Friday, May 29, 2009

“Those who are ignorant of their history…

…are condemned to repeat it.” No truer words have ever been uttered.

In researching the situation with Supreme Court nominee Judge Sonia Sotomayor, I came across a little footnote in American history about which I was previously ignorant, and that I found astonishing and alarming. If you do not know the history behind the phrase “The switch in time that saved nine”, you might want to read this article.

It should be obvious to any thinking individual that History does not truly “repeat” itself, not exactly. But like musical phrases from a symphony, certain themes do reappear and build upon themselves. Our current economic crisis, coming at the end of a roaring period of growth in the 1990’s and 2000’s, is reminiscent of what historians now call the “Roaring Twenties”. America at that time was truly entering modernity. Our “manifest destiny” was being realized, our nation was beginning to jell. We no longer had a “Wild West” suffering frequent Indian wars, industrialization was at its peak, we had recovered from the expensive (both socially and economically) disaster of the Civil War, and our participation in World War I had resulted in America sitting as the preeminent and wealthiest nation on Earth. Deep ethnic divisions were festering and would eventually result in the explosive Civil Rights Movement which, gratefully, would be resolved “peacefully” thanks to the wise Christian leadership of Martin Luther King forty years later.

But in the meantime, the bloodiness of WWI mixed with a heady sense of relief, pride, optimism, and a healthy dose of disenchantment: after all, millions had died during the war, and intellectuals began to question the traditional values that had led the world to that “war to end all wars”. The cynicism felt by many found expression in the nihilist art form known as “Dada,” which was “anti-art” (if Art had the intention of appealing to the sensibilities, Dada was intended to offend them. Simultaneously, the relief of the end of the war resulted in an exuberance that created the “Flapper” movement, redefining the woman’s role in society, and openly disdained popular perception of what was “proper” behavior for women. The Jazz Age was born, and it should be noted that at that time Jazz was looked upon with the same disdain that Rap is now: it was hedonistic party music associated with drug and alcohol abuse, promiscuity, and open sexuality.

So, while Europe was rebuilding after the war, America was prospering, and “experimenting” with new and “progressive” ideals. This hedonistic attitude would eventually spread to Europe and alter their cultures as well.

But it was not all “wine and roses”: the end of the war meant an end to government spending and a deep recession, perhaps even a depression. Unemployment reached 20%. Runaway inflation was destroying the economy. Three consecutive Republican Presidents combated this trend with debt reduction, tax cuts, reduced spending, and a close relationship between government and industry. “Consumerism” was born, and while some benefitted, large portions of the population saw no real increase in their overall wealth. To use today’s Progressive jargon: The rich got richer and the poor got poorer. Or remained equally poor, to be fair. The normalcy of the economic boom in the 1920s resulted in an explosive growth of government and spending that would eventually come to haunt the country. From 1929 to 1933, under President Hoover, real per capita federal spending increased by 88%.

The Republican policies worked. For most of the decade, the economy not only recovered, but also began to boom. Overconfidence resulted in a speculative bubble that sparked the stock market crash and the Great Depression. The Republicans tried to maintain a government role as “arbiter” and avoid direct intervention.

But when the stock markets crashed, and banks collapsed, the mood in the country understandably shifted, and Franklin D. Roosevelt was elected. Roosevelt’s “New Deal” programs (there were actually two) are the historic inspiration for President Obama’s contemporary Reinvestment Act. The first New Deal was aimed at helping the Banks and the railroads, the key industry at that time. He abandoned the gold standard, and enacted “work relief” programs, in which the government would provide jobs to millions of Americans. The second act included labor union support, the Social Security Act, and programs to aid the agricultural sector, particularly tenant farmers and migrant workers.

Take a moment to reflect upon that history, comparing what you know about the period in US history from WWII, through Viet Nam, to the presidency of Ronald Reagan and the sweeping reforms he enacted, to the two decades of prosperity of the ‘90s through 2007. An historical theme runs through both periods, to be punctuated poignantly by the current economic collapse and election of President Obama. From exuberance and economic glory, to excess, moral decline, a willingness to redefine the nation's values based upon whimsical fancy, to the heady and uncontrolled expanse of government, while the investors drunkenly and greedily set aside better judgement for a quick profit.

