Friday, May 21, 2010

In Search for Governing Virtues

Should I at all the path of danger brave,

The consequence to face sans bitter tears,

Let forfeiture not be that path conceive

Else all my days be litany of fears.

Virtue misplac'd there seems in arrogance

Misplacing virtue's reason's temperance!

-- The Schumann-Spinoza Sonnets

Time was, presidents were held to higher standards than comedians.

--George Will

But not at such a time as this, in the regime of Obama, when every presidential policy pronouncement on national security and wealth creation is so much more of an egregious nightmare, far worse than a distasteful bad joke. It is simultaneously sobering and disturbing to admit and realize the full implications of the fact that the two abortive attempts by Islamist jihadist at inflicting terror and injury on the country were aborted only due to the fortuitously gross incompetence of the perpetrators.

I refer to the attempted car bombing of Time Square in New York City and Drawers Omar, the underwear plane bomber in Detroit last Christmas. It is of course good to be so lucky. But for how long can the country's security be premised on primarily being lucky? How lucky can we get? Can we afford to giggle when one nice day, by sheer luck, we suddenly find ourselves not so lucky?

When major players in government, from President Obama himself, the Attorney General, and the Secretary of Homeland Security admit to having not read the Arizona Immigration Law and yet publicly proclaim it to be their duty to criticize, demonize and condemn that law, then we can be sure that intellectual honesty in the government is all but missing or considered an obsolete concept. Where and when honesty is wanting, the virtue of truth is the first casualty beyond redeem.

This is consistent with the pattern of behavior that allows, nay, compels lawmakers to vote on a legislation, as in the around 2,700 pages on ObamaCare, without the chance to read let alone analyze what they are voting on. That it has been openly been admitted to be the historically standard operating procedure for processing legislations only emphasizes the contempt of the government on the sensibilities and welfare of the governed.

The same mindset is grotesquely reflected in the President's choice of words. With a callousness that would make Henryk Sienkiewicz's Emperor Nero in Quo Vadis green with envy, President Obama decreed that he had the power to dictate how corporate chief executives should conduct themselves. This elicited nary a squeak of protest, rather almost an approbation of awe from the hallowed halls of punditocracy.

Addressing the principals of the Gulf of Mexico oil spill, President
Obama proclaimed, (emphasis mine) "I will not tolerate more finger-pointing." It is outrageous that the media does not even recognize how inappropriate the word "tolerate" is in this context. Governance is not a matter of imposing all your whims and wishes. It is a matter of law and perhaps some unwritten codes of conduct or rules of engagement, some protocols of civility.
What did the POTUS mean by not tolerating oil executives' mode of engagement? He implied he has the power to just line them up against the wall and let loose the wrath of government with extreme prejudice. This is much worse than just a slippery slope. It is more of a Freudian slip by an obsessive-compulsive thug.
He effectively claimed there is no constraint whatsoever to what he can do, as President, to the country and the people. The intimidation factor is, if he is ready, willing and able to do it to the so-called big oil executives, there is no imaginable limit to what he might do to the hoi polloi, when expediency demands. Recall how easily he could, without as much as a blush, dump the Right Reverend Wright, his pastor and inspiration for two decades "
under the bus" when political expediency so ordained.
To add insult to injury, the country was treated to the spectacle of a President Calderon of Mexico bashing the format and content
of U.S. Immigration laws in the heretofore august halls of Congress. Among the personages delightfully giving him a standing ovation was the Secretary of Homeland Security, Janet Napolitano, the very principal officer of the law who is supposed to be charged with the formulation and enforcement of our immigration policy.

That the Republicans could not muster enough pride and fortitude to walk out of the U.S.-vilifying speech in Congress speaks volumes for the spinelessness of the Republicans. That the U.S. citizenry did not sack Capitol Hill for the abominable spectacle is a tribute to how far civilization has advanced from the citizens and denizens of Rome as portrayed in Henryk Sienkiewicz's Quo Vadis. Or maybe it is only a testament to what straits America is going through to make ends meet in Obama's statist utopia.

