In several of my pieces here at America’s Right, I have to a certain extent charted the course of my own political awakening. Naturally, I realize that there aren’t too many people in the United States who actually hang on my grasp of and next word pertaining to the political landscape; I mention this, however, merely because I feel that what I have experienced over the past several years more than likely closely mirrors what has happened to literally millions of other everyday people across our land.
While I’ve always been fascinated by liberals – and I use the term “fascinated” loosely, simply because I was always taken by their determination to live lives that run aground of common sense at the most basic of levels – it was not until I began noticing what I would term a sense of “name saturation” with regard to that young, up-and-coming political hotshot, Barack Obama, that I began reading more earnestly. Chants of OH-BAA-MAA! OH-BAA-MAA! at the 2004 Democratic National Convention seemed kind of like the opening ceremony to the Beijing Olympics — impressive, ominous, scary. Obviously, what I learned when I looked a little closer alarmed me to say the least.
Several times during the course of my time as a contributing writer here, I’ve examined what I believe to be the basic psychology of those that adhere to the leftist worldview and, as one would expect, readers have both agreed and disagreed with my points. For example, everything that I’ve read – and believe me when I tell you, I’ve read a lot – tells me that the Nazi regime was a big government, totalitarian leftist regime. They may have been to the right of the Communists, but in the larger picture that’s not saying a whole lot. Both totalitarian regimes were to the left of the American experiment in self-government. As John J. Ray, a political science Ph.D, explains:
What I have shown (and will proceed to show at even greater length) is that Hitler fell squarely within that stream of political thought that is usually called Leftist. That is a fact. That is information. And that is something that is not now generally known. And no matter how you rejig your conception of politics generally, that affinity will not go away. It is commonly said that Nazism and Communism were both “authoritarian” or “totalitarian” — which is undoubtedly true — but what I show here is that there were far greater affinities than that. Basic doctrines, ideas and preachments of Nazis and Communists were similar as well as their method of government.
The Constitution of the United States of America places government where it truly belongs, if the goal for which you’re driving truly is the maximum amount of individual freedom. Remember, the other name for the American Conservative is Classical Liberal – the political philosophy rooted in the free-market economy that derives its direction from the natural forces of supply and demand as the surest and strongest path to social-wide economic success.
My interest in putting together this particular piece was piqued by two recent events: the first was August 25th, which was the 116th anniversary of the first attempt by progressives to legislate the income tax. Interestingly, it was struck down by the courts as unconstitutional. The second was the recent two-hour History Channel special on Thomas Jefferson. I’d like to very briefly explore the latter one before I move into the core of my discussion.
As I’ve pointed out, I’ve been much more politically aware over the past several years and, to that end, one of the things with which I became increasingly interested was trying to place the Founding Fathers on our contemporary political slider. In addition to reading, I tried to add to my understanding by consulting with two of the American History teachers at my school, two men who know our real history cold. In fact, I think that I’ve asked them so many questions over the past few years that they now refuse to make eye contact with me in the hallways — no eye contact, nobody gets hurt.
In short, they both insisted that such an attempt is a futile one. The political frameworks of the time were much, much different than they are today, I’m repeatedly told. Even Jeff concurred with their observation when I floated the idea of putting together this article. “What you call the ‘political slider’ now was entirely different back then,” Jeff told me. “I’m always telling anybody who will listen that we need to stop thinking of things in terms of ‘right-left’ or ‘Republican-Democrat’ and, instead, we need to be considering everything in terms of ‘up’ and ‘down’ based upon the proper size, scope and role of the federal government.”
Still, I can’t steer away from the thought that there has to be some way of placing the Founders on an applicable field of understanding, something commonly understood by people like me who are just now starting to get involved in the innerworkings of their nation. The political framework of the time may have been quite different but, at some level, aren’t all politics fundamental?
I’ll return to the Founders in a bit. For right now, though, what I’d like to do is to examine the concept of taxation, since in and of itself it strikes me as more of a left-of-center concept than one belonging on the right, at least as we seem to understand it.
