The Power of the Press

Wall Street Opinion Journal Peter Kann December 13, 2006

The media is in need of some mending.

Thomas Jefferson, a better president than we’ve had in a very long time, penned a line back in 1787: “Were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers or newspapers without government, I would not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter.” By 1807, in his seventh year as president and after seven years of being subjected to severe press criticism, he wrote: “I deplore the putrid state into which our newspapers have passed, and the malignity, the vulgarity and the mendacious spirit of those who write them.”

You’ll be relieved to know that Jefferson did remain true to his primary principle: “The press,” he concluded, “is an evil for which there is no remedy. Liberty depends upon freedom of the press and that cannot be limited without being lost.” He was right then, and we are right now, to prefer a free press, however flawed, to any controlled alternative. Still, as we watched CNN flashing its pre-election logos each day–“Broken Borders,” “Broken Government,” “Broken Politics,” Broken Everything–I can’t help thinking the media, too, is in need of some mending.

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26 thoughts on “The Power of the Press

  1. The more I read about Jefferson, the more I come to believe that he was little more than a selfish, intellectual dilitante unable or unwilling to respond to the major challenges of his Presidency from his stated principals thereby vastly increasing the power of the central government while further entrenching slavery into the body politic. He was a master of the art of using the press for the personal destruction of his political enemies. Both the Louisana Purchase and the Embargo (and the acts to enforce the embargo) were un-Constitutional from a strict constructionist point of view. In many respects I find him not unlike Bill Clinton. Clearly Jefferson was more of a thinker and genuinely loved his country more deeply than Clinton but that’s the primary differences I see between them. Those that hold Jefferson up as this great conservative ignore much that he wrote, many of his public actions and the way he worked to achieve and hold power. Jefferson was as close to a pacifist as any man we’ve ever had as President.

    Evangelical Christians especially surprise me since Jefferson not only penned those infamous words “…wall of separation between Church and State.” he even produced his own Bible cutting out all reference to the supernatural. We’re he alive today, he’d probably be a pro-abortion Democrat.

  2. Dear Mr. M. Bauman, #1
    Your entry would seem to me very subjective; in that you have only one quote from Jefferson. I seriously doubt that you know Mr. Clinton all that well; you do not mention any of his works ‘good or bad’.
    You label as infamous: “…wall of separation between church and state”. This was to correct the conditions of the Church of England’s control over the personal and public life of human beings. You do remember the why the Pilgrims sailed? This ‘insert’ has restrained the conflict between the sectarian and the secular in our country until Mr. Rove came into power and now that division is waxing strong. You may recall the effects of Islamic Sectarianism as a theocratic governing rule: If you don’t agree you’re out at best and dead as usual, i.e. Iraq. You can also recall the Inquisition? Can you quote Lord Acton on absolute power?
    Here are a few other quotes, infamous or otherwise: “When in the course of human events…”, the Declaration of Independence; “We holds these truths to be sacred and undeniable; that all men are created equal…”, also the declaration; “Peace, commerce, and honest friendship with all nations—entangling alliances with none.”, First Inaugural address; “The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants. It is its natural manure.” , Letter to W:S: Smith, 1787 and “Indeed I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just.” , Notes on the State of Virginia, 1781. These forgoing quotes offer a little more of a rounded view into Jefferson’s thinking.
    While Jefferson’s personal response, Sally Hemings included, to slavery has been suspect, he was living in his time and not ours. Religion, at that time, was also used for its justification. Also, The Enlightenment was paramount to and in the thinking of the political philosophers of the day; this allowed us to have an elective democracy in the form of a federated national state and not a theocracy.
    Sincerely yours,
    JR Dittbrenner

  3. Jefferson Addendum:
    Jefferson was a co-founder of the Democratic-Republican Party, 1792-1820.
    He was for a strict construction of the constitution. He should know. He was for a limited government and states rights. He upheld the yeoman farmer as an exemplar of republican virtue. He was for freedom of the press even when he was delt its worst blows.
    He did not have Ms. Hemings abort her pregnancies even though he knew that these would cause him certian problems in his public and private life.
    Sincerely yours,
    J R Dittbrenner

  4. J.R. Dittbrenner: In case you haven’t noticed, all history is subjective. Which our two posts abundantly prove. It is all about the selection and interpretation of available facts. Do you actually dispute that the major actions of Jefferson as President were in direct violation of his philosophy; that his near pacifism made the war of 1812 almost certain? Of course there is also his pronouced Anglophopia which caused him to support even some of the mass killing of the French Revolution and Napolean’s despotism.

    Do you deny that Jefferson was a past master at the skill of using the partison poltical press to personally attack and destroy if possible his enemies?

    Do you deny that he did all that he could while the battles of the Revolution were going on to avoid any actual confrontation with the enemy by hiding out in Virginia?

    I do not doubt that Jefferson contributed greatly to the founding of this country, but if he were alive today, the same modern Protestants who lionize him would be pillaring him for his views on God.

