Melanie Sturm | @ThinkAgainUSA
It’s been a rough last few months, and I’m not just referring to the alarming presidential contest between the two most egomaniacal, morally-compromised and disliked candidates in electoral history.
Perhaps it’s divine intervention that I’ve been intermittently away from my column to care for, mourn and deal with the affairs of my Mom, who passed away before I attended the Republican National Convention as a Colorado delegate.
A staunch critic of GOP elites, I ran to be a delegate (at my Mom’s urging) because I wanted to help select a presidential nominee who’d unite the “Party of Lincoln” around its bedrock principle – the democratic self-government of a free people.
My pre-convention column argued for allowing delegates to vote their conscience – for Donald Trump or whomever – yielding the strongest nominee to oppose Clinton whose Espionage Act violations and cover-up make her the most brazenly dishonest presidential candidate since Nixon. Her election would advance the banana-republic notion that the powerful are above the law.
The column elicited severe rebukes, the most scolding from Trump supporters. While Clinton backers played the “liar” card, Trumpsters told me to Think Again, grow up and get over my “high falutin ideals.” I was called airhead, globalist and RINO, and my columns were bashed for being “so formulaic they’re almost unreadable.”
In Cleveland, I was among the troublemakers who protested the RNC’s Mao-like suppression of dissent regarding the party rules, which had produced the weakest presidential nominee in modern GOP history. I left dispirited, feeling like a Republican in name only. Now with Election Day nearing, my swing state’s mail-in ballot awaits my vote for president, the most gut wrenching of my life.
As expected, the election has been an ugly slugfest punctuated by predictable surprises – leaks about Trump’s taxes and the 11-year-old video of his grotesque predatory boasting, and WikiLeaks disclosures revealing Clinton Inc. corruption. The biggest shocker is that each party nominated the one candidate the other could beat.
Meanwhile, a real electoral bombshell hit: Obamacare premiums are skyrocketing nationwide as consumers, providers and more insurers desert the law that’s hurting those who can least afford it. It’s a debacle foreseen by critics, though not their media “fact-checkers.”
In steamrolling his signature policy reform, President Obama relied on “the stupidity of the American voter,” as Obamacare architect Jonathan Gruber notoriously boasted, getting away with false claims including: premiums would decline; illegal immigrants wouldn’t get subsidies; not one dime will be added to the deficit; and “if you like your plan, you can keep it.”
In an illuminating New York Times interview, White House aid Ben Rhodes (whose brother is President of CBS News) boasted similarly, describing the manipulative tactics used to sell Obama/Clinton foreign policies, including the unpopular Iran nuclear deal, which guarantees the mullahs will eventually get their nuclear weapons and intercontinental ballistic missiles.
Describing the White House spin machine, Rhodes bragged, “We created an echo chamber” of “prominent Washington reporters and columnists” to “carry our message effectively…saying things that validated what we had given them to say.” Hence, “warmonger” was the smear assigned to Iran deal critics.
Here’s the undemocratic playbook used to short-circuit the honest debate on which national consensus depends: make false claims, spin the media, co-opt the bureaucracy to evade laws/break rules, stonewall investigations, smear adversaries, and label self-inflicted controversies “phony scandals” until the truth becomes any story that sticks.
Consequently, no one’s ever held accountable for the resulting wreckage: unaffordable health insurance, dying vets, terrorist attacks, sanctuary city tragedies, IRS harassment, and murdered U.S. diplomats and border guards. Not surprisingly, only 19 percent of Americans say they trust the government most of the time, down from 73 percent in 1958, according to Pew Research Center.
That’s because Washington is so politicized, even institutions charged with equal enforcement of laws have been sullied. Dueling media accounts of the FBI probes into Clinton’s national security-imperiling violations and the Clinton Foundation’s pay-for-play practices reflect the smoldering rift between disgruntled FBI agents and their higher-ups at the Bureau and Justice Department.
Filmmaker Michael Moore described Trump as a Molotov cocktail thrown at the self-dealing ruling-class system. Clinton, who preaches redistribution of wealth while living like a monarch off her public office, personifies the politically corrupt status quo. Worse then her sense of entitlement and lying is her quarter-century of behaving as if laws are for the little people, not the echo chamber’s aristocracy.
Unfortunately, inside the echo chamber the aristocrats can’t hear the Molotov cocktail-hurling legions outside. Though I shudder at the thought of President Trump, and worry about his authoritarian inclinations, I’m rooting for the little people to burn down the chamber.
Think Again – At the risk of sounding formulaic, might the introduction of an aggressive pathogen like Trump provoke a healthy antibody reaction, helping restore the checks and balances necessary for the democratic self-government of a free people?
Melanie Sturm | @ThinkAgainUSA
My son brought this telling joke home from camp: "If Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump are in a fatal car accident, who survives? Answer: America."
If this joke resonates, you’re like the 81 percent polled by AP/GfK who are scared by one or both of the presumptive presidential nominees, the two most polarizing, distrusted and unpopular candidates in US history.
Since Clinton and Trump emerged as frontrunners, Americans of varying political persuasions have despaired that the 2016 presidential election comes down to two famously flawed celebrities, candidates who’d wage an unrelenting, insult-filled slugfest, not a clarifying solution-focused debate. Hence the now-popular t-shirt, “I already hate our next president.”
Mid-way through this turbulent summer, with the nation reeling from terrorist attacks and fraying race relations, majorities of dispirited Americans wish the parties would Think Again about their nominees, neither of whom engender trust or confidence in a citizenry craving both.
Like last month’s Brexit vote that reasserted the “consent of the governed” principle, America’s voter revolt reflects the cleavage between elites who profit from the political system and those who feel fleeced by it. It’s also a cry for Washington to address – not exacerbate – pressing problems including immigration, Islamic radicalism, and economic stagnation.
