Obama vs. the Founding Fathers

On President Obama’s favorite “news” station, MSNBC, over a week ago, he was interviewed by Chris Matthews on Hardball. Matthews, you might remember, is the one for whom Obama’s election sent a thrill up his leg, which means he is of course a serious, non-biased interviewer who won’t let anyone get away with silly comments. Well, you judge.

In the course of that interview, Obama declared, “There actually is probably less war and less violence around the world today than there might have been 30-40 years ago.” Does that strike you as an intelligent, discerning statement? Or does it lend itself to the diminution of an already diminished presidency?

Less Violence

Respect for this kind of “leadership” is hard to come by. That statement is from the man who still refuses to identify the victims of terrorism as Christians and the perpetrators as Muslims. This is the man who has sidelined the war on terror because he doesn’t think it exists. The facts just don’t back him up:

Never Say Never

This is also the man who thinks that Iran will join the civilized world if only we give them what they want. He perhaps views himself in the Reagan mold when he reached agreement with the Soviets. Reagan, though, had a guiding principle for those negotiations: trust but verify. Obama has modified that somewhat:

Trust

He also seeks to do what Reagan did not do: carry on this negotiation and “deal” with Iran unilaterally, without any congressional oversight or approval. The Constitution clearly says that all treaties must be ratified by a 2/3 vote of the Senate. The way around this is to say this is not a treaty, just an agreement. Yeah, that’s a big difference. Whom is he kidding? His concept of an ideal government is slightly different than that of the Founding Fathers:

Branches of Govt

I’ve studied the Founding Fathers. I believe I know what they thought, and why they thought it. This much I do know: they had far more knowledge of the operation of government and far more wisdom as to what makes for a balanced government than Barack Obama will ever have. I trust their judgment above his any day.

John Jay: Christian Statesman

John Jay 1How about a little wisdom from one of America’s Founders today? Most people are not too familiar with John Jay, but he was central to almost every major event of the Founding. Jay served in the Continental Congress, was one of the principal leaders in the debates leading to Independence, was elected president of Congress at one point, and was appointed one of the peace commissioners who negotiated the end of the American Revolution.

Afterwards, he, along with James Madison and Alexander Hamilton, authored some of the Federalist Papers, which today are still the best source for knowing how the Founders understood the nation’s new Constitution. Then, after Washington was inaugurated, he was chosen to be the first Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court.

Later, Jay resigned from that position because he was elected governor of New York. As governor, he saw the fulfillment of one of his lifelong goals: he signed a law leading to the eventual abolition of slavery in that state.

When Jay finally retired from public service, he became president of the American Bible Society. His Christian faith was the bedrock of his life. This is seen in a number of his writings. For instance, in a letter to Rev. Jedidiah Morse, he opined,

Providence has given to our people the choice of their rulers, and it is the duty, as well as the privilege and interest of our Christian nation to select and prefer Christians for their rulers.

Notice he considered America to be founded as a Christian nation—not artificially by legislative fiat, but as a matter of choice. The only way a nation can be truly Christian is if the people voluntarily consider Christianity to be the framework for their thinking, their culture, and their laws.

In that same letter to Morse, he commented on the Bible and how it fits into history:

It is to be regretted, but so I believe the fact to be, that except the Bible there is not a true history in the world. Whatever may be the virtue, discernment, and industry of the writers, I am persuaded that truth and error (though in different degrees) will imperceptibly become and remain mixed and blended until they shall be separated forever by the great and last refining fire.

As a historian, I can vouch for that. All histories are a mixture of truth and error, no matter how conscientious we may be. God’s Word, though, can be relied on as absolute truth.

Finally, here is Jay’s perception of the validity of Christianity:

I have long been of opinion that the evidence of the truth of Christianity requires only to be carefully examined to produce conviction in candid minds.

In other words, a clearheaded examination of the claims of the Christian faith should lead anyone with an open heart to the conclusion that it, and only it, is the true explanation of the condition of mankind, the nature of God, and the way to salvation.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if a majority of our elected leaders had the same views and character as John Jay? Well, that’s up to us. As Jay said, it is the duty, the privilege, and the interest of the voters to select Christians for their leaders. If we don’t have those kinds of leaders, the fault lies with us.