    The ideal of the “yeoman farmer” was a figment of his imagination even then, at best a Platonic ideal which he thought preferable to industrialization. It revealed his belief in aristocracy, argarianism and sectionalism. Intellectually he was able to see the bad consequences of the way he lived, but unable to do anything about it in practice. The same disassociation that occured during his Presidency. That is why I call him a dillitante.

    There has never been a time when this country has been in even the remotist danger of becoming a theocracy. Even the local theocratic systems in Massachusettes imploded under the pressures of population movement and the religious pluralism that existed in this country from the earliest days.

    I never said a word about Jefferson’s slave holding nor his relations with Sally Hemmings. His relationship with Hemmings was considerably more honorable that Clinton’s approach to women which some contend included forcible rape, but the use of power to seduce women is comparable.

  5. Dear Mr. Bauman #2:
    For context #1: “Larousse” Dilettante: (Itl. org.), an amateur who pursues an art for own pleasure. One who acts on his own impulse. Webster’s: A person who is a dabbler or trifler or acts desultorily.
    Context #2: Stated archives on Jefferson: For a man who in his teen years ran 5,000 acres of farms and later designed and built Monticello and founded the University of Virginia or being the main architect of the Bill of Rights and writer on the Constitution, he, I would not define as a dilettante. If one can join this to the fact of his embassy in Paris to conclude treaties with 23 European and African Levant countries for the US along with his long service in the House of Burgesses and being the youngest member of the Continental Congress at age 33 than, dabbler seems rather a harsh definition. Jefferson was also the Governor of Virginia, first Secretary of State under Washington and than President of the country, so, he was not very desultorily person.
    Yes history is subjective but you and I are writing blogs so context becomes important.
    Virginia was derived from the land grants to Sir Walter Raleigh and until unification was in fact a separate country. In the year 1776 he wrote the Declaration of the Causes of Taking Up Arms. At the time it was referred to with reference to The Magna Charta. In Virginia in ’76 he brought about the ending of The Law of Entails which began the ending of rule by the aristocracy. He stated that there should be an aristocracy of virtue and talent.
    In the contract of Raleigh’s grant were the stipulations by The Church of England: The land was to have the established church. There was to be an Anglican priest to head every parish. The priests were to receive a salary in tobacco, a glebe house, and land to sustain him plus the parish offerings and state moneys when needed. The offerings were required to be paid by everybody. In the common law against heresy, a capital offence, the penalty was burning and penal service if the parents did not have their children baptized in the church. Quakes were under the penalty of death on their third entrance into the country. This would qualify as a state religion I believe. There were others in the Presbyterian north and Maryland and Long Island. It took Jefferson from 1776 to 1779 to have these laws receded in Virginia. There were theocracies in pre-revolutionary America. From ’76 to ’79 he was running a country.
    As to how he is to be perceived by the ‘Christian Right’ that is their decision.
    Rape is a criminal offence: there were no accusations in court, arrest or trial so the idea is pure supposition or wishful thinking. Sex between consenting adults is not a crime to be punished. The lady involved, from her conversations with her friend, bespoke of an active involvement. See press of the time. It was sin but not a public crime and his impeachment failed.
    If you want to downgrade Jefferson so be it but such thinking does not square with the definitions and archival evidence.
    Sincerely, J R Dittbrenner

  6. “This ‘insert’ has restrained the conflict between the sectarian and the secular in our country until Mr. Rove came into power and now that division is waxing strong.”

    LOL! Mr. dittbrenner, please leave the liberal partisan hacking to the experts – your not very good at it…;)

  7. J.R. Perhaps gnostic rationalist would be a better term than dilettante. Although given his ineptitude as a farmer, even with slaves, it is possible that dilettante might apply there.

    Since it is possible to have a wall of separation between Church and State only if believers are kept out of government (which Jefferson did not endorse), there is once again a fundamental discrepancy between Mr. Jefferson’s stated philosophy and both his willingness and ability to govern from that philosophy. He ran away from the consequences of his own words at every available opportunity.

    Your overall view of religion both in the 18th century and now is that it was/is a predatory force intent upon enslaving unwary free men (excuse me “free non-gender specific individuals”). That unfortunately leads to the the desire to use the state to surpress all religion you know. Are you sure you are not Elton John posting under a pseudonymn?

  8. Michael writes: “Your overall view of religion both in the 18th century and now is that it was/is a predatory force intent upon enslaving unwary free men (excuse me “free non-gender specific individuals”). That unfortunately leads to the the desire to use the state to surpress all religion you know.”

    Religion is not so much a predatory force as a divisive force. This is especially true of conservative religion, in which the beliefs of the adherents are absolutely true. And I think it’s the certainty and absolutism of belief that is the problem, not religion per se.

