Politics and Pessimism

First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way.   (1 Timothy 2:1-2)

Supreme Court front steps looking up

voteNovember 6 is Election Day in the USA.  One can wish that campaigns and elections would make us more hopeful, that change for the better is going to occur.  Unfortunately, election campaigns often bring out pessimism in many people, perhaps because of the negative tone of some campaigns.  Lots of fear mongering is done.   Many people feel campaigns have gotten more negative through time.    I would just note that throughout history, there have always been voices which have claimed that yesterday was better than today will be and today will be better than tomorrow.  St Cyprian of Carthage (martyred in 258AD) at one point in his life lamented the decline of everything in his day: the weather, the military, justice, friendship, skills and ethics.  [One can hear Ronald Reagan saying, “There you go again . . .”]  He no doubt would have found election time proof of the decline of civility and civilization.  His is a familiar voice we can find in history – things are declining. His lament about the declining fortunes of his time:

In winter there is not as great an abundance of rain storms for nourishing seeds as before, in summer the temperature does not reach normal oven heat for preparing the crops for ripening, nor in the mild season of spring do the crops flourish as they did once, nor are the autumn crops so abundant as before with trees bearing fruit. There are less marble slabs brought forth from mountains that have been mined out and are exhausted. Their mines, hollowed out, now supply less wealth in silver and in gold, and their impoverished veins of metals run short as each day proceeds. The farm laborer grows less in number in the fields, and ceases to be available. The sailor at sea, similarly, has vanished, like the soldier in the barracks, integrity in the Forum, justice in the court, concord between friends in alliance, skill in practicing the arts, and moral order in practicing ethics.   (On The Church: Select Treatises, Kindle Loc. 1408-15)

I do find the campaign process to be spiritually oppressive, and I see the fears, anxieties and anger which grow in people during elections.  And yet, I think this process, as much as I dislike it, to be a good sign for our country and humanity in general.  It is easy to imagine that life used to be better, but for us Christians, hope does not lie in the past but in what lies ahead.   As St Paul says,  “. . . one thing I do, forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:13-14).

I used to think of America as an optimistic country.  American ingenuity sparked hoped.  The American can-do spirit kept us pushing into the future’s ever expanding vision.  The horizon was ever expanding and we were always pushing toward it no matter how far it kept receding.  Boundlessness seemed part of our attitude.  Of course, such thinking also at times contributed to our excesses, wastefulness, selfish consumption and rapacious greed.  What we need to learn to balance is the boundless hope with the reality of how our behavior affects others and our planet.  Profit is not always evil, though greed is real and destructive.  Concern for the environment doesn’t have to mean all consumption is wrong – humans need to live.  Both extremes need to bring humanity back into the picture, both need to consider how to benefit a growing population in a sustainable way.

I saw a bumper sticker today which read, “It’s easy to wave the flag, harder to carry it.”  I don’t know if that is a slogan of some organization, but that doesn’t matter to me as I’m not advocating for them.  The words express a truth.  Part of the burden for Americans of carrying the flag is democracy itself – and caring about the country and one’s fellow citizens.  The election process is messy and at times brings out pessimism in many.  It als0 is part of the burden of democracy, it is the weight of the American flag.  We are asked to choose between candidates who are imperfect and issues which are complicated.   I hope we will show that we are worthy of carrying that flag not just waving it.  Carrying the flag means  enduring campaigns, and working together for the common good even when we disagree on issues or solutions.  When we value each other as fellow citizens then we will make America great.  Look for politicians who actually care about their constituents more than their political ideologies.

Truly, democracy and elections cannot solve all our human problems, and sometimes contribute to them.  Yet democracy allows us to light a candle, not just curse the darkness.  It is a sign that we can change, that we are capable of creatively working together to deal with some of the issues confronting us, that we can survive our own mistakes, and that there is reason to hope that we can make some things better.   Democracy is not foolproof – the best candidate doesn’t always win.  Democracy is not omniscient or omnipotent but it can show us the need for looking at issues from different perspectives and the need for cooperation in order to produce better solutions.  It can also show us why we need divine help to deal with human problems.   We do need Wisdom of God to solve issues which are greater than our limited knowledge and perspectives.   We need that godly hope to overcome our fears and failures and to see potential instead of only our limitations.  We need the love of God to energize us to overcome our selfishness so that we work for a greater good.  Even if things are worse than they used to be, we can show up and care for one another, rather than simply despair.