No one is going to argue the federal government’s need to collect taxes and the citizens’ obligations and responsibilities to contribute to the tax pool. At its foundation, the federal government has two basic responsibilities: to protect the people as a whole, and to prevent any one individual from infringing on the basic freedoms and rights of anyone else. The government is not, in any way, shape, or form, obligated to or responsible for “the care” of the citizenry. With regard to the concept of taxation, the Constitution explicitly says in Article I, section 8:
The Congress shall have power to lay and collect taxes,
Duties, imposts and excises, to pay the debts and provide for the common
Defence and general welfare of the United States; but all duties, imposts,
And excises shall be uniform throughout the United States.
It might just be me, but I don’t see a single word there – either in print or intent – that lays any responsibility for “spreading the wealth” or “taking care of the people” at the feet of the federal government. (And before critics throw around the General Welfare Clause, Jeff has on many occasions here cited contemporary writings showing that the Founders intended for any responsibility toward general welfare to be limited, along with the rest of the federal government, to the powers as enumerated in Article I, Section 8.) It also clearly states that all taxes are to be uniform.
But, like I said, it might just be me.
In acknowledging that taxation is a necessary evil, it’s only true purpose should be to fund the necessary offices that are responsible for executing the two aforementioned basic duties of the federal government. To that end, I’m all for a tax based on personal consumption of goods. The drive for the “Fair Tax” on the part of many political action groups around the country are testaments to this issue becoming more and more a part of the consciousness of the everyday American. In fact, there’s a fairly rudimentary example of the “Fair Tax” at play in something that we all seemingly take for granted: Major League Baseball.
Since the advent of free agency during the late 1960′s and early 1970′s, teams located in the largest media markets — most notably the New York Yankees, a franchise which makes me sick to my stomach — came to have more and more of a financial and, consequently, a competitive advantage during the ensuing several decades over the teams located in the smaller media markets. It was only a matter of time. It was also only a matter of time before those smaller-market teams began petitioning Major League Baseball for some mechanism in the Collective Bargaining Agreement that would allow for a way to balance the playing field. Without going into the minutia of recent history, suffice it to say that the “Luxury Tax” was born. This tax is levied upon the teams who spend so much on total payroll (players’ salaries) that it crosses a “salary threshold,” at which point the team that is “consuming” the most product (players) available on the market is hit with a tax that is a designated percentage of their total payroll. Since the teams with the most money to spend are usually the most active in the free agent market, they’re the teams that end up paying out the most in luxury taxes, the total of which is re-distributed amongst all of the other teams that did not eclipse the threshold.
The first inclination is that baseball’s “Luxury Tax” sounds like what Barack Obama would like to do with federal tax policy — soak those making the most money, while sparing and redistributing to those who don’t make as much. But baseball’s “Luxury Tax” isn’t driven by revenue — it’s driven by what franchises spend. Doesn’t that sound a lot like what a consumption-based tax, such as the “Fair Tax,” would accomplish? The people with the most money are naturally going to consume the most goods, and the total brought in by the federal government could then be used to fund to the areas in need, be it the necessary offices, infrastructure, or social programs over which the Constitution grants the government authority.
On the other end, a tax on income is, in and of itself, redistributional. There’s simply no arguing that fact. What else could it possibly be for? It penalizes those with the temerity to actually work, those who get up before everyone else, work harder than everyone else, invest in themselves with schooling and the experience only gleaned through hard work. And, with the revenue, it provides financial sustenance to some of the necessary (and unnecessary) offices of federal and state governments, to all of the glorious social programs and, of course, to the unions. And, I believe, that’s only scratching the surface.
