Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Media Coverage: A Man-made Disaster

Michele Bachmann created another stir because of a recent speech in Florida:

Mainstream media commentators, of course, quickly pounced on her comments as either a gaffe or yet another example of her Christian alternative universe.

After receiving criticism for those remarks, a representative from the campaign claimed that Bachmann made the comments in jest.

It appears that her remarks were exactly that.

She smiled as she made them. Audience members laughed. They got the joke.

Why can't the media?

But then there is Pat Robertson. Despite his opening remarks about wanting to "get weird," Robertson promptly "gets weird:"

The mainstream media  does not seem to devote the same diligence at liberal "gaffes."

Remember actor Danny Glover from a couple of years ago? Instead of attributing the Haiti earthquake to Almighty God, he claimed it came from Almighty Global Warming. I do not recall very much condescending snickering from taking heads on that one.

Below is Danny "Lethal Weapon" Glover taking taking aim at coherence.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Passing Gas with Michele Bachmann

Right Detour breaks from the history of the idea of republicanism to resume a tour of recent political news . . .

Michele Bachmann made an eyebrow raising campaign promise. She declared to her audience that under a Bachmann administration they would witness fuel prices below two dollars a gallon.

As they say, anything is possible. A few obstacles must be hurdled:

First, the Constitution does not empower the President (or Congress) to set fuel prices. If she could lower prices by executive order, oil companies simply would stop refining fuel.

Second, increasing supply might not significantly impact the prices. Like every other commodity, the price reflects supply and demand. Bachmann claims that she could reduce prices by removing restrictions on drilling. The best part of such a policy would be to get people back to work. It would not lead, however, to a significant drop in prices any time soon. A large lag exists between additions to the supply of oil and downward pressure on prices.

In fact, a price drop may never occur. I have not research the actual data, but I do remember the promise of North Sea oil and Alaskan oil not quite living up to the hype.

Third, OPEC may have something to say about oil prices. If US production does have an impact, you can bet OPEC will reduce production at their end. They do not really care what we think about it. Even after all the hand-holding and lip-smacking that went on between George Bush and the Saudi Royal family, the Saudis followed their own national interest—not ours.

Finally, overall economic conditions may not warrant confidence in declining prices. If economic activity slows into a recession, that will reduce demand for oil and tend to push prices lower. An economic downturn, however, is the last thing that a Bachmann administration wants.

Conservative candidates really need to tell it like it is, so that we do not end up with supporters like this woman:

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Cicero Christens the Republic

In Search of the Republic--8

The previous post explored the historian Polybius and his interpretation of the ancient Roman government as a mixed regime that contained elements of monarchy, aristocracy, and democracy.

This post considers how that type of regime became known as a republic.

Marcus Tullius Cicero (106BC-43BC) served Rome as a lawyer, a scholar, and statesman. As he watched the triumvirate of Caesar, Crassus, and Pompeius increase their power and influence through bribery, intimidation, and demagoguery, Cicero began writing his most well-known work, De re publica. Translators have rendered this title in the variations of On the Government, On the Commonwealth, and On the Republic. This latter rendering is of particular interest. Although the expression originally referred to the state or constitution of Rome's government in general, re publica eventually became attached the the specific type of government he described.

Cicero wrote De re publica as a dialogue in which the main character, Scipio, the triumphant general in the Punic Wars, instructs his listeners about the history and meaning of the Roman republic.

According to Cicero, “Our Roman constitution . . . did not spring from the genius of an individual, but of many; and it was established, not in the lifetime of a man, but in the course of ages and centuries.” It borrowed from many nations but improved upon these borrowings.

He says that like Sparta, Rome had a government that mixed monarchy, aristocracy, and democracy, In his account, Romulus founded Rome as its first monarch. He later “formed a royal council or senate of the chief noblemen, who were entitled by the affection of the people Patres, or Patricians.” This group became the hereditary body representing the aristocracy of Rome's founding families. Although advisory in nature, the Senate dominated the government. Romulus also formed a comitia (assembly) representing the tribes. This became the poplar assembly or democratic branch. Although the Senate and comitia changed over time, they formed the essence of the Roman republic—a mixed regime in which the affluent and the poor participated.

The kingship, too, changed over time. Cicero credited Rome with recognizing “the importance of appointing a king, not for his family, but for his virtue and experience.” Eventually, the kingship was abolished in favor of an elected executive called the Consul.

