Remedial Civics

This is one of those “wait, that can’t be true … but then again that is obviously true” stories: “Only 36% of Americans can name the three branches of government.”

If you have any appreciation for the destruction to our education system wrought by progressivism, particularly by the exlusively-progressive plague of public sector unionism, then you are not likely to be very surprised by this headline. Likewise, if you are sentient and in possession of basic senses, you also are not surprised to learn that a great majority of your fellow citizens are utterly clueless about basic civics. The age of reality television and selfies has clearly seen the chaff of society overshadow the wheat. No future historian will confuse the early period of the 21st century with the Age of Enlightenment.

But… 36%???

One would think that by merely existing in an age of ubiquitous information, on-demand content and 24 hour news and internet, at least half the national population would be able to absorb through data osmosis the basic foundations of our republic. With all the inescapable political banter soaring through the ether, surely even the most checked-out or apathetic citizen must know that there exist simple delineations between the President, the Congress and the Supreme Court? This headline would be staggering if it said 50%, but 36%? Almost two-thirds of Americans really have no clue how our government works. I wonder who that benefits, and I wonder if said beneficiaries have incentives to keep it this way.

Woodrow Wilson urged Americans to reject the Founding Fathers and the Constitution in order to bring about a “renewed” America because the left can only thrive with an electorate which holds no first principles. A citizenry that abandons interest in its natural rights and the separation of powers meant to protect those rights is an aimless and rootless citizenry always chasing “progress” down whichever road the winds are blowing. For Wilson and the progressives, strict separation of powers with clearly demarcated responsibilities therein just would not do. These eminent geniuses had it all figured out, and something as trivial as checks and balances was not going to stand in their way. But in 1912, Americans tended to revere notions of natural rights and constitutional liberty, so the cause of disavowing them of their quaint ideals fell to the ultimate elitist, a Princeton President and all-around narcissist, Captain Woodrow. Wilson running against the Founders and Constitution was merely the first step in a long campaign to undermine the values of our republic. The seed of the idea of an omniscient executive had been planted, waiting for Roosevelt to come along and water the shit out of it, which he surely did, starting in 1932.

Since Marxist ideology burst on the scene in the 19th century, leftwing regimes have understood that the path to control of the citizenry is information. The more informed the population, the less likely it is that your socialist utopia is going to fool them into compliance. The 20th century incarnations of Marxism, whether through Hitler’s Nazism or Stalin’s Communism understood this and were thoroughly ruthless in their censorship, propaganda and disinformation outfits. They also correctly identified the fundamental antagonist to the socialist enterprise, capital, and thus set out to shut down stock exchanges whenever they acquired territory. How it is that so many erstwhile sophisticates of the millennial generation find it trendy to wax nostalgic over collectivism and express vague platitudes as to the inherent virtues of socialism will forever escape me when the requisite qualities of any socialist operation typically consist of harsh censorship and restrictions on capital generation. But in order to make the connection between the abysmal failures of socialism – in theory and in practice – and a culture of repression and censorship, you must be educated on actual history and economics. Which brings us back to the issue at hand: education.

If the population is educated and informed, especially regarding the specifics of our constitution and of our history, then it is likely to be a proud and patriotic population. But if the population withers intellectually and ceases to be educated in such matters as remedial civics, then the project of our republic suddenly appears vulnerable. If the citizenry gradually shifts from participatory and engaged to apathetic and indifferent, and in doing so becomes less educated and less concerned with the genetic coding of our complicated federalist system, how easy it would be to take advantage. And that is what the progressives have done.

Whether or not they set out to import the Bismarckian model of education from Germany as a Trojan Horse for bureaucratizing and centralizing our country, the progressives have definitely capitalized on the opportunity and used the national public education monopoly to attain power and to keep the citizenry placid and immobile. The power comes from the pernicious and corrupt relationship between teachers’ unions and Democratic politicians, who court lavish campaign contributions from the union bosses in return for preferential treatment in collective bargaining sessions. They effect to keep the public stagnant by treating public education primarily as a jobs program for adults rather than as an education program for students. National curricula are designed and overseen by a cadre of leftwing academics at the DOE and the College Board. Each and every attempt at reforming the public education cartel is met with furious and unhinged behavior by the unions and the progressive left, which is thankfully becoming more transparent to the parents of low-income and minority students, who see the unions and the leftists standing squarely in the way of their children’s opportunities for advancement, all in the name of protecting cushy pensions and work benefits.