Think about the economic leftward regression on which this country has stumbled along since that fateful day in 1913. Once being taxed for working became an accepted part of American life, it was compounded by the rise of the unions during the 1930′s, 40′s, and 50′s. Admittedly, the unions were a source of American strength during their heyday, but don’t forget that many (but certainly not all) of the driving forces behind unionization were Communist. In the longest-term sense, unions were not meant to unite people; they were meant to divide. In fact, if you research the history of the unions in America – especially during the late 1940′s and 50′s – you’ll learn that the unions began losing some of their leverage with the industrial base because America was beginning to move in a more conservative direction. In order to keep their skin in the game, so to speak, the unions began playing – wait for it – the race card. They were successful in establishing a system of “super-seniority” (a forerunner to Affirmative Action) by which lesser qualified African-Americans were given preferential treatment over white workers. In short, the unions that we now have today have become a Frankenstein-like tax-consuming monster that must be fed, lest certain people of power and influence lose their status. It’s now out of control.
Several months ago I was watching an interview on MSNBC (yes, sometimes I venture onto the wild side, just so I can get a feel for what the other side is saying and for what is tickling the legs of folks like Matthews, Olbermann and Maddow) with far-leftist Howard Dean who, believe it or not, has occasionally been the liberal voice of reason during these crazy times. One of the the general points that he made was that re-distribution is a necessary part of any economy because at a certain point the amount of wealth at the top of the system, if left unchecked, will either throw the entire economy off balance or overheat it, leading to some type of crash. I suppose, from a socialist’s point of view, that’s a reasonable argument. I have two problems with this logic, however.
As I’ve pointed out, it seems to me that we already have plenty of state and federal redistributive policies as a result of being taxed for merely having the inclination to work. So, if I then understand Dean correctly and consider, for example, the cap-and-trade policy still lingering in the halls of our Capitol, what Howard Dean would presumably argue is that our economy has allegedly “grown” to such a point that we now need a market-oriented redistributive shift on top of the redistributive policies that we already have, merely to restore some semblance of balance to the economy. It might just be me–heck, sometimes it is just me –but this strikes me as so preposterously ludicrous that I can only see the reasons for such a move as being either to control something such as the energy industry (which begs the question why the government would want to do this, because in the end, it’s not going to provide the people cheap energy but expensive energy) or to extract even more income from the people, simply because more now is required to pay off the people who have a hand in moving and shaking our politicians’ sumptuous lifestyle.
The second issue that I have with Dean’s explanation of the inherent need for redistribution merely has to do with the Constitution. As I pointed out earlier, nowhere in Article I, Section 8 does it provide the government any responsibilities, obligations, or power to re-distribute wealth. In the most general terms, the Constitution provides every American citizen with equal opportunity to be successful and happy. As a result of such a stance, of the people who establish businesses, either large or small, some will be successful and some will not. Those who fail will, to some extent, weed themselves out; those who are successful will continue on their way and continue to be a productive force for the economy. The businesses that fail then have a new opportunity to pick themselves up and begin again.
The redistribution for which Dean argues is, therefore, in the truest sense imbedded into the Constitution via an economic form of natural selection. The “pressure” at the top of the valve to which Dean seems to allude should be allowed to take place on its own, a form of “creative destruction.”
“Natural selection,” if you will. Preferred by Darwinists the world over. (And who goes out of the way to remind everyone else of Darwin’s theories at the expense of faith? Oh, that’s right — the Progressives.)
So, in sum to this point, the economic and tax policies that I’ve discussed are at the very least left-of-center in nature, if not becoming increasingly further and further leftist. Generally speaking, liberals are supportive of this economic paradigm, and in many discussions regarding the Founding Fathers, they more often than not claim to be adherents of Thomas Jefferson.
I find this to be very interesting, indeed.
As I’ve said, my appetite for books on the Founders has been voracious over the course of the past few years. In addition to watching lots of Red Sox games with my son during this past summer, my days were largely taken up with reading three books: two by Joseph Ellis – His Excellency on George Washington and American Sphynx on Thomas Jefferson – and one by John Ferling, The Ascent of George Washington. As a result of my reading and the subsequent discussion of the conclusions that I seemed to have reached with people who truly know the subject matter, it’s not very hard to conceptualize where on the slider some of these men belong.
