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Friday, January 25, 2013

Surviving Obama: Why We Need a New Newt

America has to make a tough stand for four years. We need a Newt Gingrich to lead our forces in Congress, someone who will make the tough choices without wimping out. Newt was able to do what so few of our politicians have been--he was able to ignore the hype and hysteria. George W. Bush was able to do this as well to a certain extent, though he was less of a uniform conservative. Still, I seriously doubt that John Boehner has the same cajones Newt did.

Sure, Boehner has made some encouraging signs. He's almost stood his ground on raising the debt ceiling. He's said that future raising of the ceiling, a few months from now, will require budget cuts. He's passed into law the idea that Senators will not be paid unless a real (?) budget is passed. All of this reminds me a bit of Sir Robin the Brave from Monty Python and the Holy Grail. I wonder if he personally wet himself at the Battle of Baden Hill.

Democrats' worst fear is that Republicans may one day grow a collective spine. If Republicans stand up to Obama the way Hillary Clinton stood up to Congress, America might be saved. All we need are four years of testicular fortitude. Can we make it? Can the pols in Washington tune out the nightly news? Are they capable of blocking CNN and MSNBC on their cable boxes? Will they go on strike against NPR by simply not listening? (Actually, if politicians didn't tune in, who would be left in the audience?)

Congress, read the New York Post and the Washington Times. You may have gotten the wrong set of Times and Post; it's an easy mistake, and one easily rectified. The smartest thing Bush ever did was to avoid the liberal news networks. They can't Palin you if you don't go on their programs. As their market share continues to diminish, their power will fade along with it. They're a bit like vampires that way; they can't hurt you if you don't let them in.

Let's hope for some serious Congressional obstructionism. Otherwise, welcome to the brand new USSA!

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

How is that conservative? Part Two - Free Trade

I am now preparing to butcher the sacred cow of many conservatives. To many, free trade is synonymous with capitalism, freedom of opportunity, and economic progress. To criticize free trade is the equivalent of embracing communism.


It is just as foolish to practice unilateral free trade as it is to practice unilateral pacifism. Both are good ways to get your butt kicked. Moreover, the traditional (and ergo conservative) policy of the United States has been to protect native industry from dumping and other predatory trade practices. George Washington was the first president to sign legislation, known as the Tariff Act of 1789, to protect incipient native industries from heavily-subsidized companies in other countries, particularly England. This was quickly followed by the Tariff Act of 1816, which was more detailed and addressed the issue of foreign companies pricing their goods below the profit margin to force American businesses out of the market. Countervailing duties were added in the 1890s, another means of dealing with the subsidy practices of foreign powers.

Interestingly enough, one of the early and more ardent supporters of international free trade was President Woodrow Wilson, a staunch progressive. His view was that tariffs were an example of "eeeeevil" corporations using the government to promote their own ends. However, by 1934 a more practical solution was enacted, the Reciprocal Trade Agreements Act. This policy allowed for ongoing adaptations in tariff policies as the result of negotiation with other economies. In essence, this legislation allowed for the United States to decide on a case-by-case basis how to deal with trade imbalances. Those nations which engaged in fair trade with us were rewarded with free access to our markets. Those nations that practiced unfair trade policies (corporate subsidies, high tariffs on U.S. goods) were prevented from doing so any longer. The net result was twenty-eight agreements to mutually reduce tariffs by 1940.

It is worth noting that the purpose of all of these laws was to keep native manufacturing strong. It has traditionally been seen as very important that America be as self-sufficient as possible. We do not want to be the Spain of the 21st century, transferring our acquired wealth to those nations who produce goods we import. Nor do we want to be used in the same way England once used its colonies, selling our raw materials to a nation that manufactures, only to buy those same materials back as finished goods. It doesn't take a degree in economics to see that selling low and buying high is not a recipe for economic success.

Neo-conservatism is the domain of reformed communists who replaced their former passion for a command economy with a rabid, albeit senseless, devotion to laissez faire economics. This school of thought mirrors the ideas of Woodrow Wilson, namely that any interference in trade by our government is bad for our economy. Certainly, laissez faire economics might be a viable system, providing all involved governments did indeed keep from interfering with free trade. However, such is not the case. Engaging in laissez faire economics while our trading partners enact tariffs and subsidies is economic suicide.

Unilateral free trade has turned Detroit from a beacon of capitalist success to a half-barren wasteland. It has led to the formation of an economy fueled by consumption rather than production. Those who insist that free trade will always benefit American interests are failing to think long term. We must be making money to keep spending it, after all.