The left views informed people who are passionate about our founding ideals with suspicion and contempt. The excess vitriol spewed at the Tea Party by progressives was so intense and unhinged precisely because the Tea Party stands above all else for the Constitution. The Constitution is sacred because it is so wary of concentrated power. The most emphasis during all the convention debates and through all the Federalist and Anti-Federalist papers centered around the separation of powers. Our Founders were well-read philosophes who agreed comprehensively on one thing: they did not want a king. And so all the energy of the debate focused on how to establish a republic that balanced and separated powers hitherto reserved for a king?

Woodrow Wilson announced that for the modern left, a king is exactly what is desired. Thus the need to undermine the nature of our founding by gradually eroding reverence for it. The left needs a dumb society if they are to be in charge. It needs useful idiots. When only 36% of Americans can identify the Executive, Legislative and Judicial branches of our government, I’d say that the left is winning.

Presidents Day

This is a silly holiday. It began as a perfectly reasonable homage to Washington, fell prey to the legend of Lincoln, and was ultimately co-opted by all presidents into the meaningless day of general observance that today’s cult of the presidency demands. How can we honor the lot of America’s 44 presidents as a lumpen whole when they are so dramatically different individually, ideologically, temperamentally, as well as in motive and achievement? I find it rather embarrassing that we honor on the same day the likes of James Madison and Teddy Roosevelt. Yet on this day when our media engage in frivolous navel-gazing and obsess over the stature and ranking of past chief executives, why bother beating one’s head against the wall and insisting it’s all a charade, when one can just join the party? Herewith are my top five best and worst presidents.

The Worst 

1. Woodrow Wilson
A virulent white supremacist progressive who entered office on a platform that basically said the entire premise of the nation’s founding was immoral and unjust. Gave us the income tax, the Federal Reserve and the precursor to the United Nations. He also revived the monarchical practice of delivering a State of the Union in speech form to all of Congress, ending a century long tradition of written SOTU, a practice begun by the fierce opponent of regal pomp, Thomas Jefferson. Wilson was also an ardent warmonger who knew that war was the easiest way to reassert state power over a free citizenry.

2. Lyndon Johnson
A virulent racist progressive who became an icon of the left only by accident. LBJ was so pained by the constant insults and dismissive characterizations about his hick Texan drawl and demeanor that after Kennedy’s assassination he made it his mission to prove to the progressives in his party that he was as unabashedly leftist as it gets. Thus: Medicare and Medicaid. His motivation for the Civil Rights Act was entirely cynical, as Johnson was on record saying he would “have those [racial epithet]’s voting Democratic for the next two hundred years.” He also gave us a little something called “Vietnam.”

3. Franklin Roosevelt
As awful a domestic policy president as there is, FDR avoids the top two only by virtue of his personal decency and impressive (emotional and physical) resolve during the war. But let us not allow history to continue its improper veneration of the man simply because he presided over defeat of the Axis powers. The New Deal remains the most constitutionally offensive political action ever undertaken by this republic of ostensibly enumerated powers. Upon entering office in 1933, Roosevelt immediately persuaded Congress to “delegate” him virtually all power, so that this would-be dictator could freely institute his statist designs and central plans without obstacle. In a time when liberal democracy was prominently viewed worldwide as the quaint relic of a “decadent” West, FDR was applauded from London to Paris to Berlin to Rome to Moscow as wisely adhering to the martial and nationalist collectivism that seemed the inevitable a priori successor to a failed individualist capitalism. New Deal programs could have credibly been viewed as a piece with National Socialist or Fascist reforms, and in fact most of them were. In addition to being a rank demagogue, FDR was also an anti-semite and a racist, and unafraid to throw his own citizens in internment camps due to their ethnic origins. Among the greater disgraces in American pop-history is that he is considered even a good president, let alone among the best.