Yet Washington is so politicized and agenda-riddled, even agencies charged with equal enforcement of laws – the IRS, Justice Department, and now the FBI – ride merry-go-rounds of evasion and unaccountability, aided by partisans who defend the law’s unequal application, and a media that’s more lapdog than watchdog.
Consider FBI Director James Comey’s recommendation to not prosecute Clinton despite meticulously detailing her lawlessness and lies. In conceding “individuals engaged in this activity… are often subject to security or administrative sanctions,” Comey advanced the banana republic notion that laws apply differently to the powerful – an injustice our constitution was designed to prevent.
Whether voters in November reassert their pledge of allegiance to “liberty and justice for all” depends on their presidential options, a choice I hoped to influence when I was elected to be a delegate to the Republican National Convention.
An outsider and staunch critic of the Republican Party – as readers of my column know – I wanted a nominee who’d unite the “Party of Lincoln” around its bedrock principle that “government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth,” as Abraham Lincoln declared at the height of the Civil War.
My campaign platform echoed President Gerald Ford who reassured at his swearing-in: “Our Constitution works. Our great republic is a government of laws and not men. Here, the people rule.” To their credit, Watergate-era Republicans put country and the rule of law before their man Nixon, heeding Thomas Jefferson’s warning: “The greatest danger to American freedom is a government that ignores the Constitution.”
Today however, many frustrated Republicans are willing to discard these American precepts, believing we're now a nation that only one man can fix, so screw the laws since they're not being enforced anyway.
As a delegate, I reject this premise and can’t ignore that Trump rarely speaks of liberty, constitutional guardrails, and the increasing concentration of governmental power, preferring instead to campaign-by-insult and bombast.
Feeling more like a “Republican in name only,” I am discouraged by Trump’s “get behind me or else, you loser” posture toward those who disagree, and the acquiescence of RNC insiders. If the presumptive nominee and his party allies won’t try to win over grassroots Republicans like me, how will they secure additional voters in November?
I respect the democratic process, the “will of the people,” and Trump’s record-setting 13.4 million votes. But I also know that 17 million Republicans voted for other candidates, creating fissures that must be addressed.
That party rules supercharged Trump’s weak 44 percent performance – the smallest share ever won by a modern era GOP nominee – into a 62 percent delegate haul, cutting off debate without majority support, should concern delegates.
Conventions aren’t coronations, and recent court rulings confirm that party delegates aren’t rubber stamps untethered from their consciences and emerging facts. That’s why I support liberating the delegates to debate and ultimately vote their conscience in an open convention, whether voluntarily for Trump or someone else. They should do so in good conscience knowing there is no such thing as coerced unity.
It's not about elevating a personality to lead the party; it's about leading the Republican Party back to the elevated ideals on which it was founded, recuperating the alienated.
Most importantly, it’s about defeating Clinton, the most corrupt and deceitful presidential candidate in modern American history, thereby dismantling the two-tiered justice system before its entrenched.
Think Again – Imagine a car accident in which Clinton, Trump and America all survive, because Americans have restored “liberty and justice for all.” Isn’t this what we owe our children?
Melanie Sturm | @ThinkAgainUSA
“Our long national nightmare is over,” President Gerald Ford declared at his swearing-in, marking the end of the most dangerous constitutional crisis since the Civil War – Watergate.
After becoming the only U.S. president to ever resign, Richard Nixon revealed in an interview his mistaken belief that “When the president does it, that means it isn’t illegal.”
Thankfully, our constitutional system and watchdog media proved Nixon wrong, having investigated, judged and expelled the rogue president for abuses of power and obstruction of justice. Even Nixon’s fellow Republicans didn’t Think Again before putting country and the rule of law before party.
“Our Constitution works,” Ford reassured. “Our great Republic is a government of laws and not men. Here, the people rule.” Unfortunately, absent this consensus, 2016’s menacing clouds forecast another nightmare.
Today’s revolt against Washington signals voters’ belief that the people no longer rule. Worse, many citizens feel betrayed and villianized by a “ruling class” (elected and bureaucratic officials and their corporate and media cronies) that’s presided over the greatest scandal – an explosion of government, an avalanche of debt and the imperiling of our children’s future.
As government has grown, so have its anti-competitive powers, forcing those who “work hard and play by the rules” to subsidize elites who don’t. Incentivized to invest in political influence, not innovation, Big Business reaps trillions in spending, tax and regulatory favors, resulting in a heavily indebted citizenry and a warped and stagnant economy.
Consider these corporate welfare policies, sold to the public as economic saviors: bailouts, farm and energy subsidies, cash-for-clunkers, Export-Import Bank loan guarantees, Dodd-Frank’s “Wall Street reform,” and Obamacare.
Not surprisingly, five of the nation’s seven wealthiest counties surround Washington, D.C. Meanwhile, with the economy growing at half its 100-year historic average and small business failures exceeding starts, working Americans suffer stagnant wages, job uncertainty, rising health-care costs and reduced living standards.
Yet neither party’s front-runner is proposing to dismantle the cronyist system that’s the source of this despair. Both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump have harvested fortunes from it – she from selling influence, and he from investing in lucrative political favors.
Most worrying, majorities of Americans hold “stubbornly low opinions of the leading figures in the Democratic and Republican Parties,” reported Michael Barbaro in the New York Times.
The first words voters associate with Clinton are “dishonest” and “liar,” while a large plurality of Republicans would consider a third party if Trump is the nominee. Hence, campaign aids predict, “a Clinton-Trump contest would be an ugly and unrelenting slugfest,” Barbaro wrote.
