Freedom Sells

Everyone likes movies. Since its inception at the turn of the 20th Century, film has evolved as one of the most prolific sources of social, political and spiritual commentary in history. As some have said, Hollywood is what Homer was to the ancients. Movies tell stories. Movies strive to move us. They can even rewrite history in the mind’s of a society. Needless to say, movies and TV shows are a crucial part of modern culture.

As dozens of high-budget Hollywood blockbuster hopefuls make their way to the screen every year, the reaction from the political sphere is largely the same: Hollywood is a liberal’s world. From the causes and candidates that actors and actresses support to the “socially progressive” message that many films portray, this is a rare case of bipartisan agreement.

However, when one analyzes the plot structure, character development, and themes of some of film’s most popular and most recent works, there seems to be an intriguing trend of conservative ideals that permeates them all. Allow me to explain.

One of the most basic principles of modern liberalism is big government is best. Nationalized healthcare, increased welfare state, increased regulation, etc. Conservatism then, obviously, opposes many of these views. So you would think an industry that is overwhelmingly stereotyped as liberal would tend to portray this kind of ideology in its products. However, in many cases this is just the opposite.

For example, take the popular genre of post-modern dystopian societies (aka Hunger Games, Divergent, Blade Runner, and the like). The vast majority of the time, the antagonist of these movies is blatantly identified as the government. It’s up to one strong-willed, unassuming underdog to courageously lead a revolt against the oppressive rulers who stand diametrically opposed to freedom and individual progress. Interesting.

Look at Gladiator, Braveheart, The Matrix, Star Wars, some of the most iconic movies of all time all share this common theme. Of course, the most inspiring movies use this David vs. Goliath tactic as a way to make an interesting plot line, but the cultural subtext here cannot be ignored. Where are the movies about the successes of an increased welfare state? Instead we have The Pursuit of Happyness. Where are the dramatic success stories of government security agencies? Instead we have the Bourne series. Where are the long-term success stories of those who tossed the rule book out the window, abandoned classic values and morals, and have a life of complete happiness and satisfaction to show for it? Instead we have Wolf of Wall Street.

No, Hollywood knows what makes a good story. It’s one that inspires us to succeed, to be entrepreneurial, to stand out, to think critically, to contribute, to work hard, to be free. It’s these kinds of stories that have made America the best country in the world. But these ideas aren’t just reserved for Americans. They resonate within everyone. Freedom makes sense. Freedom transcends. Freedom sells.

Do you have a story that exemplifies what it means to be free? Find and contact your state think tank here and share!

Post-SOTU Hunger Pangs

Image from Politico

Image from Politico

If you watched the State of the Union address last Tuesday evening, you probably had an experience that can be compared to eating a nice, big bowl of lettuce leaves for dinner. It sounds good at the time, and you may have even enjoyed the meal, only to lay in bed starving a few hours later wondering how you got to this point. Finally, over the roaring grumbles in your stomach, you realize one very important detail. You didn’t actually eat anything. Perhaps this sensation was no more poignant than after the President’s discussion of the new healthcare roll out.

Using his signature smooth rhetoric, the President (obviously) stuck to the positives. He cited statistics like the three million people who got coverage under their parents’ plan, or the nine million under “private” insurance or Medicaid. He put a personal touch to these numbers by telling the story of Amanda Shelley, who had a pre-existing condition, got insured, had to have emergency surgery soon thereafter, and was spared high costs. However, he conveniently failed to mention the 700,000 people in Florida and California who lost their coverage, or the circus show surrounding online registration, or the story of Emilie Lamb who suffers from lupus. Her premiums jumped $300 due to Obamacare, and she now works two jobs just to afford medication. Like Amanda, Emilie was also in attendance for the President’s address.

What do these statistical and personal contradictions mean? On the surface, they do nothing more than prolong the political merry-go-round of Washington in-fighting and stretch the already gaping chasm between parties. However, the larger picture shows that regardless of the issue, government interference always results in the picking of winners and losers. Just as in the case of most federal subsidies and “incentives,” government involvement in these areas puts the power in the hands of the removed few, rather than the people who are directly affected. The problem then expands from merely the shortcomings of a liberal health care agenda to a larger issue of government hubris, perhaps the only issue that is truly bipartisan.

