[ Content | View menu ]

Texas Election on Nov. 3, 2009

Posted by Janus on Tuesday, October 27, 2009 in Reviews

Texas Constitutional Election November 3 2009Exactly one week from today, on November 3, 2009, there will be an election held across Texas. On the ballot are several Texas constitutional amendment votes and many cities across the state, including my hometown of Houston, will be holding local elections.

Texan or otherwise, I’d like to take this opportunity to encourage everyone with elections coming up to get out and vote. We can’t bring sanity back to our officials if we don’t know who we’re voting for or if we simply don’t care enough to participate. Voting is the first and best step to moving our country forward in a rational, responsible way. If you aren’t voting, you are accepting the government just the way it is, no questions asked. Complaining when you don’t bother to vote is as hypocritical as it is ineffectual.

Without further adieu, I’m pleased to present my endorsements for the 2009 Houston election.

Houston Mayoral Race

There are 7 names on the ballot for the Houston mayoral election. Only two of the candidates are conservative. Dan Cupp is not a serious candidate and Roy Morales is polling with less than 6% right now. Effectively, this means that there are no conservative candidates in the running with a real shot at winning. Despite this, however, there is a good pick in this election: Annise Parker. She may be a Democrat, but Annise Parker has two really good things going for her.

Firstly, she is the current Comptroller of Houston and has a solid track record of fiscal conservatism and financial responsibility. The Comptroller’s office is responsible for tracking where money is spent and auditing public accounts. In this capacity she’s spent the last 5 years tracking down waste, corruption and bureaucratic mismanagement. She knows the city’s budget. She knows where the money is coming from, where it’s going, and the actuarial side of government.

Secondly, she has a really good chance to win a runoff against the front-runner, Peter Brown. Brown is also a Democrat, but he’s far more liberal. While he’s been leading the race, he’s been spending millions of his own money to get that lead. The sheer number of candidates means that the race will almost certainly result in a runoff, and there’s no one better positioned to defeat him than Parker. Voting for her now ensures a fiscally responsible candidate a place in the runoff where she’ll be the strongest and most likely to defeat her liberal opponent.

All in all, I think Parker is a fairly good candidate in her own right, but when one takes into account the fact that there are no good conservative candidates, the fact that she’s the most conservative Democrat in the room, and the fact that she has a good shot at winning, I think she’s definitely the play to make.

Houston Comptroller Race

For the position of Houston City Comptroller, Pam Holm is my hands down favorite. There are two Republicans in the race, Holm and M. J. Khan. In all honestly, I don’t really know much about Holm, but here’s what I know about her opponents:

Khan, a Republican, and his wife have contributed thousands of dollars to the campaign of Sheila Jackson-Lee. For those of you unfamiliar with Texas politics (this is typically a political blog focusing on national issues, after all), the ultra-liberal Sheila Jackson-Lee is the ego-maniacal and blatantly racist Congresswoman from Houston who chats on her cell phone during town hall meetings instead of listening to constituents, constantly screams down her own aides, and gets chauffeured down the one block between her residence and office at tax payer expense. She’s suggested using more African-American sounding names for hurricanes because a hurricane is a strong, dangerous thing and the current names are too “lily white.” She’s proposed lifting a ban on exporting F-16 fighter jets to Venezuela, wants to use tax dollars to provide free health care to illegal immigrants, co-sponsored a program to use government money to distribute syringes to drug addicts (I’m not joking, it’s HR 179), consistently votes against opening up new sources of oil and gas production including allowing the construction of new refineries and offshore drilling, has a 100% rating from the AFL-CIO for her pro-labor vote (oh, and bonus: Houston isn’t even a union town), and has even been slammed by Nancy Pelosi for being completely insane.

Normally I’m not one to serve up guilt by association, but here’s the way I see it: Sheila Jackson-Lee is, in my book, easily one of the most loathsome members of Congress. She is the paragon of liberal psycho whrablgrabl. And the Khan family, theoretically conservative, is giving her thousands of dollars in campaign contributions. That means that, on some level, they support, approve, and seek to enable her. That means they somehow think that Sheila Jackson-Lee is their preferred representative. It, frankly, is a disgrace. I won’t vote for anyone who even remotely believes that hers is the style and direction of leadership this country needs.