    Recently I was reading somewhere — here perhaps? — that the beliefs of the Orthodox church are completely true and without error. I think this is also somewhat close to what the Catholic church claims. And I remember from my fundamentalist days that as a fundamentalist MY beliefs were completely true, and everyone outside of my camp was wrong.

    I have reached a point at which, having been thus exposed to so much absolute truth for so many years and from so many different “true” churches, the whole idea just puts a smile on my face. All of these people, absolutely certain, and certain about their certainty, concerning so many beliefs that are so different, and all having to do with things that are invisible and non-material. And not only that, but these folks are also certain that all those who fail to hold the “true” beliefs do so not out of ignorance or simple error, but only because of vast spiritual darkness.

    It has been the genius of the American system of government that all these people can run around with their different absolutely certain beliefs and not kill or imprison or punish those who disagree with them. This has meant that religion of all kinds, cruel and kind, wise and wacky, has blossomed here in the U.S. We have more tax-exempt churches than anyone can count, something like 30,000 Christian denominations large and small, religious TV networks, publishing houses, think tanks, hundreds of Christian radio stations, TV programs, magazines, religious universities and other schools, etc., etc., etc.

    What made all this possible is that fact that one group of absolutely certain people cannot use the sword of government to punish all the other absolutely certain people who disagree with them. This is a result both of the idea of the separation between church and state, and a certain enlightenment sensibility that inquisitions and pogroms are not very nice things.

  9. Jim, it is not religion that is the divisive force, it is the legalism, idolatry, rationalism and ideology that is frequently put in place of God that is the divisive force. I really don’t think that St. John of San Francisco, Mother Teresa or the late Francis Schaeffer are finding much to argue about right now, nor would they have if they were still in this earth.

    One problem is how to discern between a wrong belief that leads a person away from God and therefore away from salvation and a wrong belief that is merely incidental to the orientation of a person’s heart. That is a pastoral and spiritual discernment that is impossible to make for most people. Certainly, it is impossible to make on a one dimensional distortive medium such as a blog. So we are left to proclaim the specfic wisdom of the Church about the nature of God and man and how we should live together.

    The central truth of Christianity is the Person of Jesus Christ, fully God and fully man, Incarnate to save us from our self-imposed separation from our Creator. That is not divisive in the sense that you mean, Jim. It is divisive when we forget love and forgiveness and seek to claim that we don’t need forgiveness, the other guy does. When we seek to impose where Christ Himself commands that we follow Him, but does not force.

    The call of Orthodox Christianity is to be transformed by communion with the living God through repentance, prayer, fasting and almsgiving. We are also called to share the sacramental reality of that transformation by living lives of holiness in whatever we do. AND to help others find their way to Christ and be consecrated to Him. Few of us live up to our calling and those that do are more often invisible rather than visible to the eyes of the world.

    Our failings unfortunately make in difficult for many to respond positively to Christ’s call. Nevertheless, He still stands and knocks on each heart waiting patiently for the door to be opened to Him.

    So in this Nativity Season, I ask forgiveness from anyone here whom I have offended by my words and pray that the Christ be born anew in all of our hearts so that we may shout together: Christ is Born! Glorify Him!

  10. Dear Mr. Christopher #6 and Mr. Bauman #7,
    A liberal partisan hack or an impostor for Elton John is a nice personal downgrading.
    In my blogs I try to stay away from personalizing and use the archival presentations that are stated in primary and secondary documentation. These sources are mentioned because they refer to facts that are under discussion, Opinions are one thing but the facts of what was and what has been done are not subjective opinions. Interpretations of facts are opinions.
    ‘Elton John?’ I left the Anglican Communion in the early 70s because of the changes in the Book of Common Prayer. After discussions with the English Editor in relation to the changes and the forward thinking of the church; I dechurched. I joined to the Eastern Orthodox Church, the Antiochian Orthodox jurisdiction. I studied under an Antiochian priest and a Russian priest the meaning and interior concepts of the holy mysteries; the Why of what Is! The historiography I knew from the Bible-my father was a Bible teacher-and research while at the university. I accepted Christ as saviour after baptism in the Methodist Church early on.
    From my travels in the Holy Land and in Romania I also learned the various nuances of the different concepts of Orthodox services and traditions. While I now attend a Romanian Church in Frankfurt, 40Km away, I think that the US Antiochian jurisdiction is the most inclusive for the various Orthodox churched nationalities.
    My wife is Romanian and as such a cradle Orthodox, however under much stress during the communist Ceausescu era. We took our vows in a Russian church. While in The Holy Land we became very attached to the Monastery of St. Mary Magdalena. We started a Romanian congregation in Houston aided by the Bishop and a wonderful priest who would fly down from Dallas twice a month. From our den the congregation of Mary Magdalena has grown into a beautiful Romanian Church. The church could have been lifted out of the Romanian heartland and set down in Houston. This Christmas we will attend the Frankfurt church.
    Such is the short history of a liberal hacker, be as subjective as you want.
    Sincerely, J R Dittbrenner

  11. Jim, I’m not sure to which statements you are referring when you say. “Recently I was reading somewhere — here perhaps? — that the beliefs of the Orthodox church are completely true and without error.” A couple of comments:

    1. The Church makes theological and ecclesial statements concerning Her own nature such as: The Church is the Pillar and Ground of the Truth and the Church contains the fullness of the Truth. While such proclamations can be used in a legalistic, arrogant, even cruel manner, the statements themselves are a reflection of the fundamental relationship the Church has with God. They are statements of humility with regard to God. What they are meant to convey to people is that if you want God, you will find Him in the Church. Not only will you find Him, but you will find as much of Him as you want.