Consequently, a republic came to designate a different type of government than those three fundamental types into which Aristotle originally classified all regimes. Essentially a version of Aristotle's polity, a republic meant a constitution in which separate assemblies representing the affluent and the poor enabled both classes to participate in sovereignty and one in which there was no hereditary monarch.

Cicero's celebration of the Roman republic proved short lived. Caesar eventually overthrew the republic. He kept the form of the constitution even while he ruled as a dictator. After his assassination, a complex power struggle ensued. During the course of that power struggle, Cicero was declared an enemy of the state and executed in 43BC.

Cicero experienced something of a resurrection when Renaissance thinkers began exploring an alternative to the Christian monarchies that dominated Europe at that time. They called it a republic.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Rome: The Original Republic

In Search of the Republic--7

Leaving the presidential race aside, Right Detour resumes a very brief history of the idea of a republic.

Several previous posts argue that Aristotle invented the type of government known as a republic. In his work The Politics, Aristotle classified government into three general types: rule by the one, rule by the few, and rule by the many. When these types of governments operate for the common good of the society, they are known as monarchy, aristocracy, and polity. When these governments operate only for the good of the rulers, they are known as tyranny, oligarchy, and democracy. Oligarch means rule by the rich; democracy mean rule by the poor.

While Aristotle believed that an aristocracy functioned as the best ideal government, he thought that polity was the best obtainable government. Aristotle described a specific kind of polity, one in which the affluent and the poor shared power. He suggested the the majority should exercise power through a popular assembly in which no property qualifications were required for participation. The popular assembly would elect the members of the government administration, who would no doubt be the more affluent, more well-educated people. In this way, both poor and rich shared power. Hopefully, this arrangement would prevent class based factions from forming and tearing the society apart. When both social orders participated in the constitution, this would reduce the desire of each group to seek to rule for its own interest instead of the common good. Aristotle hoped that this would prevent the more typical experience shared by most Greek city-states that dotted the Mediterranean basin that included factions, civil war, and the overthrow of democracies and their replacement with oligarchies or tyrannies.

Aristotle derived his model polity from observations regarding the Athenian, Carthaginian, and Spartan constitutions. After Aristotle's death, however, another regime arose that became the model for almost all future republics: the republic of Rome.

The most widely read analysis of the Roman constitution was produced by a Greek historian named Polybius. Born around 200 BC on southern Greece, Polybius was the son of a politician and cavalry officer. After the Roman conquest of Macedonia, the Romans deported Polybius and over a thousand other Greeks to Rome. Like many Greek captives, he served a a tutor for an elite Roman family. He became an acquaintance of the Roman general Scipio, who he accompanied during the final Roman conquest of Carthage. Polybius later wrote his Histories, which account the rise of Rome to dominion over the Mediterranean.

Although historians doubt the accuracy of many of his observations, the Histories of Polybius proved extremely influential on later political philosophers who explored the republic as alternative to the monarchies that came to dominate Europe.

He described the Roman government as a mixed or balanced government:

The three kinds of government, monarchy, aristocracy and democracy, were all found united in the commonwealth of Rome. And so even was the balance between them all, and so regular the administration that resulted from their union, that it was no easy thing to determine with assurance, whether the entire state was to be estimated an aristocracy, a democracy, or a monarchy. For if they turned their view upon the power of the consuls, the government appeared to be purely monarchical and regal. If, again, the authority of the senate was considered, it then seemed to wear the form of aristocracy. And, lastly, if regard was to be had to the share which the people possessed in the administration of affairs, it could then scarcely fail to be denominated a popular state.

For when any one of the three classes becomes puffed up, and manifests an inclination to be contentious and unduly encroaching, the mutual interdependency of all the three, and the possibility of the pretensions of any one being being brought up short and thwarted by the others, must plainly check this tendency: and so the proper equilibrium is maintained by the impulsiveness of the one part being checked by its fear of the other.

The three parts of the government to which he referred were the Consuls or executive leadership ( monarchy), the Senate, (aristocracy), and the people's assembly (democracy).

This concept of a mixed government, embodying both the rich and the poor in the constitution endured for centuries and influence political thinkers down to the era of our own Founding Fathers.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Barack Obama: Another One Rides the Bus

And finally, the President himself completed a campaign swing, er, I mean “listening tour” about the economy and jobs through the Midwest on the heels of the Iowa Republican debate and straw poll. Because the White House considers the tour to be “official” presidential business,” taxpayers funded the trip instead of the President's reelection committee. According to Jim Carney, “The fact that the President is not engaged in a primary election, and he is doing what presidents do, which is go out into the country and engage with the American people, and have discussions about the economy and other policy issues.”