As for Ronald Green, well, I’ll put it like this: He’s running to be the CFO for the city of Houston, but public federal tax lien documents filed earlier this year show he currently owes over $120k in back taxes and in 2000 a business he owned was shut down for not filing taxes. I suppose that sort of thing is becoming par for the course for Democrats in Washington, but I’m vaguely hoping that we Houstonians have more sense than that. Then again, with 56% of people undecided with less than a week to go before the vote, anything could happen.

Houston At Large City Council Positions

At Large 1 – Rick Rodriguez
At Large 2 – Michael “Griff” Griffin
At Large 4 – Curtis Garmon
At Large 5 – Jack Christie

There isn’t a whole lot to say about this list except for the At Large 1 position. I support Rick Rodriguez, a Democrat, because of his relatively conservative platform and his experience as a 24-year member of the Houston Police Department. For those of you who don’t know, Houston has an absolutely inept crime lab that consistently botches cases and HPD has an impossibly difficult time recruiting new officers. Anyone running for any office whatsoever campaigns in favor of increasing the number of officers on patrol. While that’s a good thing, it’s not like we just have to pass a few measures and, voila, we get new police officers. We’ve been short staffed for years and, despite their best efforts, City Council has been completely unable to do anything about it. There aren’t very many people who have ideas and experience actually dealing with these problems. I think he has something to offer City Council that the others running for that seat are missing.

Texas Constitutional Amendments

Proposition 1

The constitutional amendment authorizing the financing, including through tax increment financing, of the acquisition by municipalities and counties of buffer areas or open spaces adjacent to a military installation for the prevention of encroachment or for the construction of roadways, utilities, or other infrastructure to protect or promote the mission of the military installation.

Position: Against.
Reason: There’s no real need for counties to purchase buffer zones for federal military installations. One would think if there was some sort of compelling interest to expand a base or a security need to erect a buffer zone next to one, that decision would be made by defense officials and either the state legislature (in the case of National Guard facilities) or Congress (in the case of our national armed services) and not county politicians. In either case, there’s no real reason to increase property taxes to fund bonds to do it. Those bases aren’t simply county resources – they provide for the protection and well being of the entire state and expecting local counties to increase taxes for the benefit of wider population which would be an undue burden to the residents of those areas.

Proposition 2

The constitutional amendment authorizing the legislature to provide for the ad valorem taxation of a residence homestead solely on the basis of the property’s value as a residence homestead.

Position: For.
Reason: Capping property taxes at actual value instead of some theoretical value is completely reasonable while the reverse is completely insane. It’s all well and good for a piece of land to be worth more as an office building than it would be as a home, but it’s not an office building. It’s a home. Taxing property as anything other than what it is actually worth is completely absurd.

Proposition 3

The constitutional amendment providing for uniform standards and procedures for the appraisal of property for ad valorem tax purposes.

Position: For.
Reason: Taxation should be fair and uniform. Allowing the state to tax at one rate for one area and another rate for another area while providing the same level services to both areas is absolutely unfair.

Proposition 4

The constitutional amendment establishing the national research university fund to enable emerging research universities in this state to achieve national prominence as major research universities and transferring the balance of the higher education fund to the national research university fund.

Position: Ambivalent, leaning towards for.
Reason: The legislature already has a program like this in place, but that program is not currently active due to a clause in the bill that established it. This amendment would scrap that program and transfer the money currently in it to another account and use the interest from that account to create a new research fund thereby keeping the whole thing budget neutral and shifting the money from the State Comptroller’s office (who could, in theory, decide to spend it however they wanted to as long as it promoted education) to top tier universities. I rather tend to think that money that the government doesn’t need should be returned to the people – but I also tend to think that there’s a snowball’s chance in hell of that ever happening. If it has to be spent, Prop 4 is a reasonable and responsible way to do it that gives something back to society.

Proposition 5

The constitutional amendment authorizing the legislature to authorize a single board of equalization for two or more adjoining appraisal entities that elect to provide for consolidated equalizations.

Position: For.
Reason: The economic reality is that smaller counties just don’t need a full time appraisal staff. Giving the state the ability to consolidate these boards makes logistical and fiscal sense.