    2. I think you have the ability to make intelligent decisions; to discern truth from fiction. Instead you abandon the attempt, throw in the towel and say effectively, “There is no truth”. “Unless I can see it, touch it, taste it, or smell it, it’s not real.”

    3. You conflate and confuse the western European experience–the abasement of Christianity to worldly power–with Christianity and the Church herself. Of course, the Russian pogroms against the Jews frequently led and encouraged by the Russian Orthodox Church must not be forgotten. These acts are not defensible. They violate the very core of the Christian faith. They are not of the Church at all.

    As I am sure you realize the actual doctrine of the Orthodox Church is pretty spare. Much of our doctrine concerning the nature of God is contained in the Symbol of the faith, the Nicean-Constantinopolitan Creed. Our understanding of man as a worshipful being created in the image and likeness of God to be His Steward in the creation with the duty to sanctify it is woven throughout Holy Scripture and testified to by the lives of the saints.

    The positive fruits of genuine Christianity are immense and easy to find if one cares to look. That some continue to live in fear of a politically powerful but spiritually debased “Christian” faith while ignoring the transformative power of the Holy Spirit in the lives of individuals and cultures is an enigma to me. It is an even greater enigma to me why many who call themselves Christians throw away their birth right of new life in Christ for the pottage of worldly acclaim and power. Both groups of people share the same mind set and spirit however, the spirit of this world, and actually strengthen that spirit in each other by their battles.

  12. JR –

    I haven’t posted in awhile, so your name is new to me. Don’t feel bad about being branded a liberal for sticking up for Jefferson and this limited government stand. The definitions of liberal on this board are, to say the least, somewhat inconsistent.

    I’ve been labeled a ‘liberal’ and a ‘secularist’ on more occasions than I can remember. Actual liberals consider me a right-wing extremist since I tend towards Libertarian on most issues of personal liberty, and my preference for local, limited government is down-right Jeffersonian.

    In any case, I have less time than I used to have to post here because I took a position with the Republican Party in my home state. Now that ‘big-government’ Republicanism has taken such as big-hit, us small-government types have more opportunity within the party to make our case. Until the election, I kept hearing, “Sure the Medicare thing is awful, and the immigration thing is a mess. Iraq was handled poorly, and we’re spending ourselves sick. Plus, the Patriot Act is borderline. But the Bushies win! And we have to beat Pelosi!”

    Now, that is all over. Jefferson is in vogue now in Republican cirlces, and Teddy Roosevelt is on the outs. Enough grandiose plans already, seems to be the rallying cry.

    That might take some time to filter through to this board, but in the real world this is already happening.

  13. JR, Let’s try this again: Sorry for dumping on you that was uncalled for, please forgive.

    What I was really trying to point out is simply that Jefferson’s ideas and his goverance were two widely different animals. As President he ran as far away from his ideas of limited government as he could. He pioneered with Monroe the politics of personal destruction that has been pretty much the norm in America ever since. That his lionization by the Evangelicals has never made sense as he would not have been supportive at all of most of their ideas on the Christianization of government. His Presidency was spectacular in its failures. Therefore I take definite exception to the articles opening line that Jefferson was a better President than we’ve had in a very long time. I find that statement to be historically untenable.

    If we are to form a genuine political philosophy in this country that will work in our century we can certainly use some of Jefferson’s ideas, but we need ideas from many different perspectives and sources as well. In the end none of the current political philosophies out there are effective or very worthwhile. All of them are too bound up in merely gaining and maintaining power and the rest of us be damned.

  14. Michael –

    Jefferson’s failings as president don’t invalidate his ideas. The Ultra-Federalists against whom he was pitted were, to put it charitably, less than honorable in their behavior or their attacks on Jefferson.

    You make a good point to the extent that Evangelicals posit within Jefferson, or the Founding Fathers, some kind of divinely inspired wisdom. Many of the Founders were radically opposed to each other. Hence the difference between an Athiest like Tom Paine, or a traditional Christian such as (my favorite) Patrick Henry.

    The difference is also on display between a Jefferson who opposed mercantilism and the Ultra Federalists who believed the role of the federal government was to promote New England business interests.