Generally speaking, once our government had begun to take shape–the Articles of Confederation, Washington as the first president, and the acknowledgement amongst the principal players that the Articles did not provide for quite enough government, leading to the drafting of the Constitution–as with all things political factions began to develop, factions which in essence became the incubator of our two-party system. (A two-party system wholly unwanted by our Founders.) Yes, the political framework of the time was quite different, but there are enough larger-picture similarities that help us to understand where these men would probably be today. The two “parties” that developed out of the gate were the Federalists (led by Alexander Hamilton) and the Democratic Republicans, led by Thomas Jefferson.
It’s important to note that by today’s standards, all of these men – and I’m basing this assertion on the body of work established in their political prime – would be right-of-center conservatives today. There may have been a belief among many that a stronger federal government was needed at the expense of the states, and there may even have been a few monarchists in the bunch, but it is important to remember that, generally speaking, there was no belief in today’s “spreading the wealth” mantra to be found in Philadelphia, New York, or Washington, nor was there a “government as the ultimate parent” outlook to be found anywhere, either. These men were all believers in laissez-faire economics. The disagreement, it seems, came from discussions as to the degree of power that the federal government should wield.
Here’s where I believe that it gets really interesting, at least as it pertains to today’s liberals. If we are to base this on our current understanding of the political slider–in that the further one moves left the more government control you encounter–then the answer to this strikes me as fairly obvious. The Federalists – mostly driven by the intellectual intensity of Alexander Hamilton – were the ones who advocated a stronger, centralized federal government. The Federalists felt that the central government should have final say over the state governments (it should be noted that Hamilton, while brilliant, was so intense that he may have been borderline crazy). The Federalists were the party that viewed taxation as more of a necessity (especially given the state of the American economy in the years immediately following the Revolutionary War as well as during the initial years of the Republic), and Hamilton was an advocate of certain imposts, excise taxes, moderate taxes on some imports, and protective tariffs so as to protect American businesses and competition.
The Democratic Republicans, led by Thomas Jefferson, were much more the government of the people, and to that end Jefferson was a firm believer in states’ rights. He and the Democratic Republicans felt that the individual states should wield more of a say over their own affairs than the federal government. When it came to the concept of taxation, Jefferson was not averse to the necessity of some taxes. He merely felt that taxation should be handled at the state level.
Hamilton was an advocate of some national debt, reasoning that a debt of some sort would always keep the people motivated. He also never shied away from the prospect of using a standing army to put down rebellions of his own people. If we’re to remove this group from the context of the late 18th century and place them in today’s general understanding, they strike me as being to the left of the Democratic Republicans, a group that advocated smaller and localized government.
So, my question is simply this: with which of these two parties would the Tea Party identify? It’s important that I reiterate that we must also step back and look at the entire slider because both would inevitably today be considered right-of-center, as would the entire Constitution for that matter. It’s just that one is further left, the other further right. Similarly, on the other side of the spectrum, while the Communists are to the far left and the Nazis are to the right of them, the Nazis being to the right of the Communists does not, in fact, remove the Nazis from the left side of the political spectrum.
It’s important to remember that when the Constitution was crafted, the three to four million citizens of the newborn United States considered themselves to be citizens of their states first, then citizens of the faraway, central government of the United States. Am I suggesting that the states be given an inordinate degree of power over the federal government? No, I’m not; I’m merely suggesting that the states are once again provided the degree of power that belongs to them by right.
In the bigger picture, though, it doesn’t really matter where these men would fall on the contemporary political slider, larger-than-life as they may now seem to us. They’re dead and gone, and even if they were here, it’s a pretty good bet that a fair number of our present-day politicians would try to find some manner of discrediting them and their views. I often wonder, however, what these men would indeed have to say with regard to what remains of their country and whether or not it will be able to withstand the political, social, cultural, economic, and terrorist threats that are now being brought to bear against it. For me personally, I only know one thing for sure:
Alexander Hamilton scares the hell out of me.