Proposition 6

The constitutional amendment authorizing the Veterans’ Land Board to issue general obligation bonds in amounts equal to or less than amounts previously authorized.

Position: Against.
Reason: While I support this nation’s veterans wholeheartedly, it’s not the state’s job to play mortgage company – it’s bad enough when the feds do it with Freddie and Fannie. I also happen to think that the legislature should be able to exercise the ultimate authority to authorize – or not authorize – funds for state agencies. In essence, this amendment creates a permanent bond program (interest on bonds is paid by the taxpayer – amounting to a new and permanent tax) that is unable to ever be stopped without another constitutional amendment. We simply cannot allow an agency to perpetuate a tax without legislative oversight to fund a program that shouldn’t be a government concern in the first place.

Proposition 7

The constitutional amendment to allow an officer or enlisted member of the Texas State Guard or other state militia or military force to hold other civil offices.

Position: Against.
Reason: The separation of powers is vitally important to the safety and stability of the government. The last thing I want to see is a mix of military and civilian hierarchies.

What happens when a county commissioner has to take orders from his commanding officer about the placement of sandbags and he happens to think that building is more important to his constituents? What happens when a mayor gets to order the national guards under his command to supplement his police force? What happens when the state comptroller gets sent to Iraq for a few months?

The military is a strict, no questions asked hierarchy. When your commander gives you an order, the next words out of your mouth are, “Yes, sir!” Civil servants run our government. They make decisions, implement policy, and have checks, balances, and clearly defined areas of responsibility. Both have to be in place during a crisis (you can’t have just one and expect things to work) and they have to be independent of one another. You can’t simply send one away and expect government to function. You can’t tear down those walls separating military from civilian.

I love our military. I don’t have a problem with retired members of the military who are still under contract serving the government in an official capacity – and I would support that amendment in a heartbeat – but having active and reserve military in bureaucratic or civilian leadership positions is a line I simply cannot cross.

Proposition 8

The constitutional amendment authorizing the state to contribute money, property, and other resources for the establishment, maintenance, and operation of veterans hospitals in this state.

Position: Irrelevant.
Reason: The state already has such authority. Actually, not only do they already have this authority, they have already set up at least one such hospital in the Rio Grande Valley. I don’t really see the rhyme or reason for this amendment except to make absolutely clear that which is already law.

Proposition 9

The constitutional amendment to protect the right of the public, individually and collectively, to access and use the public beaches bordering the seaward shore of the Gulf of Mexico.

Position: Irrelevant, but against it anyway.
Reason: This amendment is already state law. I also happen to thoroughly disagree with this law. Basically, the law of the land as it currently stands is a crime against private property owners everywhere. It strips land owners of property without recourse and legally protects the “rights” of squatters and trespassers. This amendment would turn an already abusive law into an abusive constitutional amendment.

Proposition 10

The constitutional amendment to provide that elected members of the governing boards of emergency services districts may serve terms not to exceed four years.

Position: For.
Reason: Currently, these are two year positions filled by appointments made by the county commissioners (except in Harris County, which is the only county where they are elected). This amendment changes their terms from two years to four years. Opponents to this amendment say that it makes the governing boards less responsive to the will of the people by insulating them from the democratic process. I say hooey. I doubt very many people could even name the chairman of their board of emergency services, let alone explain who they would vote for next year. I certainly couldn’t, and I’m a politics nut. The fact of the matter is that these obscure boards have very little to do with democracy. They are, in fact, patronage positions and what this amendment does is insulate them from having to suck up to keep their jobs. Frankly, the less schmoozing they have to do for their jobs, the better.

Proposition 11

The constitutional amendment to prohibit the taking, damaging, or destroying of private property for public use unless the action is for the ownership, use, and enjoyment of the property by the State, a political subdivision of the State, the public at large, or entities granted the power of eminent domain under law or for the elimination of urban blight on a particular parcel of property, but not for certain economic development or enhancement of tax revenue purposes, and to limit the legislature’s authority to grant the power of eminent domain to an entity.

Position: Irrelevant, but in favor anyway.
Reason: This amendment is already state law. This proposition simply strengthens the law of the land to make it more resistant to change. I happen to think eminent domain is one of those necessary evils that should only be evoked for the most pressing of needs. I also happen to think that eminent domain is too readily abused and that tight restrictions should be placed on its use. I’m supporting this amendment because I think those restrictions are important and the harder it is to repeal them, the better off we are.

