The Governing Conumdrum


Right, left, middle, radical, progressive, moderate...? Trying to see both sides with a minimum of bias.

Why do we have so much trouble (a) deciding on a type of government we want and who will lead it, and once we think we have that decided, (b) why are we so damned dissatisfied with everyone we choose? I think the problem is one of humanity and that all-powerful organ, the brain.

Let's first look at our choices at a very high level. And this seems to apply whether we are talking about democracy or an autocracy, although sometimes trying to change an autocracy, be it a monarchy or dictatorship, can be more problematic than doing so in a democracy that is functioning properly. For the sake of this discussion, we'll simply use progressive and conservative points of view. Obviously, both of those tents have their own distribution of views varying from extreme left to right within the context of being either progressive or conservative. First a look at some generalities of principle and purpose for the conservatives and the progressives using a few keywords found in their guiding principles.

My approach here is to present the basic differences, then my analysis of both arguments.

Conservatives: "Since principles are meant to represent our highest ideals and should be based on fundamental truths, they should mostly be unchanging. While good conservatives may have differing viewpoints about some aspects of conservatism, there are certain fundamental principles where we must remain resolute. In fact, at The Heritage Foundation, we call them the True North principles because they represent a fixed direction on which to stay focused, regardless of which ways the forces may be pressuring us." With that opening, they set about defining their guiding principles. I have edited some of the wordier points to be shorter without losing the point. And, I have highlighted in bold what I believe to be keywords.

  1. The federal government is instituted to protect the rights of individuals under natural law; to preserve life, liberty, and property - a mission that includes protecting the sanctity of life and defending the freedom of speech, religion, the press and assembly, the right of individuals to be treated equally and justly under the law, and to enjoy the fruits of their labor.
  2. The federal government's powers should be limited to only those named in the U.S. Constitution and exercised solely to protect the rights of its citizens.
  3. Government functions best when it is closest and most accountable to the people and where power is shared between the federal government and the states.
  4. Individuals and families make the best decisions for themselves and their children about health, education, jobs, and welfare.
  5. America's economy and the prosperity of individual citizens are best served by a system built on free enterprise, economic freedom, private property rights, and the rule of law. This is best sustained by policies that promote general economic freedom and eliminate governmental preferences for special interests, including free trade, deregulation, and opposing government interventions in the economy that distort free markets and impair innovation.
  6. Tax policies should raise the minimum revenue necessary to fund only constitutionally appropriate functions of government.
  7. Regulations should be limited to those that produce a net benefit to the American people as a whole, weighing both financial and liberty costs.
  8. Judges should interpret and apply our laws and the Constitution based on their original meaning, not upon judges' own personal and political predispositions.
  9. America must be a welcoming nation - one that promotes patriotic assimilation and is governed by laws that are fair, humane, and enforced to protect its citizens.
  10. America is strongest when our policies protect our national interests, preserve our alliances of free peoples, vigorously counter threats to our security and interests, and advance prosperity through economic freedom at home and abroad.

"These are just some of the unchanging principles of conservatism."

So, let me try to summarize what the conservatives stand for, according to the Heritage Foundation, and how well they live up to their ideals. Much of what they proclaim to be their guiding principles sound okay, but I'm not convinced their behavior as politicians line up with that.

1. It is not circumstance that natural law and sanctity of life are embedded in their #1 principle. The keywords I've highlighted are natural law, sanctity of life, and defending freedom of speech, religion, press, and assembly, and equality and justice under the law; is that natural law, or the law of the land?

Natural law is an elusive and hotly debated topic and has been since the ancient Greeks defined it. It has been redefined numerous times over the centuries and was largely disregarded in the 20th century until being resurrected by the consevatives in the middle of the 20th century. You can read more of that if you like at the #2 link below. Generally, it is describes as "Natural law is a system of law based on a close observation of human nature, and based on values intrinsic to human nature that can be deduced and applied independent of positive law."

Postive law? "Positive laws may be promulgated, passed, adopted, or otherwise "posited" by an official or entity vested with authority by the government to prescribe the rules and regulations for a particular community." In other words, it means man-made laws.

So, what the hell does all this mean? To try to summarize this requires a hell of a lot more space than I'm devoting to the topic, and this will still be a long treatise. Aristotle held that what was "just by nature" was not always the same as what was "just by law," that there was a natural justice valid everywhere with the same force and "not existing by people's thinking this or that," and that appeal could be made to it from positive law. I think what Ari was saying is that in nature, one animal rips open the throat of another to satisfy hunger - that is a natural law, but that same approach cannot be applied to an orderly society. In Ari's time, women being submissive to men, holding slaves, and barbarianism were all considered to be natural law.

All this debate about natural vs manmade laws was quickly embraced in religious debate and interpretation. "St. Augustine of Hippo (354-430) embraced Paul's notion and developed the idea of man's having lived freely under natural law before his fall and subsequent bondage under sin and positive law. In the 12th century Gratian, an Italian monk and father of the study of canon law, equated natural law with divine law-that is, with the revealed law of the Old and New Testaments, in particular the Christian version of the Golden Rule."

I think we now understand where the conservatives are really going. Most if not all of them are or profess to be devout Christians and what they really want is Christian law that does in fact say women are less than men and they use and abuse the scriptures to take away the rights of women and minorities. If you read terms like freedom, equality, and justice as filtered through the words of the Old Testament, they take on a very different meaning than the way modern society defines them.

Enough with principle #1, but it is a guiding light through all the rest of the conservative world.

