“They are the two principles that have stood face to face from the beginning of time…. The one is the common right of humanity and the other the divine right of kings.… It is the same spirit that says, ‘You work and toil and earn bread, and I’ll eat it.’ No matter in what shape it comes… it is the same tyrannical principle….[This is] where the struggle really is… [and we must] get rid of the fog which obscures the real question.”
— Abraham Lincoln in the Seventh Lincoln-Douglas Debate, October 15, 1858, Alton, Illinois
Let’s talk about Republicans and 2012.
What does the NPR kerfuffle really mean in terms of the 2012 battle for the GOP presidential nomination?
Who is Patricia de Stacy Harrison? And what does her support of NPR really have to do with that 2012 fight?
Say what? Beyond the minor Shakespearean skirmish over National Public Radio (“to fund or not to fund, that is the question”) what in the world does NPR have to do with the looming fight for the GOP presidential nomination? And what does it have to do with a GOP victory — whether in 2012, 2016 or for that matter, anytime?
First, Ms. Harrison.
Patricia de Stacy Harrison is the president of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, the “parent” of the public TV and radio siblings PBS and NPR. NPR, as the world knows, has been hard upon troubled times lately. First because of the firing of commentator Juan Williams. Then the mishandling of the firing of Juan Williams. This was followed in short order by the James O’Keefe Muslim-fundraising videotape and the abrupt departures of the un-related but seemingly identical thinking NPR Schillers, Ron and Vivian. As a result, the very liberal NPR has found itself targeted by conservatives for an end to its federal funding.
Enter Ms. Harrison, who has come quickly to NPR’s defense.
Issuing a formal statement in her role as CPB president and CEO on the day the GOP-controlled House cut off NPR’s funding, Harrison said in part that NPR decidedly was in need of “federal support” and that “rather than penalize public broadcasting, the debate should focus on strengthening and supporting this valuable national asset.” At the end of her statement was an apparently standard description of CPB that said in its first sentence the organization is the “steward of the federal government’s investment in public broadcasting.”
What makes this important is not that Harrison is the CPB President and CEO. No, what makes this plea for federal funding significant is that she is a former co-chair of the Republican National Committee and a Bush appointee to head the CPB.
In other words, as we head into the fight for the 2012 Republican presidential nomination, Patricia Harrison’s stance on NPR signals that this is exactly the right time to begin understanding the very real philosophical differences among those in the Republican presidential field. Discerning — not to put too fine a point on it — who among these would-be Republican presidents really and truly understand in their bones what the party of Lincoln (not to mention Reagan!!) is all about. Do they get what Republican Party founder Abraham Lincoln was talking about in, say, his famous debates with Stephen A. Douglas in 1858? When he said, for example, that the “real question” in politics was all too frequently obscured by “fog.” That principle, cherished if almost never openly acknowledged by the left is, again according to Lincoln: “You work and toil and earn bread, and I’ll eat it.”
In Liberty and Tyranny our friend Mark Levin took the very title of his considerable bestseller from Lincoln saying this again years later — in 1864 — as president. Then, Lincoln summed up the point by saying that the difference between each man doing “as he pleases with himself, and the product of his labor” — or not — is “called by two different and incompatible names — liberty and tyranny.” Levin revitalizes an old and accurate term for those who would take the results of someone else’s work and toil to satisfy what Levin calls their “endless rationalizations for seizing ever more governmental authority” in service of the “supremacy of the state.”
The term: Statists. Or, if you prefer, “neo-Statists.” The latter Levin’s Lincoln-like designation of “some who claim the mantle of conservatism but are, in truth, neo-Statists, who would have the Conservative abandon the high ground of the founding principles for the quicksand of a soft tyranny.”
As Ms. Harrison’s statement on NPR — indeed her very presence at CPB itself — makes clear, those who believe in the supremacy of the state are not just running the Statist Obama Administration or plotting Statist strategy with Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi. They are inside the gates of the GOP itself.
Ms. Harrison is doubtless a good person. This is not a personal criticism. It is, rather an opportunity to take note of her approach as a Republican to the central issue of the role of government. A role, which, in her case, she sees as Congress taking your tax dollars to give to her and her colleagues so they can run a government media company. (A snapshot of how this game works comes from South Carolina Senator Jim De Mint’s recent op-ed in the Wall Street Journal: “According to CPB’s 2009 tax forms, President and CEO Patricia de Stacy Harrison received $298,884 in reportable compensation and another $70,630 in other compensation from the organization and related organizations that year.”)
Harrison, with her various compensations and vigorous defense of NPR — and for that matter the very existence of CPB, PBS, and NPR as tax-funded institutions — is the very embodiment of Lincoln’s succinct summation of the attitude of elites towards working Americans in the private sector: “You work and toil and earn bread, and I’ll eat it.” It is the Americanized version of what Lincoln scorned as those choosing the “divine right of kings” over “the common right of humanity.”
This battle against Statism — played out against the backdrop of a dramatic, nation-threatening $14 trillion debt — is at the very heart of the 2012 battle that is now being fought inside the GOP.
