posted by Justin Oldham
Conservatism, as it was once known, is dead. At its core, "real" conservatism was small government advocacy. It took more than just
politics to kill small government conservatism. The simple fact is that we became such an affluent nation that it eventually became impossible for
anyone to advocate for the notion that small and less intrusive is better.
There's a phenomena peculiar to humans. Some of us can handle money and fame. Others just cannot. Money becomes poison and fame becomes addictive.
The same thing can be said of the American political system. The majority of voters have access to so much of everything that they just don't care
about anything. Politicians are guilty of the same sins. If more is better . . [much] more must be [much] better. Even when it comes to [size of]
government. [Edited by Don W]
Here I come again! An example.
During the halcyon days of the New Deal, the Dept of Agriculture established the County Agent program. Every
county in America got at least one Federal employee who was to offer advice to that county’s farmers. The best crops to plant. The best way to
prepare the soil. Care of the land by crop rotation. Agronomics. Not every farmer was born prescient. Change can be better. Science can help.
Farmers are too busy farming to engage in experimentation, to make soil evaluations, to fit their land for better use. Enter the County Agent.
Humor me, play there are 3,500 counties in the 50 states. 70 each. On average. Some counties in such stats as WY and ND might have more cows and
horses than people. Others like NYC’s Westchester and Queens counties might have neither farm animals nor crop growing land. But when you’re in a
hurry to write laws, leave the minor details alone. Let the executive branch write regulations to cover those variations.
Sure, on the assumption that one job is equal to 4 or 5 votes, the executive branch is not likely to strangle itself. And FDR being shrewd even if he
can’t walk on water, puts a couple cousins or unemployable nephews of the most senior Members of Congress on the payroll. An old fashioned quid pro
quo. One hand washes the other.
Some counties like those in the Imperial Valley in CA need more than 1 agent. Pretend that the country “needs” 10,000 county agents. “Need”
in this instance means there is at least 40 hours of useful work to do each week. The size alone of the program - number of agents - should not itself
justify opposition. If the program is useful if the program is well managed if the service is delivered economically and if the country is getting
good advice (value) for its tax dollar, then I say again, its size is irrelevant
That is why I protest the litany of big government ipso facto bad.
I like to think that we are on the verge of a new social paradigm. I am reminded of my great grandmother who told me. "We had it really good from
1900 to 1929. When we lost it all, we prayed. 'Please give us another shot at prosperity. We promise we'll do better with it next time.' And
you know what? We did!" Sad to say, but I think we are due for another "lesson."
America’s first two presidents, Washington and Adams, were strong central government advocates, called Federalists. In
the sea change election of 1800, the Republicans - Jefferson and Madison - won the day and those who favored a weak central government, today’s
“state’s rights” advocates.
At some point in time and I don’t know when, the Jeffersonians came to be called Democratic-Republicans. After 1800, the Federalist Party morphed
into the Whig Party. Later, after James Monroe’s 2 terms, the Whigs disintegrated. The Dem-Reps split into 2 wings, the Northern and Southern, over
the issue of slavery. The Northern half was itself split into an abolition wing and a toleration - no expansion of slavery - wing.
Andrew Jackson was the first non-patrician president. No Founding Father he. Jackson was unique in American presidential history. He refused to
enforce the Supreme Court’s’ decision in favor of the Cherokee’s in the Georgia and Carolinas gold rush dispute. Under his orders, the Army
forced the Native Americans out of their homeland. State’s rights advocates in Georgia put their land up for sale by way of a lottery with the
Indians banned from participating. The Army’s Trail of Tears forced march of Cherokees to Oklahoma gave us a precursor to the Bataan Death March,
except the Trail of Tears killed between 5,000 and 10,000 Indians - we don’t count collateral damage - while the Japanese killed just over 3,000. We
labeled the Japanese as inhuman barbarians. We revere Andrew Jackson as an American icon. Ethnocentrism?
OTOH, when South Carolina’s powerful Sen. Calhoun threatened to secede SC from the Union unless the Congress repealed high import duties, Jackson
declared that he personally would lead troops to SC and he, Jackson, would hang him, Calhoun, by the neck! Calhoun stopped any further braggadocio
during Jackson’s term. You might conclude Calhoun believed Jackson.