2. Government power should be limited to only what is provided in the "original" Constitution. Is this meant to dismiss all the amendments made over two centuries to address issues that were either non-existent during the founder's generation, or where we have found the founders were flat wrong about things like slavery and that Black people were only half human? The word "pivot" has become popular of late to mean that we have to have the sense to see the world is changing and we have to change certain attitudes and norms to participate in modern society. What we may have believed two hundred years ago is simply not true any longer.

3. Government is best exercised at the local level. On its face, this principle is not only accurate, but smacks of common sense. What is missing is the recognition that a nation, our nation, is rather like a very large company. Absolutely, the people who are building the cars in the factory know best what the problems are on the factory floor and probably most of the best solutions, but they can't run the damn company from top to bottom. That's like limiting the authority of parents over the children and saying that the children are best left to their own devices; that's a recipe for disaster. Of course you want them to have a say in which house to buy, neighborhood to live in, or what investments the family should make, but ultimately, there needs to be levels of responsibility and control that let the entire family succeed, not just the children or not just the parents.

4. Individuals make the best choices... eh, not so much. Some do and some don't. And, when you have people, companies, and corporations that are playing games with data and information to maximize their profits, no matter the cost in money or health, to others, you need an overseer. It was the snakeoil salespeople of old that caused governments to institute consumer protection laws. If anyone should understand unscrupulous behavior, it should be the conservatives after four years of #45.

5. Three terms in this one; free enterprise, deregulation, and oppose government intervention. Aka, a free for all. The conservatives seem to believe that businesses and corporations can do no wrong. Anything they do in pursuit of profits should be invisible to the governent. I'll try not to make this a long one. Here's a summary of the market crashes in the last century.

  • 1907: The crisis began in New York City trust companies, which competed with banks, but were outside the control of the New York Clearing House.
  • 1987: Black Monday Crash; ..."regulators pointed to an increase in international investors and the use of options and derivatives among the reasons for the crash."
  • 1992: Stock Market scam; India's $1.3 billion securities scam left the State Bank of India and other banks short millions of dollars and in some cases insolvent after making unsecured loans to speculators investing in stocks and bonds.
  • 1997: Asian financial crisis; "Economists at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York argued that although the countries had shown strong growth before the crisis, their financial institutions had made poor loans, and their domestic economies and real estate markets were overheated. Others pointed to the problems of crony capitalism."
  • 2000: Dot-com bubble burst; "...a period of enthusiastic investment in technology stocks came to an end. With the internet taking off at the time, investors were lured by marketing and rapid growth of startups but had an unrealistic time frame for online companies to succeed. Some of the companies had no business plans or earnings at all."
  • 2008: Stock market and housing crash; "...spurred by lax lending practices to those with little ability to repay. Even those with no money for a down payment, low credit scores, or unreliable income were able to borrow money, often with little documentation."
  • 2010: Flash crash; "U.S. regulators blamed computerized trading and a $4.1 billion sell order by the investment firm Waddell & Reed. One lesson learned, from the Securities and Exchange Commission: "Under stressed market conditions, the automated execution of a large sell order can trigger extreme price movements."
  • 2015-2016: China's stock market crash; "Chinese stocks tumbled during the summer of 2015, scaring investors who had borrowed to buy stocks as their prices soared and the Chinese government promoted new companies. The volatility dragged down PetroChina, the state-owned oil producer, and government-backed investment houses before stabilizing."
  • 2020: Coronavirus crash; "As the coronavirus pandemic began to shut down the U.S. in March 2020, the markets crashed. On March 16, 2020, the Dow Jones Industrial Average, the S&P 500 and the Nasdaq composite fell between 12% and 13%. The S&P 500 ultimately dropped 34% between Feb. 19 and March 23."

You can read more on all this at #3 below. The poitn of this list is to show that without rules, regulation, and oversight the economy can turn to shit in hours. Humans, being humans with all our weaknesses for fame and fortune should not be given unfettered control of our money. Free enterprise? Absolutely, but with the necessary controls in place to try to prevent the disaster like those above.

6. Taxes should be minimal and only for those programs that are constitutionally appropriate functions of government. Therein lies the problem. (a) the founders of the Constitution could not, in their wildest dreams, have imagined the world of today. To argue that this or that is not in the original constitution is sticking your head in the sand. The founders had no concept of anything like the FAA, CDC, FTC, or any of the modern functions of a government that has to manage a society that has ballooned 132 time over it's origianl number; 2.5 million vs 330 million.

7. Regulations, theres that word again, should be limited to only what provides a net benefit to people weighing both financial and liberty costs. This is weasle-wording at its worst. How do your measure the benefits of equal rights, or voting rights, or a woman's right to choose motherhood? This one is a conservative self-serving paragraph of jibberish to justify cutting domestic programs they don't like.

8. apply our laws and the Constitution based on their original meaning; I refer you back to #5 above; " the founders of the Constitution could not, in their wildest dreams, have imagined the world of today". To suggest that a document written 250 years ago can be used to adjudicate the problems of a modern society is as myopic as the radical Muslims who are still stoning women for adultry.

9. America must be a welcoming nation; Total agreement on this one; I just wish the actions of the conservative in our governmenet lived up to what they say this principle stands for.

10. America is strongest when our policies protect our national interests; This is another area where we can agree in principle and disagree on tactics. Like it or not, we are a product of social evolution combined with technological evolution. We can not be separatists from the rest of the world. We have to look at our best interest in the context of being a citizen of the world and ensure that by pursuing our own interests, we are not endangering others or denying them their national interests.

Sources: 1)