Remember, O Lord, this nation and her civil authorities, those who serve in the government and the armed forces. Grant them a secure and lasting peace; speak good things in their hearts concerning your Church and all your people, so that we, in their tranquility, may lead a calm and peaceful life in all godliness and sanctity.  (from the Liturgy of St. Basil)

2014 Voter Lookup

While I admit I really dislike negative campaigning, robocalls, and campaign advertising, I do make the effort to vote each election.   We have an ability to influence the politicians in our country and if more of us would get out and vote we could even offset the effect that big money has on the elections.

A Theology of Government

Today is election day across the United States, though this  year many of the races and issues being decided upon are local rather than national or even on a state level.   Since it isn’t a national election, Ohio is not ground zero for the political battle this year, for which I’m grateful.    I don’t have the heart for listening to the negative campaigning and though many think that is a necessary but messy part of true democracy, I could live without it.

Biblical scholar N.T.Wright comments on what he discerns to be a theology of government found in the scriptures.   On the one hand, God is forever trying to bring order upon a universe which  tends toward chaos, and government is part of a god determined plan for order in the world.  On the other hand, rulers have had a penchant for choosing evil and abusing their power, and God finds it necessary to hold all leaders accountable for their behavior.  The fact that rulers are needed in the fallen world, does not give them license to do as they please.

“The Jewish political belief we find in books like this was based on a strong theology of creation, fall, and providence: the one God had in fact created all the world, including all rulers, and though they were often exceedingly wicked God was overruling their whims for his own strange and often hidden purposes, and would judge them in turn. This meant that a classic Jewish position, which echoes on well into the Christianity of the second and third centuries, seems to us today to play from both ends of the spectrum at once. The rulers are wicked and will be judged, especially when they persecute God’s people. But God wants the world to be ruled, rather than to descend into anarchy and chaos, and his people must learn to live under pagan rule even though it means constant vigilance against compromise with paganism itself. […]

Augustus Caesar

God wants the world to be ordered, to keep evil in check, otherwise wickedness simply flourishes and naked power and aggression wins. But the rulers of the world are themselves answerable to God, not least at the point where they use their power to become just like the bullies they are supposed to be restraining. Meanwhile, God is working out a very different purpose, which will result in the vindication of his people and the judgment of the Pharaohs and Babylons of the world. All this is based, of course, on a creational monotheism which, faced with evil in the world, declares that God will one day put it all to rights, and that we can see advance signs of that in systems of justice and government even when they are imperfect. This leaves no room for a dualism in which pagan rulers are thoroughly bad and can be ignored, or overthrown without thought for what will come next. Nor does it allow that kind of pantheism in which rulers are simply part of the fabric of the divinely ordered world, requiring unquestioning submission to their every whim.” (Paul, pps. 66,68-69)

G. Washington resigns his commission.


Sermon Notes 1 November 1992

3 STATEMENTS ON PRAYER   Sermon Notes   1 November 1992

1] The election – pray to God for our nation and for our leaders. We are in special need of God’s guidance at this time. Pray that God will guide you in your voting.

2] Intercessory prayer – How would you feel if you knew that at the throne of God, there was always someone pleading to God that he have mercy on you?

We are to pray for one another. We do have a list of people we are praying for. We have a parish directory. Pray for one another. Then you will have someone standing at God’s throne pleading for you. And you will be standing in God’s presence when you stand in prayer – this is also a blessing for you.