So if you found yourself laying in bed unsatisfied by the political lettuce cloaked in your favorite dressing of choice on Tuesday, the reason is that there was nothing to consume. It’s time for the next course.

Lincoln’s Logs Part III: America’s Past Time

Photo from http://www.constitutionstore.org/prod-64-3-563/.htm

Some things never change. Less than six years after its inception, the Republican party found itself in the midst of an identity crisis. By February of 1860, they had yet to establish themselves as a unified body with a common goal. Recording less Presidential victories than runs scored in this year’s Congressional baseball game, a new election approaching in November, and no clear “All-Star” for the May nominee deadline, members could not even agree decisively on the biggest issue of the century, slavery.

Thankfully, Abraham Lincoln was batting clean-up.

The ideological impasse that Republicans faced was rather simple. The wool had finally started to be lifted from the eyes of some politicians, and the blatant injustice of slavery was becoming more apparent. However, many party proponents struggled to find a Constitutional justification for uprooting a virtual cornerstone of American culture and economics during this time. Many people, both Republican and Democrat, looked on with great skepticism about the ramifications of allowing such an extensive and broad-reaching policy, the magnitude of which had no precedent.

With his team trailing in the bottom ninth with two outs, Abraham Lincoln stepped into the batter’s box on a cold February day in 1860 and prepared to address a crowd gathered at Cooper Union, New York. His speech would be one of the longest of his career and some say cemented his spot as not only the Republican nominee, but the first Republican President in history.

The speech presented a logical, lawyer-esque case for why the “framers of our Government” would have supported a decision to abolish slavery at the Federal level, an approach tailor made for Lincoln’s successful legal history. Proving this would make for a much easier task of persuading the people that Government prohibiting the practice of slavery across the nation was, indeed, in line with conservative ideas.

Consider that proposal for a moment. From a strictly political standpoint, to argue that the Government had the power to strip you of your “property” (as some considered their slaves) and disrupt the firmly established social order of the day would be a seemingly impossible task even today, especially in proportion to an issue of this magnitude. Not to mention claiming that such an idea aligned with our founders’ vision and ultimately furthered the conservative agenda. Talk about a curveball.

But accomplishing daunting tasks like these seem to have been a specialty of Lincoln’s. He created an impressive argument filled with historical facts and connections about the founders’ personal voting backgrounds and policy initiatives without a single Google search or Facebook inquiry. Using this information, he managed to sway his listeners that the founders would have, in fact, supported a federal move to end slavery across the board, and since good conservatives are committed to the ideas of those who built this country, they should be in favor of the notion as well. Talk about a homerun.

So what is the impact of Lincoln’s words at Cooper Union today? Obviously the Emancipation Proclamation and the 13th Amendment did nothing but good for the longevity of America. However, a larger lesson can be learned here. The most glorious ideal of Lincoln’s legacy is that he did not let the political pressures of his day dictate his morals. Sure, he may have leaned further to the right than to the left, but even when confronted with dissent from his own party and peers, he knew with confidence and conviction that his stance was correct. He knew the role of Government is to protect the rights of its people first and foremost, even if seemingly drastic action must be taken.

Perhaps the lessons from Cooper Union could be applied all the way from Capitol Hill rallies to legislative chambers. Do not be confined to the boundaries of rules and norms established by any particular political agenda. Morals should guide policy, not the other way around.

So lay conformity to the side, and step up to the plate. Choose your words carefully, and wait for your pitch. Then take your stand, and swing for the fences.

Reuniting Capitalism and Democracy

Portrait_of_Milton_Friedman

Conventional wisdom today has capitalism out and democracy in.

The financial crash supposedly proved markets don’t work, at least not for most of the people. Democracy, on the other hand, is all the rage. From Egypt to Oakland, protesters and pundits insist they are “the 99%,” and that every political and economic policy must be judged by whether it is more or less democratic.