    The founding of America was a complex event that immediately led to major clashes in philosophy. Outside of broad platitudes about ‘freedom’ and ‘self-governance,’ there were huge differences in beliefs between a Hamilton and a Jefferson, or a Henry (who opposed the Constitution on Christian grounds) and a Madison.

    To me, Jefferson’s philosophy on political matters makes sense. His religious musings and his attitude towards religion’s role in governance are so much hogwash.

  15. Glen: The Republican party urgently needs clear-eyed, realistic men of integrity like yourself. The GOP right now is like a family with an alcoholic father. With stalwart Republicans, like Senator Gordon Smith calling the war in Iraq “criminal“, and conservative commentators like Joe Scarborough describing the president as “dangerously delusional” I wonder if we might soon see the equivalent of a GOP “intervention” to remove the President. Bush is now opposed by the Joint Chiefs and all his generals, his former Secretary of State and his father’s Secretary of State, with only 12% of Americans indicating appoval for his Iraq policy. This opposition to the President during wartime is unprecedented in American history.

    If this was a European country there would be a vote of No Confidence right now and Bush would be forced out. If Bill Clinton had taken the US to war against the advice of his generals and 80% of the American people he would have been impeached.

    The best scenario for the GOP, I think, would be for Cheney to step down and for Bush to name John McCain as his replacement, followed by Bush stepping down so McCain could become President. McCain could nominate Joe Lieberman as his VP which would create both a unity government and a vacancy in the Senate that would be filled by Connecticut’s Republican Governor restoring a GOP majority to the Senate. Both McCain and Lieberman have favored the unpopular surge strategy in Iraq, but would be realistic enough to realize they cannot this without a credible strategy and the support of the American people.

    After Iraq, the second order of business for the GOP would be to reach out to the American middle class and the disenchanted Reagan Democrats. Otherwise, as the election demonstrated, the GOP risks transforming itself into a permanent minority as successor to the old “Dixiecrat” party.

  16. Glen: Michael Gerson writes that the Republicans should look to their Governors for guidance.

    As antigovernment conservatives seek to purify the Republican Party, it is reasonable to ask if the purest among them are conservatives at all. The combination of disdain for government, a reflexive preference for markets and an unbalanced emphasis on individual choice is usually called libertarianism. The old conservatives had some concerns about that creed, which Russell Kirk called “an ideology of universal selfishness.” Conservatives have generally taught that the health of society is determined by the health of institutions: families, neighborhoods, schools, congregations. Unfettered individualism can loosen those bonds, while government can act to strengthen them. By this standard, good public policies—from incentives to charitable giving, to imposing minimal standards on inner-city schools—are not apostasy; they are a thoroughly orthodox, conservative commitment to the common good.

    Campaigning on the size of government in 2008, while opponents talk about health care, education and poverty, will seem, and be, procedural, small-minded, cold and uninspired.

    .. But there is another Republican Party—what might be called the party of the governors. It is the party of Gov. Jeb Bush of Florida, who has improved the educational performance of minority students and responded effectively to natural disasters. It is the party of Gov. Mitt Romney of Massachusetts, who mandated basic health insurance while giving subsidies to low-income people. Neither of these men embrace big government; both show convincing outrage at wasteful spending. But they have also succeeded in making government work in essential government roles—not a small thing in a post-Katrina world.

    The future of the Republican Party depends on which party it wants to be—the party of purity, or the party of the governors. In that decision, Republicans should consider: any political movement that elevates abstract antigovernment ideology above human needs is hardly conservative, and unlikely to win.

    The Republican Identity Crisis, Newsweek, Dec. 25, 2006 – Jan. 1, 2007 issue

  17. Glen, Jefferson’s failures don’t necessarily invalidate his ideas although they may in some instances indicate that his ideas are impractical when it comes to the existential needs of governing. As you indicate his ideas also need to be placed into the context of the whole debate going on at the time. The same debate is still going on. To disembody them from their context robs them of nuance and weakens our ability to genuinely understand them or apply them appropriately in our own context.

    For instance, what was Jefferson really opposing when he made his remark about the “wall of separation”. What was it he and the founders had in mind when they talked about the establishment of a religion, etc?

    Could you give me a resource on Patrick Henry’s opposition to the Constitution? I have never read much about it. I always felt that he opposed it simply on the basis of the radical concentration of power being in opposition to the principals of the Revolution. Certainly that type of thought was the genesis of the Bill of Rights.

    I too think many of Jefferson’s ideas about how to conduct government make sense and can be helpful in restraining the centripetal forces inherent in the Constitution. What I am opposed to, however, is the cult of Jefferson.

  18. Patrick Henry’s speech against the Federal Constitution:

    It is said eight states have adopted this plan. I declare that if twelve states and a half had adopted it, I would, with manly firmness, and in spite of an erring world, reject it. You are not to inquire how your trade may be increased, nor how you are to become a great and powerful people, but how your liberties can be secured; for liberty ought to be the direct end of your government.