3] 2 Chronicles 25:5-13  (Listening to God, no matter what the price)

Moreover Amaziah gathered Judah together and set over them captains of thousands and captains of hundreds, according to their fathers’ houses, throughout all Judah and Benjamin; and he numbered them from twenty years old and above, and found them to be three hundred thousand choice men, able to go to war, who could handle spear and shield. He also hired one hundred thousand mighty men of valor from Israel for one hundred talents of silver. But a man of God came to him, saying, “O king, do not let the army of Israel go with you, for the LORD is not with Israel; not with any of the children of Ephraim. “But if you go, be gone! Be strong in battle! Even so, God shall make you fall before the enemy; for God has power to help and to overthrow.” Then Amaziah said to the man of God, “But what shall we do about the hundred talents which I have given to the troops of Israel?” And the man of God answered, “The LORD is able to give you much more than this.” So Amaziah discharged the troops that had come to him from Ephraim, to go back home. Therefore their anger was greatly aroused against Judah, and they returned home in great anger. Then Amaziah strengthened himself, and leading his people, he went to the Valley of Salt and killed ten thousand of the people of Seir.

American Ingenuity and Re-inventing our Government

This blog offers some concluding thoughts to my previous blog, Redistributing Wealth.

In analyzing the political partisanship and implacable ideologues Fareed Zakaria  writing in the 15 August 2011 issue of TIME offers some thoughts about why the American system of government is not able to solve our current fiscal problems:

“American parties now function like European parliamentary ones, ideologically pure and with tight discipline. But we don’t have a European system. In parliamentary systems, power is united so that when, for example, the British Prime Minister’s coalition takes office, it controls the legislative branch as well as the executive. The Prime Minister is, in effect, chief legislator as well as chief executive. The ruling party gets a chance to implement its agenda, and then the public can either re-elect it or throw the bums out. The U.S. system is one of shared and overlapping powers. No one person or party is fully in control; everyone is checked and balanced. People have to cooperate for anything to get done. That is why the Tea Party’s insistence on holding the debt ceiling hostage in order to force its policies on the country–the first time the debt ceiling has been used this way–was so deeply un-American.

The strength of the Tea Party is part of a broader phenomenon: the rise of small, intensely motivated groups that have been able to capture American politics. The causes are by now familiar. The redistricting of Congress creates safe seats, so the incentive is to pander to the extremes to fend off primary challenges, rather than to work toward the center. Narrowcast media amplify strong voices at the ends of the spectrum and make politicians pay a price for any deviation from dogma. A more open and transparent Congress has meant a Congress more easily pressured by small interest groups and lobbyists. Ironically, during this period, more and more Americans identify as independents. Registered independents are at an all-time high. But that doesn’t matter. The system in Congress reflects not rule by the majority but rule by the minority–fanatical, organized minorities.

These dysfunctions have reached crisis levels at the very time the U.S. faces intense pressures from an aging population, technological change and globalization. We need smart policies in every field. We need to pare spending in areas like health care and pensions but invest in others like research and development, infrastructure and education in order to grow. In an age of budgetary limits, money needs to be spent wisely and only on projects that are effective. But in area after area–energy, immigration, infrastructure–government policy is suboptimal, a sad mixture of political payoffs and ideological positioning. Countries from Canada to Australia to Singapore implement smart policies and copy best practices from around the world. We bicker and remain paralyzed.

Some of those best practices used to be American. The world once looked at America with awe as we built the interstate highway system, created the best public education in the world, put a man on the moon and invested in the frontiers of knowledge. That is not how the world sees America today. People watched what happened over the past month and could not comprehend it. We have taken something that the world never doubted–the credibility of the U.S.–and put it into question. From now on, every time the debt ceiling has to be debated, the world will wonder, Will America honor its commitments? Will it keep its word? Will the system break down? We have taken our most precious resource, the trust of the world, and gambled with it. If, as a result of these congressional antics, interest rates on America’s debt rise by 1% –in other words, if the world asks for just a little bit more interest to lend us money–the budget deficit will rise by $1.3 trillion over 10 years. That would more than wipe out the entire 10 years of cuts proposed in the debt deal. That’s the American system at work these days.

Old Senate Chamber

Maybe we can rethink what we are doing.  American ingenuity both invented and grew out of the changing political world of the 18th Century.  That same ingenuity if it is allowed to thrive rather than be throttled by ideologues can re-invent the government which helped make America great.

