Friday, February 13, 2009

On Lincoln, Obama, Liberty and the Republican Party

Prior to and after President Barack Obama’s inauguration, the president had been compared to Abe Lincoln: Both were from Illinois; both had a rough start in life; the Great Emancipator – a Republican, by the way – has done his best to make possible the election to the presidency of the nation’s first African American; so Lincoln and Obama were, some in the press said, bookends of a kind, one opening the struggle against slavery and the other closing it. All this is true. And we all should be glad whenever the nation is able to shuck off the tattered remnants of a debilitating Jim-Crow politics. It has been a long time coming. Lincoln, had he been alive in our day, would have rejoiced.

At this point – so it seems to some of us – it only remains for the president now to decide whether he wishes to be Lincoln or Franklin Roosevelt, with whom he’s also been compared. Some have also seen in Obama a likeness to President Jack Kennedy. I have no doubt that someone will come along in the near future, perhaps in Newsweek, to compare him with Ronald Reagan, one being the obverse of the other, Reagan opening the Reagan era and Obama closing it.

The Roosevelt administration and the New Deal have been under fresh scrutiny lately. Henry Morgenthau, Roosevelt’s treasury secretary said in 1939, “We are spending more than we have ever spent before, and it does not work.” He conceded that after two full terms in office, the administration, “never make good on its promises.” One of the cornerstones of the New Deal was the National Industrial Recovery Act, a law that cartelized industry to institute wage and price controls. The cure for the depression, Roosevelt thought, was to pay workers more, thus stimulating consumption and spurring the economy. It didn’t happen that way; real wages declined, and companies that sought to capture more of the market by reducing prices were targeted by federal officials and often run out of business. Unemployment, dropping during Roosevelt’s first term, rose again from 1936-39, and stock values took a nosedive from 37-39. It is now though that the New Deal extended the depression, and of course the endemic special-interest spending created a host of groups clamoring for special subsidies, federal doles to gain political advantage and corruption among the money lenders.

Lincoln became Lincoln, said one of his best biographers, James McPherson, at Cooper Union, New York, where he gave a speech on slavery and the Union. The speech is a masterpiece in legal and political reasoning; Lincoln, the lawyer, applying his sharp witted legal skills to an examination the founder’s views on slavery in the territories. Lincoln’s own view was: 1) the union, at all costs, must be preserved, and 2) the founders were willing to permit the federal government to prohibit or shape slavery in the territories. I invite everyone to re-visit that speech and study it closely.

Because, because, because… what the Republican Party needs, especially here in Connecticut, is a Cooper Union speech on the connection between a free economy and liberty. To get one, we should have to have a Lincoln among us, sadly in short supply. They seem to breed Lincoln’s only in Illinois, and recently only within the Democrat Party.

Progressive Connecticut is the Eden of the Obama era. Whatever Obama has or will propose in coming years, it can justly be said that Connecticut has been there, done that. Does Washington have a Democrat controlled legislature? Been there, done that. I wrote in one of my too infrequently read columns that Connecticut has been laboring under Democrat control roughly since the late Triassic period, when dinosaurs roamed the earth, a Lincolnesque exaggeration. Is the US treasury splashing around knee deep in debt? So are we. Does Washington believe that the nation does not have a spending problem; rather it has a revenue problem? That is and has been the operative position of Connecticut Democrats in the legislature and their enablers in Connecticut’s truckling media. Right on down the line, on nearly every important point in the Obama program, Connecticut has been tried in the fire. And we can report from Hell that none of the anti-Lincolnesque solutions to economic problems adopted by the little Obama homunculi that populate our state legislature will work to enhance either our liberty or our prosperity.

It would be helpful if some champion of free enterprise in the state, perhaps our governor, took up this cause. Other governors have done so. The most recent state of the state address by a real activist Republican governor, Mark Sanford of South Carolina, includes these sentiments:

“We can't go on spending more than is coming in and be competitive.

“Sustainable spending matters because unsustainable spending means more private sector activity is crowded out of the economic mix in our state.

“It matters because it sets the stage for tax increases down the line that hurt individuals and businesses in their ability to compete in the global marketplace.

“It matters because it sets in motion a cycle of peaks and valleys in government spending that hurts the neediest of the needy in our state.

“To avoid each of these things it has been our contention that government shouldn't grow faster than the rate of growth of people's wallets and pocketbooks.

Ah! But hasn’t Sanford heard that the nation is suffering from a revenue problem that can only be solved by massive infusions of fresh capital from Washington”

“This issue of whether we should spend more or less of the taxpayers' money - one that has been the source of fairly enormous disagreements between this administration and some in this chamber - is going to be underscored with what is happening to the national economy.

“This is no longer going to be a philosophical debate, as we are not going to have the luxury of millions in new money coming into Columbia - and as I believe we will likely go into a national recession based on the pinch from higher energy prices, slowing consumer spending, falling home prices and tightening credit.

We have got to get serious about spending.

Given Connecticut’s present economic plight, a deficit of $6-10 billion in a budget of $17 billion, these lines sound like a declaration of war on the present regime. And that is what Republicans should propose: a civil war, a polite war, but a war nonetheless, that will end with the overthrow of outmoded presumptions, the first of which is that Connecticut is suffering from diminished revenues. This state is suffering from an orgy of spending that began when Lowell Weicker of blessed memory, a faux Republican in my view, muscled the legislature into accepting an income tax. We have lost control of the helm itself to what some have called the permanent government. Inertia is driving our ship. We do things in a certain way because we have always done them in a certain way, and we fear breaking the mold.

This fiscal year, Sanford presented to his legislature a budget containing a proposal for an optional flat tax of 3.65 percent paid for by an increase of 30 cents per pack in the cigarette tax, the elimination of sales tax holidays and a new landfill tipping fee. His ambition is to rid the state of all taxes but consumption taxes. His proposal is aimed, in his words, at “bettering South Carolina’s competitive position when it comes to tax rates. The plan also recommends eliminating the state’s corporate income tax over a 10-year-time period, taking the rate from 5 percent to zero. The governor’s tax plan will move South Carolina’s overall business climate ranking from 25th to 6th.”

In the competition for jobs as we move inexorably into the Obama era, guess which state will be attracting more business, allowing the state to increase its revenues without imposing undo hardships on its citizens – Connecticut or South Carolina?

Sanford does not like pork, except on pigs. And he is well known in South Carolina as someone who has fought with members of his own party to resist Washington’s pork filled Trojan Horses. The day after the Republican led House in South Carolina overrode 105 of the governor’s 106 budget vetoes, he brought live pigs into the House chambers as a protest against pork projects.

Lincoln, whose imagination we should try to cultivate, would have approved. Obama would not approve, not unless he can manage to exorcise the ghost of Franklin Roosevelt that seems to have taken possession of him.

Don Pesci will be addressing the Republicans in Windsor on Feb 19 at 7:30 at the Town Hall in Windsor. The Republican Party Chairman in Windsor is David Rainey. His e-mail is:

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