This idea of democracy is obviously about more than just election processes. But while a few ideologues really desire raw majority rule, more Americans seem to favor what is often called a “democratic society,” where individuals are empowered to live their own lives without being manipulated or controlled by others.

Milton Friedman pointed out in many writings and talks that the economic system that best approaches this standard of democracy is capitalism. Every other system involves—in fact, is defined by—allowing one group to control everyone else.

This week, on what would have been the Nobel laureate’s 101st birthday, it is a fitting time to begin knitting the ideas of capitalism and democracy back together.

The very foundations of American law and prosperity rest on this understanding of capitalism and democracy. To put it another way, before there was Milton Friedman, there was James Madison.

Madison wrote eloquently in Federalist No. 10 about where property rights come from, why they must be protected, and why government power must be limited and checked to prevent groups of people from harnessing that power to interfere with the property rights of others. (All emphases in the quotes is my own.)

Madison explains that “the rights of property originate [from] the diversity in the faculties of men.”

The protection of these faculties is the first object of government. From the protection of different and unequal faculties of acquiring property, the possession of different degrees and kinds of property immediately results; and from the influence of these on the sentiments and views of the respective proprietors, ensues a division of the society into different interests and parties.

What Madison is interested in is justice and liberty, which are made possible by the rule of law. His argument is that groups of people (“factions”) will try to use government power to their advantage at the expense of other people and of justice.

The latent causes of faction are thus sown in the nature of man; and we see them everywhere brought into different degrees of activity, according to the different circumstances of civil society. … the most common and durable source of factions has been the various and unequal distribution of property. Those who hold and those who are without property have ever formed distinct interests in society. Those who are creditors, and those who are debtors, fall under a like discrimination. A landed interest, a manufacturing interest, a mercantile interest, a moneyed interest, with many lesser interests, grow up of necessity in civilized nations, and divide them into different classes, actuated by different sentiments and views. The regulation of these various and interfering interests forms the principal task of modern legislation, and involves the spirit of party and faction in the necessary and ordinary operations of the government.

Madison points out the conflict between the idea of democracy as simply majority rule versus the idea of a democratic society: a government that allows a majority of voters to plunder the few is simply lawless. (This is the version of democracy described as “two wolves and a lamb voting on what’s for dinner.”)

Finally, Madison sketches an argument against reliance on central planning, good intentions, and what Friedrich Hayek will later call “the fatal conceit.”

It is in vain to say that enlightened statesmen will be able to adjust these clashing interests, and render them all subservient to the public good. Enlightened statesmen will not always be at the helm. Nor, in many cases, can such an adjustment be made at all without taking into view indirect and remote considerations, which will rarely prevail over the immediate interest which one party may find in disregarding the rights of another or the good of the whole.

Our constitutional system was designed to protect property rights, first from other individuals and then from government. It was designed to do this not in order to create prosperity—that was a side effect and not well understood until 20th Century economists like Milton Friedman. Rather it was based on the understanding of the connection between democracy and capitalism.

Check out our series of essays and study guides to re-explain to Americans the democracy inherent in free markets.

This was originally posted at the Freedom Foundation of Washington state’s website.

Lincoln’s Logs Part II: A Common Minority

Less than a month after accepting his Senate nomination by the Illinois Republican Party and on the cusp of the famed Lincoln-Douglas Debates, Abraham Lincoln addressed a Chicago crowd on this day in 1858 primed to hear his rebuttal of Stephen Douglas’s rousing speech from the previous day. The body of Lincoln’s speech held no surprises to those in attendance. A clash of ideologies about slavery was at the forefront of the Illinois Senate race, with issues like popular sovereignty, the Dred Scott case, and the Kansas-Nebraska Act playing the main characters.

As he transitioned into his conclusion, however, Lincoln broke from his and Douglas’s usual rhetoric and implored the crowd to remember the historic event surrounding the occasion: Independence Day. He appealed to a few irrefutable ideas held fast by his listeners to drive home his point. Perhaps these same points still hold weight relative to the issues and divisiveness of today.

Lincoln began by establishing that our nation’s founding was the start of something incredible. The transformation from a few ships of religious refugees into a nation of millions was nothing short of revolutionary, pun intended. This common denominator is what links each and every American citizen together to this day regardless of party, religion, or ideology. We are not defined as a nation divided by slave and free, Republican and Democrat, but rather a nation united under a common history.