Constitution Day at SEU: Religious Liberty & Social Justice

On September 17, 1787, thirty-nine men put their signatures on a document intended to chart a course for the future of the fairly new United States of America. Each year, we commemorate that event as we celebrate one of the best set of by-laws ever created by a nation. At Southeastern, we always seek to use that commemoration to help students, faculty, and staff appreciate more fully what these men did, as they labored over the concepts and wording to be presented to the people for ratification.

In past years, we’ve been blessed to have excellent speakers for Constitution Day: John Ashcroft, the former attorney general; Charles Canady, the current chief justice of the Florida Supreme Court and a former congressman who served as one of the House Managers for the impeachment trial of Bill Clinton; and Michael Farris, founder of the Home School Legal Defense Association and Patrick Henry College.

Snyder-AndersonThis year, we reached into the Heritage Foundation, one of the premier public policy research arms in the nation, and were pleased to invite to campus Mr. Ryan Anderson, Heritage’s William E. Simon Fellow in Religion and a Free Society. Anderson is co-author of a book entitled What Is Marriage? Man and Woman: A Defense. He’s also an expert on religious liberty and the essential nature of a civil society.

Anderson offered two sessions: “Threats to Religious Liberty in America Today” and “A Conservative Understanding of Social Justice.” Personally, I was gratified to see how well attended both sessions were. I had hoped the subject matter would attract great interest, and I was right.

In the first session, Anderson spent some time laying the groundwork for what the Founders did for religious liberty. How can one understand what the current threats are if one doesn’t have a working knowledge of what was intended? America, he showed, set up a polity whereby no one would be persecuted for one’s religious beliefs. That didn’t mean, though, that the Founders were apathetic to religion; instead, they grasped the truth that government should not be the judge of religious truth. That goes beyond the scope of the civil government.

After surveying the attitudes and reasoning of the Founders, Anderson then turned to the various and ever-increasing threats we now face with respect to religious liberty. He cited a flurry of episodes just in the past few months that have seriously curtailed religious liberty in general, but more specifically, the liberty of evangelical Christians to practice their faith publicly. The Obama administration has pushed an agenda to change freedom of religion into freedom of worship, meaning we can do whatever we want within the four walls of our churches but must never allow those beliefs to affect the public sphere. The “rights” of minorities—in particular, homosexuals—trump religious liberty rights, at least in the minds of those at the helm of our federal government at the moment. Those in attendance—an overflow with some sitting on the floor—seemed appropriately impressed with the danger we now face.

Ryan Anderson Session

In his second session on social justice, Anderson contrasted two extreme views of that term—the rigid libertarian vs. the government welfare models—and showed the weaknesses of both. The liberal, progressive welfare state, he said, does not achieve genuine justice; it merely redistributes money and traps people in poverty. On the other hand, a too-doctrinaire libertarianism doesn’t take into account the common good; it simply advocates individual license to do whatever one desires. A truly Biblical and conservative position, he contended, recognizes the essential nature of the free market as the only path to a vibrant economy and the way out of poverty, while simultaneously encouraging those who succeed to actively work on behalf of those who are struggling.

Anderson’s presentations were cogent, articulate, and well-reasoned. Many who attended have told me how valuable they were to the ongoing conversation we need to have on these issues and how much they appreciated what he brought to the discussion. This is what a university should be. We saw it in operation this week.

Now, let’s work to preserve what we can of our Constitution. We dismiss its wisdom at our peril.

Little Men Who Think They Are Big

I never refer to the American governmental experiment as a democracy; rather, it is a republic. A pure democracy is when whatever 51% want becomes the law, regardless of its wisdom or the rights of the other 49%. A republic, on the other hand, maintains respect for the rule of law and guarantees that certain rights are protected no matter what the majority may want.

The view that the people, as a collective, are always right is fallacious. The voters make huge mistakes all the time. Yet so do kings and totalitarian rulers. What, then, is the solution? Our Founders came up with an arrangement that sought to minimize the sinfulness and foolishness of man. The federal republic they created, while not perfect, since there is no perfect system in this world, nevertheless has the potential to diminish the bad effects of man’s selfish tendencies. At any rate, it seeks to divide the powers of government in such a way that no one man or select group can control everything at once. The goal was to avoid tyranny.

