Memorial Day 2013

Memorial Day 2As I reflect on Memorial Day, I try to make it as personal as I can. That’s not easy because I never served in the military. My dad was in the newly formed Army Air Force after WWII, so he didn’t see combat. His brother—my uncle—was in the service during the Korean War, but I don’t recall any particular information about that; I don’t think he actually went to Korea. If he had seen combat, I assume I would have heard about it.

When I reached the age where I could possibly become part of the armed forces, Vietnam was in full bloom. I went to college right after high school, thereby earning a deferment. The draft was on, but protests against it, and Vietnam in particular, led to a new system—kind of a lottery—where dates of the year were pulled out of a drum, and each draftable guy was assigned a number according to his birthday. I remember watching the news that evening, waiting to see the number for my birthday. It turned out to be #254, meaning I didn’t have to worry about being drafted. My college roommate, however, came up #16, so he voluntarily signed up for the Air Force, headed to officer training.

So I went on with my life, got married, and never even considered joining the military. I believed God had other plans, and He did. But that doesn’t mean I don’t appreciate those who have served. Those post-Vietnam years were bad for the armed forces: returning GIs being called baby-killers; Congress cutting back on national defense to the point that spare parts for airplanes, etc., were unavailable; an honorable service turned into dishonor by the prevailing post-Vietnam syndrome.

Ronald Reagan restored our national defense and brought the proper kind of pride back to the military. Once again, it is honorable to serve. Yes, we’ve done our best to turn each branch of the armed forces into a social engineering project with the outright acceptance of homosexuality, thereby damaging the luster of military service. But I’m going to continue to honor those who serve and recognize those who have died in an attempt to rid the world of the evils of taxation without representation and attacks on liberty of conscience (American Revolution), naval impressment and national disrespect (War of 1812), slavery and illegal rebellion against lawful authority (Civil War), despotic colonialism (Spanish-American War), German militarism (WWI), Nazism and other forms of fascism (WWII), communism (Korea and Vietnam), Middle East dictators (Gulf War), and radical Islam (War on Terror).

On the whole, the United States military has been used to carry out noble objectives, even in wars that brought protests and disunity at home. The soldiers who served, and particularly those who died in their service, deserve to be acknowledged and honored on this day.

Korean War Memorial

Obama: Dishonoring Margaret Thatcher

Today is Margaret Thatcher’s funeral. It’s such a special occasion for the British that even the queen will be there to pay her respects. The last time she attended a funeral for a former prime minister was in 1965 to mark the passing of Winston Churchill. However, today is also a day of insult, and the British have noticed the slight. There will be no representative present from the Obama administration.

Those who think this is no big deal will point to the fact that no administration figure attended the funeral of Hugo Chavez of Venezuela last month. Apples and oranges. Chavez was a Marxist radical who hated the United States. Obama knew he couldn’t openly mourn the loss of a dictator who persecuted Jews, served as a banker for Iran, and trampled the civil liberties of his own people as he built up a personal cult following. Ideologically, Obama was practically Chavez’s soulmate, but he had to stifle his admiration for appearance’ sake.

Thatcher, on the other hand, was America’s best friend during her tenure as prime minister. She and Ronald Reagan teamed up to deal the death blow to the old Soviet Union without, as she famously noted, firing a single shot. Both leaders brought their nations back from the brink of fiscal disaster, and both restored the proper kind of pride in their countries. Neither do I believe it is coincidental that both were firm in their Christian faith.

As most of the civilized world—or what remains of it—pauses to reflect on Margaret Thatcher’s accomplishments, may we see in her life an example of fortitude and devotion to principle that inspires.

Margaret Thatcher: Conviction, Not Consensus

Margaret Thatcher, prime minister of Britain from 1979-1990, departed this world yesterday morning and, I hope, has entered into an eternity without the pain and weakness she had to endure over the past few years. Raised a Methodist, daughter of a middle-class grocer, not born into privilege, she had to work hard to earn a university degree, become accepted into the gentleman’s world of politics, and rise, improbably, to the highest elected office in her land. Determined, conservative, and confident in the rightness of her beliefs, she brought Britain back from the edge of a socialist abyss and restored prosperity through the privatization of industry and controls on spending. If nothing else, she showed that a nation can be rescued from the brink of disaster, thereby offering hope for America at this critical time in which we now live.