He went on to warn his audience of the massive consequences that follow the promotion of slavery. If we neglect to recognize and uphold the “electric cord,” as Lincoln put it, that connects each of us as not only Americans, but as humans, we set the stage for a government that has the power to decide who qualifies as worthy to receive the benefits of a “free” society. Perhaps the pendulum has swung in the opposite direction since Lincoln’s day, replacing blatant oppression with subtle desensitization. While life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness must assuredly be applicable to all people, it must also be ensured to be an individual choice.

Their argument is the same… you work and I eat, you toil and I will enjoy the fruits of it.

As his coup de gras, Lincoln comments about the role of government, which strike an uncanny resemblance to the same basic struggles we are fighting to this day. While he reproved the government for its lack of civil intervention, the government of today seems to be exposed more and more each day as one of extreme intrusion. Ironically, both roads lead to the same destination: destruction of the individual.

When the government fails to perform its most basic function to defend its people, individuals are directly affected. When government micromanages the lives of individuals, whether by forcibly quartering troops in 1765 or penalizing the refusal of health insurance in 2014, people are directly affected.

If Atlas had Shrugged before Lincoln’s time, perhaps he would have quoted the words of Ayn Rand:

The smallest minority on earth is the individual. Those who deny individual rights cannot claim to be defenders of minorities.

Rights are not limited to those with the least representation. They are not limited to skin pigment. They are not limited to country of origin. They are not limited to those with a certain Sunday ritual. They are limited to the extent by which individuals allow them to be squandered. In the pursuit of a nation with liberty and justice for all, let us not forget the individual most often overlooked and misrepresented, ourselves.

Lincoln’s Logs Part I: Simple Division

AbeLincoln

This is the first essay in a three-part series commemorating the history surrounding theLincoln-Douglas debates and their relevance today.

One hundred and forty-five years ago this month, Abraham Lincoln rose from his seat to address a packed house at the Illinois State Capitol building. In front of a thousand hopeful delegates, he delivered perhaps one of the most powerfully forgotten speeches of his career and, perhaps, our nation’s history.

It was not his address at Gettysburg, it was not his proclamation of emancipation, it was not his first or second inaugural speech. For all intents and purposes, the context did not require any historic words to be uttered. Nevertheless, in true Lincoln fashion, his content superseded the occasion.

It was his acceptance speech for the Republican Senate nomination in Illinois that roused a lanky, unorthodox Abraham Lincoln to thunderously deliver his “House Divided Speech”, which served as an appetizer to his historic bouts with Stephen Douglas a few months later. Referring to the country’s blatant divide over the issue of slavery, Lincoln cited a well-known Biblical phrase as his thesis,

“A house divided against itself cannot stand”

He proceeded to argue that the nation stood at a crossroads, those in favor of slavery and those opposed. As a result, its people must decide which road to take or risk the potentially fatal consequences. Lincoln reassured his audience of his confidence that the “Union” would not fall, but it would surely choose a path. A path begotten from contention, conflict, and “crisis”.

Lincoln then mapped out the uphill battle that he and those present must face in order to blaze a new path of freedom for those enslaved under the supposed constructs of liberty. Verdicts had been made, statutes had been passed, and norms had been established, each posing their own unique obstacles. But his firm words laced with moral fortitude seemed to render the odds obsolete. With a bold conclusion exposing the truth of his rival Douglas’ plans to merely leave slavery up for each state to decide, Lincoln called upon his party to remember their roots, remember their original purpose, and adamantly oppose both a compromise of practicing slavery as well as its outright exercise.

crossroads

Image from http://crossroadsdenver.wordpress.com/

Our nation currently stands at a similar crossroads. With the ever-intrusive hand of the federal government relentlessly regulating, mandating, and manipulating its way into millions of its citizens’ lives, it is clear that our house is not united. Apart from the usual debates between Democrat and Republican which forge strong policy, we have seen an administration blatantly disregard the wishes of its people and states in favor of a predetermined agenda.

