Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Pursuit of Happiness- Part II

To follow-up on the previous blog entry here is a quote from President Andrew Jackson, the founder of the modern Democratic Party;

“Distinctions in society will always exist under every just government. Equality of talents, of education, or of wealth cannot be produced by human institutions. In the full enjoyment of the gifts of Heaven and the fruits of superior industry, economy and virtue, every man is equally entitled to protection by law; …. There are no necessary evils in government. Its evils exist only in its abuses. If it would confine itself to equal protection, and, as Heaven does its rains, shower its favors alike on the high and the low, the rich and the poor, it would be an unqualified blessing.”

This quote comes from Jackson’s veto of the re-charter of the Second Bank of the US. While it was intended as a direct criticism of elitism and special interests in America, Jackson’s philosophy, as given here, clearly is supportive of the limited role of government as discussed in the prior post. At some point, in the past 200 years the Democratic Party has strayed far from its founding principles.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Pursuit of Happiness

“Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” – so states the Declaration of Independence. One of the interesting facts of this statement is that it is not ‘Life, liberty, and happiness’. The seven letters that make up the word ‘pursuit’ change the meaning of this founding statement of our country in a way that has been profoundly missed by Democrats (and some Republicans) for decades.

The fact that ‘pursuit of happiness’ was used, rather than simply ‘happiness’ is a clear indication that it is not the government’s job to provide happiness to all citizens, but to structure the system in such a fashion that allows individuals to freely operate and pursue their own happiness. It means that certain individuals may gain happiness while others may not (however happiness may be defined).

In his inaugural address, Obama outlined a philosophy that stands in stark contrast to this. He stated, “The question we ask today is not whether our government is too big or too small, but whether it works — whether it helps families find jobs at a decent wage, care they can afford, a retirement that is dignified. Where the answer is yes, we intend to move forward. Where the answer is no, programs will end.” This statement directly misinterprets the purpose and role of government in a profound and troubling way.

Obama’s call is for a government that provides happiness, rather than one that establishes ground rules to allow every individual to pursue their happiness. While the adjectives he chose to use could be broadly interpreted- after all a ‘dignified’ retirement can be understood in many ways; it is relatively clear from his party’s general stance that these words imply that the government should provide a fair amount of material goods to it's citizens in order for them to be happy. I see little reason to doubt that a dignified retirement in Obama’s eyes consists of a nice TV, and iPod, and other so called ‘necessities’ on the taxpayers’ dollar.

The issues of retirement and social security are far more complex than I am making them out to be here. I only draw on the issue to make the point that such rhetoric and associated policies attempt to blur the governments’ rightful task of providing an unimpeded right to pursue happiness into the illegitimate task of providing happiness. [This is, in no fashion, a claim that the government should not provide a bare minimum, but that the government’s role is to smooth the interchange between free agents in society, not GIVE anything to anyone.]

It is far better, from a societal and individual perspective, to educate citizens how to appropriately account for risks, and in this instance to plan for their retirement, rather than simply giving handouts. This can directly be understood in terms of the ‘pursuit of happiness’. An uneducated individual (in say, the ways of retirement planning) is at a severe informational disadvantage and thus is, in some ways, precluded from exercising his full right to pursue happiness. The solution is to educate him or provide means to education accordingly. This allows the government the ability to play referee in the societal marketplace, allowing everyone to play on the same field using the same rules.

In contrast, the philosophy proffered by Obama and his Democratic cohorts, attempts to find the most ‘fair’ system by adding and subtracting points from the score. This intuitively diffuses any incentives to play the game. After all, if we know the score will be tied in the end, why bother breaking a sweat.

The issue is relatively clear, when explained in such a fashion. Yet, the contrasting rhetoric, such as Obama's statements, is so easily slipped into the political dialogue that it is easy to miss. This language can also SOUND nice. After all, who doesn’t want their new president, especially in bad economic times, to tell them what they will be given [the American automakers and their ilk are, by the way, no different in this regard].

The fact of the matter is, whether the parties involved are retirees, insurance companies, minorities, Wall Street firms, special interests, etc. etc. the role of the government is NOT to give them anything, but to simply make sure they can achieve what they can via their own ambition and initiative on a equal playing field with everyone else. Obama fails to make this distinction; a failure that will have disastrous effects on America’s future.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Not a God

The near god-like portrayal and demagoguery of Obama is frightening to say the least. Through brilliant campaigning and careful cultivation of his image, Obama has successfully created a very powerful persona (some credit is of course due to Bush-hatred). For this he has to be commended and studied. There is much to learn from his rise to the top.

The frightening aspect is that the masses have rallied in support of this image, in support of a man that is not a god. Far too many have bought into his persona, putting him to power not so much on his merits and policies, but on this cultivated image and a supposed repudiation of the past eight years. This imparts an unprecedented power on the man- who, if he was not hamstrung by the economy, would have the freedom to march forward with a sweeping agenda.

Such power is disquieting. While from the current perspective it seems unlikely that Obama will abuse his position; and that for all intents and purposes he is well intentioned, however misguided, it is nevertheless alarming to have a relatively thoughtless, impassioned rabble behind him. There are far too many people out there that support Obama based solely on this image- and not on policy.

Fortunately, he will have to disappoint- at least some. His approval ratings will surely fall as he is forced to renege on campaign promises, due to the reality on the ground. Obama is far too smart to not realize that many of his pledges are untenable- not only politically but due to the poor state of the economy. Passing many of his sweeping pledges will be difficult to say the least- a thankful notion to those who do not want to see a complete desecration of our health care systems and the like.

His backsliding (understandably) has already begun, as he tries to prepare the nation for the reality of what a president- any president- would have to do in such conditions. The disappointing fact is that the rhetoric spun during his campaign was far from what needs to be done (and what, it is relatively safe to say, he knew needed to be done). While McCain generally spoke honestly about the future to come- for instance the inevitable loss of jobs in Detroit; Obama painted a picture of change which he will not be able to fulfill. To his credit, Obama has so far done an amazing job in the beginning of his retreat.

However, he will not be able to maintain the aurora forever. Certainly, some will fail to ever see Obama as a man, but will be enthralled by what he represents. These are the most frightening of Americans- driven by base emotion and passions. Others will hopefully judge the President on the merits of his programs- seeing the folly and infeasibility of many of his ideas.

This is the attack that is most essential to take. Going after Obama’s image and his persona is a surefire way to galvanize support around him. ‘Obamanics’ will look at any attack on his facade as an attack on him. Rather, Republicans must challenge the very fundamentals and ideas of his proposed policies. Educate America to see and to understand the reasons why certain policies- although possibly superficially appealing – will ultimately do more harm than good. That is the path back to the White House- through thought out policies and ideas.