If that isn’t nightmarish, consider the fallout if FBI Chief James Comey recommends Clinton be prosecuted for Espionage Act violations related to her private email server, which he’s reportedly close to doing.
Of Clinton’s Nixon-like lapses, Watergate sleuth Bob Woodward said recently, “It shows that she…feels immune, that she lives in a bubble and no one’s ever going to find this out.”
Is Ford still right, that we’re a nation of laws, not men? If not, is another constitutional crisis looming?
That the presidential frontrunners are famously flawed confirms the advantage of brand ID, and the adage, “any publicity is good publicity.” Do supporters of campaign finance limitations realize they’re helping transform our political system into a reality show in which self-funding honchos and celebrities are the survivors?
Though Trump has “one of the smallest campaign budgets,” the New York Times reported he’s “earned close to $2 billion worth of media attention, about twice the all-in price of the most expensive presidential campaigns in history.” Wall-to-wall Trump coverage “may not be good for America, but it’s damn good for CBS,” confessed CEO Les Moonves.
Despite Trump’s free media bonanza and “believe me” appeals, he’s yet to persuade Republican majorities who share his supporters’ political, cultural and economic anxieties, but not their confidence in Trump.
“Not-Trump” voters – the one’s he’ll ultimately need to win the nomination and unite the party – find Trump incoherent and inconsistent, worry that his “cures” will intensify the disease, and reject his campaign-by-insult tactics.
Yet just as the field winnowed to finally allow substantive discussion between candidates, Trump refuses to debate, suggesting he’s entitled to the nomination, even if he doesn’t attain the delegate majority threshold met by all Republican nominees since 1856.
Consider that, except for this nomination rule, there’d be no President Abraham Lincoln. He won the Republican nomination on the third ballot, despite entering the 1860 convention behind front-runner William Seward.
Foreshadowing a nightmare from a similarly contested convention that enforces the rules, Trump warned, “’cause we’re way ahead of everybody, I don’t think you can say we don’t get it automatically. I think you’d have riots.”
Think Again – to avoid political nightmares and riots, shouldn’t we insist on remaining a nation of laws not men by upholding the principles that brought Nixon to justice and Lincoln to the presidency?
Melanie Sturm | @ThinkAgainUSA
Among this election season’s oddities was the dust-up between Pope Francis and Donald Trump. After departing Mexico, the Pontiff appeared to criticize Trump in an interview, suggesting that building walls – not bridges – “is not Christian.”
Calling the comment “disgraceful,” the presidential front-runner and insulter-in-chief compelled the Vatican to Think Again before retreating. Meanwhile, comedians joked that the perceived papal putdown would cause church attendance to fall and Trump’s poll numbers to surge.
Indeed, by crossing swords with the Pontiff, Trump burnished his image as a fearless fighter, a trait his voters prize. Unfazed by his incoherence, lack of policy specifics or controversies, Trump supporters, like columnist Jim Nolte, are tired of losing and want “someone who will do whatever it takes to win.”
Buoying Trump is Americans’ sense of powerlessness and insecurity. Consider these controversial policies, imposed on disapproving majorities using extra-constitutional means: the Iran deal; the irresponsible and never-debated Omnibus budget; Obamacare; trade promotion; and executive actions and sanctuary-city policies that nullify immigration laws.
But for Trumpkins, “Making America Great Again” isn’t about restoring government of, by and for the people. It’s about elevating their own Julius Caesar to make deals with a ruling class that runs government like a spoil system – of special interests, by unelected bureaucrats and for political elites.
Apparently, Trumpkins want a warrior who’ll “bork” political opponents. The angry verb “to bork” means to discredit by whatever methods necessary. It was coined after the character assassination of eminent jurist Robert Bork, killing his 1987 Supreme Court nomination the year after recently deceased Justice Antonin Scalia won a 98-0 Senate confirmation.
Anti-Bork activist Ann Lewis later explained the unprecedented smear campaign: there’d be a “deep and thoughtful discussion about the Constitution, and then we would lose.” Hence, Kennedy’s fabrication that in Bork’s America, “women would be forced into back-alley abortions, blacks would sit at segregated lunch counters.”
Writing 24 years later, New York Times columnist Joe Nocera lamented the nomination battle’s “essential unfairness,” noting “the line from Bork to today’s ugly politics is a straight one.” Whatever one thinks about Bork’s views, Nocera argued, “they cannot be fairly characterized as extreme…. Rarely has a failed nominee had the pedigree – and intellectual firepower – of Bork.”
That Bork was Scalia’s ideological and intellectual equal, but was rejected shortly after Scalia’s unanimous approval, speaks to how politicized the theoretically independent judiciary has become. Consider that it was President Franklin Roosevelt’s fellow Democrats who foiled his plan to pack the Supreme Court.
Thomas Jefferson warned that giving “judges the right to decide what laws are constitutional and what not… would make the Judiciary a despotic branch." Now, having morphed from “the least dangerous branch” into an unelected super-legislature of nine philosopher kings with lifetime appointments, it’s not surprising Supreme Court nominations are hotly contested – and fraught with hypocrisy.
Though waxing indignant over Republican refusals to consider a lame-duck president’s Supreme Court nomination during this election year, Sens. Harry Reid, Chuck Schumer and Joe Biden favored obstructing Republican judicial nominees.
In 1992, Biden, then the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, proclaimed, “action on a Supreme Court nomination must be put off until after the election campaign is over,” insisting the president not nominate anyone. And in 2006, then-Sen. Barack Obama voted to block an up-or-down vote on Justice Samuel Alito’s nomination.
Ironically, an activist and politicized judiciary is what Scalia wanted to roll back, favoring the founders’ original intent: separation of powers, checks, and an independent judiciary with limited authority to resolve legal disputes by applying – not writing – the law. Other issues should be decided democratically – at the ballot box or by representatives accountable to the people.
