Flags Over the 48

September 11, 2011

Every 9/11, on each the 48 peaks above 4,000 ft. in the White Mountains of New Hampshire, bands of hikers carry up an American flag to plant at each summit. Every hiker has his or her own reasons for carrying the flag or for making the commemorative hike. Today, I hiked to remember the ordinary men and women who lost their lives and to celebrate the transcendent American values that will never die.

Looking at the flag over Mt. Garfield on 9/11/2011

At the heart of American values is the idea that human beings are free and they should not be controlled by someone other than themselves.

Over and over, for thousands of years, the idea that human beings should be controlled has been proven false. When human beings are controlled, a special few determine the production and distribution of goods and these decisions are enforced by the judicial and police powers of government.

The more controls, the more poverty, and the more suffering a society endures. The more controls, the less innovative and the less successful an organization is. Many American do not understand that these are the consequences when freedom wanes.

Wishing for freedom is not the same as taking the responsibility for creating the conditions under which freedom flourishes and thrives. In his book Wow I’m an American, the great psychiatrist Peter Breggin writes, “In economics, as in everything else, human beings need to live by the values of liberty, responsibility, gratitude and love.”

Breggin offers his idea of the principles that make it possible for free markets to flourish and for people to live productive, meaningful lives. Those principles are “protect freedom, take responsibility at all times, express gratitude for every gift and opportunity and become a source of love.”

I would put it a little bit differently than Breggin. We are not a source of love; instead we allow love to be expressed through us, every time we get our ego out of the way.

Love is the basic energy of the universe, and we block the flow of energy every time we try to control others, every time we cower from our responsibilities, and every time we shrink from expressing our gifts. Freedom erodes each time we behave expediently to protect imagined comforts that we think will be threatened if we don’t go along with the status quo.

We insulate ourselves; thinking our circumstances special, we are relieved when the responsibility for renewing a free society falls heavily on the shoulders of someone else. When we think we can avoid responsibility, we are wrong. Without each of us taking responsibility to renew freedom, the American experiment will die.

If freedom does die here in America, it will be renewed in some other place at some time to come; for freedom is a transcendent ideal. But, why not renew our commitment to freedom today? Why not in America?


We Think We Are Free

June 30, 2011

Would you feel comfortable going to a doctor or a dentist whose training consisted of “120 hours [three weeks] of classroom and on-the-job training.” Would you hire an accountant or engineer whose training was similar? Would you consider anyone a professional if they had only three weeks of training?

Have you noticed that after every TSA outrage, government spokespeople and their media apologists maintain that the TSA agents involved were just doing their job in a professional manner? Consider this recent incident—after subjecting a frail 95 year old woman suffering from leukemia to an hour long search in which she had to remove her adult diaper a TSA spokesperson insisted TSA officers work “with passengers to resolve security alarms in a respectful and sensitive manner.” The spokeswomen concluded “We have reviewed the circumstances involving this screening and determined that our officers acted professionally.…”

Not only were they acting professionally but the TSA spokesperson maintained that their common-sense defying actions were necessary “because we know from intelligence that there are terrorists out there that would then exploit that vulnerability.” Presumably, on the grounds of “national security,” the “intelligence” that al-Qaeda is recruiting 95 year old American women to hide explosives in the diapers was not produced.

In no sense of the word are TSA officers professionals. The use of the word professional when describing them is deliberate propaganda designed to get the public to submit to coercion.  A professional is a term reserved forhighly educated, mostly salaried workers, who enjoy considerable work autonomy, a comfortable salary, and are commonly engaged in creative and intellectually challenging work.”

OK, it is clear that the minimally trained TSA officers have little or no autonomy to use common sense in doing their job. However, it is equally true that those calling TSA security personnel perverts and criminals are also missing the point. As you walk through TSA security, the ordinariness of TSA personnel is palpable. By and by, they are simply our fellow human beings trying to make their way in the world and earning a living in the best way they know how. They are a modern example of what social philosopher Hannah Arendt called the “banality of evil.”

