Monday, October 06, 2008

The Congressional Betrayal of America

"...I know that I have never been so well pleased, as when I could shift power from my own, on the shoulders of others; nor have I ever been able to conceive how any rational being could propose happiness to himself from the exercise of power over others.” -- Thomas Jefferson on his presidency, January 1811*

“Howard, have you ever held power over a single human being?”
“No. And I wouldn’t take it if it were offered to me….It was offered to me once. I refused it…I had to.”
“Why?…Out of respect for the man?”
“…Out of respect for myself.”**


To his pathetic, costly and destructive legacy President George W. Bush has added the $700 billion Emergency Economic Stabilization Act of 2008 (H.R. 1424) passed by a corrupted Congress on October 3. He anxiously signed it into law less than ninety minutes after it was passed, as though it might vanish before his signature could make it real. He lobbied heavily in the Senate and the House to push it through.

There is an historic parallel to his anxiety, that of George Grenville, prime minister of Great Britain in 1765, who, aware of his unpopularity, pushed through a corrupt Parliament the Stamp Act over the objections of the American colonists and many members of Parliament in order to leave his own legacy of economic solvency.

Who knows what arm-twisting, browbeating, and threats were employed to persuade recalcitrant members of the House to drop their objections to the virtual nationalization of the economy and the granting of dictatorial powers to Henry Paulson, Secretary of the Treasury? Perhaps one or two members of the House opposed the bill for the right reasons. The others, having no moral grounds to their opposition, could do little else but surrender to Bush’s efforts.

The Stamp Act proved to be Grenville’s undoing; it was repealed exactly a year later after passionate debate in Parliament and Grenville’s government fell even before that. While Bush’s administration will end in January – and be replaced with a much worse one – Americans should not expect Congress to debate the destructive consequences of the bailout bill with a view to its repeal on moral or Constitutional grounds.

The Senate, for its part, is more culpable in the crime than either Bush or the House, having scrapped that part of the Constitution which states that only the House can originate money or spending bills (Article I, Section 7). The Senate’s fundamental purpose, after all, is to safeguard the principles of life, liberty, property and happiness that animate America by rejecting rights-violating populist legislation passed by the House. Instead, on October 1, it took the House’s bill, sweetened it with minor revisions and bribes, exploited a legislative trick and appended to it another bill loaded with earmarked pork barrel appropriations, thus avoiding the charge of violating Article I, and sent it back to the House. The House, which might have remained deadlocked, succumbed to the bait. In the end, both the Senate and the House, with great relief, contentment, and sanctimony, betrayed the country.

Also complicit in the betrayal are the news media. Most newspapers and all broadcast networks hyped up the economic peril of Congressional non-action, treating the importance of the bailout bill as a practical imperative, joining in the Republican and Democratic chorus in blaming Wall Street, capitalism, and corporate greed. On a few occasions editors and journalists ventured the idea that perhaps the bank failures and the collapse of the mortgage industry were entirely the responsibility of government intervention and manipulation, but these were sallies across a No Man’s Land that were quickly repulsed and abandoned.

The power Congress has abrogated to itself is a major step in the direction of full-scale statism. If Obama wins the White House in November, then we shall see his brand of socialist nationalism. If McCain wins it, then we shall see his brand of socialist nationalism.

If one wanted proof of the utter contempt which Congress holds for America and the American people, note that emails and phone calls to Congress from constituents overwhelmingly “voted” against the bailout bill. Many Congressmen scrambled back home to explain their votes for or against the bill. Who knows what promises any of them made to their constituents to guarantee their reelections, so they could drop of burden of opposition and vote with the majority? Some of them even claimed during the second debate and voting that abruptly and inexplicably their constituents deluged them with calls and emails demanding they vote for the bill. But lying about their constituents’ actions is the least of their crimes.

In an article in The New York Times on October 4, “Bailout Plan Wins Approval; Democrats Vow Tighter Rules,” appeared a number of hysterical and sonorous excuses expressed by Congressmen who at first voted against the bill, but then for it.

“Nobody in East Tennessee hates the fact more than me that I am going to vote yes today after voting no on Monday,” Representative Zach Wamp, a Republican, said.