For example, the Affordable Care Act has received overwhelming backlash from the states, many of which have opted to not even participate in the lose-lose exchange programs offered by the policy. In fact, just weeks after the policy passed the House, polls found that close to half of voters were opposed to it. An unprecedented law, shrouded in controversy, unread by most of its supporters, and opposed by nearly half of the American public still managed to squeeze by our nation’s legislature and become the law of the land.

So what is our response? How do we make sense of such monstrosities to freedom? Shall we look to our respective parties? Even Lincoln’s fellow Republicans did not fully agree with his notions. Shall we wait and hope for a fearless leader to emerge? History has proved the pitfalls of such power. What then? Perhaps the words of a lanky, unorthodox, one-time grocer familiar with defeat but never influenced by its suggestions can provide some guidance as to which path we shall take.

This path cannot be chosen by the poetic advice of Robert Frost, nor can it be chosen merely by the words of a persuasive orator. Perhaps it takes a unified body with a clear purpose and unwavering sense of right to correctly lay a new path. Perhaps it takes a house.

*Top image from http://evanjsegal.authorsxpress.com/tag/abraham-lincoln/

Happy 225th Birthday!

ConstitutionBirthday

Today marks the 225th anniversary of the ratification of the United States Constitution.

The Constitutional Convention gathered in 1787 to create the laws and vision by which our new country, an experiment in liberty and self-determination, was to be governed. In order to become the governing law of the land, nine out of the thirteen states needed to ratify the governing document.

The making of the Constitution was a long, arduous debate process. Some states restrained their support at first in fear that fundamental rights- like freedom of speech and religion- were not safeguarded. Once the plan for the Bill of Rights was drawn to protect these rights, they consented.

After fierce debate, on June 21, 1788, nine states ratified our Constitution.

Whatever may be the judgement pronounced on the competency of the architects of the Constitution, or whatever may be the destiny of the edifice prepared by them, I feel it a duty to express my profound and solemn conviction . . . that there never was an assembly of men, charged with a great and arduous trust, who were more pure in their motives, or more exclusively or anxiously devoted to the object committed to them. James Madison

How much do you know about the Constitution? Take this quiz to find out.

Read more about the Rule of Law that the Constitution protects in the We the People courses.

A “Higher” Calling for the IRS?

IRS

Picture of the IRS building from: http://www.flickr.com/photos/iceninejon/1470401797/

Across Constitution Avenue en route to the Sculpture Garden in downtown Washington, D.C., there stands a building with a faded, almost camouflaged inscription above its windows. Stop to stare with a slight squint and the inscription can be deciphered as a short quote of some sorts. This is nothing out of the ordinary, as many such buildings in the area boast lavish engravings and poetic words beautifully crafted across their marble faces.

However, in light of our nation’s recent events, this single quote must give pause to its readers. This single, eight-word quote once hidden in simplicity amongst hundreds of others now seems to scream for attention from the stone on which it was carved.

The quote is from former Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., and rests on the side of the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) headquarters. It reads,

Taxes are what we pay for a civilized society

A year ago, the initial irony of this statement may have merely conjured a smirk or a scoff from us taxpayers who have seen a grim horizon of ever-increasing taxes and more government encroachment into our everyday lives. However, the recent IRS scandal of targeting conservative non-profit and Tea Party organizations begs a second glance at Holmes’ words and a second thought to their implications.

IRS Rally

Picture from a Tea Party protest of the IRS’s unfair and unlawful targeting practices.

Taxes are a fact of life. As much as we loathe that dreaded day in the middle of April and cringe at the sight of deductions from our paychecks, most reasonable Americans understand that taxes (should) be used by the government for the betterment of its people. In a civilized society like America, citizens pay for the privilege of highway systems, Social Security (whether their own or someone else’s it seems), and now, controversially, healthcare.

Notice, however, that Holmes qualifies his statement with the word civilized. Unfortunately, the extreme subjectivism of this word creates an elusive and seemingly elastic definition, as history can attest. Even still, perhaps what can be agreed upon is that a civilized society must demonstrate consistency and fairness with the rules and laws that the society itself has put into place. This must be especially true for the highest realms of authority.