Share this ...
  • Digg
  • del.icio.us
  • Facebook
  • Google Bookmarks
  • LinkedIn
  • MySpace
  • NewsVine
  • Reddit
  • StumbleUpon
  • Technorati
  • email
  • Fark
  • Twitter

Comments closed

The Olympic Connection

Posted by Janus on Tuesday, October 13, 2009 in Conservative

Obama failed to bring the Olympics to ChicagoWhen I first heard Chicago had been passed over for the Olympics, my first thought was, “So? It’s Chicago.” No offense intended to my good readers from the Windy City, but seriously, so what? I have no particular interest in the Olympics. Sure, I’d love to have them come to Houston and I might pack up the car and head out for a weekend to watch the opening ceremonies if it had been say, San Antonio or Austin or Dallas – but never in my right mind would I humor the idea of packing a duffel, grabbing a one way ticket to O’Hare, and then dropping off the map for a few weeks because of something as trivial as the Olympics. Honestly, I’d be more likely to ship off to Havana than Chicago. It’s closer, easier to get to, and would have been a more interesting place to visit. I wasn’t sad. I wasn’t glad. It was just one of those things that, in the grand scheme of things, really had absolutely no impact on my life whatsoever.

And when I first read the headline, “President Obama wins the Nobel Peace Prize,” I smirked, clicked the link and braced myself for a delightful bit of satire to start the day with. Alas, no. The link sent my browser off to a familiar news site. The news was real and my initial reaction was a snarky, incredulous bafflement.

Confused as I am about Obama taking two days off to fly off to Copenhagen to attend what amounts to little more than a committee hearing, and puzzled as I am by the Norwegian Parliament’s decision to hand the Nobel Prize to a sitting President who, within a year of his Presidency, is already being ridiculed by SNL as being completely unable to get anything done, I’m far more put off by the character of the loud, public, and vile reaction to them.

When critics of the President talk about these events, they do so with sadistic glee.

They speak of the 2016 Olympics as if we were reenacting a scene from 1930s Germany, only this time the Germans voted against Hitler’s demand for dictatorship. They rejoice as if the IOC shouted, “Sic semper tyrannis!” as they voted against Chicago. To hear it from the far right, one would almost imagine that Chicago losing their Olympic bid was a red letter day. It is a crack in his carefully crafted facade; a sign that the great illusion created by his cult of personality was fading. It’s a sign that the international community doesn’t take him seriously and that he can’t represent America’s interests around the globe. This 24 hour trip and this one vote by the IOC – a body that doesn’t even represent a government or have any real authority – means his critics are right: he’s ineffectual, everyone knows it, Iran is going to get the bomb, and Russia is going to help them get it.

Seriously?

Then, a week later, Obama gets the Nobel Peace Prize for – as far as we can tell – promises that haven’t even begun to materialize yet and the same people go completely insane again. The new craze in conservative blog posts seems to be making up ridiculous jokes about what someone didn’t do to win some really prestigious award while being very careful to remind everyone that the Nobel Peace Prize isn’t really that prestigious anyway. Apparently, and this is something I was completely unaware of prior to last week, the Nobel Peace Prize is a disgraceful thing that no one ever wants to be awarded because Arafat was given one and Bush wasn’t. I generally approve of the Bush administration, but arguing that he should have gotten the Nobel Peace Prize is patently absurd. It almost seems like Americans are outraged that their President has received an award for trying to bring peace to the world.

Really?

Complaining about the President getting the Nobel Prize is like complaining about the teacher’s pet being given extra time on her book report when you know you’re getting a D- on the thing you turned in on time. Boo freekin’ who.

I’m not saying I understand the choice. Believe me, I could use a long drag of whatever the hell they were smoking when they made that call, but I’m not angry about it. I’m not going to ridicule my President for winning an award and I’m not going to ridicule him for the actions of others. Now, if he were to suddenly award himself the Medal of Freedom or something, I’d point and laugh at the narcissism of it, but that’s not what’s going on here.

