until this type of mentality is changed, how can America change? No ‘Contract with America’ is going to fix all problems. Making a principled statement, such as smaller government, is no good without some concrete actions behind it. The action “cancel all funding of the Department of Education” is both concrete, and measurable. But probably not too popular.

Thanks for the article Doc.

GnuBreed on February 18, 2010 at 12:50 AM

The Tea Party Twenty is of itself a good exercise in vetting conservative thought. Many people contributed to it. An interesting note is that even you, Doc, can find little to besmirch. And I’m quite certain that you could smirch until the cows come home if something needs a good smirching.

Equally relevant: many people in America have enough experience with government entities to be appalled at what many years of coping through bureaucratic non-sense (tax forms, EPA impact statements, occupancy regulations, etc) that reducing or eliminating many of these cumbersome burdens is an appealing thought. Unfortunately there are those amongst us that get to vote who don’t pay taxes, fill out impact statements, nor concern themselves with undertanding the myriad regulations that must be adherred to in setting up shop. They vote for whoever promises the most “money for nothing and the chicks for free”.

Interesting times we live in. The elections are turning into a game of paper/scissors/rock. And the politicians are trying to guess who’s Tea Party offers more new votes than they can garner from traditional bases. Seems there’s a new demographic in town.

Robert17 on February 18, 2010 at 8:04 AM

Bulls eye, Doc. This is what I’m doing in my neck of the woods: At various neighborhood groups I’m conducting a workshop on keeping our local representatives accountable by asking the three questions that Thomas Sowell frequently espouses:

Compared to What?
What are the Costs?
What are the Hard Facts?

With these questions, any citizen can read between the lines of any political statement and find a clear path to the truth. These questions force accountability.

It is important to do this locally because city governments are the petri dishes from which corrupt state and federal politicians grow.

pugwriter on February 18, 2010 at 8:36 AM

Single stack:

I understand your point, but the well-heeled would arrive in office, and stay, while those with modest resources would be forced out.

Renascent on February 17, 2010 at 9:54 PM

I disagree. Abolishing congressional pensions doesn’t mean not paying them while they’re in office. Even the well heeled have to be re elected and the well heeled are that way because they have a business to run. They’re not going to abandon their business for a job where the money gets cut off when they leave office. If they do a good job and their constituents want to them to stay I have no problem with that.
I would support term limits if it also abolishes congressional pensions.
Of course, my proposal can’t happen in a vacuum. Reforming Congress and weeding out the graft and corruption that has become endemic requires more than just term limits.
I would also ban political contributions from outside the congressional district and repeal the 17th Amendment.

single stack on February 18, 2010 at 9:29 AM

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Allahpundit on February 18, 2010 at 11:27 AM

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