Even before she took the leadership of the Conservative Party, and before her prime ministership, her indomitable spirit earned her the epithet “The Iron Lady,” a nickname that first came from the Soviets. She always liked it.

Throughout the 1980s, she partnered with Ronald Reagan to reverse the tide of Soviet aggression; the two saw eye-to-eye on almost everything, united in philosophy and faith. He called her Maggie and she referred to him as Ronnie. They got on famously, a relationship built on mutual respect, and one that, for at least a brief moment in history, led to the ascendance of liberty over totalitarianism. In addition, both followed policies that revived their ailing nations—policies that now have been abandoned, the sad consequences of that abandonment becoming more evident over time.

Thatcher spoke her mind and never minced words. She told it straight. By doing so, she developed an avid following of admirers on both sides of the Atlantic. The critics were just as avid.

I scoured the Internet yesterday for samples of Thatcher’s straightforwardness in speaking. I found a treasure trove of examples. Here are a few, beginning with comments on the economy and socialism:

Gentlemen, if we don’t cut spending, we will be bankrupt. Yes, the medicine is harsh, but the patient requires it in order to live. Should we withhold the medicine? No. We are not wrong. We did not seek election and win in order to manage the decline of a great nation.

Socialist governments traditionally do make a financial mess. They always run out of other people’s money. It’s quite a characteristic of them.

Mrs. Thatcher also had a lot to say about being principled:

There are dangers in consensus: it could be an attempt to satisfy people holding no particular views about anything. No great party can survive except on the basis of firm beliefs about what it wants to do.

To me, consensus seems to be the process of abandoning all principles, beliefs, values, and policies. So it is something in which no one believes and to which no one objects.

Standing in the middle of the road is very dangerous; you get knocked down by the traffic from both sides.

Do you think you would have ever heard of Christianity if the Apostles had gone out and said, “I believe in consensus?”

I am not a consensus politician. I am a conviction politician.

She also could manifest a biting wit:

If you want something said, ask a man. If you want something done, ask a woman.

Being powerful is like being a lady. If you have to tell people you are, you aren’t.

I am extraordinarily patient, provided I get my own way in the end.

When I’m out of politics, I’m going to run a business; it’ll be called rent-a-spine.

If my critics saw me walking over the Thames they would say it was because I couldn’t swim.

I think our world needs more Margaret Thatchers. Iron Lady indeed.

I never say “rest in peace.” If we are in the presence of God, we will always be busy, but we will enjoy our tasks. I believe Margaret Thatcher is already about her Father’s business in her new location. She is content, but we will miss her. May many more conviction politicians fill the gaping hole she and Ronald Reagan have left.

Our Budget-Conscious President

I’ve had some pretty serious things to say the past few days, and they were things that needed to be said. How about some levity today? What’s nice about looking for levity is that often you don’t have to stray past a new Obama headline in the news. A couple days ago, I heard this joke:

President Barack Obama, who has increased the national debt by $53,377 per household, has proclaimed April “National Financial Capability Month,” during which his administration will do things such as teach young people “how to budget responsibly.”

“I call upon all American to observe this month with programs and activities to improve their understanding of financial principles and practices,” Obama said in an official proclamation released Friday.

“My administration is dedicated to helping people make sound decisions in the marketplace,” he said.

Alright now, get up off the floor. Laughing that hard could cause long-term physical damage. Yes, I know Obama hasn’t yet submitted his budget for this year. Yes, I know he plans to submit it 65 days late, thereby violating the law. Yes, I realize this is the third year in a row he has done this. And yes, I understand he’s the only president in American history to have submitted late budgets in consecutive years. Hey, give the guy a break. He’s never run anything before that required a budget. Everyone needs some on-the-job training. What’s that? You say you don’t want him teaching your children how to budget? Why, think of what they could learn from his experience!