In her book Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil, Arendt reports on the lack of anti-Semitism or psychological damage in Eichmann. Then you may ask, “How could he have committed such heinous crimes?” Arendt reports that Eichmann had limited intelligence, was unable to complete high school, was unable to think for himself, and had a strong desire to get ahead. Having been a witness to the rank-and-file of German civil service endorsing the “final solution,” he believed his moral responsibility was absolved.

In his book They Thought They Were Free, Milton Mayer tells the story of how decent Germans became Nazis. Consider policemen Willy Hofmeister. Mayer relates the story of how in 1938, Hofmeister was assigned the job of rounding up Jewish males in Kronenberg “for their own protection.” Hofmeister was no Nazi thug; he was polite and respectful as he did his dastardly deeds.

During one of his stops, Hofmeister explained to a Jewish man that he was taking into custody why the town synagogue was blown up that day: “They blew it up as a safety measure.”

No, American totalitarianism is unlikely to look like German fascism. Yet, if you read Arendt and Mayer, the parallels will chill you. No, most TSA personnel are not Eichmann’s in training; but then again, nor were most Germans. Most Germans who enabled the Nazi machine and most TSA personnel are more like Willy Hofmeister—just doing their jobs.

Many Americans support and defend unconstitutional and useless searches on the grounds that they are “respectfully” done and necessary for our safety. The media acts as propaganda outlets to promote these unconstitutional acts; judges rubber stamp unconstitutional laws. Many Germans thought they were free and that their behavior was normal. The spirit of Willy Hofmeister is alive and well in America. We think we are free. Are we?

The Inner-Work of Freedom

June 7, 2011

Last week while touring the East Coast on her “One Nation” bus tour, Sarah Palin visited Boston where she uttered this gibberish about Paul Revere: “He who warned the British that they weren’t gonna be taking away our arms by ringing those bells and by making sure that as he’s riding his horse through town to send those warning shots and bells that we were gonna be secure and we were gonna be free and we were gonna be armed.”

Of course, there is nothing new here. Palin, like many politicians, is ignorant about many things, including history. But, what about our own ignorance? We may know the basic facts of Revere’s ride, but what if the context in which we have placed the ride is flawed in a basic way?

Paul Revere, we have been taught, is one of those essential men or women without whose actions history would have been fundamentally different. Can this really be true? Does our fate hang so precariously on the actions of single individuals? Are we really passive bystanders to the great play being enacted in front of us?

History, as taught in most schools, is a tedious compilation of discrete events with emphasis given to the actions of the great people. The theory holds that significant changes in history are caused primarily by the actions of these individuals who stood out as different from others of their time and place. For example, in American history textbooks, every president is featured, no matter how ordinary they were; special emphasis is given to those who had the biggest ambitions.

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow chose to immortalize Paul Revere—but just as easily, he could have immortalized William Dawes or Israel Bissell. Dawes rode the same route as Revere, and both were later joined by Dr. Samuel Prescott who was the only one of the three to complete his route.  Bissell rode for over four days covering over 345 miles between Boston and Philadelphia. Along his route he shouted “To arms, to arms, the war has begun,” and the message he carried from General Joseph Palmer was copied at each of his stops.

The struggle for freedom is an age-old struggle, and the American colonists were receptive to this transcendent idea. Revere, Dawes, Bissell and Prescott responded to what was needed on the night of April 18, 1775. A warning was needed, and they were inspired to act. Others also acted as they were called to do. All were part of a social fabric that was ripe for a freedom-based revolution. The essential element in the American Revolution was the receptivity of the population towards the ideas behind the revolution. Paul Revere’s ride was no more or less essential to the American Revolution than the millions of other individual acts that made the revolution possible.

There is an important lesson to be learned here. Most Americans think the essential battles in 2012 will be in the presidential primaries and then in the November presidential election. They are wrong. The essential battle is taking place in the mind of every citizen—today, tomorrow and every day. We should all be asking ourselves questions: What role should government play in society? Should the Federal Reserve be tinkering with interest rates? Should the federal government subsidize ethanol and nuclear power? Should the government be continuing its war on drugs? Should government force others to subsidize my standard of living? Should we be secure in our own homes against the coercive power of government? My list could go on and on.