The real question that all of this dredges up makes me disappointed just having to ask it. America, where are your priorities? The economy is in shambles. The President flies out of town for a few days, and your response is to gloat over his failure? We’re debating not one but two massive tax hikes in the Senate. An award given by the Norwegian Parliament, of all things, is what has us all up in arms. We’re in the middle of not one, but two wars, the President hasn’t sat down with the generals in months, and this is what we’re talking about during White House briefings?

Where are your priorities, America?

This isn’t just little stuff. This, honestly, is such a tiny thing that it should be well beneath our notice. We aren’t arguing legislation here, we’re name calling. We aren’t talking about character issues or foreign policy. This isn’t scandal most juicy. This isn’t a debate. There’s nothing at stake. There is, in short, nothing worth mentioning.

But here we are. This is what we choose to spend our time with. This is how we conduct ourselves. This is how we behave. These are the things that are important to us and occupy our time.

The Senate Finance Committee passed the Baucus version of the health care reform bill today after Olympia Snowe broke with her fellow Republicans to pass the tie-breaking vote.

I wonder if she’ll get handed a political Darwin Award for it.

Share this ...
  • Digg
  • del.icio.us
  • Facebook
  • Google Bookmarks
  • LinkedIn
  • MySpace
  • NewsVine
  • Reddit
  • StumbleUpon
  • Technorati
  • email
  • Fark
  • Twitter

Comments closed

Hopefully Next Week

Posted by Janus on Thursday, October 8, 2009 in Other

I apologize for the lack of new blog entries this last week. I’ve been going through a rather difficult time in the real world and it’s really gotten me pretty depressed and sapped any real desire to write. I’ve sat down three times to try and get something out today and it’s just not coming and it’s been like this for over a week now. So, rather than squeeze out some random junk I’m not really happy with, I think I’m just going to have to settle for an apology and a promise that I’ll be back to posting as soon as I can be.

I really enjoy writing and politics, but at this point forcing it just isn’t going to make me any happier or the quality of the work any better. Hopefully Monday or Tuesday I’ll be able to have something worth reading ready, but we’ll just have to see.

Thanks for your patience and understanding.

Share this ...
  • Digg
  • del.icio.us
  • Facebook
  • Google Bookmarks
  • LinkedIn
  • MySpace
  • NewsVine
  • Reddit
  • StumbleUpon
  • Technorati
  • email
  • Fark
  • Twitter

Comments closed

The Republic For Which We Stand

Posted by Janus on Wednesday, September 30, 2009 in Other

A history lession of the republic.In the infancy of civilization, through the natural course of events, society was ruled by powerful men. Ordained by the gods and by strength of arms, their words were law and their will unquestioned. These men, however, were simply men. Given to excess, madness, jealousy, cruelty, and ruin just like any other men, their countries were simply as good or as deplorable as those that reigned over them.

As such, liberty became the exception rather than the rule. Tyranny became the norm as over time the state exerted incrementally more control and the people became more and more accustomed to the burdens of the state which were heaped upon them. Only rarely, and only with the help of outside influence were the people ever so stressed that revolution occurred on a scale that resulted in meaningful change – and even then, the result was almost always the replacing of one autocrat with another.

In this tradition, the first liberties granted to the people were the result of infighting between powerful forces within a kingdom. Even the Parliament of the United Kingdom, one of the oldest institutions of democracy, was created by the ruling nobles, advisers, and clergy as a result of their feuds with English kings. There was nothing even remotely democratic about Parliament for over 50 years after its inception and to this day many members of its upper house remain lifetime members selected by the government or hereditary members by virtue of their birth.

Democracy as we know it wasn’t truly born until two pivotal points intersected in history. The first was in the United Kingdom where a fierce and bloody fight raged over the role of Parliament which would eventually lead to the English Civil War and the rise of Oliver Cromwell. This was a golden age of philosophy with such greats as Locke, Hobbes, and Rousseau. It resulted in the rise of the Whigs whose radical elements eventually went on to lead the American revolution. It was, in essence, the inspiration for the philosophies that would become democracy.

To combat the oppression of the monarch and the nobility, the winners of this bloody century favored systems that held the leaders of a country accountable to the people, or at least a large segment of it. They espoused the idea of a government directly ruled by the people in which power was only expressed with the consent of the governed. This was done to safeguard the people and to protect liberty, but as time wore on, the people’s revolution begat anarchy, anarchy begat revolution, revolution restored the monarchy, and the freedoms people fought so hard to secure never materialized.