    As for the ‘cult of Jefferson,’ I couldn’t agree more in your opposition. As I said, however, it is more of a ‘cult of the founding fathers.’ We hear all the time about the ‘founding fathers’ from people who don’t have the foggiest notion what any of these men actually believed in.

    Jefferson was an opponent of religion, and a proponent of Unitarianism. His notions and Locke’s notions about the proper role of religion as a strictly private affair are, to say the least, incompatible with Orthodox thought.

    I think the primary attitude of Jefferson towards limited government, in most regards, is (I think) compatible with Hayek, Calhoun, Kirk, and Nisbet. His framing of religious liberty and radical separation of church and stat is most empathically NOT compatible with Kirk and Nisbet.

    Dean – the things that is most damning about President Bush is how far he has strayed from his own brother. Jeb is a very small-minded man. Not in a bad way, but a good way. Jeb didn’t have a big, expansive vision of his job as governor. He reduced a lot of programs that were wasteful. He held the line on taxes and spending. He spent more money on some things. In general, he was a good governor who didn’t upset too many apple carts and didn’t do anything really unwise or unexpected.

    In short, he was the sort of workaday governor that many on the hard left have tended to criticize as a ‘do-nothing’ type. The problem with President Bush is that his expansive vision, his idea of using state power to remake the world, is actually Marxist. President Bush is a dreamer in a league with Lenin and Mao. He’s a true-blue believer in changing the world through force.

    This is, historically, a leftist notion. Okay, far left. I’m not talking here about wanting clean water or trying to prevent future Enrons, or any of the other commonsense, workable sort of regulatory exercises that the government is actually capable of performing. (Read Hayek on the subject.) Rather, I’m talking about the full-blown sense of revolutionary change that will remake the world according to a pre-conceived notion. This type of ideology is typically not a right-wing trait, but Bush is not right-wing. His foreign policy is more Marxist, and is largely Johnson redux.

    The Republican governors, by and large, actually exude the spirit of the Republican Party. Mostly cautious, in favor of a limited set of priorities, in favor of leaving people alone for the most part, accepting of the world as it is, mostly non-ideological.

    Of course, by and large, most Democratic governors are the same. Which is another reason why I tend to trust governors much more that I do Washington-based politicians.

  19. Glen: Let’s be realistic. How can Republicans ever win by displaying scorn, indifference and disdain for the kitchen table issues that most American’s care about: health care, education and wage stagnation. That’s how the GOP lost the Reagan Democrats. As even Michael Gerson, a former Bush speech-writer concedes in my post above, addressing these kitchen table issues requires a government that gets more, not less, involved.

    I truly believe that if the Republican party wants to remain relavent it has to be the champion of government that is responsible, business-like and efficient, returning value to the taxpayers for the revenue it receives, rather than the champion of a government that abdicates its responsibilities, neglects it’s duties, and leaves it’s citizens to flounder and fend for themselves in the face of punishing economic trends.

    Freedom is not defined as the freedom of the rich to exploit the poor with impunity. Freedom requires access to economic opportunity for all, so that all may realize the potential of their lives. The increasing concentration of wealth in the hands of the few, the steady shifting of economic risk to middle class families, and growing barriers to upward mobility, trends that the Republican party has aided and abetted with enthusiasm, have diminished, not promoted freedom.

  20. Dean asked,

    “Let’s be realistic. How can Republicans ever win by displaying scorn, indifference and disdain for the kitchen table issues that most American’s care about: health care, education and wage stagnation. That’s how the GOP lost the Reagan Democrats. As even Michael Gerson, a former Bush speech-writer concedes in my post above, addressing these kitchen table issues requires a government that gets more, not less, involved.”

    Well, they can’t. That was part of the problem in 2006. The priorities and direction of the party were completely out-of-kilter. Republicans had nothing on offer other than the fact that they weren’t Nancy Pelosi. It was a purely negative campaign with the underlying theme, “Elect us! They’re worse!”

    That didn’t work. Of course the Republican Party is beholden, on a national stage, to big corporations. Within many states, the party has a middle class focus which works better than the bilge coming out of K Street.

    I like many Republican governors. They’ve done a great job. I would prefer to see Jeb’s model of governance played out at the national level, rather than his brother.

    At the same time, I tend to like Bill Richardson on the Democratic side as well. I want people who are focused on small things, reasonable goals, incremental changes.

    I’ve been governed by a dreamer for 6 years, and reasonable, middle-of-the-road style approaches sound great to me.

  21. A good role model for Republicans is the late Senate Minority Leader, Everett Dirksen. Dirksen is famously remembered for leaning over Lyndon Johnson shoulder and remarking:

    A billion here, a billion there, sooner or later it adds up to real money.

    Dirksen never opposed the essential role of government in improving the lives our nation’s citizens. However, he did insist that that role be carried out with wisdom, efficiency, economy and frugality. For Dirksen, Government was not a noxious weed to be eradicated, but a wholesome vine that needed to be pruned back regularly to avoid becoming overgrown and tangled.