If we’re unable to answer questions such as these—and as importantly, if we are unable to articulate the principles that inform our responses—than no matter who we support, we are part of the problem.  If we are unprincipled, the next president of the United States will continue to espouse policies that will erode our freedoms and prosperity. That next president will not be to blame for the misery caused by his or her policies; instead, our ignorance will be the cause.

The politicians we elect reflect our collective national inward condition. There is little fundamental difference between the Sarah Palins and Barack Obamas of the world. Neither recognizes or understands that the President of the United States was never intended to be a great man doing great things. Instead, the president was to be steward of the principles that would allow others to do great things.

Economics professor Don Boudreaux makes this observation: “Society progresses only through the countless decencies, creative acts, honest exchanges, and faithfulness to responsibilities performed daily by millions of persons, nearly all of whom will be forgotten within a few decades of their deaths.”

Many in America no longer understand the basic truth in Boudreaux’s words. They are waiting for a political savior, and they will be sadly disappointed again. There are no political saviors. Only when the average American is willing to do the hard work that comes from studying and reflecting on the principles that support prosperity and freedom will candidates that support these policies be electable.

Studying these timeless principles is not enough. We can study an idea but not be willing to live by an idea. Other beliefs, often invisible to us, seemingly hijack our behavior. We can advocate free-markets, but then seek subsidies for our organization or industry on the grounds that we are somehow special. Or, on the grounds of the false belief that we are special, we can seek freedom for ourselves but then seek to restrict the freedom of others. Do we expect others to live by principles that we fail to live by ourselves? Is it not necessary for each of us, as individuals, to go through an inner process—a process that uncovers our own false beliefs that are undermining freedom? If so, there is an inner-work of freedom. Since we as a nation are fixated on events going on outside ourselves, we have much work to do.

Without being grounded in timeless principles to guide our actions, fear grows in the minds of people. Until we choose timeless principles over fear, look for increased political polarization as candidates emerge to feed off our fears.

The Regime Has Fallen, But Will Anything Change?

February 15, 2011

About every six months my aunt overthrows her government. My aunt, 87, is in a nursing home; and she is certain she is a victim of nursing homes and a family that won’t give her the help she needs. Due to her morbid obesity and weak physical condition, she is almost immobile. She requires, in nursing home parlance, “maximum assist” which means it takes two or three staffers to get her out of bed or transfer her to the toilet.

Since she entered the nursing home system over two years ago, she has insisted over and over that her goal is to return home. Yet, physical therapists in three different nursing homes have told us that she offers minimal cooperation and makes little if any progress in physical therapy. In almost daily phone conversations with us, she rails against her plight and what she perceives as unfair treatment. Her refrain is often: “Why aren’t they helping me?” And so, full of blame, she transfers to a new nursing home; where the story begins again.

My wife and I have been deeply troubled by my aunt’s condition. We try gently to shift her thinking by exploring with her different ways to perceive what she is experiencing. Almost all days though, my aunt is interested only in having an audience for her story of victimization. When we ask her if telling these unhappy stories is helpful to her, she tells us she doesn’t feel like herself if she doesn’t keep the story going: “I don’t know who I am, if I don’t have my grievances,” she explains to us.

As you might expect, when she changes nursing homes, or even changes therapists within a nursing home, nothing changes. After a few days of transition, her story of victimization becomes front and center again. All that has changed is the name of the home and the name of the therapist. My aunt is close to the end of her life—my wife and I hope she experiences a change of heart before she passes.

Like my aunt, citizens of Egypt have a problematical existence. Poverty and repression is the plight of the ordinary Egyptian. Unfortunately, the current revolution in Egypt is about as likely to produce a liberal democracy, as changing nursing homes is likely to produce a change in my aunt’s circumstances.

Before I go further, let me define liberal democracy. A liberal democracy is a democracy where individual rights are protected and there are strict limitations on the role of government. Without guarantees of individual rights, and without limitations on the role of government, a democracy is unlikely to result in a free society. Walter Williams has observed, “Democracy and majority rule give an aura of legitimacy to acts that would otherwise be deemed tyranny. The founders of our nation held a deep abhorrence for democracy and majority rule.”