By short-circuiting the democratic process for resolving emotionally charged issues, Scalia believed the Court was violating “a principle even more fundamental than no taxation without representation: no social transformation without representation.”
Feeling voiceless and powerless in an America that’s migrated away from it’s founding purpose – the democratic self-governance of a free people – many Trumpkins want a strong-arm “borker” to wield power on their behalf. But do they really want a vengeful president using the IRS, NSA, FBI and CIA to target and punish critics?
As Scalia argued while pointing to unfree nations that have charters of rights, “It isn’t the Bill of Rights that produces freedom; it’s the structure of government that prevents anybody from seizing all the power.”
Essentially, the founders used constitutional walls to separate and check power so that diverse people with differing beliefs would be free to build bridges of mutual respect and tolerance, forging an open and decent society. The Supreme Court’s unlikely “best buddies” – rivals Scalia and Ruth Bader Ginsburg – built a remarkable bridge, a lesson for Pope Francis, Trump and Trumpkins.
Think Again – Isn’t the best way to Make America Great Again to elect a president who’ll adhere to America’s great constitution?
Melanie Sturm | @ThinkAgainUSA
In this topsy-turvy election year, wonders never cease, as Americans Think Again about how to throw the bums out, even unelected bureaucrats.
The willingness to break with long-standing political norms isn’t surprising, considering voter anger, pessimism and spiking anxieties. Recent surveys of Americans show overwhelming majorities believe the country is on the wrong track, the American Dream is unachievable, and our powerful, unaccountable government is America’s biggest threat.
Consequently, political dynasties have been rendered passé, as mega-donor darlings Jeb Bush and Hillary Clinton discovered en route to their coronations. Not even their powerful Super PACs (funded by unlimited individual, corporate and union support) can assure their victories.
The standard trump cards aren’t working either, including the gender card, played recently by former Secretary of State and Hillary-backer Madeleine Albright who admonished, “there’s a special place in hell for women who don’t help each other.”
For Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio and Ben Carson, the normally formidable race card trumps nothing. But a blustering and incoherent Donald Trump trumps everything, thanks to the limitless free airtime the ratings-hungry media grant him. ”I’m winning by a lot,” the self-funder boasts, but “I spent almost nothing.”
Meanwhile, the media leaves unexamined Trump’s assertion that his wealth is a scorecard of his abilities. Some analysts calculate the present value of Trump’s inheritance would approximate his current net worth, if he’d simply invested it in the S&P 500.
Undermining Trump’s inevitability, the self-described winner’s first electoral outing was a loss to Cruz and near-upset by Rubio, as 76 percent of Iowa caucus-goers voted not-Trump. His New Hampshire victory was impressive, capturing all demographic groups, but two-thirds still voted not-Trump.
As under-performing contenders like Chris Christie and Carly Fiorina exit the crowded field, the eventual consolidation – and Trump’s record-breaking unfavorability in the general population – bode poorly for his candidacy.
Nevertheless, the ratings-magnet is well positioned to parlay popularity into a Trump network, like the media platform that made Michael Bloomberg – who’s contemplating his own self-funded presidential campaign – one of the world’s richest.
Another surprising result was Cruz’s defeat of King Corn in Iowa. The anti-Washington agitator won record numbers of votes in a historic GOP turnout while arguing that farmers are hurt by government ethanol mandates – not helped, as powerful agribusiness lobbyists allege.
Most extraordinary is Bernie Sander’s durability. Polls show the septuagenarian-socialist tied with Clinton nationally, after narrowly losing Iowa but routing her in New Hampshire where 93 percent of Democrats prioritizing honesty preferred Sanders.
Are voters drawn to Sanders’ socialism, or is he the beneficiary of a “no more Clintons” mindset, especially after reports the Clintons “earned” $153 million in speaking fees since leaving the White House?
It’s probably both, since Sanders’ support skews young. Thirsty for trustworthy leadership, “Sandernistas” have witnessed government bailouts and rampant cronyism, while suffering through the feeblest economic recovery since the Great Depression.
According to Pew Research, this generation is “the first in the modern era to have higher levels of student loan debt, poverty, and unemployment and lower levels of wealth and personal income.”
No wonder they find political revolution tempting. But they should study the American Revolution before accepting Sanders’ plan to concentrate ever-growing government power in the name of “social justice.”
As founder James Madison explained, “The essence of government is power; and power, lodged as it must be in human hands, will ever be liable to abuse.” Concerned that a government would eventually encroach on rights and liberties, Thomas Jefferson forecast “debt, corruption and rottenness,” absent constitutional guardrails.
That’s why, after overthrowing King George’s arbitrary and unfair rule, America’s founders established a government with limited powers to protect the equal rights of the people, believing the boundless potential of individuals operating in a free society would “make America great” – and they were right.
Yet as government has grown, so have its anti-competitive powers, corrupting our founders’ liberty-preserving system with cronyism that rewards political connections over competitive excellence.
Using massive powers to legislate, tax, spend and regulate, policymakers have rigged the economy and undermined the principles on which freedom, fairness and opportunity rely – equality under the law, property rights and sound money.
Given America’s heritage and Big Government’s dismal track record, it’s stunning that Sanders and Trump -- both advocates of using unprecedented government power to centrally plan and control economic life – could win New Hampshire’s “Live Free or Die” state. Have its freedom-loving voters forgotten the national purpose their state helped found – the democratic self-rule of a free people?
Hopefully, America is in revolt and casting about for outsiders not because they want more government, but because of the failures of our hyper-politicized, unaccountable government: contaminated water, terrorist attacks, dying vets, IRS harassment, illegal immigration, health care chaos, and murdered U.S. diplomats and border guards.