  22. Dean writes: “For Dirksen, Government was not a noxious weed to be eradicated, but a wholesome vine that needed to be pruned back regularly to avoid becoming overgrown and tangled.”

    I think there are currently two main flavors of Republicans. The first are those who want to starve government so that there will not be enough money to pay any social programs or for the regulation of corporations and other business interests. You can starve government either through low taxes or through unsustainable deficit spending. Either technique is successful. These are the so-called “small government” Republicans. I see them more as anarchists.

    The second flavor are those who want a large government, but also want to redirect government funds and benefits to various private businesses and individuals. In order to give the big money to your friends, you need big government. This is Bush’s modus operandi. Look at the deal that he did with the Rangers stadium:

    Bush and his partners in the Rangers convinced Arlington officials to: Pass a half-cent sales tax to pay for 70% of the stadium; use the government’s powers of eminent domain to condemn land the Rangers couldn’t or didn’t want to buy on the open market; give the Rangers control over what happens in and around the stadium; and allow the Rangers to buy the stadium (which cost $191 million to build) for just $60 million. Finally, after 12 years as the sole occupant and primary beneficiary of the stadium project, the Rangers, a privately owned business, can take title to the most expensive stadium ever built in Texas for the $60 million worth of rent and upkeep they will have already paid the city.

    All this stuff about “small government” and the “importance” of private property from Bush is total and complete hogwash. Bush and Cheney are basically land-based pirates, raiding the public treasury in order to line the pockets of their friends, associates, and corporate supporters. In that they are without peer. In everything else they are incompetent. But wherever they show up their friends and cronies benefit:

    Thomas Hicks, another billionaire friend, is Bush’s fith highest career patron. During Bush’s term as governor he had Hicks in charge of a $1.7 billion university investment fund. Almost a third of the $1.7 billion was committed to funds run by Hicks’ business associates or friends, including five funds run by major Republican political donors. $9 million of the fund was invested in a Rainwater equity fund and $10 million of the fund was invested in the Carlyle Group, an investment company staffed by former Reagan-Bush officials, including Bush’s father and James Baker, a member of the Bush Cabinet. Bush then signed a law carving $13 million away from the fund and into a more agressive fund run by Hicks, exempt from state laws mandating open meetings and public records, UTIMCO

    While UTIMCO performed well below the Dow Jones Average, an impressive list of GOP worthies and Bush campaign contributors have been direct beneficiaries of UTIMCO’s investment strategies, through the fund’s purchase of their stocks or through their fee-based participation in the fund’s money management.

    And all either flavor of Republican, anarchist or pirate, has to do to bring the Christian right into collusion is to say they oppose abortion and gay marriage, and then the Christians fall all over themselves in support. For the Christian right, it doesn’t really matter if the country is ruined, because all that matters is abortion and gay marriage. Of course, the Republicans never really end up doing very much about abortion or gay marriage. I think at least some of the Christians are finally starting to understand the scam.

    And speaking of the high cost of health care . . . did you read about the retirement package given to Hank McMinnell of Pfizer? It could be as much as $200 million. He worked there for five years, during which time Pfizer’s stock price fell by 40 percent, but so what. His retirement, averaged out over five years, comes out to almost $110,000 per day. I sure that, like me, you’re concerned about how this poor fellow is going to make ends meet on that. I’m hoping that some of our Christian friends can intervene and push for special legislation that will allow him to keep all of this tax-free. Fr. Hans? Christopher? What do you say? Would that not be a noble cause, consistent with the best of Christian charity?

  23. Jim: You’re right The Everett Dirksen brand of fiscallly conservative progressive I described doesn’t exist today. The Republicans who do support government see it mainly as a conduit for chanelling corporate welfare. As an example consider the huge push by the Bush administration to move medicare and Medicaid beneficiaries into managed care plans.

    Last year my former employer dropped our HMO and moved all the employees into a high copay and high deductible PPO, because, they said, the HMO had become too expensive. At the very same the federal government was offering the States waivers to move Medicaid patients into HMOs, saying it was a way to save money. So why are HMOs too costly for employers but less costly for Medicaid? The answer is – they aren’t less costly.

    As business on the employer side has been drying up, insurance companies have been lobbying hard for government business to recoup their losses. Thier lobbying has paid off. On the Medicare side the Bush administration has been pushing beneficiaries into Medicare Advantage plans, which require beneficiaries to enroll in manged care plans even though they cost more than traditional Medicare.