If it is the case that our political system is becoming polarized to the point of being paralyzed, a former congressman offered his opinion about how we got to this point.

Congressman Jim Cooper (D-TN) first elected to congress  in 1982 made observations about a big change that occurred in congress that contributed to the polarization in congress and inability to work together.   Cooper writing in BOSTON REVIEW (May-June 2011) as reported in the Summer 2011 WILSON QUARTERLY commented to the effect:

“Speaker of the House Tip O’Neill (D-Mass.) saw himself as leader of the entire House, not just the Democratic caucus.  O’Neill’s was a House intent on making policy, not partisan mischief,’  Cooper recalls.”

There even was a time when “a group of elite staffers known as the Democratic Study Group provided authoritative memos before each important vote listing the pros and cons of the bill.  The quality of these reports was so high that even some Republicanss subscribed.”

Cooper says the system changed a great deal  “under the leadership of Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.)”.  “Gingrich centralized power in the office of the Speaker and politicized the position.   Committee chairs, powerful under O’Neill, were ’emasculated, their authority redirected to the Speaker.”  It was in this time the Democratic Study Group mentioned above ceased to exist.

It is possible that Gingrich made these changes to correct what were perceived as problems of congressional dysfunction in his day.  Don’t know that story, but I’m just following Cooper’s line of thinking.

The changes that Cooper claims occurred are still in effect to this day, and it has not mattered whether Republicans or Democrats have been in power, they now follow the precedent set by Gingrich.   Cooper notes, “The truth is that the [Gingrich] model works … if you are only interested in partisan control of Congress.”

This of course gets back to Fareed Zakariah’s point above that the U.S. political system is not a European parliamentary system.   So those who are demanding that we return to the Constitution in determing how government is to operate, maybe we have to demand that we abandon the polarizing parliamentary European system and return to our democratic system where disagreeing politicians are forced to sit down together and work out a compromise that solves our problems.

Cooper’s “solution” is that our congressmen get “merit” pay based on their ability to co-operate to make the system work – including merit pay for those who eliminate obsolete laws  and who work to cut spending.  Not sure how that idea would work.

I want to also acknowledge that some think the rancorous process which we witnessed in dealing with the debt ceiling problem is nothing but democracy at work.  Charles Krauthammer (Washington Post, 12 August 2011) thinks the system is working fine and we should quit complaining.  He notes what is an obvious truth of American politics, voters do react against both ideas and politicians they don’t like.  Thus we see swings in voters moving left and right whenever they think politicians have gone too far.  He feels confident the system is doing what it is supposed to do and the results in the debt ceiling debate did what they could do.  He wrote: “It was a triumph of democratic politics – a powerful shift in popular will finding concrete political expression.”

There is no doubt since the time of the election of 1800 in which Thomas Jefferson using dirty tricks defeated incumbent President John Adams.  It was a rancorous campaign that caused Adams and Jefferson, two of the heroes of the revolution and founding fathers of our country,  to have a complete falling out and become bitter political rivals.    There have been major issues at stake that endangered the American political system soon after its birth.   It exploded in the election of 1860 when Lincoln became President and American became a divided nation at war.

Enjoying the Quiet of the Library

And though this is nothing new, I personally don’t find the process to be to my liking at all.   But there is little doubt that the pitfalls of a bickering democracy are preferable to the dictatorship of a one party system.   I silence the negative campaign cacophony by living TV and commercial radio free.  I noticed that even a couple of my sons have basically quit watching TV and don’t have cable subscriptions.   There is hope for America!

It seems to me that since both political parties seem to think they have to play to the extremes of their constituencies in a circus media driven political culture,  most of what we receive from the partisan leadership is all heat and no light.  Maybe that is the only way politicians can get anything done public accusations but behind the scenes some effort to reach a solution.   But I know I would prefer hearing reasoned proposals rather than partisan rhetoric.