In Federalist paper #10, James Madison wrote, “Measures are too often decided, not according to the rules of justice and the rights of the minor party, but by the superior force of an interested and overbearing majority.” In other words, Madison understood that a democracy is no guarantee of liberty.

Germany provides a case in point. Although in free elections Hitler was never supported by a majority of the German population, Hitler was legally appointed Chancellor; and Hitler assumed dictatorial powers by an overwhelming vote of the Reichstag.

In his classic book The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, William Shirer observed that in the years after Hitler assumed total power:

The overwhelming majority of Germans did not seem to mind that their personal freedom had been taken away, that so much of culture had been destroyed and replaced with a mindless barbarism, or that their life and work had become regimented to a degree never before experienced even by a people accustomed for generations to a great deal of regimentation…. The Nazi terror in the early years affected the lives of relatively few Germans and a newly arrived observer was somewhat surprised to see that the people of this country did not seem to feel that they were being cowed…. On the contrary, they supported it with genuine enthusiasm. Somehow it imbued them with a new hope and a new confidence and an astonishing faith in the future of their country.

In other words, the barbarism that a minority of the population was experienced was of no concern to majority and was not even experienced as tyranny.

What lessons can we draw? My aunt suffers because she fails to appreciate the internal conditions that would lead to lasting change in her experience of life. Egyptians suffered, not because of Hosni Mubarak, but because they have not had sufficient understanding of the conditions that produce freedom and prosperity—Hosni Mubarak is an outcome of this ignorance and not a cause. Their economy is heavily regimented, their Coptic Christian minority has been persecuted, and widespread anti-Semitism exists.

Regarding their heavily regimented economy, Egypt’s government employs 35% of the population. As Daniel Henninger observes in The Wall Street Journal, Egypt as well as other Middle Eastern countries  have “used public works as a form of social security and a tool of political stability.” He adds:

Their universities fed graduates into a nonproductive but high-benefit public economy. Many Tunisian rioters were unemployed college graduates.

The argument being made here is that past some tipping point of a population employed by the state, an economy starts to choke. Egypt is far past that point. In Tahrir Square you are watching the economic and psychological dislocation caused by this misallocation of national energy. This isn’t just about a new government. It is a sit-down strike for a better economy.

In her classic book The Discovery of Freedom, Rose Wilder Lane writes, “Every human being, by his nature, is free; he controls himself.” Yet the “Old World” belief is that some Authority needs to control men. Lane points out, “They cannot make their energy work by any such belief, because the belief is false. But they do not question the belief, because when they submit to a living Authority’s control, and cannot get food, they can always blame that Authority.”

Lane goes on to explain that as long as that false belief—that some Authority should control the energy of mankind—remains intact, revolutions change nothing.

Back to Germany, but this time in the present day. In her book The Art of Choosing Sheena Iyengar reports on her research about societal attitudes in East Germany. She observes,

Even 20 years after its reunification, in many ways Berlin still feels like two cities, divided by a barrier of ideas as powerful as the Wall itself. In my conversations with people from East program, I’ve observed that rather than being grateful for the increasing number of opportunities, choices, and options that they have available to them in the marketplace, they are suspicious of this new way of life which they increasingly perceive as unfair… A remarkable 97% of East Germans reported being dissatisfied with German democracy and more than 90% believed socialism was a good idea in principle, one that had just been poorly implemented in the past.

In short, like my aunt changing nursing homes, knocking down the Berlin Wall has done little to change attitudes.

But let’s not be too eager to point our finger. Consider our own election cycle. Every four years in the presidential campaigns, we have a charade of candidates promising change, the result being larger budget deficits and more ruinous foreign adventures. Like my aunt, we expect that merely changing the cast of characters in front of us will somehow result in change. We want our problems fixed, but we don’t want to change. We want to keep intact our story that government is the source of our prosperity and the source of innovation.