Returning to the New Deal; Roosevelt’s plans ran afoul of the Supreme Court. That court repeatedly shot down Roosevelt’s plans for perceived constitutional violations, because the reach of government was expanding far beyond the limitations to Federal Government powers stated within the constitution.

Infuriated, Roosevelt devised a plan. The US Constitution does not expressly limit the number of justices on the court to nine justices. So Roosevelt created the Judiciary Reorganization Bill of 1937, also known popularly as “The Court-Packing Plan.” He would expand the court to 15 judges and appoint six new, liberal judges to swing the court in his favor and allow him control the Supreme Court.

About the time the Court-Packing Plan was about to be enacted, Justice Owen Roberts, who had consistently voted against most of the New Deal provisions, changed his votes and started approving the plans. This is the source of the phrase, “a switch in time saved nine”: by changing his vote, acquiescing to the dominating mood at the time, Roberts avoided a major overhaul of the Supreme Court.

The implications for today’s America are not trivial. The level of disenchantment caused by the economic collapse following on two decades of economic prosperity is deep and radical. The common mantra that “we must act to avoid disaster” has allowed politicians to leverage off the people’s fears, and guide the nation onto an unprecedented path. The Obama administration, enjoying an almost cult-like following, has been given free rein to spend more money in less than 100 days than previous administrations combined. The government has interfered with the contract obligations of investors and given unwarranted ownership to unions in today’s auto-making industry.

But the Obama administrations goals are far grander than this. The Progressives want to force the nation to redefine marriage, remove limits on even the most reprehensible forms of abortion, radically alter the medical industry, and force through “transformational” policies based upon hysterical fears about global catastrophe that would fundamentally alter American society in every respect. They have repeatedly suggested their interest in controlling access to guns, and nominated as a Supreme Court Justice a woman who believes that gun ownership is not a “Fundamental Right”. They want to grant amnesty to tens of millions of people who entered the country illegally and oppose local and state police forces from working with the federal government to enforce immigration policy.

Annoyed that Americans would dare to defy them and instead rally around popular media spokesmen like Rush Limbaugh, they float the idea of imposing a “Fairness Doctrine” that would force radio stations to essentially subsidize unpopular beliefs and create “popular commissions” to monitor and report on compliance. And at a time in which our national security is threatened by a cabal of rogue states and radical terrorist organizations, they are gutting the national defense, hamstringing our intelligence organizations, and persecute the previous administration’s officials for the tactics they used to keep us safe.

So, if the wheels continue to come off the cart, what’s to say that the proposals will not become increasingly radical? This administration has already admitted that their philosophy is to use “crisis” as an “opportunity”. As the Obama administration looks back at the radically populist policies of the Roosevelt administration, who is to say that Obama could not “resuscitate” the Court-Packing Plan in order to lock in control over the Supreme Court?

When the effects of Obama’s massive spending results in inflation, when the dollar has collapsed due to their uncontrolled printing of worthless money, as fuel prices rise and the cost of basic necessities such as food, energy, and transportation necessarily rise and result in greater unemployment, hunger, desperation, a natural outcome will be for the administration to use the next crisis as an opportunity to enact even more desperate “temporary” measures.

Everything I’m describing is exactly what happened in Venezuela over the past ten years. Step by step, President Chavez took control of the Congress, then declared a crisis and took control of the court, then expanded the court from nine to thirteen judges. He decreed price controls that forced private industries to deliver “basic goods” at below cost. When they could not do that, he nationalized them, giving them to his friends and supportive interest groups, such as unions. He closed down the largest opposition television network by refusing to renew their “broadcast concession,” and has now threatened the last major free network with the same. He funded community activist groups that performed acts intimidation, as well as electoral fraud. All the while, he maintained popular support by saying that he was doing this in the interests of the poor, the unemployed, the ethnic minority victims of capitalism, even “to save the world” because capitalism is destroying the environment. His next step was to attempt to alter the constitution to give himself perpetual re-election.

So, tell me: is what I described about Chavez, and Roosevelt, all that different from what we know about Obama?

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