Archive for the ‘ The Historical Muse ’ Category

Lessons to Be Learned

Back in the 1990s, one of the most influential political organizations was the Christian Coalition. Today it is nonexistent. The goals of the group were excellent, and a number of victories were won. I attended a couple of the Road to Victory conferences in D.C. All the big names in the conservative political world fell over themselves to speak at these conferences.

Then came the fall. A combination of money troubles—some brought on by liberal spending, ironically—unfair government investigations, which ended in exoneration, and bad leadership led to the demise. There are many valuable lessons to be learned from the history of this organization. What happens when you abandon principles? What’s the result of losing one’s focus and becoming enamored with the world’s adulation? How can this be avoided in the future?

I teach a course called Biblical Principles of Government and Policy, in which I have the students read Joel Vaughan’s book The Rise and Fall of the Christian Coalition. Vaughan was present at the creation of the organization, and he was one of the last to leave as it crumbled. He knows, from the inside, what went right and what eventually went wrong. I had Joel come speak to my class yesterday. It allowed them, as young Christians seeking to make a difference in the realm of government and policy, to wrestle with those questions asked above.

All Christians need to think through the lessons that can be learned from the successes and failures of the Christian Coalition. I heartily endorse Joel’s book and recommend it as a thought-provoking read. We need to learn its lessons and make the proper application today if we hope to make a lasting impact.

President Absent

The Founders set up three co-equal branches of government. They presumed the initiative would rest with the legislative branch, which would determine the laws. The executive branch’s duty was primarily to carry out those laws. Throughout our early history, most of the presidents recognized that distinction; rarely did one come to the office with a broad agenda. That doesn’t mean we didn’t have forceful presidents at times. Washington, just by his stature, brought stability to the new nation. Jackson sought to impose his will in a number of ways, so much so that a rival political party arose, the Whigs, that had as its unifying feature the unseating of “King Andrew.”

Yet someone like Jackson was the exception. It wasn’t until Theodore Roosevelt that we had anyone pushing a number of specific programs from the start. He was then dwarfed by Woodrow Wilson, who in turn looked pale compared to FDR, who then gave up his crown as the most active president when LBJ fostered his so-called Great Society.

We have a president currently who is an odd mixture: his agenda is far-reaching; his goal was to transform America as we know it. Yet at times he is strangely silent when it comes to advocating specific solutions. Whenever something is politically radioactive, he steps back and lets Congress take the lead . . . and the blame.

Don’t be confused by this; it’s not respect for the original intent of the Founders. He would be another King Andrew if he could. He’s just very adept at sidestepping anything that might hurt his chances for reelection, and if there’s one thing at which he excels, it is passing the buck. This is not a new strategy for him; he has done it in the past as well, and this is merely a continuation of that master strategy:

In the Illinois Senate, he was known as Senator Present, as he avoided as many controversial votes as possible. As a United States Senator, he spent more time running for president than he did carrying out the duties of his office. Now, as president, he absents himself whenever politically expedient. Frankly, I wish he’d practice the disappearing act more often. It would help us return to the Founders’ vision.

Obamacare & the Supremes

Twenty-six states, led by my own Florida, have challenged the constitutionality of Obamacare. The court challenge has now risen to the Supreme Court level, and we learned last week that the Supreme Court has decided to hear the case. Although I consider the entire law to be unconstitutional, the Court may focus on the fact that it forces people to buy health insurance. If that provision is allowed to stand, it will be the first time that the federal government has mandated that people buy a product; they no longer will have a choice. How would we feel if the federal government mandated we buy only decaffeinated coffee, for instance, because it has concluded, in its wisdom, that everyone would benefit from drinking it?

Far-fetched? Not if the precedent is set via Obamacare. That’s why so many states have become party to this lawsuit. We can even use a common medical term to describe this court challenge:

While I pray—and I mean that literally—that the Court overturns this awful law, the fact that we have to await the verdict of nine people to decide the fate of the union is sad in itself. The Constitution set up three equal branches of government, designed to check and balance each other. Yet we seem happy to allow just one branch to determine the appropriateness of a law. Every time the Supreme Court makes a pronouncement, we accept it as the final word. That means a very divided 5-4 vote can set the course for the direction of the entire nation.