Unfortunately, a better economy in Egypt or in the United States, like improved conditions for my aunt, is easier said than done. Before anything fundamentally changes in external circumstances, internal beliefs have to change. This is the hardest change of all.

A Teachable Moment

August 6, 2009

This is a speech that, in some form, a future president of the United States will have to give if our freedoms are to be restored.

My fellow Americans,

I come to you tonight not just as your President but as a teacher and a fellow learner. All teachers need to learn too. How can I lead, how can I teach, if the principles that guide my behavior are not renewed in me every day? Over the coming months, I hope we will join together as a nation in conversation. A conversation, not just with empty promises—such as “unleash prosperity for everybody” that one of my predecessors gave in 2009—but  a conversation with great ideas. And the point of this conversation will be not just to study what somebody else had said, but to learn that, as a free people, we must understand these ideas for ourselves.

Our nation is bankrupt, and it is time to rebuild. But we can only rebuild upon the principles that promote freedom and prosperity. So tonight, I come to you to begin a national dialogue on these principles. This educational process will take many years.

How can we learn anew the value of something that we have deliberately thrown away?  Many of us learn by stories. A story can give rich meaning to a principle, and tonight, I start with one. One would’ve thought that a basic principle such as you can’t destroy your way to prosperity would have been obvious. Unfortunately, back in 2009, it wasn’t obvious to even some trained economists.

You may recall the so-called “cash for clunkers” program. That program paid a person $4500 to trade in an old car for a new car. The government then required the dealer to destroy the old car. Not even the engine or the tires could be salvaged.

Famous economists, such as Alan Blinder, supported the bill as a good stimulus for the economy. Many politicians claimed the bill was good for the environment. Many in the public, their powers to reason having atrophied, based their opinions on the thirty-second bites they heard on the news.

But what could we have been thinking? The idea that we can create prosperity through destruction was proven to be a fallacy in 1850 by the French economist Frederic Bastiat in his essay “What is Seen and What is Not Seen.”

What is seen is that there is a new car sale that may not have occurred otherwise. What is unseen is the effect that the money would have had had it been saved or spent on something else. What is unseen is that there are fewer used cars for poor families. What is unseen is that the supply of used engines is reduced. What is unseen is that the environment is damaged by all of these cars that have been destroyed.

At one time in our history, logic was part of the curriculum in our schools. Reductio ad absurdum means to refute an argument by showing the logically absurd consequences of the argument. If cash for clunkers was a good idea, would it not have been even better to bulldoze old houses and give those families cash to buy a new house? Any school boy who had studied the logic of Bastiat’s essay could have pointed out that we would have been poorer, not richer, had we done so.

Didn’t Congress and the President know better?  A fair assessment is that most Congressmen and the President were illiterate about economics. But their ignorance was an effect, not a cause of the terrible policies that were passed early in the 21st Century. The real cause was that the public was ignorant and content to be so.

And so we begin this national journey to learn anew our lost heritage. The role of these national conversations, which I will lead, will be not only to teach, but to inspire. But your inspiration will come not by cheering at platitudes but by your earnest study. This is the price that must be paid to once again be a free people. Only a people who understand the principles of liberty will elect politicians who support these principles. Thomas Jefferson understood the power of education:  “I know no safe depositary of the ultimate powers of the society but the people themselves; and if we think them not enlightened enough to exercise their control with a wholesome discretion, the remedy is not to take it from them, but to inform their discretion by education. This is the true correction of abuses of constitutional power.”

Ignorant and Free

July 3, 2009

Most of us have been trained well—we find the guilty ones in life, so that we can proclaim our own innocence. Some religions teach that the guilty ones go to hell; so much more important than to be one of the innocent ones whose ticket is punched for heaven. Now, none of this may be occurring on a conscious level; but if we are aware, we can observe how we relish in judging others for small infractions as well as for massive crimes. This week, with the sentencing of Bernie Madoff, we reeled in a big fish—it would hard to imagine someone as unambiguously guilty.