But if this was a listening tour about jobs, the most important job that the President wants to save is his own.

In addition to the taxpayer funded trip, controversy erupted over the $1.1 million bus that the Secret Service purchased for use by the President. The bus resembled the Star Wars “Death Star” as it rolled into the Midwest. Maybe it is designed the resemble those UN black helicopters we keep hearing about.

The Secret Service purchased an additional bus for the use of the eventual Republican party nominee. And Obama is not the first president to use costly buses in a “listening” tour. Below is the Bush-Chaney Tour Bus from a few years back:

An additional brouhaha erupted when media outsets reported that the bus was manufactured by a Canadian company Prevost. If this is a jobs tours, why purchase product that only creates jobs in Canada. The report, however, proved to be a partial truth. Prevost manufactured the exterior shell of the bus, amounting to about half the cost. An American company, Hemphill Brothers Coaches of White Creek, Tennessee manufacture the luxury interior. Hemphill, which boasts such clients as Pink, Beyonce, and Keith Urban, says that its coaches allow “top entertainers to travel efficiently without losing the luxury of home.”

Despite enjoying Hemphill Coaches luxury, our Entertainer-in-Chief retreated to Martha's Vineyard for a ten day vacation following his exhausting three day bus trip.

And, of course, then there is Weird Al's number on the buses of public transit.  Despite their obvious differences, the Obama bus and public transit buses have one thing in common: the relevant line is "I think my wallet is gone."

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Bachmann Botches the Bible

On the continuing Right Detour through recent conservative political events, the most interesting aspect of the Republican debate was the exchange between panelist Byron York and Michele Bachmann. He inquired about the scriptural command for a woman to submit to her husband. He reminded Bachmann of a previous occasion when that scripture guided her decision- making. York asked, “As President, would you be submissive to your husband?"

The question evoked a chorus of boos from the audience. The question seemed appropriate enough. She one one occasion asserted her religious belief that a wife should submit to her husband, yet she seeks the highest political office in the country. York gave her an opportunity to clear up the apparent incongruity between those desires.

As might be expected from a politician, Bachmann finessed the question. She subtly shifted the point of the question from the idea of submission to that of respect.

But is this what the Bible says? The text to which York alluded is found in Paul's letter to a church a Ephesus. In this letter, he writes:

“Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as unto the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the church: and he is the savior of the body. Therefore as the church is subject unto Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in every thing.”

In this passage, Paul includes an analogy that precludes the notion of respect. He instructs Christian women to submit to husbands in the same way they submit to the Lord. No Christian seriously believes that the relationship between God and any human being is merely one of mutual respect. It is creator and creature, savior and sinner.

A little word study makes this even clearer. The Greek word for submit is hupotasso. It means to obey, to submit, to subordinate. The same word is used in commands for believers to obey God Almighty as in James 4:7, for Christians to obey the laws as in Romans 13:1, and for slaves to obey masters as in Titus 2:9.

Some Christians might claim that this text refers only to the home. Paul did write, however, that wives are to submit in “everything.”

Bachmann might be referring, however, to another passage in the letter in which Paul, after exhorting husbands to love their wives, summarizes his teaching in the following manner:

“Nevertheless let every one of you in particular so love his wife even as himself; and the wife see that she reverence her husband.”

Some moderns translations, as a concession to modern sensibilities, render the word reverence as respect. But even this will not do. The Greek word used in this text for respect is phobeo, which means to be frightened, alarmed, or in awe. Again, the ideas of fear and awe differ considerable from respect.

At any rate, Bachmann received praise from most analysts for her answer. Perhaps it will put the issue to rest so that the electorate can focus on more substantive issues. The exchange, however, does illustrate the way one's private religious beliefs can intrude into public affairs. President Barak Obama, of course, learned that lesson not too long ago.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Corporations are People, Too!

With the arrival of the Iowa State Fair, the Republican debate, and the Ames Straw Poll on candidates for the Republican Party presidential nomination, Right Detour temporarily breaks from the continuing history of republics to survey recent political developments of interest to conservatives.