Those who voted against the bill again in the Senate and House did so for irrelevant reasons: that it wasn’t enough; that it didn’t punish or rein in Wall Street to their satisfaction; that it didn’t really address the problem. No one in either chamber mentioned “socialism” or “nationalization” again. Those who did last Monday could not find the courage to repeat it. Those who objected to it, voted on the premise that if they did not identify it, it could not exist.

Presidential candidate John McCain, who vows to veto every bill sent to the White House larded with earmarks, voted for the bill, protesting that “It is an outrage that it’s even necessary.” So much for his commitment to fighting pork barrel appropriations and his vaunted status as a “maverick.” If vice-presidential candidate Joe Biden is right about anything, he is right about that.

Gloating over the Democratic victory, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi of California proclaimed:

“High-fliers on Wall Street will no longer be able to jeopardize that personal economic security of Americans, because of the bright light of scrutiny, accountability and the attention given under regulatory reform.”

She is a person who should be slapped silly for her insolence, venality, and naked lust for power. The bright light of scrutiny and accountability was not shed, nor will it ever be by the news media, for example, on her pork barrel appropriation in the bill for a tuna plant in American Samoa, owned by StarKist, one of her constituents and a donor to her campaign for office.

Barney Frank will not be subjected to scrutiny and accountability. The representative from Massachusetts was the champion of the Saul Alinsky-inspired Community Reinvestment Act. His special and sordid relationship with Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac over the years – he asserted many times that the two quangos were in fine financial shape, and led the fight to oppose Bush’s scrutiny of their operations and bookkeeping fraud – would be grist for the Police Gazette.

More than Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton, Frank has successfully applied the methods and thuggery outlined in Alinsky’s book, Rules for Radicals, but on a national scale. It should come as no surprise that Alinsky was a friend of Frank Nitti, Al Capone’s second-in-command in the 1930’s; one may imagine that Alinsky and Nitti traded ideas on how best to shake down banks, neighborhoods, and ordinary citizens. That book doubtless occupies a special shelf in Frank’s library.

Frank is an Alinsky-esque “community organizer” of the first rank, the “community” being the United States. He is the real-life successor of Ellsworth Toohey, the collectivist villain of The Fountainhead. Very likely he has no knowledge of the scene in that novel in which his fictive predecessor demands, “Let us organize, my brothers. Let us organize. Let us organize. Let us organize” – but would understand Toohey’s meaning to its core.***

Organize against what? The freedom of the individual to live his own life, and pursue his own happiness, without being shackled as an indentured servant to a chain gang and compelled to chant “community first,” or “minority first,” or “country first.”

For two excellent but frightening descriptions of the ramifications of the bailout bill, see Jonathan Hoenig’s “Politicians Use Bailout to Grab More Power” of October 2, and Declan McCullagh’s “Bailout bill loops in green tech, IRS snooping” of October 3. Both articles focus on how the government will own billions in worthless mortgages and lines of credit under the fiction of American taxpayers being “stakeholders” (just as Soviet citizens once “owned” the government’s assets and bureaucracies). McCullagh’s article also reveals how the bill has expanded the powers of the IRS to “police” individual and corporate tax returns and especially its power to run entrapment sting operations to detect noncompliance and evasion..

And all the while Obama, McCain, Frank, Paulson, Bernanke, and Pelosi were crowing that they were acting in the interests of the middle class and inveighing against the greed and reckless behavior of Wall Street speculators and the fabulous severance packages of failed CEO’s, not one of them dared mention their own avarice, corruption, ill-gotten wealth and standard of living, reckless speculation, “golden parachutes” and irresponsibility, all of it sustained by taxpayers, not to mention the fabulous severance packages failed regulators walked off with when fired from Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

While they and their ilk in Congress all worked themselves into a lather decrying the irresponsibility of regulated businessmen who ought to be punished for not being regulated enough, none of them dwelt on their own exemption and insulation from the consequences of their own actions. Barney Frank, speaking to the press after the bill was passed, claimed that voters calling and emailing their Congressmen (allegedly) changed their minds after facing the “economic reality” of their predicament. But “economic reality” is something neither he nor his co-conspirators in government and Congress have ever encountered or concerned themselves with. “Economic” reality is subsumed by metaphysical reality, and that is what they wish to evade and be protected from.