Besides, the job of being president is so wearying that both Obama and his family need an occasional vacation:

George Bush got out of Washington quite often also, but spent most of those days at his own ranch in Texas, where he continued to work. Same with Ronald Reagan, who signed his major tax cut bill at his ranch outside Santa Barbara, California. It’s more the nature of the Obamas’ vacations that stand out. They’re always at some fancy resort or super-expensive locale—all at the taxpayers’ expense, of course.

Having this president lecture anyone on fiscal responsibility is like listening to Bill Clinton speak on the importance of marital fidelity.

The Wisdom of Ronald Reagan

Yesterday was Ronald Reagan’s birthday. He would have been 102. Many of us long to have a president like him again. To commemorate his presidency and to remind you of his insights, I hereby present an excerpt from one of his most famous speeches. In 1983, he spoke to the National Association of Evangelicals, where he blatantly called the Soviet Union an evil empire. He was correct. Yet, beyond that, I hope you can see the heart of the man through these words:

We must never forget that no government schemes are going to perfect man. We know that living in this world means dealing with what philosophers would call the phenomenology of evil or, as theologians would put it, the doctrine of sin. There is sin and evil in the world, and we’re enjoined by Scripture and the Lord Jesus to oppose it with all our might.…

They [the Soviets] must be made to understand we will never compromise our principles and standards. We will never give away our freedom. We will never abandon our belief in God.…

Let us pray for the salvation of all of those who live in that totalitarian darkness—pray they will discover the joy of knowing God. But until they do, let us be aware that while they preach the supremacy of the state, declare its omnipotence over individual man, and predict its eventual domination of all peoples on the Earth, they are the focus of evil in the modern world.

It was C. S. Lewis who, in his unforgettable “Screwtape Letters,” wrote: “The greatest evil is not done now in those sordid ‘dens of  crime’ that Dickens loved to paint. It is not even done in concentration camps and labor camps. In those we see its final result. But it is conceived and ordered (moved, seconded, carried and minuted) in clear, carpeted, warmed, and well-lighted offices, by quiet men with white collars and cut fingernails and smooth-shaven cheeks who do not need to raise their voice.” …

You know, I’ve always believed that old Screwtape reserved his best efforts for those of you in the church. So, in your discussions of the nuclear freeze proposals, I urge you to beware the temptation of pride—the temptation of blithely declaring yourselves above it all and label both sides equally at fault, to ignore the facts of history and the aggressive impulses of an evil empire, to simply call the arms race a giant misunderstanding and thereby remove yourself from the struggle between right and wrong and good and evil.…

While America’s military strength is important, let me add here that I’ve always maintained that the struggle now going on for the world will never be decided by bombs or rockets, by armies or military might. The real crisis we face today is a spiritual one; at root, it is a test of moral will and faith.

Whittaker Chambers, the man whose own religious conversion made him a witness to one of the terrible traumas of our time, the Hiss-Chambers case, wrote that the crisis of the Western World exists to the degree in which the West is indifferent to God, the degree to which it collaborates in communism’s attempt to make man stand alone without God. And then he said, for Marxism-Leninism is actually the second oldest faith, first proclaimed in the Garden of Eden with the words of temptation, “Ye shall be as gods.”

The Western World can answer this challenge, he wrote, “but only provided that its faith in God and the freedom He enjoins is as great as communism’s faith in Man.”

There is much wisdom in those words, and they still apply today.

Tax Rates: Reagan vs. Obama

Now that we’re talking about taxing the rich more and face the specter of all the Bush tax cuts being eliminated, I thought I’d look up some figures from the 1980s to see what happened when Ronald Reagan lowered the tax rates. How did this affect revenue? An article from the Cato Institute provides the numbers. The author of the article, Richard Rahn, notes that most of the Reagan tax cuts were applied to those in the middle- and lower-income brackets, which is something that may surprise some readers who are used to being told Republicans only give tax breaks to the rich.

According to the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), total tax revenues in the 1980s did fall as a portion of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP), but the reason that percentage went down is because the economy grew at an astounding rate. In real terms, it grew 34.3% from 1982 to 1989, “much faster than the 24.3% rate expected even by economists within the Reagan administration. Thus, by the time President Reagan left office, the economy was generating more tax revenue at a maximum 28% rate than many on the left forecast it to generate at a maximum 70% rate.”