What if the Supreme Court backs Obamacare? What is to be done? Constitutionally, it can be treated the same as the infamous Dred Scott decision of 1857, which concluded that no black person, free or slave, was a citizen of the United States. At that time, the Republican Party stood against the decision and worked to undo it. I hope the current manifestation of the Republican Party would do the same today.

Book Review: Destiny of the Republic

I love history books that read like novels. History is a story and should be told accordingly. Character, plot, and all other features of a good novel should be incorporated. As long as the story is fully documented and doesn’t deviate from the facts, it can be a delight to read. I just finished one such book. It’s called Destiny of the Republic: A Tale of Madness, Medicine, and the Murder of a President by Candice Millard.

Few Americans know much about President James Garfield. Those who do only know that he was shot a mere four months after taking office and lingered for another two and half months before dying in September 1881. That’s the extent of our collective knowledge, if we know anything about it at all. As a historian, I had further details. For instance, I knew that Garfield was an evangelical Christian who was ordained through the Disciples of Christ. I also knew that he was a reformer in the best sense—not someone who believed that the federal government should take on responsibility that belongs to individuals, but a man who sought to remove the corruption of the spoils system. As president, in those four short months before the fateful day when he was shot, he already had taken bold steps in that direction.

This book, though, opened up a vista of new information about the man: his commitment to protecting the civil rights of former slaves; the deep relationship he developed with his wife; the high regard in which he was held even by political opponents because of his integrity and kindness. Upon finishing this book, I felt the pain of the loss of someone who could have been a good friend, if I had lived at that time.

The book also paints a portrait of Charles Guiteau, the assassin. All I ever heard was that he was a disappointed office-seeker, perhaps a little crazy. Both are true, but only scratch the surface of the madness a man can exhibit when he gives himself over to megalomania. At first, he was part of a commune that believed in “complex marriage.” He later tried to fashion an identity as a traveling evangelist, but most of his traveling was to stay one step ahead of those to whom he owed money.

After Garfield’s election, Guiteau believed he himself was responsible for the victory and that he was owed an ambassadorship to France. He was wildly out of touch with reality. He finally came to the conclusion that God wanted him to remove Garfield so that the vice president, Chester Arthur, would become president, which would pave the way for Guiteau to realize his dreams. He thought the American people would hail him as a hero. He was literally out of his mind.

The entire American public followed the drama of Garfield’s treatment, hoping that the man they admired would recover from his wounds. The greatest irony is that he would have recovered, if not for the proud, arrogant doctor who took charge of his care—a doctor who rejected the new theory of protecting against germs and infection. Garfield eventually succumbed due to the mistreatment he received at that doctor’s hands. Along the way, the author also gets us better acquainted with Alexander Graham Bell, who was called upon to try a new invention to find the bullet lodged in the president.

The story is tragic. Yet it is a story well told, one that will grip you as you quickly pass from chapter to chapter. Even though you know the ending, you keep hoping it won’t turn out the way it did. In short, this is a terrific read, one that you won’t soon forget.

Laboring with Gratitude

Labor Day 2011. Is this really something I want to celebrate? Let me begin Biblically with a passage that speaks to the concept of work and wealth creation. It’s from Deuteronomy 8:16-18:

In the wilderness He fed you manna which your fathers did not know, that He might humble you and that He might test you, to do good for you in the end. Otherwise, you may say in your heart, “My power and the strength of my hand made me this wealth.” But you shall remember the Lord your God, for it is He who is giving you power to make wealth, that He may confirm the covenant which He swore to your fathers.

What does this passage say to me? First, God is our provider. Second, whenever we take credit ourselves for building up wealth, we are forgetting who gave us the abilities we possess. Third, God is not opposed to wealth creation, to working hard to provide for ourselves and our families; He just wants us to do so with the right attitude of gratitude for His blessings.