At one time some of the leaders of the two parties did agree that $4 Trillion in debt reduction was the goal.  That was a huge step forward.  But the resulting agreement was only about half that, which means we are going to have to listen to the rancor twice, and probably twice as much before they will come up with a package that will convince the world that the US is a safe place to invest your money because it is backed by the full faith and credit of the US government.

Next:  The Redistribution of Income Revisited

Tax Cuts: a Painful Way to Keep Bleeding

The Co-Chairmen of the bipartisan commission to reduce the deficit released a proposal for the commission members and general public to consider as to what is needed to reduce the national debt.  In their comments they bluntly make it clear the reduction can only come with pain to the American people; there is no other way.  Of course Americans have never taken kindly to pain when it comes to economics and thus politicians who vote on policies which affect the nation’s economy tend also not to make the hard decisions in fear of being voted out of office. 

The U.S. Congress is going to take up the issue of making permanent the Bush era tax cuts.  This is being done while simultaneously there are calls to shrink the national debt.  These are the tax cuts that Mike Kimel and Michael Kanell in PRESIMETRICS characterize in this way:

Consider, for instance, that less than two months after taking office GW laid out a plan to aggressively pay down the debt while simultaneously cutting taxes and boosting military spending.  The plan was titled, ‘A Blueprint for New Beginnings: A Responsible Budget for America’s Priorities.’  One can only wonder what an irresponsible budget might have looked like to GW’s advisors. 

According to what I’ve read, making the Bush-era tax cuts permanent will add $4 Trillion (that’s $4,000,000,000,000.00) to the national debt.  One wonders whether any Americans are really fiscally responsible or conservative who can advocate this right now.

Christmas is a time when kids tell Santa what they want and adults pay for it.  Deficits are when adults tell government what they want and their kids pay for it. (Richard Lamm)

The push for the tax cuts at this point seem to be the usual American nearsightedness when it comes to fiscal issues: we want immediate gratification and don’t want to be troubled by the fact that what we do today will have  future repercussions.  

“… a president who cuts taxes while at the same time driving up the debt is not really ‘cutting taxes.’  He is merely transferring taxes from now until some later date.”  (Mike Kimel & Michael Kanell, PRESIMETRICS)

A president who cuts the national debt, on the other hand, saves you from having to make interest and principal payments on that debt in the future, and therefore reduces you tax bill later. Unfortunately, most people don’t seem to make the connection between fiscal irresponsibility today and increased taxes later on.  (Mike Kimel & Michael Kanell, PRESIMETRICS)

We would do well to remember how we got into the national fiscal mess we are in and not perpetuate those same mistakes and then magically hope for a different result.  We might consider the words of U.S. founding father James Madison

“… war should not only be declared by the authority of the people, whose toils and treasures are to support its burdens, instead of the government which is to reap its fruits: but that each generation should be made to bear the burden of its own wars, instead of carrying them on, at the expense of other generations.”

It is we the people, or at least we through our elected political leaders, who got US into the current financial mess.  It is the current and past president and the current and past congresses which have made the decisions to  bury us in debt.

Somehow, some keep singing the song to reduce taxes, as if that is the panacea for all that ails the American economy.  Yet the national debt also ails the economy and we are not going to reduce the national debt by reducing taxes,  anymore than someone can reduce their credit card debt by reducing their income.  If we are serious about reducing the national debt, we are going to need a different remedy than reducing taxes to pay down the current debt.

I do not know where the idea that reducing taxes is the best way to grow the economy comes from – but if PRESIMETRICS  measures the data right, then reducing taxes isn’t the panacea needed.  Consider the following based on Kimel and Kanell’s analysis of the data available from 1952-2008 (Presidents Eisenhower to GWBush):

“in recent decades, higher tax burdens have been associated with faster, not slower, economic growth.” (p 120)

“there doesn’t seem to be any evidence here for the proposition that lower taxes result in higher incomes  … lower taxes- at least by themselves- are not the way to increase economic growth.”   (pp 124-125)

“The numbers are pretty compelling.  Lower average tax burdens do not produce faster economic growth, or more jobs, or bring in more tax revenues.  Similarly, tax cuts also do not produce faster economic growth, faster income growth, or more jobs, or bring in more tax revenues.  … Unexamined faith in a principle that is demonstrably false is no way to run a country.”  (pp 129-130)

So, is the idea that tax cuts are beneficial to the economy based upon intuitive assumptions rather than on any statistical analysis?    It seems like it should be true that lowering taxes would benefit tax payers in every way, but the data which PRESIMETRICS studies doesn’t uphold what is a cornerstone of political beliefs for many.