In other words, there is a point at which higher tax rates are counterproductive. More revenue can be obtained with moderate rates than with high ones. Rahn concludes, “The Reagan tax-rate reductions did, in fact, pay for themselves—but it took about seven years.”

When Obama says he will only increase taxes on the rich, he’s talking about those who make more than $200,000 per year. Yet many small businesses fall in that category, and they are the ones who create most of the new jobs and fund new investment. In effect, the president will be declaring war on small businesses, and in the process putting more people in the unemployment lines.

In my opinion, that might be what he wants to do. The more people who are dependent on the government for their sustenance, the more loyalty he will generate for himself and his administration. His ideology is Marxist at its core, and he doesn’t really care to create prosperity via the private sector. He would rather see it shrink and watch the government grow more powerful.

Some may protest: surely he wouldn’t want us to follow the same path as other bankrupt nations, would he? I’m not so sure. An ideologue is an ideologue—it’s what motivates him.

We see the same thing happening in some states. California is a prime example. Gov. Jerry Brown is leading the state into increased spending and higher taxes while the state veers toward insolvency. Fortunately, the damage within a state can be contained, and people have the option to go elsewhere, to states that still grasp the basics of how free enterprise works.

So don’t be fooled by the rhetoric of “fairness.” In the end, if Obama and the Democrats get their way, we all will be worse off.

The Election: An Analysis

I spent a good part of my day yesterday culling through analyses of the election in preparation for my talk to a local Republican club last night. But I did more than just gather information; I prayed as I gathered, seeking to know how the Lord wants me, and all Christians in particular, to respond to the results. In today’s post, I’m going to share what I told that group. Tomorrow, I want to address the perspective Christians should have on what has transpired.

Election Results

Obama won nearly every swing state, which was a shock to most prognosticators, myself included. The popular vote was 50-48 in Obama’s favor, but he received about ten million fewer votes than in 2008. Romney underperformed also, receiving nearly three million fewer than McCain did. The great opportunity for Republicans to take the Senate dissipated; not only did they not retake it, but they lost two seats, despite the fact the Democrats had more seats to defend—nearly 2/3 of the races. The House stayed in Republican hands, but even there they lost a few seats. The lone voice for some sanity in Washington, DC, is slightly weakened.

What Does This Election Say about the Electorate?

 We are a severely divided people. The split is almost even, but that masks the downward trend away from a Christian culture. Consider that Obama won without any agenda for a second term, that experiencing the worst economic time since the Great Depression made no difference, and neither did the massive national debt nor Obamacare, which will now surely be fully implemented. Astonishingly, some polls indicated that voters trusted Obama more with handling the economy than Romney, and that 53% still blamed Bush more for the current state of the economy.

One exit poll (I don’t recall where this was asked) sought to measure the impact of Hurricane Sandy on voters. In that poll, 42% said Obama’s response to the hurricane—interrupting his campaign to “take care” of the emergency—was an important factor in their vote for him; 15% said it was the most important factor. What exactly did Obama do besides get a wonderful photo op out of it? Yet these voters “felt” good about his response, so much so that it either solidified their vote or caused them to change it. All too often in politics, perception rules even when it doesn’t comport with reality. These people were voting primarily on emotion, not principle.

In Ohio, the majority approved the government auto bailout. Of that majority, 75% voted for Obama, believing the false narrative the Obama campaign fostered that Romney was a coldhearted vulture capitalist who would have let GM fail completely.  These voters were not thinking about the good of the nation as a whole; they were focused entirely on their own well-being. In this case selfishness won over principle.

Obama promised more goodies that Romney did. Rush Limbaugh nailed it, I believe, when he commented that Romney’s recipe was the traditional route to success called hard work, whereas Obama took the government-will-take-care-of-you path:

In a country of children where the option is Santa Claus or work, what wins? And say what you want, but Romney did offer a vision of traditional America. In his way, he put forth a great vision of traditional America, and it was rejected. It was rejected in favor of a guy who thinks that those who are working aren’t doing enough to help those who aren’t. And that resonated.