The unresolved issue of state’s rights culminated in 1861 when 11 states asserted they possessed the legal right to UN-JOIN the union. There would
be 2 separate arguments offered. Maybe 2 ½. The original colonies as founders, would be on different legal footing than those admitted to the Union
after 1789. The first were VA, NC, SC and GA. The others were FL, AL, MS, AR and TN; states admitted by Congress would argue from a different
perspective. TX was one more variation on the second theme, TX having been an independent country prior to its admission into the Union. In fact, TX
was “annexed” on its request.
Lincoln said “No.” The Constitution was silent on withdrawing from the Union. Lincoln claimed secession violated his oath of office and was also
extra-constitutional. That is, outside the constitution. Lincoln apparently thought - as I have always argued - that the 9th and10th Amendments are
Let’s read the presidential oath of office: “I do solemnly swear or affirm that I will faithfully execute the Office of President of the UNITED
States and will to the best of my ability, PRESERVE, protect and DEFEND the Constitution of the United States.” Article 2, Sec. 1, Clause 8. Caps
are mine for emphasis. We (me) thought that long festering issue - state’s rights versus Federal power - had been settled with the spilling of the
blood of 620,000 men and expending the treasure of the country in the War of the Rebellion, a/k/a the Civil War between 1861 and 1865. A state cannot
secede. Once in, you’re in for good. Make the most of it.
The next sea change (after 1800 and 1861-65) in American history came in 1913. The adoption of the 16th Amendment. Prior to 1913, the United States
really did have a small government which must make TRUE small government types salivate in a forlorn anticipation of restoring the pre-1913 world. But
alas, clocks back you cannot roll. My Yiddish. Prior to 1913, the Federal government was limited in revenue to what it could raise by 1) the sale or
leasing of Federal lands, 2) import duties and 3) excise taxes. Chicken feed, you might say.
For example, the Federal government did not build the Erie Canal. NY did. Our standing Army was small. The Secret Service was organized to stop
counterfeiters. Not to protect the president. The most highly sought after Federal job before 1913 was Collector of Customs for the Port of NYC.
Chester A. Arthur held that job before being elected vice president. The 16th Amendment was the work product of Theodore Roosevelt, although William
Howard Taft was president when it was proposed to the states in 1909. Woodrow Wilson was president when it became law, in 1913, just in time to
finance our hugely expensive entry into World War One.
From that time onward, life would never be the same.
Fast forward. Republicans never stopped fighting FDR and the New Deal. A large majority of Americans held both in high regard. But not everyone.
FDR’s first memorable political miscalculation came in 1937. FDR proposed to Congress a law that would allow him to appoint an Associate Justice to
the Supreme Court for each sitting Justice over the age of 70. FDR had made no appointments in his first 4 years in office. The Court had routinely
ruled 6 to 3 against many New Deal laws. Worse, it had blocked the 2 center pieces of the New Deal, the pro urban NRA and the pro rural AAA. National
Recovery Act - the Blue Eagle law - and the Agriculture Adjustment Act, setting minimum prices for farm commodities.
If Congress passed that law, FDR would immediately have 4 appointments to make, giving him an anticipated 7 to 6 majority. Raising the number of
justices from the 9 set in the 1820s to a new high of 13. Once there had been 10 justices. But, as God had divided the week into 7 days, so it seemed
God had set the number of SC justices at 9. I don’t know the particulars of that struggle, but the GOP opposition won it and got to name it, as
FDR’s “Court Packing” Scheme. OTOH, the plan must have impressed the sitting justices, because thereafter, they began to approve many New Deal
laws 5 to 4. 2 justices had changed sides.
Republicans never gave up. Did you know the GOP pledged in its Party platform in 1940, 1944 and 1948, to repeal Social Security if it was elected? It
was Ike in 1952 who decided to leave that one out of the GOP offering. Bush43 tried again to do the same in 2005. Republicans never give up.
We are still locked in the same struggle we began in earnest in 1800. Central government versus regional or state government. That debate is all mixed
up with taxation, who pays and who does not, areas of responsibility such as use of Federal lands, management of our southern border with Mexico,
health care, education, transportation, and so many other issues that transcend state boundaries that to us who favor a strong central government, we
cannot even imagine any other way to work it out in the 21st century. With grapes from Peru, avocados from Nicaragua, pineapples from Costa Rica,
oranges from Brazil and manufactured goods from China, it is impossible for any state - save perhaps CA and NY - to even try to impose health
standards and assurance of safety and quality of imported goods.
Small government types, get over it. It’s nostalgia over reality.
[edit on 4/16/2007 by donwhite]