4. Theodore Roosevelt
Also a white supremacist who passionately subscribed to the cause celebre of the Progressive Movement: eugenics. The “bold reformers” of this era conducted a different manner of racism than that of the visceral, emotional, traditional brand of southerners still grappling with Reconstruction. Progressives were “scientific racists” who used biology and evolution to conclude, as HL Mencken did, in the inferiority of “the stock of the American Negro.” Roosevelt also earns a place in the top five simply for facilitating the election of Woodrow Wilson, by running as a third party candidate for the Bull Moose Party in 1912.

5. Barack Obama
Still got a couple more years to inch his way up this list. The Affordable Care Act alone, not to mention the manner in which it was forced on a skeptical population, is enough to rocket one into the top five. But it’s the arrogance and the hubris combined with staggering incompetence and indifference – on everything from IRS targeting of political enemies to the blithe launching of military operations in Libya to the extrajudicial use of the NSA and drone killing to the criminal ignorance of economics and the petty placing of politics forever before policy – that provides Obama with such an excellent chance at ending his presidency even higher on the list of America’s Worst Presidents.

The Best 

1. George Washington
King George III of Great Britain said of the victorious general poised to become king that he was “placed in a light the most distinguished of any man living,” and was “the greatest character of the age.” And upon being told that Washington would relinquish power and return to his farm rather than become king, George III said, “if he does that, he will be the greatest man in the world.” Indeed.

2. Calvin Coolidge
Silent Cal is enjoying something of a renaissance in historical acclaim, though still nowhere near the absurdly reverential heights reserved for the likes of Washington or Lincoln. But Coolidge remains the only president of the 20th century to have left office with a smaller budget than he was met with upon entering. Coolidge vetoed anything with a whiff of progressivism that came to his desk and valued the notion that the private economy bolstered by individualist pursuits and low taxes were the recipe for economic vitality. As a result, his was the only decade to have such an apt modifier.

3. Thomas Jefferson / James Madison (tie)
I confess I place our third and fourth presidents here less for their exploits as actual presidents and more for their contributions to the construction of our republic that preceded their terms in office. In fact, their presidencies are clouded by a couple of unfortunate examples of enumerated government advocates embarking on decidedly unenumerated executive actions: the Louisiana Purchase and the establishment of the Second National Bank. Still, for being the authors of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution respectively, and for enshrining forever the highest conception yet of a representative republic based on the primacy of the individual over the state, Jefferson and Madison have to be on the list.

4. Warren Harding
Everyone knows Harding for just two things, his running on a platform of a “return to normalcy” and the Teapot-Dome scandal. That we hear so much about the second is because he succeeded so thoroughly in pursuit of the first. Harding paved the way for Coolidge’s glorious reign by attempting to undo as much of Wilson’s apocalyptic damage to the Constitution and to decency (Harding released 22 political prisoners jailed by Wilson, including the famous socialist Eugene Debs) as possible and by favoring a much more limited government. After the chaos and disruption of the Progressive Era, a return to normalcy was badly needed, and Harding can only be deemed a historic success on that account. Most of all, like Coolidge, a president who combats activist, expansionary “progress” by insisting on limited government is a president that should be held in the highest of esteem.

5. Ronald Reagan
Despite the common misconception that Reagan made good on his promise that “government is not the solution, government is the problem,” the federal government still grew under Reagan, primarily due to his aggressive military build-up against the Soviets. Even on the domestic front, the best Reagan was able to accomplish was a “freeze” on the growth of federal outlays, still a monumental achievement in our modern era of incessantly ballooning budget “baselines” and quests for “revenue-neutral” blah blah blah. And his massive marginal tax rate cut, from 70% to 28% over the duration of his two terms, served to usher in an enormous economic boom that did not truly end until the financial crisis of 2008. Reagan’s economic policies were not perfect (if you’re going to deregulate the asset side for banks, you must deregulate the liability side as well), but they put to bed for a long while the ignorance of the Keynesians who believed that economic growth and prosperity comes from government expenditures and “investments.” Reagan’s genius was in conveying a sunny optimism about the potential of American enterprise, and by creating the conditions that allowed individuals to unleash their entrepreneurial spirit and unleash the type of American economic dynamism that had been thought dormant or dead by the leftwing intelligentsia of the 60’s and 70’s.

So why don’t we just declare Presidents Day a pointless holiday with about as much relevance as Camelot, and be done with it? After all, ’tis a silly place.