    Medicare beneficiaries enrolled in private Medicare Advantage plans in 2005 cost the federal government $5.2 billion, or 12.4%, more than comparable beneficiaries enrolled in the traditional fee-for-service program, according to a study released on Thursday by the Commonwealth Fund. About 5.6 million Medicare beneficiaries are enrolled in MA plans, managed care plans that are sponsored by private health insurers.,0,7281867.story

    Jim Robinson writes in Health Affairs:

    This paper analyzes the commercial health insurance industry in an era of weakening employer commitment to providing coverage and strengthening interest by public programs to offer coverage through private plans. It documents the willingness of the industry to accept erosion of employment-based enrollment rather than to sacrifice earnings, the movement of Medicaid beneficiaries into managed care, and the distribution of market shares in the employment-based, Medicaid, and Medicare markets. The profitability of the commercial health insurance industry, exceptionally strong over the past five years, will henceforth be linked to the budgetary cycles and political fluctuations of state and federal governments.

    The Commercial Health Insurance Industry In An Era Of Eroding Employer Coverage

    There you have it – the HMO industry has been saved by Washington and in the process become another corporate welfare ward of the state.

  24. Merry Christmas Father!

    I couldn’t think of any other phrase to describe someone who believes that government has BOTH an obligation to help improve peoples lives and an equal obligation to do so in the most economical, efficient and business like manner possible.

    With the suffering of the American people during Great Depression fresh in their minds, many Eisenhower era Republicans supported the concept of government intervention to help improve the lives of Americans. What they opposed was the practice of solving problems by means of entrenched bureaucracies and unfocused, unaccountable spending. The Gingrich Republicans rejected this approach as still too socialistic. I will never forget former Senator Phil Gramm declaring with his mush-mouthed Texas drawl, “I’m not interested in fixin gov’rmint, I jes wanna git rid of it.”

    In 1978 Califronia voters passed Proposition 13 which capped property tax increases and thus limited the revenue available to local governments. There has been considerable debate about the effects of Proposition 13, but undenably it has forced California municipalities to be more efficient, entrepenurial and efficent. Cities were forced to do more with less, as Ted Gaebler and Bob Osborne described in their book, Reinventing Government: How the Entrepreneurial Spirit Is Transforming the Public Sector . The difference with between this and a traditional Democratic party approach is less reliance on government bureaucracy.

    Osborne and Gaebler suggest that governments should: 1) steer, not row (or as Mario Cuomo put it, “it is not government’s obligation to provide services, but to see that they’re provided”); 2) empower communities to solve their own problems rather than simply deliver services; 3) encourage competition rather than monopolies; 4) be driven by missions, rather than rules; 5) be results-oriented by funding outcomes rather than inputs; 6) meet the needs of the customer, not the bureaucracy; 7) concentrate on earning money rather than spending it; 8) invest in preventing problems rather than curing crises; 9) decentralize authority; and 10) solve problems by influencing market forces rather than creating public programs.

    I think this is the winning approach for Republicans – returning to a philosophy that marries support for prudent, service-oriented government with old fashion fiscal conservatism.

  25. Dean wrote,

    “I couldn’t think of any other phrase to describe someone who believes that government has BOTH an obligation to help improve peoples lives and an equal obligation to do so in the most economical, efficient and business like manner possible.”

    I think the big disconnect comes in a phrase like, “government has BOTH an obligation to help improve peoples lives….”

    If you mean, should the government regulate pollution? Should the government impose reasonable safety standards? Should the government prevent child labor?

    Those are all settled points. There isn’t any serious opposition to the government exercising regulatory authority to prevent multiple potential abuses by private concerns.

    The big reaction to the New Deal, for example, wasn’t over the kinds of things which we take for granted today like a 40 hour work week. Rather, the opposition centered most forcelly around the NIRA. This act essentially gave the federal government complete control over the U.S. economy. The government’s ‘help’ was so well done, that the economy actually rebounded when the Supreme Court declared the act unconstitutional for a time and the whole thing was disbanded.

    So again, if you are talking about limited regulation or social welfare programs whose purpose is to improve the human condition at the margins, then you will find a large coalition in support. It is when the government begins to seize the means of production (as in the New Deal or in War time) that traditional conservatives start to bail out.

    There are extremists on the Libertarian edge of the party who do advocate anarchy. They are a small group whose influence is almost zero. A lot of the ‘small government’ rhetoric does crib from their writings, but when a traditional conservative says ‘small government,’ he/she typically is advocating a government that is close to the people, responsive to constituent concerns, focused on things the government does well (regulation), and out of things the government doesn’t do well (production of goods/services.)

    You also have to understand that many times ‘small government’ advocates are not saying that some policy or other shouldn’t be pursued by ‘a’ government. They are merely opposed to some policy or other being pursued by ‘the’ federal government. Education is a prime example. Small government advocates are usually (but not always) fine with public schools. They are, however, opposed to federal interference in education. This isn’t opposition to government, it is opposition to federal involvement.

    Those are two very different things. Liberals often present anti-federal sentiment on education as opposition to the idea of public schooling all together. This is false. Only a few Libertarians actually want to dismantle public education. The primary right-wing impulse is to move educational decisions away from Washington and as close to parents as possible.

    Big, big difference, Dean.

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