The second critical point which occurred at the same time was the colonization of the New World. With Atlantic travel taking months and colonies being largely independent not just of the mainland but also of each other, people were left to govern themselves. This lack of direct rule, coupled with the fact that a large number of the colonists were fleeing religious or political persecution resulted in the the establishment of representative democracies up and down New England that were left entirely to their own devices.

The first successful British colonists to the New World immigrated between 1600 and 1620 and carried on uninterrupted at an ever-increasing pace. The English Civil War between royalists and parliamentarians began twenty years later and lasted another decade. When it was all over, Cromwell, leader of Parliament, had ascended to the position of military dictator ensuring that any strides toward democracy were thoroughly ignored. Upon his death in 1660, the United Kingdom nearly descended into anarchy and, at the brink of crisis, the monarchy was restored. The history of the United Kingdom leading up to the American revolution was one that consisted almost entirely of give and take between parliament and king as each struggled for political control.

When the American revolution did occur in 1776, over 150 years of revolution, counter-revolution, philosophy, and debate over the nature and authority of government had played out. Between the the years of colonization and Cromwell and the time of the revolution, numerous works had emerged on the subject. Hobbes’ Leviathan (one of the most influential books on the nature of the social contract ever written) was published in 1651. Locke (if you didn’t learn about him in high school, it’s because the Declaration of Independence was practically plagiarized from his work) wrote from the 1670s until his death in 1704. Montesquieu (who argued for a separation of powers) wrote between 1711 and 1748. Rousseau published The Social Contract (arguing for the sovereignty of the people and the power of the state – effectively, for a republic) in 1762.

The American Revolution itself was sparked when King George III decided that, for the first time in generations, the crown would exert its will upon the colonies. Having been democratic since the first founding over 150 years ago, having immigrated to escape exactly that sort of meddling, and being completely unaccustomed to outsiders telling them what to do, the colonies revolted. After the war had been won, the colonies would govern themselves for another ten years before they drafted the Constitution.

Our Founding Fathers were, in effect, witnesses to a history of a different sort. They had seen tyranny. They had seen democracy. They had closely studied the struggles between parliament and the monarchy. They had seen how difficult it had been to get anything done in a federation. They had seen how the passions of the majority shift and ignite. They’d debated the type, nature, and style of the Constitution for more than a decade by the time they actually sat down to discuss it. Of the 13 colonies, four of them came prepared with prearranged proposals that favored their own interests. Even then it took the signers months toiling in a sealed room with no air conditioning in the middle of summer (tell me you wouldn’t be willing to compromise after that) to draft a document that would be argued over for another year before being adopted.

After all of this, the Founding Fathers had come up with the Constitution: a document that addressed the problems they and their fathers and their grandfathers had grappled with all their lives. They had seen Parliament end in Cromwell’s dictatorship. They had seen Parliament dissolved countless times – both by its supporters and its opponents. They had seen the monarchy ignore the people. They had seen anarchy. They had seen martial law. They had seen Catholics and Protestants take turns oppressing one another. They had seen free speech become treason. They had seen free speech become revolution. They had seen war. They had seen taxation. They had seen trade abuses. They had seen it all.

In short, they’d seen the problems inherent to the dichotomy of democracy and dictatorship. The solution they came up with was to halt the abuses of each system and create a system of government wherein no one really had the upper hand.

The President controlled the army, but he couldn’t pass laws. Congress could pass laws, but the other two branches could both challenge them. The judiciary had no power of its own, but it didn’t answer to anyone, making it the impartial mediator of disputes. The lower house of Congress answered to the people and was made subject to their whims. It favored large states, swift action, and angry rhetoric. The upper house was a counterweight to the lower. It prevented larger states from abusing the smaller ones, buffered the nation against fickle opinion (the Senate was not elected directly by the people, if you recall), and through the filibuster it could easily guard against a majority group rising up to oppress the minority.

