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Tea and Crumpets in the Senate Cloakroom, Anyone?

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“Extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice. And moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue.”  -Barry Goldwater

On Saturday, October 29th, the Portland Press Herald ran an article that begins with these words:

“BANGOR — In a historic gathering of Maine political firepower, five current and former U.S. senators lamented Friday night the nation’s deep polarization but also expressed optimism – if measured – for eventually moving back toward compromise and cooperation.”

The participants were “Maine’s five living senators – former Sens. William Cohen, George Mitchell and Olympia Snowe and sitting Sens. Susan Collins and Angus King.”

We’ve been hearing for years about the “polarization” and “lack of civility” in Washington. In my view, our Washington types top the list of provocateurs in this story.

Why? There was a time when debates making news in our capitol were about speed limits on the interstates (should 70 be allowed?), or lowering the voting age to 18. These were relevant questions of policy, and could be debated from rational, civil points of view.

These examples had important things in common: neither threatened the fundamental relationship between a citizen and their government, and neither risked the economic underpinnings of federal fiscal viability.

Those days are history, and the items that now come before the Senate are of profound, enduring and transformative relevance to the fundamental relationship between the citizenry and those elected to ‘serve’ us.

Add to this reckless fiscal abandon by this same governing class, and the result is a deficit of competence and respect reaching critical mass. Anyone with an ounce of economic and budgetary common sense knows we’re on an unsustainable path.

This is a logical outcome of the ‘stupidity of the American voter’ as Prof. Jonathan Gruber so famously stated. With rare exception, those in high office eventually come to love and embrace the exercise of power, and until (in the Maoist sense) power comes from the barrel of a gun, power in America comes from spending, whether we have the collective resources or not.

The Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution were crafted to avoid the devastating inequities of a divinely ordained Monarchy. And if adhered to, they would still be protecting us from the stultifying consequences of rule by an unelected King (or Queen).

Current ‘policy debates’ are often so far beyond the polite and open to question level that even those at the Bangor forum should have been able to discern them. That they could not goes a long way to making my case.

Here are some examples of what I mean.

  • Belief that government should be the first resort for resolving any problem rather than the last resort.
  • Conviction that government is the ultimate expression of humanity, and cannot be too big or too powerful, compared to a conviction that liberty is the ultimate expression of humanity, and that government’s power must be limited and enumerated to preserve and defend this liberty.
  • Holding that there must be inviolate principles that constrain our governance, and that the Constitution is the ultimate expression of those principles, compared to those who see the document as simply a historic curiosity no longer with meaning, even as those who believe so hold offices created by that very same Constitution. Too many see the Supreme Court as an instrument to reshape our Constitution to match current political and social fashions.
  • The increasingly apparent reality that we are not a nation of laws, if we ever truly were one, but a nation of laws for some, but not for the anointed.
  • The belief that a Global Government should evolve to succeed the nation-state founding principles and sovereignty that drove America’s world-wide prominence, and made us the most sought after destination ‘for a better life.’
  • An open borders policy, exemplified by the steady demise of the European Union, that led to the “Brexit” vote in the UK.
  • The assertion that the government can provide a better health care system, more efficiently and economically, than a patient driven private-public partnership. How would you like to be a patient at the Veterans Administration these days?
  • Doubling the federal debt in a mere eight years, and ignoring annual deficits as if they are an annoyance and nothing more. Spending resources we don’t have with reckless abandon.
  • Evolution of the concept of ‘public service’ as a once noble, lower compensated, but more secure career into a system that is higher compensated, guaranteed for life and legally immune, in which controlling the life of ordinary working citizens is part of the job description. (See Lois Lerner.)
  • At the same time that both candidates for President have the lowest approval ratings ever, the approval rating for Congress is substantially lower! As is trust in government overall; but these truths are treated like annual deficits…they are concerns only for the little people.
  • Moral decay from the top trickles down into the culture, the civic fabric and worst of all, into the essence of our children’s character. Gender fluidity and other accommodations of societal fashions corrupt the truths of our existence into bizarro world ‘oppression.’
  • Widespread conviction that America is off-track to a stunning degree. Beliefs that once provided guidelines and guardrails for society are no longer welcomed. (ref: Peggy Noonan)
  • We no longer live in a safe place; law and order has lost its prominence. Security for kids, along with their innocence, has been lost. Drug use is epidemic. We push adolescents into adulthood well before they are ready. (ref: Peggy Noonan again)
  • Corruption as SOP at every level is expected, and its tolerance has become the norm.
  • Promulgating the Ponzi like proposal that a college education can be made free, and that loans associated with acquiring one can be forgiven. The very notion of which demonstrates just how correct Prof. Gruber’s assessment of the American populace is.
  • A blanket exemption from accountability, transparency and lawfulness for all federal agencies and their first, second and third tier sub-agencies. Think GAO, IRS and numerous others.
  • An exclusion for those who govern us from the laws and regulations that the rest of us must obey. For example, Obamacare. Or if you prefer, health insurance governed by the ACA.
  • Cultural decay and coarseness, the dumbing down of civil life, and pervasive social media rot are embraced and rationalized by elites.
  • Using words like bi-partisanship, working together, getting things done and finding common ground as distractions from having inviolate principles for government’s role.
  • Elevating Ronald Reagan’s humorous lament to a bureaucratic reality: “Government’s view of the economy could be summed up in a few short phrases: If it moves, tax it. If it keeps moving, regulate it. And if it stops moving, subsidize it.”
  • All in all, converting us from a nation of free citizens living in liberty, with a government playing those roles government alone can fulfill, to exactly the opposite.

Some time ago, according to popular legend, a Supreme Court Justice said something to the effect that “I don’t know how to define pornography, but I know it when I see it.”

‘The establishment’ is a common term in political discussions these days. While I’m not sure how to define it, like that justice, I know it when I see it.

With all due respect to the five living Senators mentioned earlier, they are enduring examples of the term. I suggest they deserve their “due” for being so: the proper and fitting respect to which they are entitled as members of the establishment. (Think carefully about those last words; due, proper and fitting are words with a wide range of meaning.)

“It is hardly too strong to say that the Constitution was made to guard the people against the dangers of good intentions. There are men in all ages who mean to govern well, but they mean to govern. They promise to be good masters, but they mean to be masters ” – Daniel Webster

Frankly, I’d prefer not to be lectured by our five good senators as to what should matter to me. I’ll be the judge of that, thank you; and you can count on me being ‘polarized’ on the subject.

About Pem Schaeffer

Pem Schaeffer is a retired engineer who progressed to a position in business development leadership in defense electronics. He lives and writes in Brunswick, Maine, and blogs at: http://othersideofbrunswick.blogspot.com/ He can be reached at pemster4062@yahoo.com or you can always buy him lunch at an MHPC luncheon. He's easy that way, and he'll still respect you if you do.

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