The first dramatic scene at the Iowa State Fair occurred before the debate. At the fair, the candidates bid money for booths from which they meet and greet fair-goers and deliver speeches. During one of his speeches, Mitt Romney faced heckling from Democratic Party operatives. In the exchange, Romney pledged that he would not raise taxes on people in order to shore up Medicare. A couple of the hecklers shouted out, "Corporations!" Romney retorted that corporations are people, too.

This evoked more heckling from the activists and this response from Debbie Wasserman Schultz, in which she accused him of committing a gaff and promptly repeated the Democratic Party demand for s"fair," i.e,  more taxes on corporations.

I am not lawyer, but Schultz, the Democrats debutante as party chair, appears appallingly ignorant about corporations.

Although the law makes some important distinctions, corporations are, in fact, people, in several ways.

The term, corporation, originates from Latin corpus meaning "body of people."

Corporations are people in the sense of its stockholders.

Corporation are people in the sense of its employees.

And corporations are considered "artificial persons" in corporate law.:

--Corporations have contract rights like individuals (Darmouth College v. Woodward ;1819)

--Corporations have property rights like individuals (SPG v. Town of Pawlett;1823)

--Corporations have 14th Amendment protections like individuals (Santa Clara RR v. South Pacific RR; 1886)

And part of United States Code reads, "In determining the meaning of any act of Congress, unless the context indicates otherwise, the words person and whoever include coporations, companies, associations, firms, partnerships, societies, and joint stock companies as well as individuals."

And it is corporate personhood that allows individuals to sue them and governments to tax them!

 Maybe Schultz needs an introductory legal studies class as much as Sarah Palin needs a history class.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Virtue and Aristotle's Republic

In Search of the Republic--6

With all of Aristotle's attention to the origins of the state, the different kinds of constitutions, how they are preserved and how they are overthrown, the nature of citizenship, and the education of citizens, one theme runs throughout his exposition: the concept of virtue.

The state's concern with the virtue of its citizens is not merely of antiquarian or religious interest. Over the last three decades, a revolution in the understanding of our nation's founding has unfolded within the academic world. Historians J.G.A. Pocock, Gordon Wood, and Lance Banning resurrected this ancient idea and argued that the classical idea of virtue, rather than liberty, best serves as the organizing principle of our understanding of the American founding. And should the state inculcate virtue in its citizens today. If so, how? A future post will weigh those propositions.

The state's role in cultivating virtue in its citizens makes explicit the connection between Aristotle's The Politics and its “prequel,” Ethics. In this book, Aristotle defined happiness as the “rational activity of the soul in accordance with virtue.” Men are to use reason to cultivate specific intellectual and moral  excellencies identified by Aristotle. Most translations of Aristotle's work utilize the word virtue instead of excellencies.

These virtues, however, can only be acquired, developed, and practices within organized society.

“For as man is the best of all animals when he has reached his full development, so he is the worst of all when divorced from law and justice. Injustice armed is hardest to deal with; and though man is born with weapons which he can use in the service of practical wisdom and virtue, it is all too easy for him to use them for he opposite purposes. Hence, man without virtue is the most savage, the most unrighteous, and the worst in regard to sexual license and gluttony. The virtue of justice is a feature of a state; for justice is the arrangement of the political association and a sense of justice decides what is just.”

The concern with virtue, in fact, defines a state. According to Aristotle, “that which is genuinely and not just nominally called a state must concern itself with virtue.” He rejects the modern conceptions of the state. He contends that “the state is not an association of people dwelling in the same place, established to prevent its member from committing injustice against each other, and to promote transactions. Certainly all these features must be present,” but more is needed. In his view, the purpose is “a perfect and self-sufficient life” in which the citizen live together “happily and nobly.” The associate of the state exists “for the sake of noble actions.”

The reference to “noble actions” suggests a caveat concerning Aristotle's views on virtue. They are decidedly elitist. One purpose of the virtues is the acquisition of wealth. In his words, “It is not by means of external goods that men acquire and keep the virtues, but the other way round.” Possession of the intellectual and moral virtues lead to the possession of adequate material goods.The intellectual virtues included knowledge, intution, skill, prudence, and wisdom. The moral virtues include courage, temperance, generousity, and amiability. And only a person with adequate material goods possesses the leisure time required to participate meaningfully in public life.  One function of the state is to provide the means to develop virtues in its elite  citizens. Then a properly organzed state will permit the exercise of virtue by those elites in political life.

 Consequently, in an aristocratic constitution, mechanics and day laborers cannot participate and therefore are not full citizens.