But despite all that, the republic we founded was a distinctly and uniquely American creation. We don’t have separatists vying for regional autonomy. We don’t have private armies or nobles capable of raising them. We don’t have people loyal to just the President, or just the Congress, or to the church. We are conditioned to participate in the political process to vent our frustrations. We have the right to carry guns, but not the inclination to use them. Our racial problems are nothing like genocide or apartheid. The people of one state have never waged brutal campaigns of conquest against another and left scars of slavery and death upon one another. There is no mistrust of people from one state or another. The government lacks no legitimacy. The country isn’t just able to feed itself, it’s the breadbasket of the world. We don’t have a problem with poverty. We don’t have a servant caste. We have prosperity. We have social mobility. We make living wages.

We don’t have cause for a revolution. There is no grievance for which we have no resolution. We don’t need a dictator. We do not suffer from anarchy or war or any calamity for which we would need a quick, strong, unquestioned government. The people are not being abused. The government is responsive to the people’s will.

The American political culture is, first and foremost, committed and mature.

Our republic is a compromise between democracy and dictatorship. It is a moderate government because we are a moderate people. We don’t need radical change. We don’t need to be forced to support our government. What we need is to stop and consider the bills that come before congress. What we need are rules to ensure the people are neither taken for granted nor allowed to run out of control. What we need are states that encourage innovation in stewardship and compete with one another in crafting sound policy.

What we really need, more than anything else, is the republic. It works for us. It’s our choice. It’s our system. It’s tailored to meet our needs.

And I support it with every ounce of my being.

Share this ...
  • Digg
  • del.icio.us
  • Facebook
  • Google Bookmarks
  • LinkedIn
  • MySpace
  • NewsVine
  • Reddit
  • StumbleUpon
  • Technorati
  • email
  • Fark
  • Twitter

Comments closed

Heresy Against Democracy

Posted by Janus on Monday, September 28, 2009 in Foreign Policy

There isn’t a magic bullet or a catch all solution to every country’s governing needs. Each country has its own form of government with its own quirks and particularities. No government is perfect – they all have their problems – even our own. I realize that by saying this I’m committing an act of supreme heresy against The American Religion, but the truth must be told: democracy is not always the answer.

I imagine I just lost about half of my readers with that statement, but it had to be said.

To most people, you either support democracy or you don’t. You support the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan because you support democracy. You refuse to work with dictators because you support democracy. You support the troops because you support democracy. America is a republic that elects its leaders via democracy. You just aren’t a good American if you don’t support democracy – but those arguments are completely nonsensical.

Democracy is a tool. It’s a system. It’s a method. It’s a technique. I’m quite capable of supporting my government without blindly and evangelically spreading democracy to all corners of the globe. I can choose to support or not support the war in Iraq regardless of how I feel about its system of government. I support our troops because they serve and defend this country, its people, and its interests – and I do it all without giving a damn one way or the other about how other countries choose to run themselves because that choice has absolutely nothing to do with whether or not I’m a good American.

Americans do not like to admit this fundamental truth. We love the republic because it works for us. We pioneered the push for modern democracy. We’ve made it our mission in life to spread its virtues to the rest of the world. We’ve become infatuated with it. We’ve romanticized it. We’ve fought and bled for it. We worship at the alter of democracy and we sing its praises. To Americans, democracy is both our birthright and our legacy.

My friends, our republic was not created simply because the founding fathers loved democracy and wanted to see it in action. They were trying to solve real problems with real solutions that evolved into the system that we know today – democracy was not The Answer™ then and it is not The Answer™ today. Our founding fathers debated everything from the role of government to the unity of states. We weren’t even really sure we even wanted a democracy at all.

Alexander Hamilton lead a group of politicians who offered the crown of the American monarchy to Prince Henry of Prussia. If it hadn’t taken months to cross the Atlantic and given them time to change their minds, history would have turned out very differently. The first government that reigned over the newly independent United States of America, one might recall, was not that which was established by the Constitution, but rather one laid out by the Articles of Confederation. We were not, at first, a republic at all. For six years we were a federation of independent states ruled by an ineffectual system of super-majority votes that was drowning in debt and couldn’t get anything done.

For the record, the first President of the United States was John Hanson.

All governments exist because there are certain problems each society faces that it simply can’t handle without a public body coming up with solutions, making decisions, and then translating those decisions into organized action that addresses society’s needs. Every society is different. Every society faces different problems. Every society favors different solutions. Every society faces different resistance to its leadership. Every society reacts differently to both authority and chaos.