Think Again – in this anti-conventional wisdom year, may our founders’ wisdom about the dangers of Big Government ultimately prevail.
Melanie Sturm | @ThinkAgainUSA
“All the great inspiring leaders and organizations…think, act and communicate the exact same way… opposite to everyone else,” Simon Sinek revealed in his famous TED talk. They “start with why they do what they do.”
Consider how these transformational Whys moved masses to Think Again: “All men are created equal,” declared America’s founders; “I have a dream” – not a five-point plan – proclaimed Martin Luther King; “Think different” and “Just do it” urged Apple and Nike en route to brand domination.
In 2008, Barack Obama’s “Hope and Change” mantra quenched a thirst to challenge the status quo, helping him become the political equivalent of an iPad whose novelty rendered Hillary Clinton a vintage desktop.
As Obama predicted in his autobiography “Audacity of Hope,” he became a human Rorschach test, serving ”as a blank screen on which people of vastly different political stripes project their own views."
Chanting “yes we can” while staring at Obama’s inkblot, supporters agreed with him that his nomination was “the moment when we began to provide care for the sick and good jobs to the jobless… when the rise of the oceans began to slow and our planet began to heal… when we ended a war, secured our nation and restored our image.”
Obama’s inkblot sent a “thrill up my leg” for MSNBC’s Chris Matthews and convinced conservative David Brooks he’d be “a great president.” Newsweek compared the new president to Abraham Lincoln, and 65 percent of voters believed they’d be better off in four years.
Reflecting on the media’s role in creating the Obama phenomenon, CBS’s Bob Schieffer recently acknowledged, “Maybe we were not skeptical enough.”
The same is true of the soaring candidacies of anti-Washington insurgents Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders. In their inkblots, supporters see trustworthy leaders whose Whys resonate. To voters hurt by our cronyist political system, and revolted by self-dealing politicians and their special interests, Trump’s “Make America Great Again” and Sanders’ “A Political Revolution Is Coming” are the “Hope and Change” of 2016.
Hard-working Americans play by the rules and resent politicians who don’t. They’ve watched Wall Street and Washington boom while enduring stagnant wages, job insecurity, rising health-care costs and reduced living standards.
Now, with the economy growing at half its 100-year historic average, small businesses failures exceeding starts, U.S. debt approaching Greek proportions, and national security threats looming, many fear we’re bequeathing our children a less secure and prosperous America.
But on what rational basis do Trump and Sanders merit such unbridled loyalty? Even Trump is amazed, joking recently, “I could stand in the middle of 5th Avenue and shoot somebody and wouldn't lose any voters.”
History shows that when politicians are elevated before winning in the marketplace of ideas, they stop answering questions and being held accountable, and then everybody gets trumped.
Case in point: Trump. The reality-TV star now refuses to appear at the last pre-primary debate, drawing plaudits from minions who celebrate his bullying and bombast. Meanwhile, inquiring minds want him to persuade his way to victory.
How would the self-described insider-dealer dismantle the cronyist system that rewards political connections over competitive excellence? If he’s free of special interests, why not end corporate welfare, such as ethanol subsidies favored in Iowa?
How does Trump reconcile his penchant for unilateral action with the constitution’s separation of powers, never mind America’s founding purpose – democratic self-governance of a free people?
How can Trump defend religious liberty while proposing a blanket ban on Muslims entering the US? How does he justify “eminent domain” whereby government can seize an individual’s property, even for private use, such as a casino parking lot?
Sanders is similarly vague. At CNN’s town hall, he described democratic socialism as “an economy that works for all,” a benign vision -- especially for younger voters -- considering its devastating track record. Socialism is a discredited idea because, Time’s Joe Klein wrote, “it dampens incentives, which dampens creativity, which leads to poverty.”
That’s why the Scandinavian social-democracies Sanders touts reformed their economies, reducing taxes and regulations. Doesn’t Sanders worry that his ideas will disincentive the very entrepreneurialism that transformed America from an agrarian backwater into history’s greatest economic wonder?
Sanders argues “the 1%” will pay for trillions in new government spending, though they rarely do. Instead, they pay lobbyists and lawyers to avoid taxes, and often stop working or move overseas. These are luxuries unavailable to the middle class and debt-saddled future generations who invariably pay when government grows.
America’s founders understood what Sanders doesn’t. Poverty is humanity’s natural state, and free enterprise is the best system for moving people toward productive and prosperous lives. What government-planner can design “an economy that works for all” that's better than the free market, where endless autonomous decisions are made efficiently, creatively and cooperatively?
Think Again – Sanders is right. A few rich people shouldn’t run America. Hopefully, voters willing to look beyond 2016’s inkblots will insist that a handful of politicians shouldn’t run the country either.
Melanie Sturm | @ThinkAgainUSA
If only Pope Francis were in my Buenos Aires taxi last Christmas.
I could have used his moral authority (and Argentine-accented Spanish) in negotiating with a driver who’d forgotten the “Golden Rule.” And in witnessing my struggle, the self-described “very allergic to economics” pontiff might have gleaned a moral lesson, helping him Think Again about the free enterprise system he’s criticized.
Perhaps he’d grasp why the life-enhancing innovations that America continuously exports – cars, vaccinations, refrigerators, iPhones, 3-D printers, and the cheap and reliable taxi-alternative Uber, for which I longed – don’t happen in Argentina.
Nor do they spring from other Latin American countries, like Venezuela where a protest sign encapsulated people’s contempt for the social-justice espousing frauds who run many Latin nations: “These Castro-Chavistas speak like Marx, govern like Stalin, and live like Rockefeller, while the people suffer.”