This is a good starting place. No matter how wealthy one becomes, it means nothing in the Lord’s eyes if that person does not acknowledge Him. No matter how diligent a worker one may be, again it means nothing if it isn’t intertwined with an appreciation of the gifts and abilities provided by Him.

This particular day, Labor Day, is supposed to honor the average worker. A couple things need to be understood first. There should be no dichotomy created between those who labor as entrepreneurs and executives, on the one hand, and those who perform what are called blue-collar jobs. Everyone works. There is no particular dignity attached to either management or “labor.” Anyone who carries out his job with gratitude, and who sees it as a calling from God, is honored by Him. There is no reason to assign greater honor to those in blue-collar positions.

Yet Labor Day seeks to do that. Why? Well, this won’t go over well with some, but I’ll venture here anyway. The roots of the holiday stem from a socialist agenda that pits management against workers. Throughout labor history, socialism and communism have played a significant role. And the reason they were able to make inroads into the movement is that some in management made such poor decisions that they, in effect, pushed people toward the socialist solution.

This history of labor unions is spotty at best. We could start with the Haymarket riots that erupted in Chicago in 1886. A strike led to violence in which policemen were killed. Then there was the Homestead Strike in 1892 against one of Andrew Carnegie’s steel plants. It turned into a pitched battle where strikebreakers were attacked and killed. Two years later, the Pullman Strike against the railroads also got out of control. The workers at the Pullman factory had legitimate grievances, but when federal troops arrived to protect the running of the trains for mail service, again riots ensued. Railcars were tipped over; buildings were set on fire; people were killed in the melee. It took great force to stem the violent tide.

During the Great Depression, FDR courted union favor and put the government on their side. FDR’s New Deal was very anti-business, and government encroached on areas where it had never been before. Result? The Great Depression never really went away until after WWII. Some analysts say that real prosperity didn’t return until the 1950s. Yet the unions had it good. Their power grew exponentially. Union leadership became part of the privileged class, not much different than highly paid executives.

Union membership has decreased dramatically in the past few decades. Union leaders fear their loss of power. The Obama administration has given them new life. Organizations such as the SEIU have figured prominently in administration circles. The latest battleground was Wisconsin where a new Republican governor and Republican-controlled legislature, facing imminent financial disaster, largely due to state expenses for union benefits, passed a law that cut back on union power in negotiating. Remember the scene? Protesters taking over the Capitol? Thugs menacing the families of legislators? Democrat politicians fleeing the state to try to stop the new law from being passed? The trashing of the Capitol building itself, which cost quite a bit to repair?

They lost anyway. Hopefully, this is an indication that their day has gone. By the way, that hated law has resulted in jobs being saved. Have you heard much about that from the mainstream media? I thought not.

Radicalism is alive and well in America. This past May Day, the SEIU coordinated a protest with other organizations of like mind. Which ones? Here are some pictures from that protest:

Posters honoring Vladimir Lenin and Che Guevara don’t inspire me.

On this Labor Day, let’s honor genuine, honest labor, whether it is classified as blue-collar, white-collar, or any other type of collar you prefer. Let’s remember that it is God who gives us the ability to make wealth, and let’s labor with gratitude for His provision. Above all, let’s do all that we do for His glory.

Is This a Libyan Spring or a Fall?

It’s been a while since I’ve said anything about the events in Libya, but a lot has transpired in the past week or so. It’s probably not a subject that interests a majority of our citizens; Libya seems so far away and disconnected from life here. Yet we may be seeing a change similar to what is taking place in Egypt, which can have serious ramifications.

There are still those who tout the so-called “Arab Spring” as a testimony of the desire for freedom. Look at Egypt. What we witness instead is a rise of the Muslim Brotherhood and a turn against Israel. I wasn’t the only one who warned against this back when the protests began. Take off the fantasy glasses and glimpse the reality of that situation. The same applies to Libya.