As for me, from the smirk my president's face sported which seem to sing hallelujah that he has finally found himself a kindred spirit from a neighboring head of state, I was anticipating the POTUS to get down on his hands and knees and lick Calderon's shoes. Somebody has to celebrate the evidence that contrary to Robert Frost, even bad fences make good neighbors. Between Mexico and the United States we have nothing but miles and miles of bad fences to substitute for immigration policy.

The Basis for Governance

The Declaration of Independence is always a good starting point if one is in search of moorings for effective governance. Who would dare argue against "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness" as rights endowed by Divine Providence upon the individual? Once the country has gone astray off these enduring essential founding principles, prosperity becomes untenable and hegemony over anything would prove unsustainable, if not inconceivable.

In the absence of core principles on which the politics is based, a political party would tend to propitiate to the blatantly provincial and neurotic reflexes of the electorate, inevitably resulting in the most parochial policies imaginable, which can translate into the worst of all possible worlds. The political calculus is hopelessly reduced to a cost-benefit reckoning of the basest kind, at the most personal level.

The Trade Embargo on Cuba is one such parochial policy that illustrates this point. It has proved to be a colossal failure for decades through a succession of administrations of both Democrats and Republicans. It does not even lend itself to a titillating entertainment on prime time TV, notwithstanding the antics of Janet Reno and the paradoxically celebrated spectacle saga of Elian Gonzalez.

On the one hand, John P. Sweeney of
the Heritage Foundation, arguing (rather persuasively) for the continuance of the embargo, noted in 1994,

"Many Cuban women have turned to prostitution in a desperate effort to feed their children and families, since government rationing provides only half of the average family's monthly nutrition needs. . . . Many Cuban families now survive on one daily meal consisting of rice, beans, soy, and water. For months, Cubans have been deprived even of bath soap. Infectious diseases once thought to be eradicated, such as tuberculosis and malaria, are returning as Cuba's free health care system collapses. . . ."

On the other hand, fifteen years later, condemning President Obama's extension of the embargo, the Amnesty International Secretary General Irene Khan, echoed as follows,

". . . Cuba's inability to import nutritional products for consumption at schools, hospitals and day care centres is contributing to a high prevalence of iron deficiency anaemia.

"Although responsibility for providing adequate health care lies primarily with the Cuban authorities, governments imposing sanctions such as embargoes need to pay special attention to the impact they can have on the targeted country's population . . ."

It is at the very least noteworthy that both parties to the debate profusely cite the suffering of the Cuban people as supporting the rectitude of their respective positions on the issue. It behooves to emphasize that schadenfreude, no matter how poignantly delicious, has never been a fountain of political virtue.

The political philosopher Niccolo Machiavelli long ago lucidly and painstakingly pointed out that politics devoid of virtue is never conducive to effective and successful governance. What does it take for the governing class to learn from the sages of history?

The twenty-first century version of the Boston Tea Party, or some creative variant thereof,

The Americans would now get their tea at a cheaper price than ever before. However, if the colonies paid the duty tax on the imported tea they would be acknowledging Parliament's right to tax them. Tea was a staple of colonial life - it was assumed that the colonists would rather pay the tax than deny themselves the pleasure of a cup of tea.

Perhaps we can dump mortgage-based securities instead. As it was tea to King George III, let's make it CDO (collateralized debt obligations)
to King Barack I, and maybe we can use the Potomac or the South Lawn in lieu of Boston Bay. Otherwise, shall future historians write, waxing nostalgic of the halcyon days of yore when Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac reigned supreme, thus:

The Americans would thenceforth get their tranquil and comfortable homes at a cheaper price than ever before, thanks mainly to the eternal benevolence of Obama the Messiah. "Allahu Akbar"!?!

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