This may be a case where we need to stop believing what we think, and actually examine the data to see what in fact will bring down the national debt and help the economy.  Maybe we actually are going to have to do some of the painful things the bipartisan commission is considering, including both raising taxes and cutting spending.  Ouch!

Or maybe we will continue to pretend there is some magical and painless way to reduce the budget deficit and keep doing all the things we currently are doing. 

Any magic left in these contenders?

In the Harry Potter books and movies, ultimately it is not magic that saves the day and defeats evil, but rather the courage and persistence of its “all too human” heroes to do the right thing despite their weaknesses, even when it is very painful.

Our politicians need to learn a bit of that magic called courage.

Paid Political Ads: You Pay the Price for Campaign Financing

U.S. Capitol

There is a restlessness in voters this year that will once again turn out an anti-Washington, anti-incumbent electorate.   That really isn’t unusual anymore in American politics since both major political parties portray themselves as being Washington outsiders and anti-establishment.  One party is always in power and the other one trying to get back in power.

This message strikes a chord in Americans who see their “independence” being expressed through constantly morphing anti-establishment candidates . The reality is Washington stays the same the more candidates ride a wave of change to office.  The constant anti-establishment “we’re the party for change” appeal keeps things pretty unchanged and unchangeable.  We are constantly balancing back and forth between the Democrats who are now in power, and the Republicans who were in power before and are returning again.  Both parties are the object of our scorn and beneficiaries of our votes.  Both sides appeal to change thus perpetuating the system.  It’s a Sudoku puzzle with only two squares and you can only put a one or two in each of the boxes and no number can be used twice; the solution is logical but not too hard to figure out why so many find it uninteresting.

This year, thanks to the Supreme Court’s opening the floodgates of corporate spending on political advertisements, more “independent” corporations are paying for political ads to flood the airwaves thus effectively jamming any ability for reasoned discourse on important issues.   Consider NPR’s recent piece, ‘Independent’ Groups Behind Ads Not So Independent  which aired this morning.  Countless groups who are investing fortunes in political advertizing under the deceptive guise of being grassroots, local, non-partisan and independent are in fact Washington lobby groups, often funded by the few ideologues who want their particular views broadcast to America.  It is not government of, by and for the people, but rather government for, by and of the few who have the means to pay or the financial backers willing to pay for them.

These groups are all Washington insiders who don’t just play the game of Washington insider politics, they’ve manufactured it and sold it to the public at great profit to themselves and their causes as they get politicians to pay attention to their money and power.

As long as we pay attention to these ads, we pay the price for the American system of campaign funding: money talks and more money talks more often and more loudly.

A real anti-Washington electorate is one not listening to well financed Washington based lobby groups.  The only thing we should pay attention to is what issues and candidates these groups endorse and support because we will then know who the real Washington insiders and powers are.  Follow the money;  the power behind the political parties and the candidates will be revealed. If the NPR story is correct, it will be the real Washington insiders who are paying to keep the system just the way it is because they know how to win the political game they invented and sold to the public.

This is not to say that all those running for office are simply paid for by corporate sponsors and lobby groups.  No doubt candidates believe in some of the causes they champion, and some find themselves stuck in a campaign financing system that encourages these abuses.  Some probably have concluded they have to play the game as the only way to accomplish their goals.  For me, the real anti-Washington fervor should be directed at the ways people with money and ideologues can manipulate the system and the politicians.

Angry voters should demand the system be reformed, so that we quit having to pay the price of well funded lobby and special interest groups making us pay for the system they have manufactured and continue to perpetuate.  A real fight is to take away government of, by and for the corporations and lobby groups, and to return it to the people.  Will this be easy to accomplish?  No, because there is an awful lot invested in the current way of doing things.