WHERE HAS THIS Conservative-Statist fight already shown itself with recent struggles inside the Republican Party? A party where everybody swears up and down so help them God, cross their hearts and hope to die — they believe in the idea of “limited government.” Really. Honest.
• Energy: Republican support for Statism was at work when President Bush 43 signed the “Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007,” which will ban 100 watt bulbs beginning in January of 2012 (among a whole list of government-mandated changes to the way you choose to light your own home).
• Budget: Massachusetts GOP Senator Scott Brown brushed aside Lincoln’s principle by voting to give your tax dollars to Planned Parenthood. In wonderfully Statist language Brown, replete with the neo-Statist qualifier (emphasis supplied), said this: “Given our severe budget problems, I don’t believe any area of the budget is completely immune from cuts. However, the proposal to eliminate all funding for family planning goes too far.” The King speaks.
• Jobs: Statists have multiplied their ranks in the federal government with a 7% increase in federal jobs in the Obama era (that’s 144,000 more jobs). And the Republican Statists? Yup. That would be an increase of 11.7% — a stunning 230,000 jobs since the beginning of the 2007 recession. In the Republican Bush era.
• Same-Sex Marriage: Statism versus Conservatism was on display when longtime conservative Theodore Olson, the Bush Solicitor General and a potential Attorney General in a GOP administration, suddenly insisted it’s not the American people (in this case the people of California) who will decide state law on same-sex marriage but rather un-elected liberal federal judges. In essence, Olson suddenly revealed his Statist streak when he took the modern version of the Statist belief Lincoln challenged when discussing the infamous Statist Supreme Court Dred Scott decision in his “House Divided” speech. Lincoln made clear that his party opposed the idea that “the government will not prohibit slavery within them [the U.S. territories of the day], nor allow the people to prohibit” slavery. The Statists of Lincoln’s day insisted on the age-old Statist remedy. That the government — “the divine right of kings” — would decide the issue of where slaves would and would not be allowed. Period.
• Health Care: Already Massachusetts’ ex-governor Mitt Romney is stumbling badly as he tries to explain his decidedly Statist mandate of health care in his term as governor. Romney is to this moment unable or unwilling to simply admit he was either wrong on principle or is in fact the believer in Statist doctrine his “Romneycare” solution indicates that he is.
• Environment: News accounts have former Utah Republican Governor Jon Huntsman gearing up to join the 2012 presidential race. Startlingly, Huntsman, freshly returned from a stint as the Statist Obama Administration’s Ambassador to China, is apparently set to make his presidential campaign as a full-fledged Statist. Among other things, he has been a staunch supporter of the Statist global warming approach. Huntsman’s Statist attractions were made plain in this story from Time magazine when he was quoted thusly:
Indeed, Huntsman was a vocal booster of the Western Climate Initiative, which promoted the possibility of a carbon cap-and-trade program. “Until we put a value on carbon, we are never going to be able to get serious about dealing with Climate Change long term,” Huntsman said back in 2008. “Now putting a value on carbon either suggests you get a carbon tax or you get a cap-and-trade system underway.”
This is, of course, decidedly Statist language. Who exactly is the “we” who will “put a value” or a “carbon tax”…yada yada yada? Why, a Statist government, of course. And Huntsman, amazingly enough, is apparently prepared to take his Statist views to GOP presidential primary voters — with former John McCain adviser John Weaver guiding the way. Weaver, of course, played a role over the years in reinforcing McCain’s own Statist inclinations (can you say “McCain-Feingold”?) as a sure-fire way not only to govern but to win the presidency. Weaver, in fact, is a wonderful example of the Statist mindset at work in the world of Republican political consultants. Here’s this story from Politico back in February of 2008 when McCain was fighting for the GOP nomination, with this key paragraph that describes the Weaver mindset:
In early 2002, Weaver left the GOP and registered as a Democrat in Manhattan. By May, he was consulting for the House Democrats’ campaign arm, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, plotting strategies to defeat Republicans. The DCCC’s then-executive director was Howard Wolfson, now chief spokesman for Hillary Rodham Clinton.
At some point Weaver decided to bring his Statist ideals back to the GOP. In a disagreement with a client GOP candidate in Massachusetts Weaver said “we’re in this business because we care about governing.” No doubt. There’s little question John Weaver is an honorable guy — who truly believes in governing with Statist principles.
And campaigning on them too. Here is Weaver’s view (as reported in 2009 by Byron York over at the Washington Examiner) in which he insists that the GOP must stick with Statism or neo-Statism because if “our party is defined by Palin and Limbaugh and Cheney, then we’re headed for a blowout…. That’s just the truth.” In other words, Limbaugh is a Reaganite and unless Republicans stop listening to him and start campaigning on the Statist principles that elected Presidents Dewey, Ford, Dole and McCain and re-elected President Bush 41 in 1992 the GOP is headed to certain defeat.
Thus… Jon Huntsman, Statist GOP candidate selects the perfect Statist consultant.