There is tremendous strength in democracy. Discourse and debate slow the decision making process thereby encouraging more scrutiny and generally leading to better considered laws. Because every decision requires a majority vote, it becomes almost impossible for a minority to oppress the majority. Internal disagreement tends to lead to the moderation of radicals that choose to work within the system if they want to get things done. Democracies bow to the will of the people and government policies that are unpopular get reversed. If the military and law enforcement support the government, democracies can be quite stable in times of political turmoil.

Democracies are not perfect, however. Basic freedoms that are typically associated with them, like the ability to travel without papers, restrictions on law enforcement, and guaranteeing the right to assemble result in higher rate of crime and civil unrest. Democracies are subject to sudden and drastic changes in the style and direction of government as various factions trade control. These shifts can sometimes result in dramatic differences, abruptly changing a state from capitalist to socialist, realigning its foreign relations, or even result in the end of the government entirely.

Direct democracy has no guarantees against the tyranny of the majority and as such, minorities can just as easily be treated as second class citizens. Democracy does not guarantee a free market, civil liberties, women’s rights, or even that a country will respect its neighbors.

Dictatorships, on the other hand, are not inherently evil. While democracy is (with two major exceptions) mostly a modern invention, dictatorships have been with us since the dawn of civilization. The progress of the last 250 years of democracy would not have been possible without the last 5750 years of monarchs, emperors, kings, warlords, generals, and chieftains.

They’ve worked so long because they work so well. They’re simple, they’re effective, and they have some major advantages. The biggest advantage of a dictatorship is a lack of bickering over policy issues. One person sets the rules, everyone else follows. This means the system is incredibly quick at responding to problems as they occur. It also means there’s less criticism of the leadership, leading to a greater legitimacy and loyalty among the average man on the street. There’s no political push back when it comes to limiting the rights of the innocent to crack down on those who would abuse them.

The other major advantage is stability. An election will never change the government’s response to an issue in a dictatorship. Political protests do not occur, nor do they turn into riots. As long as the leader lives, the underlying philosophy of the state does not change – a corrupt and greedy dictator does not nationalize the multinational corporations that keep him in power. A religious fanatic won’t suddenly liberalize a nation only to crack down on his people in a series of bloody raids a few years later. More reasonable leaders like Pakistan’s Pervez Musharraf or China’s Hu Jintao can reasonably be counted on to consistently act in their nation’s best interests without risking anything by rocking the boat.

There are places in the world (and America is not one of those places) where what the people really need, more than anything else, is to stop arguing amongst themselves and ripping their country apart. Democracies only really work when people agree to stop fighting and take their fights to the ballot box. Dictatorships are really good at quelling civil unrest, reducing crime, and controlling the way a country functions.

The choice between a democracy and a dictatorship isn’t good versus evil – there is a real utility to picking one over the other. Likewise, a democratic but oppressive and belligerent Iran is not necessarily a better place than an autocratic but progressive and moderate Jordan, a country that is consistently rated as having one of the best human rights records in the middle east. Why? Because they’re just systems. They’re tools. And like any tool, they are neither good nor evil – they’re merely extensions of the people who use them.

When we discuss government types in this country, there is a bias that seriously harms this nation’s foreign policy. We are a nation obsessed. We are a nation blinded by the religion of democracy. We can’t let a certain type of government mislead us into supporting democracies that work against the American people or prevent us from working with friends simply because their bureaucracy doesn’t match our own. Methods do matter. Human rights abuses are totally unacceptable, but life, liberty, and freedom are not confined to democracy. Oppression, tyranny, and hostility are not the sole domain of the dictatorship.

We can’t be afraid to confront our enemies, just because they are democracies. We can’t insist others convert to our ways as a condition of friendship. We can’t abandon our allies simply because they aren’t cast in our own image. We must reach out to and engage with the international community, regardless of their choice in governments.

We have to be rational, realistic, practical people – and part of that means accepting that just because it’s different doesn’t mean it’s evil.

Share this ...
  • Digg
  • del.icio.us
  • Facebook
  • Google Bookmarks
  • LinkedIn
  • MySpace
  • NewsVine
  • Reddit
  • StumbleUpon
  • Technorati
  • email
  • Fark
  • Twitter

Comments closed