Considering DC and Democracy

While in Washington, DC, visiting my son, we did take a tour of the Capitol Building led by an intern from my Ohio congressman, Mike Turner’s office.   As part of that tour, we watched a 13 minute documentary about congress and its role in the American government system.  It seemed to me that emphasized in the documentary is the fact that the house and senate are that part of the American government (of, by and for the people) most closely attuned to the American democratic political tradition.  They most closely represent the diversity of opinions throughout America.  They are that part of government in which debate on and discussion of issues is done within their assemblies and is part of what they are supposed to do.  It is the designed process by which government of, by and for the people comes to its decisions.      (My photos of DC are at http://www.flickr.com/photos/frted/collections/72157625229327976/).

Historically, its roots are in those original debates which the leaders of the thirteen colonies engaged as they struggled with their relationship to the crown in England.  And anyone who has read American history knows those debates were rancorous and passionate.

In a democracy, such rancorous debate is the very means by which decisions are expressed, considered, dissected and decided upon.  (And I will admit by nature I am not always personally comfortable with such passionate and adversarial disagreement.  I hope for and prefer more agreement and greater harmony and tranquility).

John Adams

Certainly even in the days of the second president of the United States, John Adams, there already existed partisan debate and political trickery and dirty works.  Pseudonymous postings in papers that came into existence solely to promote a partisan point of view were common by 1800.  Vice-President Thomas Jefferson worked to politically undermine his President, John Adams.  Though they were powerful co-conspirators in the American Revolution, they became bitter political enemies in the partisan debates in the beginning of the Republic. 

James Madison too engaged in similar underhanded behavior against a government headed by his one time revolutionary compatriots.  He too was not afraid to engage in underhanded dealings to subvert those he disagreed with – not just their ideas, but those he considered political rivals.

It does seem to me, however, that in our current political polarizing partisanship, that some push for ending serious debate.  Some want one party rule.  Some want rivals and opposition silenced. 

Yet the political health of a democracy, like the strength of a species for surviving in a hostile environment, lies in its diversity and variations.  For democracy if anything is based in the consideration of and conflict between ideas; this is also its strength.   Ideas are improved on the anvil of debate, or, to change metaphors, in that heated cauldron which produces stronger alloys and new combinations of polymers with vital adaptability to the changing needs of people. 

Vote.  Pay attention to the issues at hand.  Learn about the debate, not just about what agrees with your opinions.  For a one party system is the basis of every dictatorship and all despotic rule.

Signs of the Election: Campaign Signs

Politician's Campaign Advertizing

It is time for the elections.  Signs of that are visible every- where:  on TV and posted on telephone poles. 

I wasn’t sure which candidate was being pitched here, but it was obvious that they were deep into a political party’s platform.

Radio talk show host releasing hot air?

Of course, maybe it was just a sign promoting a radio talk show host’s ideological show.

The election season is the one time out of the year when you can take your TVs out on the lawn, and plug them in, turn them on and let the political advertising fertilize your lawn.   

Voters: remember one thing that political campaign advertisers seem to forget: too much fertilizer isn’t healthy – it burns and kills rather than nurturing.  Protect your brains, turn off your TVs and radio talk show hosts.

PRESIMETRICS: Those Stubborn Facts

Though the autumn is one of my favorite seasons of the year weather-wise, I’ve come to despise the election campaigns of fall and the political advertising that poisonously pollute the airwaves.  It is a good time of year for Americans to practice turning off their radios and televisions: go outdoors and become attuned to nature, give more time to friends and interesting conversation, or volunteer for worthwhile charity and civic projects.  Though many people I know can’t imagine life without the “entertainment industry”, my assessment for all thinking Americans is they would be far happier without it.  Everyone should ban commercial driven media and talk shows for the 30 days leading up to the election.   That’s my prescription for an American pursuit of happiness.