So then, what happens when these realms abuse their authority, toss civility to the way side, and contradict the very laws and limitations that have been established to restrain themselves from governmental hubris? A second component of a civilized society, accountability, must step in. The checks and balances system of our government was designed for this very purpose. No single branch has complete authority, and everyone must answer to someone.

Apparently these principles are not shared by our current governing authorities.

The IRS has been caught red handed. Both parties have denounced its targeting of conservative groups and the current administration has pledged to hold the tax-payer-funded “service” accountable for its actions. However, we have seen quite the opposite. Our country’s administration claimed to have no knowledge of the IRS’s actions until they saw the news of it along with the rest of the nation. What’s more, one of the employees who has been directly linked to the scandal was given a promotion after the news broke.

Civilized? Accountability? Nowhere to be seen.

And yet Holmes’ words still stand. Appropriately faded, easily overlooked, and passed by many. This is not a call to disband taxes. To say that the IRS’s actions debunk the civilized foundation of America and therefore we have grounds to refuse to comply with their laws is not the point. This is merely a reminder that the country we pledge our allegiance to, the country that generations have died for, and the country that our leaders serve is not exempt from nor is it above its own laws. And when unlawful acts are committed, the one whom the people voted as their leader must take a forceful stand against such incivility.

Perhaps it is time those inside the IRS’s walls step outside its doors, turn around, and look up.

Heroes of American Exceptionalism: Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and John Winthrop

MLK_WTP

Freedom, equal protection under the law, a culture of service and charity, and economic opportunity for all; these ideas are among those that make America a “city upon a hill” and exceptional on the world stage.

These principles are forgotten in a time when an economic recession, palpable disunity, rising unemployment, unspeakably violent shootings, and $16 trillion dollars in debt have left us wondering how to change course as a nation. Polls even tell us that Americans believe we are headed down the wrong track.

Today, on both Martin Luther King Day and Inauguration Day, we are reminded that our history is full of heroic leaders who made risky stands for freedom. We look back at Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech, his “Letter from Birmingham Jail,” and the inaugural addresses of great presidents like George Washington and Abraham Lincoln for direction and the courage to move forward in a time of economic and political uncertainty. All of these men faced seemingly insurmountable odds, but overcame.

The very first reference to American as a “city upon a shining hill” was during what could be considered our very first “inaugural address.” Puritan leader John Winthrop delivered a political speech that laid our foundation aboard the ship Arabella at the end of a grueling voyage across the Atlantic to seek religious and economic freedom in 1630. In his foundational speech, A Model of Christian Charity, Winthrop famously coined the phrase “we shall be as a city upon a hill” and said:

“We must love brotherly without dissimulation, we must love one another with a pure heart, fervently we must bear one another’s burdens, we must not only look onely on our own things, but also on the things of our brethren…”

As we reflect on our history as a nation today, I hope that we have a gut-check and remember what it takes to be a “city upon a hill.” It takes brave men and women like John Winthrop, his passengers aboard the Arabella, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and the protesters around the Lincoln Memorial to protect freedom and build strong communities.

They spoke out, disobeyed unjust laws, left their comfort zone, and exhibited self-sacrifice.

What can you do today to restore America’s exceptional character and stand against injustice? Will you take care of a neighbor in your community? Will you petition your state government to allow children of all backgrounds educational choice and the chance at a better life? American history has shown that it only takes a few brave people to do the right thing.

Happy 225th Anniversary!

It’s only 4400 total words and is both the oldest and shortest written Constitution of all major governments. We owe the preservation of our liberty largely to this document that begins by stating “We the people…”

Today marks Constitution Day- a day to celebrate 225 years of living under our founding document. While some think the Constitution is ancient history, written by old white guys who could never have foreseen the circumstances of the modern world (terrorism, globalization, technological advances…), we know that the Constitution is the culmination of historical understanding about human nature and government systems.

Check out this timeline of historical events that shaped the Constitution.

Take a little time today to reflect upon the importance of our foundational document. There are lots of resources out there to study the Constitution. I recommend two great ones:

 

 

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