Would His Holiness recognize how Argentina’s corporatism – the unholy alliance between government and conglomerates – corrodes social trust, rendering his countrymen voiceless and crucifying their wellbeing and dignity?
After successive governments eroded the rule of law, property rights, and sound money, replacing free enterprise with central planning and a debt-financed welfare state, Argentina slid toward the bottom of the Fraser Institute’s Economic Freedom of the World Index.
Once the world’s breadbasket and fourth-richest nation per-capita – hence the saying “rich as an Argentine” – the Pope’s native land is now a basket case with economic wellbeing (GDP per-capita) only one-third America’s.
If the Holy Father had heard our cabdriver despair over widespread deprivation, corruption and distrust of everyone except the pontiff, might he agree with fellow rock-star Bono about how to lift up the masses? “In dealing with poverty,” Bono stresses, “welfare and foreign aid are a Band-Aid. Free enterprise is a cure.”
The patient is mending, the World Bank reported: For the first time in history, extreme poverty afflicts less than 10 percent of world population. Meanwhile, people in economically freer countries enjoy higher living standards, cleaner environments, longer lives, and better-protected civil rights. They also have less corruption, child labor and unemployment.
In his new book, “The Conservative Heart,” American Enterprise Institute President Arthur Brooks calls the free enterprise system “America’s gift to the world,” enabling more people to pursue their happiness through earned success derived from work.
“It was the free enterprise system that not only attracted millions of the world’s poor to our shores and gave them lives of dignity, but also empowered billions more worldwide to pull themselves out of poverty,” Brooks asserts.
At home, however, America’s asymmetric recovery “has cleaved the country into winners and losers like never before,” he writes. Consequently, Americans fear our free society’s trademarks – opportunity and social mobility – are disappearing, imperiling our children’s security and prosperity.
We may be better off than Argentines, but with median income down 6.5 percent since 2007, record numbers out of the workforce, poverty and government dependency rates at all-time highs, and deaths of small businesses (job creation’s primary engine) exceeding starts for the first time on record, it feels like we’re slouching toward Argentina.
While Wall Street and Silicon Valley have boomed, the richest and most generous nation on earth contains pockets of destitution and immiseration – like Baltimore – where millions are deprived of the dignity and fulfillment of work.
Brooks’ snapshot of the last seven years is “deja-vu all over again,” Argentine-style: “People see corporate cronies getting rich because of their cozy relationship with the government. They see bailouts for huge banks but small businesses going bust. They see government loan guarantees for big companies with friends in high places, but hear ‘No loans for you’ from their local bank.”
Ranked among the world’s most economically free nations for decades, America has fallen to 16 in Fraser’s Index, due to these unfair government policies. Consequently, US annual growth is projected to be half its 3 percent historic average.
That His Holiness is unaware of the relationship between economic freedom and human flourishing is a sin, though not original. After all, presidential candidate Bernie Sanders sins similarly, arguing for greater government control of our lives, even at the expense of economic growth.
“You don’t necessarily need a choice of 23 underarm spray deodorants,” Sanders declared, “when children are hungry in this country” – as if narrowing deodorant choice could decrease hunger.
The truth is, poverty is humanity’s natural state, and free enterprise is the most merciful economic system yet designed for moving people toward productive and dignified lives. No central planner exists who’s capable of improving on the endless autonomous decisions made efficiently, creatively and cooperatively in the free market, as if divinely guided.
Think Again – as long as we enjoy the blessings of economic freedom, we have the choice not to attend the Pope Francis & Bernie Sanders School of Economics where the tuition is free, but extraordinarily costly, as my Argentine cabbie would confirm.
Melanie Sturm | @ThinkAgainUSA
“There’s no trick to being a humorist when you have the entire government working for you,” Will Rogers quipped, capturing his era’s zeitgeist, and explaining the popularity of our moment’s outsider presidential candidates.
It’s good to be a non-politician when 75 percent of Americans say government corruption is widespread, up from 66 percent in 2009, and half say government is an immediate threat to lives and freedoms, according to Gallup.
It’s bad to be the debate-shy “candidate of destiny,” Hillary Clinton, when the first three words voters associate with her are “liar,” “dishonest,” and “untrustworthy,” according to a Quinnipiac poll.
Even early GOP front-runner and heroic “outsider” Scott Walker succumbed to skepticism, exiting the race after getting trumped by voters who won’t Think Again about his policy reversals.
With median incomes down 6.5 percent since 2007, U.S. debt surging to perilous heights, and the world melting down, voters resist limiting their choice to donor favorites – Clinton 2.0 or Bush 3.0.
If there’s a “Rosetta Stone” deciphering Americans’ malaise, it’s the unprecedented and often extra-constitutional way lawmakers make consequential decisions, in defiance of public opinion.
Fans of self-proclaimed socialist Bernie Sanders and conservative Ted Cruz meet at the intersection of their contempt for a government that gives sweetheart deals to well-connected cronies.
The newly-elected may arrive in Washington convinced it’s a cesspool, but after harnessing governmental power and dispensing billions, they discover it’s an inviting Jacuzzi, where big government and big special interests collude to enrich the few, trumping the interests of the many.
Consider Obamacare, which passed on a party-line vote using political payoffs and parliamentary trickeries never before deployed for such far-reaching legislation. As consumers suffer choice and affordability frustrations, the health industry’s largest stakeholders – drug, hospital and insurance companies – profit, at taxpayers’ expense.
Now it’s the high-stakes Iran nuclear deal – perhaps history’s most consequential – that’s advancing without congressional review, never mind Senate ratification, trumping Americans who overwhelmingly agree with George Washington, “Truth will ultimately prevail where there is pains to bring it to light.”