C. S. Lewis, although using the word “democracy” to describe representative government, also understood the basic problem. Here’s how he explains it:

I believe in political equality. But there are two opposite reasons for being a democrat. You may think all men so good that they deserve a share in the government of the commonwealth, and so wise that the commonwealth needs their advice. That is, in my opinion, the false, romantic doctrine of democracy.

On the other hand, you may believe fallen men to be so wicked that not one of them can be trusted with any irresponsible power over his fellows. That I believe to be the true ground of democracy. I do not believe that God created an egalitarian world. I believe the authority of parent over child, husband over wife, learned over simple, to have been as much a part of the original plan as the authority of man over beast.

Always beware of men appearing in the guise of political saviors. They promise to right all wrongs, provide for all needs, and wipe every tear from your eyes. That “god” will always fail. Again, Lewis says it well:

Democracy demands that little men should not take big ones too seriously; it dies when it is full of little men who think they are big themselves.

I fear we have a plethora of little men in positions of authority who believe their own propaganda about how great they are. We the people must share the blame. The old cliché remains true: the government is merely a reflection of the character of those who elected it.

A Short Gun-Control Commentary: Let the Cartoons Speak

The gun-control debate is just so ripe for humor. President Obama wants us to take seriously the comments of children who write pretty much whatever their parents/teachers tell them. I wonder if he got a note like this one from any of the children?

Then there’s the out-of-touch crowd when it comes to knowing what’s really going on in the world:

Not to mention those who are a little short on the logic ladder:

Since the Founders can’t really come back to tutor us, perhaps we should at least read what they left us. That legacy remains. For how long, though, is the unanswerable question. We’ll have to wait and see.

Constitutional Limitations & Obama

Who cares about constitutional limitations? Certainly not Barack Obama. He likes to let people know he was a professor of constitutional law, but the truth is that 1) he was a lecturer, not a professor per se, and 2) he has no regard for the document at all. He’s referred to it as an encumbrance that gets in the way of his goal of transforming America.

As I noted yesterday, and as at least some of the media have picked up on, he doesn’t really believe the country has a spending problem. He made this clear in his supposed negotiations with John Boehner:

Some may wonder how he can be so blind. Well, ideology creates blindness, and this president is the most radical ideologist who has ever occupied 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. He’s so wedded to his Marxist, anti-imperialist, bring-down-America views that he can’t deal with reality:

Back to his disregard for the Constitution: he now wants unilateral authority to raise the debt ceiling, as if Congress doesn’t exist. He seeks unlimited power to spend and go into debt, and thinks there should be no repercussions. Even most kings at the time of the writing of the Constitution couldn’t do that. The Founders set up a balanced form of government that clearly delineated the powers of the presidency. Obama desires to toss aside all their hard work that created a federal republic to protect liberty.

Then there was the suggestion yesterday, floated by none other than Joe Biden, that Obama could use executive orders to curtail firearms. Going back again to the Founders and the Constitution, the Second Amendment specifically says, “A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.” The militia mentioned in the amendment, taken in the context of the era, referred to the body of the whole people of a state, not some appendage of the government. The whole point was to be able to halt any tyranny imposed by the government.

The only legitimate, legal way to get around that amendment, which is part of the cornerstone of constitutional government that protects liberty, is to ratify another amendment rescinding the first one. That happened with prohibition. Three-fourths of the states would have to agree that the right to keep and bear arms no longer is in effect. Not even Congress has the authority to pass a law wiping this out.

Yet what is Obama hinting at? He seems to believe he can just sign an executive order and make anything happens that he wishes. Executive orders are not even mentioned in the Constitution. They are supposed to be merely a way for presidents to set up rules for how the executive branch of the government will operate. They are to apply to the bureaucracy only; they should have no direct effect on citizens, and certainly no effect on a ratified constitutional amendment.

Obama’s apologists will say that other presidents have used executive orders in this fashion. True, but hardly a rationale for doing so again. Just because other presidents have done something unconstitutional is no basis for allowing this president to continue the practice. The most egregious use of executive orders came in the 1930s during FDR’s New Deal. Roosevelt simply declared that all Americans had to turn in their gold to the federal government. He had no authority to declare any such thing, yet he did it. He then exchanged their gold for Federal Reserve Notes, which became the only currency allowed in the country. It was a display of raw power, and it worked. But that didn’t make it right.