It baffled Thomas Jefferson, but not Howard Roark, why anyone would think his happiness could be founded on holding power over others. But, what is the nature and attraction of such power? No matter what logical or analytical route one follows to examine the desire or quest for such power, one will always find fear the core motivation. Though he did not know it, Jefferson answered his own question: a rational being would not seek such power; like Roark, he would know that there is a distinction between man acquiring power over nature to sustain and further his own life and happiness, and power over others as a substitute for power over reality. In a power-seeker, there is little or no self to respect. The smiles one might have noticed on the faces of Barney Frank, Christopher Dodd and others as they watched Nancy Pelosi sign the bailout bill mask a fear, and is just another expression saying: “We got away with it again – big time.”

Our political leaders think: “Others” create reality; ergo, “others” must be controlled to protect them from reality. And, in politics, when that policy of necessity fails – when the justice of reality comes calling – they do not acknowledge its failure or the justice, but act to broaden the scope of power.

And that is a fundamental reason why Congress betrayed America.

It would be wrong to conclude that corruption, hypocrisy, venality and systematic looting by law constitute the natural, inevitable course of events leading to the demise of a great country, and that one is helpless to combat it, especially when one knows that the demise will drag one down the same tragic path. The alleged potency of evil should not cause one to think one is superfluous. That, too, would be another form of the “other-oriented” fallacy. If men believe it is inevitable, then it will happen. However, the Founders encountered the same kind of resignation among men in their own time. But they did not think that submission to Crown authority and tyranny was their inexorable fate. America was the result, among their many other virtues, of their self-respect as rational beings.

And so, for all these reasons, my own answer to Congress, President Bush, and the presidential candidates is: Damn you all to hell.

And long live Lady Liberty!

*Letter to A.L.C. Destutt de Tracy in Thomas Jefferson: Writings, Library of America, 1984, p. 1245.
**Exchange between Howard Roark and Gail Wynand, in Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead (1943). Plume/Penguin Centennial Edition, 2005, p. 574.
***Op. cit., p. 103.

6 comments:

shahnawaz said...

simply brilliant.so long as people like you are alive america and thus the world has a chance.
jefferson could never have imagined that america would finally come to this.as objectivists we need to keep on fighting the moth eaten "ideologies" of today:environmentalism, pragmatism, multiculturalism,superstition etc.
what we need is tough mindedness and historical mindedness so that in these dark dark days we don't loose sight of the fact that human progress is never automatic and has to be fought for.
great ed you are one such beacon.thank you for being who you are.

Joe said...

Hoorah, Ed! This is inspired writing. Thank you, and keep the beacon lit... only a few may now be drawn to it, but the brighter it burns the more disenchanted victims of our corrupt government will find you and your ideas.

Long live Lady Liberty!

Mike N said...

Great essay. But when you consider that the American people voted for the Pelosis and Franks and Schumers etc., it make one want to vote for Obama just to "hasten their education" so to speak. But then, how many of them will learn anything?

We are not electing a Fuhrer yet, There's still time to spread reason.

Wayne said...

In terms of Ayn Rand characters, I see the presidential choices as Hank Rearden vs Ellsworth Toohey. A flawed fighter clinging to a sense of life he has trouble putting into a philosophy vs. the smooth-talking power-lusting collectivist of the soul. If that's my choice, go Hank!

Anonymous said...

Another great essay - loved the opening quotes, from a different planet, obviously!

Thanks Ed.

'If you mean to have and to hold power, you must do whatever is necessary for the having and holding of it. You may have doubts and hesitations and scruples, but power is the hardest of all task masters, and you must either lay these aside, when you once stand on that dangerous, dizzy height, or yield your place to others, and renounce your part in the great conflict. And when power is won, don't suppose that you are a free man, able to choose your path and do as you like. From the moment you possess power, you are but its slave, fast bound by its many tyrant necessities.' Auberon Herbert

Anonymous said...

Auberon Herbert! There's a name from the distant past, as well. An unsung hero and champion of liberty. Ed