At his sentencing hearing, not one person spoke on Madoff’s behalf; and I won’t either. However, I will point out an unpleasant truth—present day America is full of Bernie Madoffs. By “full of Bernie Madoffs” I don’t mean full of people who have set up $50 billion Ponzi schemes; I mean people who think nothing of spending other people’s money as though it were their own or people who think trustworthy behavior is a ticket for being left behind in life. America is being destroyed by our Bernie Madoffs.

More individuals in America resemble Bernie Madoff than we care to admit. Some sink to the level of criminality, some don’t; but regardless, their actions erode our freedoms. First, given the size of the fraud and the countless false statements detailing trades that never occurred, it is likely that tens, if not hundreds, of others were involved in Madoff’s fraud. In May, it was revealed that Jeffrey Picower took out over $5 billion of “gains” from his Madoff fund. According to Reuters, Irving Picard, the trustee overseeing the liquidation of Madoff’s assets, “claimed that in several cases Picower’s purported annual rates of return were more than 100 percent, with some annual returns as high as 500 percent or even 950 percent.”  I expect that we will be hearing more about Picower’s relationship with Madoff.

And what of the innocent Madoff investors, the ones earning merely 10-15% a year? Only those ignorant of economics and finance could believe in the financial “perpetual motion machine” run by Madoff; only the ignorant could believe that losses are a thing of the past and a steady stream of gains is here to stay. No doubt some, despite their wealth, were ignorant; but surely, more than a few must have suspected that something was wrong. Some of these “innocents” are now demanding that the government pay them, not only for the money that they originally deposited with Madoff, but for the “gains” that their false statements showed. In other words, while many non-Madoff investors found their stock funds down by 50% or more, these “innocents” believe that they should receive the false gains that Madoff promised. And who would pay for this? Why, the taxpayer, of course. No, these “innocents” are not guilty of fraud; but like Madoff, they behave as though other people’s money is their personal piggy bank.

Yes, I know that there are many Madoff investors who would be happy to have their original investment refunded; they have no designs on false gains. Our hearts go out to these investors for what to them must be terrible suffering.

This week, alongside the Madoff story, the Washington Post reported that “Sen. Daniel K. Inouye’s staff contacted federal regulators last fall to ask about the bailout application of an ailing Hawaii bank that he had helped to establish and where he has invested the bulk of his personal wealth.” Shortly after the phone call, Inouye’s bank received $135 million.

Of course, Inouye’s conduct is part of a much bigger problem. Bill Bonner answered his own question about Madoff: “Isn’t he the biggest financial scammer of all time?”

Well…he’s the title-holder now. But he has a lot of competition close on his heels. Bernie’s crime was taking money from people under false pretenses…and then being unable to give it back to them. How is that different from the financing activities of the US government?

This year alone, the feds will borrow 50 times as much money as Bernie managed to take in during his whole 20-year career. They can only pay it back by borrowing even more money from more lenders. This is not very different from the typical “Ponzi” scheme, except that it’s the government doing it. Eventually, the suckers are going to lose a lot of money.

It is easy to rail against government, but what about the likes of Donald Trump, respected and admired by many?  The Wall Street Journal recently reported on Donald Trump’s deposition taken in late 2007 as part of his lawsuit against author Timothy L. O’Brien. The Journal describes Trump’s definition of being “sold-out”:

Mr. Trump told The Wall Street Journal in November 2007 that he sold all 1,282 units at his Las Vegas condo project that he owns with casino and hand-truck magnate Phil Ruffin. There were $1.3 billion in proceeds coming from that project, he told The Journal and other news outlets, including CNBC.

In the deposition one month later, he said he had deposits for around 900 units. Mr. O’Brien’s lawyer, Andrew Ceresney, asked whether Mr. Trump was caught in a lie?

“That’s not a lie,” Mr. Trump said. He said that he was holding on to the rest of the units as an investment. “I’m a buyer also, essentially.”

Trump was also asked whether “he has ever exaggerated in statements about his properties.” Trump’s response:

“I think everybody does,” he said in the deposition. “Who wouldn’t?”