Our government’s Iran deal Kabuki Theater, featuring protagonists from both parties, renders obsolete Will Rogers’ famous jest: “The only difference between death and taxes is that death doesn't get worse every time Congress meets.”
The Iranian theocracy’s aim – “Death to America” and the destruction of Western civilization – is, after all, the ultimate trumping of the American people. Hence, our long-standing bi-partisan policy to deny the world’s most dangerous regime the planet’s most lethal weapons.
The Iran deal’s break with consensus prompted me to join a Colorado delegation to meet with our senator Michael Bennet on September 9th. Despite “deep concerns about what the shape of Iran’s nuclear program could look like,” Bennet had broken with a bipartisan majority of 58 senators who opposed the pact and the secret side deals involving Iranian self-inspection.
Our goal was to confirm that Bennet wouldn’t filibuster the Iran deal, voting instead with at least 60 senators to allow the agreement’s merits to be considered by the people’s representatives, an expectation Bennet set by co-sponsoring the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act, which passed 98-1 in May.
Disappointingly, Bennet didn’t show. But his cowering staffers assured us he wouldn’t filibuster, just as the anti-Iran deal rally at the Capitol with headliner Trump was starting. The next day Bennet proved his partisan chops by voting to filibuster, trumping the will of the American people.
President John F. Kennedy said, “A nation that is afraid to let its people judge the truth and falsehood in an open market is a nation that is afraid of its people.” Eager to restore our sovereignty, Americans are searching for an independent leader, one they believe will “make America great again.”
In his New York Magazine commentary, Frank Rich argues Trump is saving our democracy by “exposing, however crudely and at times inadvertently, the posturings of both the Republicans and the Democrats and the foolishness and obsolescence of much of the political culture they share.”
Perhaps so, but the truth is, when politicians are elevated before winning in the free marketplace of ideas, they stop answering questions and being held accountable, and then everybody gets trumped.
Americans want candidates who are serious, knowledgeable and responsive, which explains why Sanders’s crowds trump Clinton’s, and why idea-filled debate performances by Carly Fiorina and Marco Rubio turbocharged their campaigns. It’s why Democrats are starving for their own debates.
For the American people to trump Washington’s agenda, we mustn’t allow cults of personality to cocoon candidates, or divide ourselves into “virtuous” and “dishonorable” camps. Most importantly, we must demand accountability.
Think Again – As Will Rogers eventually conceded: “This country has gotten where it is in spite of politics, not by the aid of it. That we have carried as much political bunk as we have and still survived shows we are a super nation."
Melanie Sturm | @ThinkAgainUSA
Amid unending political horserace punditry – who’s up, who’s down in the wake of Supreme Court rulings, Congress’ Trade Promotion votes, Iranian nuclear negotiations, and the racist Charleston massacre – let’s Think Again about the most important concern: are the American people winning or losing?
Are “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” – the national promise Americans celebrate on July 4th – secure in this year of the Magna Carta’s 800th anniversary? That watershed moment in the annals of human liberty curbed a tyrannical monarch, like the American founding it helped inspire.
Initially an agrarian backwater in a socially stratified world, America unleashed boundless creativity and industriousness by asserting human equality, becoming history’s greatest economic wonder. While Great Britain’s well-being (real GDP per capita) increased 14-fold between 1800 and 2007, America’s grew 32-fold.
Today, as Wall Street, Silicon Valley and Washington aristocracies prosper, Americans are suffering crisis levels of job insecurity, economic stagnation and poverty. Will immigrants who’ve left societies where one’s start pre-determined one’s end discover that social mobility isn’t much better here?
With the Congressional Budget Office projecting Greek-proportions of U.S. debt within 25 years, and a nuclearized Iranian terrorist state looming, are we bequeathing our children lower living standards and a weaker and vulnerable America?
The author of our Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson, captured the dilemma: “The issue today is the same as it has been throughout all history. Whether man shall be allowed to govern himself or be ruled by a small elite.”
Echoing Jefferson in his recent Time commentary, former presidential candidate and Colorado senator Gary Hart lamented the erosion of America’s founding purpose – the democratic self-governance of a free people.
“Our European ancestors came to these shores to escape social and political systems that were corrosive and corrupt. Two and a quarter centuries later, we are returning to those European practices,” Hart argued, concluding, “We are in danger of becoming a different kind of nation, one our founders would not recognize and would deplore.”
Considering the unaccountability of Washington’s increasingly powerful and unelected ruling elite – from nine Supreme Court justices with lifetime appointments to the colossal administrative state – is government’s power still citizen-driven?
Are Americans as free to control how we live, what we believe, and where we dedicate our labor and its fruits, or must we slavishly defer to elites wielding uninhibited power?
Given calls to abolish the tax-exempt status of religious institutions whose definition of marriage now diverges from the Supreme Court’s, will individual dissidents be similarly hounded, jeopardizing their careers and reputations?
If a female photographer can discriminate, choosing not to photo-shoot a bachelor party featuring a female stripper, can a Christian photographer decline to shoot a same-sex wedding?
Saved twice by the Supreme Court’s judicial rewriting, will Obamacare deliver the affordable, patient-centered health care its supporters promised, or will skyrocketing costs and narrowing provider networks impede access, disproportionally hurting sick Americans?
Though an Obamacare and same-sex marriage supporter, Georgetown University law professor Jonathan Turley argued “there are valid concerns when the Court steps into an issue with such great political, social and religious divisions.”
Moreover, in ignoring its constitutional duty to implement laws – writing them instead – the Court circumvents the political process our constitution’s separation of powers was designed to facilitate, undermining the people’s consent upon which government legitimacy depends.