Protect your ears & hearts from political noise pollution


Money talks they say, and in America money buys a lot of talk as well.  Negative advertizing against candidates destroys the morale of our nation.  It encourages cynicism, drowns out reasonable discourse, and causes the polarization in politics that paralyzes our democracy.

Far better for me was our diocesan election of a bishop – not once did any of the candidates warn about what would happen if one of their “rivals” was elected.  Each simply spoke about their own experience in the church and how they might respond to issues should they become bishop.   It is hard to imagine a calmer experience than the day of the bishop’s election.

I read with interest Mike Kimel and Michael Kanell’s PRESIMETRICS:WHAT THE FACT TELL US ABOUT HOW THE PRESIDENTS MEASURE UP ON THE ISSUES WE CARE ABOUT. I’m not so driven by statistics that I checked all their facts, but they offered an interesting view of what the Presidents from Eisenhower to GW Bush did while in office.  I don’t know the authors’ political preferences, but liked the implication of some of their comments:

“A president who year after year produces surpluses, avoiding the temptation to spend unnecessarily, is making the country better off.”

“… a president who cuts taxes while at the same time driving up the debt is not really ‘cutting taxes.’”

I’m not going to make many more comments, but want to quote from the book – you can get a copy and read it for yourself.  But there were real surprises in what the statistics show.  (Abortion rates dropped sharpest under Clinton!)   Certainly what the political parties claim to be their agendas and priorities aren’t always upheld by what presidents from those parties did while in office.

“…the notion that growth is hindered by taxes doesn’t seem to be borne out by the data we’ve been using.  In our sample of eight administrations, the three administrations that raised tax revenues, and the one that reduced them by the least, happened to be the four fastest-growing administrations in our sample.  The four biggest tax-cutting administrations also produced the slowest growth by far.”

“… the four administrations that produced the biggest annualized increases in social spending as a percentage of the budget were also the four administrations that produced the slowest economic growth.”

Nevertheless, we have seen no evidence that cutting the tax burden increases growth rates, at least for the levels of taxation that we observed in the United States from 1953 to 2008.  Quite the opposite, in fact.”

“Under Democratic administrations overall, debt as a percentage of GDP shrank, while on the average under Republican administrations it rose.”

“Democratic administrations have presided over faster economic growth on average and done so without adding as much to the national debt as Republican administrations. …. And the policies Democrats have pursued have increased income and wealth more quickly than the policies Republicans have pursued…. That is, a trickle-up economy seems to beat a trickle-down economy.  So sayeth the data.”

“Of the eleven American presidents who served from the end of World War II to 2008, Reagan was the only one who increased both the size of the national debt as a percentage of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and the percentage of Americans employed by the federal government.”

“Among all the administrations in our sample, the Clinton administration was the only one to actually reduce real spending per capita…  By far the biggest annual drop in spending as a share of GDP came under Clinton.”

“…Ike and Clinton… both of them decreased current federal spending as a percentage of GDP, and yet both of them managed to increase the share of that reduced federal spending going to the state and local governments.  And since of these two only Ike also cut taxes as well, perhaps Ike is the true conservative in a crowd of pretenders.”

“Republicans had a tendency to increase the percentage of total spending that went toward welfare almost four times more quickly than Democrats.  We’re willing to bet that not what you expected to read when you started this chapter.”

“The only administration to move the country in the direction of energy independence was Jimmy Carter.”  Voters didn’t like what that meant for their lifestyles which is no doubt why politicians so rarely advocate for the needed but unpopular decisions.

The authors looked at readily available economic information to plot their graphs and come to their conclusions.  Some may not like their observations, but in as much as they fairly presented the data, it is not worth shooting the messengers.

What I certainly came away from in reading the book is that simply lowering taxes is not an answer in itself for helping the economy.  There needs to be a corresponding reduction in government as a portion of the GDP to create a healthier future for the country.  The national debt matters long term, but politicians ever mindful of voter approval focus on making popular short term decisions.  That is why, according to the book, cutting taxes now always sounds right, but when no corresponding decrease in spending occurs, the taxes are simply pushed into the future as eventually the debt has to be paid.