WASHINGTON, March 1, 2012—Thomas Jefferson once observed, “Every generation deserves a new revolution.” Exhausted in war and facing economic collapse, America embraced Barack Obama as a vanguard of revolutionary hope in 2008.
Americans have enjoyed fruits of revolutionary success in recent history. Ronald Reagan certainly came through for most of us from 1981 to 1989.
So why should anyone worry now in 2012 when President Obama and his supporters even more fervently take up the mantle and rhetoric of “revolution?”
Where candidate Obama had a thin substantive record to assert the claim for highest elective office in 2008, President Obama has laid down numerous markers since 20 January 2009 that deserve and should get close scrutiny through Election Day.
In 1933, Franklin Delano Roosevelt launched a groundbreaking tenure as President amidst Depression by warning “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” Most forget the more important qualifying sentence that came beforehand: “This is pre-eminently the time to speak the truth, the whole truth, frankly and boldly”.
In the fourth year of President Obama’s historic leadership, here are some truths I believe voters should definitely consider.
Truth # 1: In Promoting Revolutionary Renewal, Jefferson Never Meant for Americans to Tear up the Constitution
The essential principles that Jefferson and his compatriots espoused are set forth clearly in a concise document which binds America’s political establishment in solemn obligation to preserving the lives, liberties, and properties of her citizens.
Even Constitutional scholars occasionally ignore how long and bloody the trail was from monarchical, absolutist rule under King William the Conqueror to republican, participatory democracy under President George Washington.
The Founders viewed the Constitution itself as a signal achievement.
When a duly elected American President begins his term in office, he swears or affirms a simple oath:
“…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.”
The President’s obligations are as clear as his oath is succinct. But is it fair to conclude this President has held fast to his over-arching duty?
Truth # 2: The Founders Never Intended to Concentrate Power in a Single Branch of Government.
In 1807, Thomas Jefferson explained what sets the American Constitution apart from other governance approaches:
“The leading principle of our Constitution is the independence of the Legislature, Executive, and Judiciary of each other.”
Can we say that President Obama truly believes the Executive Branch of Federal Government is just equal to the Legislative and Judicial Branches?
Truth # 3: Jefferson Expected Americans to Resist the Temptation of Serving Monied Interests.
Though Jefferson did not anticipate precisely how engaged Americans would become in a global, market-based system of commerce, he did clearly foresee the dangers that monied interests posed to the fair and effective operation of government and to the nourishment of personal liberty inside the United States of America:
“The public money and public liberty, intended to have been deposited with three branches of magistracy, but found inadvertently to be in the hands of one only, will soon be discovered to be sources of wealth and dominion to those who hold them; ….. With money we will get men, said Caesar, and with men we will get money. Nor should our assembly be deluded by the integrity of their own purposes, and conclude that these unlimited powers will never be abused, because [they] themselves are not disposed to abuse them. They should look forward to a time, when corruption in this…country…have seized the heads of government and be spread by them through the body of the people, when they will purchase the voices of the people and make them pay the price.”
Neither political party is blemish free. However, has Team Obama resisted grave temptation to let money grease political gears? Moreover, has any recent President gone as far as President Obama seems to in taking the fight to his political opponents?
Truth # 4: Wrenching Changes in Global Economic Conditions are not Sufficient Ground to Make Peremptory Alteration in our National Compact.
So far, American governance under the Constitution has functioned through an Agricultural Revolution, an Industrial Revolution, and an Information Revolution that have each drastically transformed the global system of commerce.
The root causes for present and persistent economic anxieties inside the United States are due to global realities over which no American President or any branch of our government can exercise much control. The brutal reality is that every single private sector worker in the United States is now much more vulnerable in a global labor market than each of us was when hundreds of millions of potential workers were trapped east of an Iron Curtain before 1991.
Truth # 5: No Nation has Unlimited Debt Capacity.
While Jefferson fully expected succeeding generations to renew themselves in revolution, he was also adamant that present generations should not leave debt behind for future ones.
Governments have borrowed, banks have borrowed, funds have borrowed, corporations have borrowed and households have borrowed—all with evident abandon. Even so, America has been fortunate to retain access to debt markets on lax repayment and interest rate terms, especially for the past 30 years.
Nations do not get many warnings before the combined debt loads of their residents spiral out-of-control.
The American government lost her pristine “Triple A” credit rating just months ago. But are politicians, lenders, fund managers, executives and individuals listening carefully enough to alarm bells that are already sounding?
In the end, each nation repays debt using two primary sources: cash left over from private sector income and un-encumbered assets.
In the United States, private sector incomes have been stagnant since 1999 and readily saleable assets of the scale required to reduce our total debt are in short supply.
Truth # 6: “Soaking the Rich” has Never Worked.
It is certainly the case that a small minority of the U.S.population controls an over-whelming majority of American household wealth. A similarly skewed distribution holds true for household income. But these hard facts are not solid proof of odious, purposive discrimination. Nor is America’s pattern particularly unusual or surprising.
Nevertheless, President Obama and politicians in both parties seem quite prepared to maintain the fiction that “the rich,” however defined, can somehow painlessly solve the nation’s vexing economic problems by surrendering a bigger share of their income or wealth.
Acting alone, America can never make a success of this ill-conceived approach—wealth and income are mobile. Furthermore, there will always be at least one important country ready to grasp opportunities available in serving economic interests of the wealthy.
Alexis de Tocqueville noted, “In a revolution, as in a novel, the most difficult part to invent is the end.”
I believe revolution in hope of coming close to perfection is a cause lost at the start.
Revolutions that sell seductive concepts to the masses then arrogate wealth and the spoils of power to their leaders violate the people’s trust and are therefore inherently corrupt.
In 2012, instead of Revolution, America deserves a vigorous, informed, inspired and peaceful exchange of views that is not diminished into irrelevancy and despair by slogans and hollow campaign promises.
Where is the crop of modern giants that our generation so urgently needs in each branch of government this year?
Los Angeles born, Manhattan raised, Charles is an avid student of history, with deep personal roots in America. For fun, Charles likes to establish whether family lore is grounded in hard fact. So far this has led him onto trails west blazed by a variety of ancestors who migrated in early days to Montana, California and Oregon and to many other absorbing places from early times. For work, Charles helps professional investors with their portfolios and with operating companies as they struggle in increasingly more volatile and challenging external market conditions. His firm, Newport Value Partners, is named in honor of John Coggeshall, a direct ancestor who helped purchase Aquidneck Island from the residents and later served as first President of Rhode Island.
Follow Charles on Twitter @CharlesOrtel and google “Charles Ortel” to view his media appearances on TV, in radio and in print.
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