A follow-up question: Does that mean he inflates the value of his properties in general, nonfinancial public statements? “Not beyond reason,” he said in the testimony.

And just who is the arbiter of what “not beyond reason” means? Of course, Trump himself. I personally would never knowingly do business with the likes of a Trump; and if I was forced to, I would be backed by an army of lawyers and accountants. How quickly would commerce grind to a halt if everyone did business the Trump way?

As for Madoff, he will never be a free man again; but we are not safe. The same culture that produced Madoff, produced his investors, produced Trump, and produced Washington, D.C. Our troubles are just beginning, and we are not innocent. At a minimum, we are collectively ignorant of the values and principles that preserve freedom.

On this Fourth of July weekend, we can be reminded of Jefferson’s words: “If a nation expects to be ignorant and free…it expects what never was and never will be.”

Advice to Obama: Use Loving Principles, Not Force

November 5, 2008

I’m currently living in what was once the most libertarian state in the country, New Hampshire, until tax refugees from Massachusetts moved in and promptly began to vote for the same kind of politicians that they had just fled from.

For weeks, our home has been bombarded by telephone calls and visits at our front door from Obama supporters. Each time, we politely informed them that we don’t discuss politics with strangers; but their solicitations continued unabated.

Yesterday, Election Day, when we were out for our daily walk, Obama supporters were on the road going door-to-door. They giddily asked us if we had voted yet. Our paths kept crossing as we continued our walk; the image of Bill Murray punching out the insurance salesman in Groundhog Day flashed across my mind. Not wanting to impede my spiritual progress, I quickly adjusted my focus to the beauty of the surrounding forest.

Truthfully though, I feel for these giddy Obama supporters. Many of them are sincere and their hopes will be dashed in short order. For a few years at least, no matter how bad things get, the true believer will not lose faith. As bad as the economy gets, they will believe that Obama’s actions prevented things from being even worse. And they will believe that anybody who opposes these actions is responsible for any of Obama’s failures. Eventually however, even his most ardent admirers will be forced by circumstances to examine the evidence.

I didn’t stay up to listen to Obama’s victory speech, but I read the text this morning. In his speech he said: “There are many who won’t agree with every decision or policy I make as president.” Nowhere in his speech, or during his campaign, did Obama clearly articulate the principles that would guide his decision-making. Nowhere has he given the slightest indication that the U.S. Constitution will play any part in guiding his decision-making. Nowhere has he given the slightest indications that he understands and values the principles that support prosperity and liberty.

Obama has a strong personality and is one of the most charismatic politicians of modern times. Michael McMaster in his book The Intelligence Advantage writes this about this type of leadership:

Leadership without a distinct theory is merely a phenomenon of personality and will not survive the particular leader. More importantly, it will seldom have more than a temporary impact… The idea of getting from “here” to “there” without an understanding of the process and a theory from which “there” comes is a design for struggle, effort and suffering.

Rather than trying to govern by personality and inevitably by coercion and force, Obama can choose to be a true leader—one that unites people behind common principles. There is no need to invent these principles, the principles that promote liberty and prosperity have already been discovered and articulated. Claims have been made about Obama’s unusual personal brilliance; however, there is no need for that here; all that is needed is the humility to respect, honor, and be a steward of our rich heritage.

Two of the greatest political documents in the history of the planet are the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution. In these documents, we find the transcendent idea that human rights are inalienable and are not granted by powers on earth and, its corollary idea, that the powers our government has are very few and defined.

These are documents that reflect loving principles, because they’re based on respect for each individual. Out of that respect comes voluntary action and not force—these are timeless guideposts to liberty and prosperity. Expect the opposite from Obama—actions based on coercion (force)—and the claim that force, in the form of higher taxes, required national service, more regulation, and diminution of personal liberties is necessary to promote the common good.

No one can blame Obama supporters for wanting a change. The Republicans have governed miserably and have indeed helped to create a disastrous mess for this country. However, substituting one unprincipled gang for another will just continue us down our path of ruin. If you want to do more than hope, study the U.S. Constitution, study the principles that promote liberty and prosperity, and insist that your elected politicians do the same.

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