If Obama follows through on this threat, he will further solidify the opinion of many that he seeks to set up a presidential dictatorship. How, one may ask, can this be possible in a nation that values liberty? Well, look at the last election. How much do we really value liberty anymore? Anyone with any sense at all knew what Obama wanted to do. Yes, he is a problem, but we are the greater problem:

Obama’s ideology and goals have been transparent from the start. Some of us are willfully blind about them, others are deceived, and still others have converted to his way of thinking. We are on the precipice. Will we pull back and regain our liberty? Will we take back Obama’s “hope and change” slogan and put it to good use this time? Let’s hope it’s not too late for change.

Why the Electoral College?

“Do away with the electoral college!” That’s the cry that emanated from some Democrats after the 2000 election when Al Gore won the popular vote but George Bush won the electoral vote and the presidency. Some, including Hillary Clinton, called for a change in the Constitution to a simply majority vote nationwide to determine the winner. I believe that would be shortsighted and a detriment to our political system. Why? Let me offer a short history of why the Founders chose this method.

  • Are you aware that the Constitution says nothing about the people as a whole voting for the president?
  • Did you know that there was no popular vote for presidential candidates in the first elections, and that it only became widespread in the 1820s?
  • Further, do you realize that the controversial 2000 election could have been decided constitutionally without counting even one vote in Florida? A riot might have ensued, but it could have been done without violating the rule of law.

The Constitution never uses the term “electoral college,” but that’s how we describe the method set up there for choosing a president. The choice rests, not with a popular vote, but with electors selected by state legislatures. The Founders gave the people a vote for their representatives in the House, but senators were sent to the nation’s capital by state legislatures [another whole blog post would be needed to cover that] and those same legislatures were tasked with picking the official slate of electors who would cast a state’s vote for president. Why was this?

The reasoning behind it was that legislatures would choose the most trusted, wisest people in the state to decide among the various candidates. That part of the electoral college system hasn’t worked as intended. They apparently didn’t foresee the country dividing into a rigid party system. Today, when the legislatures pick their electors, they follow the popular vote total for the state and send the slate of electors for the winning party. So, in practice, all the legislatures are doing is rubber-stamping what the people have decided. That’s one reason some say the method should be discarded: it doesn’t accomplish the purpose for which it was established.

However, there is another aspect of the electoral college system that works quite well, and the main reason why I want to keep it intact—it provides for a proportional vote for the presidency, allowing every state to have some say in who that next president should be. Let me illustrate with that famous map that was circulating on the internet shortly after Bush was declared the winner in 2000. Look at it carefully:

What you see are all the counties in the nation. Every county in red was one Bush took; the blue counties were won by Gore. There is a pattern in the voting. Gore wins most of the big cities/heavily populated areas [plus Indian reservations], while Bush is victorious in the overwhelming number of those counties. In fact, you could travel from the east coast to the west and never cross a county that went for Gore.

Why is this significant?

If we went to a simple majority vote for the presidency, no candidate would ever find his way to many of the states. The entire mid-section of the nation would never see a presidential contender during a campaign. They would spend all their time in the heavy population areas because that’s where they would win the most votes. Gore won the popular vote by taking big majorities from places like New York City, Chicago, and Los Angeles. That means candidates would have to woo urban voters who have their own priorities and policy preferences. Meanwhile, other segments of the population—rural, small town people—who might have different priorities and views of what the government should be doing, would be ignored. No one would ever visit Oklahoma, for instance, or Wyoming, or North Dakota. It wouldn’t be worth the time.

At least with the current system, every state has some proportional weight in determining the winner. Candidates cannot dismiss the interests of the vast middle section of the country. The three electoral votes of Wyoming might sometime play a pivotal role in deciding the victor. No one can be ignored completely.

While no electoral system is perfect, I believe allowing states some proportional say is a vast improvement on a simplistic nationwide majority vote. Why should the desires of New York City and a few select other urban areas overwhelm the wishes of other sectors of the nation? Don’t worry, New York; you still have a greater proportional vote in the selection. But the current method is far more representative of all the interests of our nation.