• Internal Party Nomination Fights: The Conservative-Statist fight in 2010 dominated the news when the Delaware Republican Party and its Statist candidate for the Senate, Congressman Mike Castle, battled against the Conservative Christine O’Donnell. Versions of the same battle were seen in Senate GOP primary races in Kentucky, Nevada, Utah, Alaska, and Florida. Frequently choosing the Statist side of the argument was the National Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee and its chair, Senator John Cornyn of Texas. Opposing it — and raising money to oppose Statist GOP candidates — was South Carolina Senator Jim De Mint.
And so on. And on.
Limited government? From Patricia Harrison to President Bush 43 to Senator John McCain to Senator Scott Brown to Governor Romney and Governor Huntsman and ex-Bush Solicitor General Ted Olson and political consultant John Weaver…all are believers in it. Sort of. Kind of. Unless, of course, we’re talking about the government’s right to decide the wattage of your light bulbs, take your tax money and give it to a favored special interest group (Planned Parenthood in this case), insist that more tax money be used to fund NPR, remove your ability under the law to decide the definition of marriage, mandate that if you live in Massachusetts you must buy health insurance, or believe that the government should be taxing you for the latest global warming fad.
Again, these aren’t bad people. Surely to the contrary. But they simply cannot find it in themselves to sign on with the seriously real idea of what “limited government” really entails. Which is precisely why there are so many Republican fingerprints on that telltale $14 trillion deficit some 8 decades in the making.
SO WHAT DOES ALL THIS MEAN for Republicans and conservatives in 2012?
Let’s assume what is most probably the case, based on past history. There will be another Republican in the White House. At a certain point, simple incumbency problems overtake the Ins, and that’s before one’s name becomes synonymous with being a political disaster as president — Hoover or a Carter or, conservatives would argue today, Obama. Whether a he or she manages this Republican victory in 2012 — or later — happen it will. And when it does, then what?
Is the new president a GOP Statist or neo-Statist prepared to fill his or her administration with appointees like Patricia Harrison — appointees always on the lookout for ways to expand the role of the federal government and the funding that goes along with it? Will he or she take advice from Statists like John Weaver and just shrug as did President Bush when signing on to the newest version of McCain-Feingold or banning of 100-watt light bulbs?
The other day an attorney named Kent Masterson Brown had a remarkable piece in the New York Post that illustrates the problem. It seems Brown was the lead plaintiff attorney in a case that had a federal judge allowing Social Security Administration bureaucrats to institute “three internal rules …that make receipt of Social Security retirement benefits contingent upon enrollment in Medicare. Plus, a person who withdraws from Medicare would not only have to give up Social Security benefits, but repay all benefits previously received.” (Emphasis added.) The latter would be, of course, the benefit program that you have already paid into for the duration of your working life.
Now what happens if a Statist Republican sits in the White House when this issue comes to a head? What would be the response here? And what kind of federal judges would that president be appointing?
Upon learning of Mr. Brown’s revelation, would he or she demand, say, the firing of the Social Security Administrator? Issue stiff instructions to the Republican Secretary of Health and Human Services to eliminate these rules post-haste?
Based on the Statist views on display with Republicans from Patricia Harrison to Ted Olson to Scott Brown to Mitt Romney to Jon Huntsman to John Weaver — unlikely. Case in point?
Who is it that appointed the federal judge Mr. Brown is writing about here? The federal judge whom Mr. Brown describes as allowing “unelected bureaucrats to make up their own laws” by issuing a ruling that “would allow the ‘health reform’ law to become even more Orwellian than it already is, without any action from Congress”?
This Statist decision came from Judge Rosemary M. Collyer, who was appointed to the federal bench by — President George W. Bush in 2003.
Were a Statist Republican elected in 2012 or anywhere else down the road, Americans outraged about this case would presumably find themselves dealing with a President, Secretary of HHS, and Social Security Administrator who, in the fashion of GOP Statists or neo-Statists, would utter some soothing words and make some cosmetic changes for the sake of PR — then let the rules stand except perhaps just a little less so. And as the outrage subsided and people looked the other way, the Statist GOP president and his Statist Justice Department would keep on appointing Statist Republican judges like Judge Collyer to the bench.
A potential President Romney has already defended his use of a Statist mandate in health care — defending his actions still. And a would-be President Huntsman has worked to further the Statist agenda for global warming Statism. Hit the right issue — same-sex marriage — and a potential Attorney General Ted Olson would be defending the Statist side in court. And Senator Brown would be shrugging at the notion of defunding the whole thing because, of course, he supports fiscal restraint…however. Etc. Etc. Etc.
The problem for Statists?
After eighty-plus years of doing it their way, Statist chickens, to borrow from the Reverend Jeremiah Wright, are coming home to roost: $14 trillion worth of them. And through a fluke — the firing of Juan Williams at NPR, which in turn launched a serious NPR defunding effort — Patricia Harrison has become the perfect symbol of the power Statists have quietly accrued within the Republican Party itself.
This is the real battle in 2012.
It is decidedly not Obama versus The Republican Nominee.
No, the real battle will be very, very simple. And every bit as important. In Lincoln’s simple formulation of this battle it is over this proposition:
You work and toil and earn bread, and I’ll eat it.
Will the next Republican President of the United States be a Statist?
Or a Conservative?
The time is here to hold certain feet to that fire.