When Romney proclaimed that Obama was the candidate of “free stuff,” the voters took him at his word and grabbed for the “stuff.”

We witnessed a populace more concerned about free contraception than the taking of innocent lives through abortion. We saw three states vote in favor of same-sex marriage [if Washington eventually did so—I don’t have the final word on that] and the election of the first openly homosexual senator, Tammy Baldwin in Wisconsin.

The maxim that so many conservatives want to believe, that we are a center-right nation politically, has been proven shaky, if not false. I already questioned that; now we have more evidence that we are more center-left and that the real definition of “moderate” in American politics is “liberal.”

What Does This Election Say about the Republican Party?

Republican turnout was not as high as anticipated. We can legitimately debate the specifics of how the Romney campaign was run—not forcefully combating the false images; expecting the bad economy to carry him to victory by itself; avoiding the ripe topic of Obama’s Libyan foolishness; the adoption of the play-it-safe mentality that worked so well for President Thomas Dewey in 1948 [?]—yet those are tactical questions only. The real issue is what the party is willing to stand for. What is its soul?

American conservatism—which is not the same as the Republican party, but ought to be—is a three-legged stool: economic liberty, moral values based on the Biblical worldview, and commitment to a strong national defense. Romney enunciated the first, hinted at the third, and only vaguely accepted the second. He always has been weaker on abortion and homosexuality, and much of the mainstream Republican establishment agrees with him on those issues. Some Republicans tolerate those evangelicals in their midst because they form a key foundation for political victories, but they don’t really like them.

So what will the party become in the post-2012 age? Will it swing toward a tepid middle-of-the-road philosophy or offer a stark contrast to the statist and antichristian stance of the Democrats? As Grover Cleveland noted after losing his reelection bid in 1888 when he rejected the advice of his advisors to change his political views on one issue: “What is the use of being elected or reelected unless you stand for something?”

To those who say a Biblically based, conservative message will not work, I say it depends on the messenger. There is a way to communicate truth and its application to policy that can win over people. They key is finding the principled politicians who can convey that message effectively. We had some principled politicians this time around—Akin in Missouri, Mourdock in Indiana—who lost due to their verbal stumbles. What the Republican party needs are articulate leaders who can guide those who are open to hearing the truth about how government is supposed to work.

What Does This Election Tell Us about the Future of America?

As I watched the tragedy unfold Tuesday evening, and I came to the realization that Barack Obama will be president for four more years, a profound sadness enveloped me. Some of you know I have a book manuscript that compares the optimism of Ronald Reagan with the pessimism of Whittaker Chambers. I want to be a Reagan optimist, but I admit, by nature, I’m more of a Chambers pessimist. I always need a reason for optimism because I know the human condition too well: sin/selfishness dominates this world. In a letter to a friend, Chambers wrote this in the early 1950s:

On one side are the voiceless masses with their own subdivisions and fractures. On the other side is the enlightened, articulate elite which, to one degree or other, has rejected the religious roots of the civilization—the roots without which it is no longer Western civilization, but a new order of beliefs, attitudes and mandates. The enemy—he is ourselves. That is why it is idle to talk about preventing the wreck of Western civilization. It is already a wreck from within.

Is this true? How far gone are we? While I believe Reagan had good reasons for his optimism in the 1980s, can we say the same today, or has the cultural transformation gone beyond the point of no return? Is there really such a point or is it possible to turn this around? The culture has changed; that much is undeniable. We are undergoing what one commentator calls a “tsunami of secularism.”

We need to rebuild our foundations as a society, but it must begin with a return to the Biblical worldview, which will then lead us back to principles—the general truths that must undergird a society. If that happens, we will then see a renewed commitment to constitutionalism and the rule of law. Only by taking these steps will we be able to restore what has been lost.

I agree with Reagan when he said, “I do not believe in a fate that will fall on us no matter what we do. I do believe in a fate that will fall on us if we do nothing.”

What are Christians to do? How are we to respond to this election? I’ll try to deal with that tomorrow.