Who is really going to be in charge there? It’s one thing to get rid of a maniacal dictator; it’s something else entirely to set up a working government. What practice do these rebels have in constructing governments?

It reminds me of President William McKinley’s reasoning when, in 1898, he had to decide whether to take responsibility for the Philippines after the Spanish-American War. His prime consideration was that the people had never governed themselves before, but had been under the thumb of an autocratic Spanish regime for centuries. How then could they be expected to manage on their own? They first had to learn how to govern. A guerrilla war broke out against American control, but eventually died down due to the benign oversight provided by American governors, particularly William Howard Taft. If the guerrillas had taken over, there would have been a repeat of Spanish rule in the sense that a few at the top would have been making all the decisions. It undoubtedly would have devolved into a tyranny. Under American auspices, the Philippines became the first Asian nation to elect its own congress, and finally achieved independence.

Libya is in the same straits. The people have never governed themselves. The most likely outcome will be either an Islamist sect crushing all opposition, or the ascendance of some other tyranny. There will be a bloodbath as they fight for supremacy.

Don’t expect stability anytime soon.

Meanwhile, what has become of Qaddafi [or however you spell it]?

In one way, this is comedy; yet I fear it will be mixed with tragedy.

The Baneful Effects of a Third Party in Presidential Elections

Earlier this month, I spoke at the Winter Haven, Florida, 9-12 Project. Last night I was closer to home at the Lakeland 9-12 Project meeting. As with the Winter Haven group, these are sincere citizens who want to see substantive change, as opposed to a vague, dreamy “hope-and-change” mantra without meaning. They are committed to restoring the original intent of the Constitution and in helping educate the public on basic principles.

My topic was the effect of third parties on elections. Here are a few of my prime examples.

In 1844, the Liberty Party entered the presidential election as an alternative to the Democrats and Whigs. This party had one issue only—the abolition of slavery. James G. Birney, a man of principle and courage was its presidential candidate. He had put his life on the line many times for his beliefs. I admire him. But since this was a one-issue party, defeat was inevitable; you have to develop a broad agenda and distinct philosophy of government to attract more people to your side. However, this small party probably turned the election in a direction it wouldn’t have gone otherwise. The Democrats were the pro-slavery party, while the Whigs, though divided on the issue, at least had some reformers who wanted to take steps to eliminate slavery. If any progress were to be made for abolition of slavery, it would have been far better had the Whigs won. However, the Liberty Party, although it took only 2% of the popular vote, drained enough support from the Whigs that the Democrats carried New York, the state with the largest number of electoral votes. If the Whigs had won that state, their candidate, Henry Clay, would have been president. Instead, we got James Polk, who supported the slave system.

Then, in 1912, Theodore Roosevelt challenged sitting president William Howard Taft for the Republican nomination. Roosevelt was denied the nomination, and was so angered by it that he started his own third party known as the Progressives [with a nickname of Bull Moose]. Roosevelt effectively split the Republican vote in that election, putting Democrat Woodrow Wilson in the White House. Wilson, who was even more progressive than Roosevelt, championed the idea that the Constitution was a “living document,” and that original intent should be shelved. If Taft hadn’t been opposed by Roosevelt, he probably would have won reelection and Wilson never would have become president—he garnered only 42% of the popular vote.

Finally, in 1992, the entrance of Ross Perot into the race took away 19% of the vote that traditionally would have gone to the Republicans. The result? The presidency of Bill Clinton.

More often than not, third parties allow someone to win who normally wouldn’t. And the one who wins quite often is worse than the one from whom votes were drained. In an attempt to achieve the perfect, third parties usually end up providing us with a raw deal. As the cliché goes, the perfect can be the enemy of the good.

If I have one electoral fear right now, it’s that someone, whether it be Donald Trump or Ron Paul, will decide to run as a third-party candidate in 2012, thereby ensuring an Obama reelection. I hope history can come along and be a guide—don’t destroy our best chance of reversing what has occurred on Obama’s watch. Don’t allow disunity to give this man a second term. I’m not sure the country can survive another four years.