"Citizens must not live a mechanical or commercial life. jSuch a life is not noble, and it militates against virtue.Nor must those who are to be citizen be agricultural workers, for they must have leisure to develop their virtue, and for the activities of a citizen."

The only virtue Aristotle found in the lower orders was martial virtues: the excellence of the hoplite soldier in defence of the city-state.

Aristotle's ideal constitution, then, is an aristotcracy.

But in his best obtainable constitution, Aristotle's mixed regime allows both the noble and the common persons to participate fully as citizens.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Aristotle's MIddle Class Republic

In Search of the Republic--5

Aristotle argued that the best possible constitution is one in which both the poor and the rich possess a share in constitution. He suggested that the best way to divide these shares was through an assembly without property qualifications in which all citizens, poor and rich participate in the lawmaking process, and through administrative offices to which the assembly elevates the best citizens by means of elections. The use of elections, according to Aristotle, introduces an element of aristocracy into a fundamentally democratic constitution.

Aristotle recognized, however, the existence of another segment of society—the middle class. He asked,

“What is the best constitution and what is the best life for the majority of states and the majority of men? We have in mind men whose virtue does not rise above that of ordinary people, and whose education does not depend on the luck either of their natural ability or of their resources."

He believed the middle orders of people serve to moderate the vices possess by the rich and the poor. “The former,” according to Aristotle, incline more to arrogance and crime on a large scale while the latter are more than averagely prone to wicked ways and petty crime.”

In addition, the middle orders of people are more secure from possessing the vices of covetousness and from becoming the victims of covetousness. “It is the middle citizens in a state who are the most secure: they neither covet, like the poor, the possessions of others, nor do others covet theirs as the poor covet those of the rich. So they live without risk, not scheming and not being schemed against.”

This helps prevent the rise of class based factions in the city-state. Class based factions plagued the Greek city-states and in many cases contributed to the degeneration of their democracies into tyrannies. In Aristotle's view, class based factions emerge when classes seek a larger share in the constitution based upon their particular version of justice. The poor claim that “those who are equal in any respect are equal absolutely. All are like free, therefore they claim that they are alike absolutely.” In contrast, the rich assume that “being unequal in wealth they assume themselves to be unequal absolutely.” Consequently, according to Aristotle, “whenever either side does not share in the constitution according to their fundamental assumption in each case, they form factions.”

In a constitution where “the middle element is large,” however, “there least of all arise factions and divisions among the citizens. And large states are freer from faction, from this same reason, namely that their middle element is large.”

Aristotle maintained that a such a well-mixed constitution will prove to be the longest lasting.

Although Aristotle's observations pertained to the city-states of his time, they possess some validity for contemporary America. The existence of our large middle class softens the class conflict between rich and poor. Such conflict has resulted in small changes to our constitution rather than convulsive, violent alterations. Consequently, we have the oldest written constitution in the world.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Aristotle Invents the Republic

In Search of the Republic--4

Unlike his teacher Plato, Aristotle never composed a book called The Republic.

He did describe, however, a kind of government that later assumed that name. He called it a polity.

By polity Aristotle meant a popular government that rules in the common interest of the city-state. The best means of crafting such a constitution is to include both poor and rich in the administration of the state.

Aristotle proposed several ways to accomplish this. First, the laws could require the state to pay the poor for attending and to fine the rich for not attending the meetings of the assembly. This would encourage participation of both orders. Second, the laws could assess a small property requirement for participation in the assembly. This requirement might increase the influence of the more affluent, educated members of the city-state. Finally, the laws could divide the different parts of the government between the different orders.

Aristotle suggested the laws establish a popular assembly with no property qualifications to insure the poor a share in the constitution. In contrast, he suggested a property qualification for the offices of the state. Moreover, instead of filling of offices by lot, as was the case in most democracies, they should be filled by elections. In this way, the people might choose those they believed best to rule for the common interest of the city-state. This introduces an aristocratic element into the constitution.

This constitution, which Aristotle called not the ideal but the best obtainable, mixes democracy and aristocracy. Under such a constitution, the mass of the people would dominate the assembly and the judicial element, while the aristocrats or notables would dominant the offices that managed the city-state between meetings of the assembly. With both groups enjoying a share in the constitution, perhaps they both would seek to rule for the common good. Because both orders shared the government, it reduced the likelihood of one order or the other forming a faction.
It was this idea of a mixed regime that came to be identified as a republic and which endured until the time of the founding of the United States.