Let us remember with whom we are competing. To produce goods for the same prices as our foreign competitors, we will have to recompense our workers as they do. Labor, after all, is where most of the cost of production is incurred. If  laissez faire proponents do not mind this idea, then I am sure they will find this a perfectly acceptable standard of living for the average American:

This is how people live in the countries from which we are importing. To compete with their prices, this is how Americans would have to live. This is what George Washington was trying to avoid. We do not want to be a nation of paupers; we are already a pauper nation.

Monday, January 7, 2013

How is that conservative? Part One - School Vouchers

I am starting a new series of articles to analyze the content and tone of what passes for modern-day conservatism. I would contend that many of the issues pundits espouse have no basis in the actual definition of conservatism.

I suppose that if I am to argue about what is conservative and what is not, I should define the term itself. The Bing dictionary does a good job in its definition, which includes:

1. reluctance to accept change: unwillingness or slowness to accept change or new ideas

2. right-wing political viewpoint: a right-of-center political philosophy based on a tendency to support gradual rather than abrupt change and to preserve the status quo

3. desire to preserve current societal structure: an ideology that views the existing form of society as worthy of preservation

Now, I realize that the first part of this definition may irk some who call themselves conservative, but caution in enacting change is a positive characteristic and is (or ought to be) central to the conservative approach. We conservatives like to weigh our options carefully before jumping on any bandwagon. We tend to feel that "if it ain't broke, don't fix it." When problems arise, we spend time analyzing all of the potential pros and cons of our approach, discover as many options as possible, and try our best not to throw the baby out with the bathwater. We see public policy as a game of chess with very high stakes, and try to think as many moves ahead as possible. This is the legitimate conservative mindset.

However, many who claim to carry the mantle of conservatism act in a very unconservative way. They embrace sudden and wholesale disruptions in our social institutions. They worship at the altar of privatization to such a degree that it never occurs to them to weigh the benefits of having some public functions performed by public entities. To this end, we have outsourced even the uniforms of our military to foreign nations. Certainly conservatism includes the idea that the individual is responsible for his own outcomes, and thus a large, bloated government is undesirable. However, certain functions have been traditionally government-run for good reasons, and these traditions ought not be simply abandoned on a whim.

Public schooling is another area in which so-called conservatives seem to have abandoned conservatism in their approach. In seeking to use vouchers to replace public schools with private entities, pundits and politicians have failed to consider the benefits of common schools. To understand why common schools exists in the first place, a little history lesson is in order.

The first major advocate for common (public) schools was Thomas Jefferson, who wisely understood that a democracy populated by the uninformed would not last very long. Jefferson saw the common schools as a means to enhance patriotism and civic participation. Lessons would include basic math and literacy, but would focus most on the political and historical heritage that spawned the United States. Students would be taught to appreciate the freedoms they enjoy, to be responsible for their own welfare as well as that of the nation, and to cherish the values of hard work, religious liberty, and rugged individualism.

For Jefferson and the nation he led, common schools would promulgate common values and a common culture. Equality of opportunity was a given; all (male) children would have the opportunity to obtain at least a rudimentary academic education. However, those students who displayed more potential would be selected for greater opportunities.

The original concept of the high school was what we now see as the purpose of college. Select students would be sponsored and sent to high schools, perhaps three or four students out of each township. The most excellent high school students would be sponsored for the university (only a few of which existed in Jefferson's time, most of which specialized in theology or legal studies). This select group of citizens would become the future leaders of the nation.

Jefferson's model was followed fairly consistently during the 19th century. Beginning in the early 20th century, the level of educational opportunity was expanded for most students, culminating with the Civil Rights Acts. However, the primary role of common schools did not change. Schools were vehicles for mathematics, literacy, and citizenship, with other skills being taught as extras. For most of the 20th century, common schools were viewed as a central facet of community building. Immigrants learned to become Americans as they went to school with their native-born peers. The melting-pot ideal became reality in the nation's classrooms. Schools did not exist to create a class of future corporate employees, but to prepare future American citizens.

This is the heritage that so-called conservatives would throw away. Private school vouchers would segregate students into like-minded institutions that deny them the opportunity to engage in cultural dialogue, to meld into a common American culture. Muslim students would attend Muslim schools. Burmese students would eventually sort themselves into Burmese schools. Instead of learning how to be Americans, and what America really means, they would remain isolated both physically and culturally. Such an outcome would be dire for the nation's future. It would lead to an inevitable Balkanization, the loss of a united national culture.

Those who mindlessly insist that vouchers are the panacea for American education have failed to engage in the essential function of conservatism, which is to respect traditional ways of doing things enough to at least consider their benefits. The cult of school privatization is not conservative but radical in nature and tone. The fact that some who call themselves conservatives vehemently espouse an idea does not make the idea itself any more conservative.

A true conservative would consider the issue long enough to know that.