Unlike the blindfolded Lady Justice on whose objectivity and impartiality our free society relies, the Court jeopardizes its integrity and imperils civil society when it operates more like a political institution than a legal one, concerned less with the rule of law and constitutional adherence than winning agendas.
Thankfully, in South Carolina – the state that moved first to secede from the Union in 1860 because it denied “all men are created equal” – we’re witnessing the ordered liberty our founding ethic was expected to foster.
They’re showing the world how to “combat hate-filled actions with love-filled actions,” as Alana Simmons, the granddaughter of the murdered reverend Daniel Lee Simmons Sr. put it. In Charleston’s diverse melting pot, prejudices are dissolving through exposure to disparate voices and moral suasion, as freedom of expression is respected.
Inspired by the magnanimity of grieving Emanuel AME Church families, Gov. Nikki Haley proclaimed “a moment of unity in our state, without ill will.” Declaring no winner or loser in respecting those who wish to display the confederate battle flag on private property, Haley announced, “it’s time to move the flag from the Capitol grounds.”
The people of South Carolina are winning as they prove a righteous and thoughtful citizenry dedicated to society’s safety and happiness, can indeed self-govern.
Think Again – as Americans look beyond fireworks this July 4th, may we see more than political horseraces, perceiving our nation’s enduring notion that free and virtuous citizens – not ruling elites – are our fate’s best masters.
Melanie Sturm | @ThinkAgainUSA
“If the glove doesn’t fit, you must acquit,” is perhaps the most famous closing argument in American criminal justice history. Decisive in rendering a not-guilty verdict for OJ Simpson, it also summarizes our free society’s reliance on “due process” and “proof beyond a reasonable doubt.”
So that no innocent defendant is wrongly convicted, a guilty defendant may occasionally go free – like Simpson, who was later found liable by a civil jury applying a lower standard of proof.
Reflecting on the criminal trial’s not-guilty verdict, several jurors conceded that though they thought Simpson was guilty, the prosecution failed to prove its case beyond a reasonable doubt, hampered by suspicions that police tampered with evidence. To African-Americans, the Simpson verdict leveled the justice system’s playing field; to others, it was a miscarriage of justice.
Two decades later, despite pervasive African-American political power throughout society and into the White House, race relations are tense and perceptions of justice diverge. Fueled by the tragic deaths of young black males after run-ins with law enforcement, protestors proclaim “no justice, no peace” while demanding authorities Think Again about upholding due process.
Like Ferguson, Baltimore raged after last month’s mysterious death of Freddie Gray while in police custody -- not without justification. Baltimore’s corruption and incompetence-plagued police department appears to have denied Gray the presumption of innocence and due process.
Now under the spotlight, a once-vibrant and safe Baltimore has become a synonym for mismanagement, catastrophic institutional failure and societal collapse, like much of big-city America. Neither afforded due process or their just due, many residents languish in cesspools of poverty and despair, despite per-pupil educational expenditures and a social safety net that far exceed national averages.
After decades of ever-increasing taxes and spending -- and a cronyist system that rewards the politically connected while blocking public-sector reforms, though claiming to protect the poor -- Baltimore is a tale of two cities where the privileged few are enriched at the expense of the disenfranchised many.
In America’s fifth-most-deadly city, the unemployment rate exceeds the national average by 50 percent and one-in-four Baltimoreans live in poverty -- a rate 250 percent higher than in 1960, before the $20 trillion “War on Poverty.” Gray’s blighted neighborhood suffers even greater poverty, fatherlessness, school dropouts, unemployment, crime, and dependency.
It’s a miscarriage of justice -- and the civil rights struggle of our time -- that the wealthiest and most generous country on earth contains pockets of destitution and immiseration where millions are deprived of the dignity and fulfillment of work.
Sparked by Gray’s death, legitimate frustration morphed into lawless rage, as looters and arsonists became the threat officials are elected to thwart. Yet, rather than uphold her duty to safeguard the equal rights and property of all citizens, Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake asked the police to “give those who wished to destroy, space to do that.”
Unfortunately, when rioters believe they can misbehave without consequence, order is lost and job-creating businesses – many black-owned -- flee. To curb the mayhem last week, Chief Prosecutor Marilyn Mosby announced the arrest of six police officers, including three for manslaughter and one for second-degree murder. “To the youth of this city,” Mosby proclaimed, “I will seek justice on your behalf.”
Famed civil rights lawyer Alan Dershowitz called the indictments “crowd control,” not justice. “Under our constitution,” he explained, “the only people entitled to justice are the defendants,” not the victim or community. Given the abandonment of procedural justice, Dershowitz predicts acquittals -- and more rioting.
However satisfying, OJ-type verdicts won’t solve urban America’s plight, nor will pouring more money into failed government institutions. But kids can overcome the real source of their angst – opportunity and values deficits – by following a three-step plan: graduate high school; get a full-time job; and wait until 21 to marry and have children.
“Our research shows that of American adults who followed these three simple rules, only about 2 percent are in poverty and nearly 75 percent have joined the middle class,” the Brookings Institution’s Ron Haskins wrote. They’re also less likely to require due process in criminal court, though there’s no guarantee, considering OJ.
To steer fatherless children toward opportunity’s 3-step Holy Grail will take a village of mentors, and a phalanx of moms – not police. Toya Graham became a national hero after retrieving her rampaging son so he wouldn’t “become another Freddie Gray.”
Graham’s plea is every mother’s hope, one that can’t be realized by government power, but rather through a government that empowers. Politicians could begin by not condemning children to failed schools, and by reforming the unfair system that enslaves innocents so guilty gatekeepers of union and other public-sector privileges reign freely.
Think Again – Human history is proof beyond a reasonable doubt that without equality under the law and due process, there can be no liberty and justice for all.