DENNIS PRAGER: ‘Does It Do Good?’ vs. ‘Does It Feel Good?’ Left-Right Differences: Part III

Reason asks: “Does it do good?” Liberalism asks, “Does it feel good?”

A fundamental difference between the left and right concerns how each assesses public policies. The right asks, “Does it do good?” The left asks a different question.

One example is the minimum wage. In 1987, The New York Times editorialized against any minimum wage. The title of the editorial said it all — “The Right Minimum Wage: $0.00.”

“There’s a virtual consensus among economists,” wrote the Times editorial, “that the minimum wage is an idea whose time has passed. Raising the minimum wage by a substantial amount would price working poor people out of the job market . … More important, it would increase unemployment. … The idea of using a minimum wage to overcome poverty is old, honorable — and fundamentally flawed.”

Why did The New York Times editorialize against the minimum wage? Because it asked the conservative question: “Does it do good?”

But 27 years later, The New York Times editorial page wrote the very opposite of what it had written in 1987, and called for a major increase in the minimum wage. In that time, the page had moved further left and was now preoccupied not with what does good — but with income inequality, which feels bad. It lamented the fact that a low hourly minimum wage had not “softened the hearts of its opponents” — Republicans and their supporters.

As second example is affirmative action. Study after study — and, even more important, common sense and facts — have shown the deleterious effects that race-based affirmative action have had on black students. Lowering college admissions standards for black applicants has ensured at least two awful results.

One is that more black students fail to graduate college — because they have too often been admitted to a college that demands more academic rigor than they were prepared for. Rather than attend a school that matches their skills, a school where they might thrive, they fail at a school where they are over-matched.

The other result is that many, if not most, black students feel a dark cloud hanging over them. They suspect that other students wonder whether they, the black students, were admitted into the college on merit or because standards were lowered.

It would seem that the last question supporters of race-based affirmative action ask is, “Does it do good?”

A third example is pacifism and other forms of “peace activism.”

The left has a soft spot for pacifism — the belief that killing another human being is always immoral. Not all leftists are pacifists, but pacifism emanates from the Left, and just about all leftists support “peace activism,” “peace studies” and whatever else contains the word “peace.”

The right, on the other hand, while just as desirous of peace as the left — what conservative parent wants their child to die in battle? — knows that pacifism and most “peace activists” increase the chances of war, not peace.

Nothing guarantees the triumph of evil like refusing to fight it. Great evil is therefore never defeated by peace activists, but by superior military might. The Allied victory in World War II is an obvious example. American military might likewise contained and ultimately ended Soviet Communism.

Supporters of pacifism, peace studies, American nuclear disarmament, American military withdrawal from countries in which it has fought — Iraq is the most recent example — do not ask, “Does it do good?’

Did the withdrawal of America from Iraq do good? Of course not. It only led to the rise of Islamic State with its mass murder and torture.

So, then, if in assessing what public policies to pursue, conservatives ask “Does it do good?” what question do liberals ask?

The answer is, “Does it make people — including myself — feel good?”

Why do liberals support a higher minimum wage if doesn’t do good? Because it makes the recipients of the higher wage feel good (even if other workers lose their jobs when restaurants and other businesses that cannot afford the higher wage close down) and it makes liberals feel good about themselves: We liberals, unlike conservatives, have soft hearts.

Why do liberals support race-based affirmative action? For the same reasons. It makes the recipients feel good when they are admitted to more prestigious colleges. And it makes liberals feel good about themselves for appearing to right the wrongs of historical racism.

The same holds true for left-wing peace activism: Supporting “peace” rather than the military makes liberals feel good about themselves.

Perhaps the best example is the self-esteem movement. It has had an almost wholly negative effect on a generation of Americans raised to have high self-esteem without having earned it. They then suffer from narcissism and an incapacity to deal with life’s inevitable setbacks. But self-esteem feels good.

And feelings — not reason — is what liberalism is largely about. Reason asks: “Does it do good?” Liberalism asks, “Does it feel good?”


This column was originally posted on TownHall.com


PRAGER: Differences Between Left and Right, Part I

“If you can’t explain both sides, how do you know you’re right?”

Most Americans hold either liberal or conservative positions on most matters. In many instances, however, they would be hard pressed to explain their position or the position they oppose.

But if you can’t explain both sides, how do you know you’re right?

At the very least, you need to understand both the liberal and conservative positions in order to effectively understand your own.

I grew up in a liberal world — New York, Jewish and Ivy League graduate school. I was an 8-year-old when President Dwight Eisenhower ran for re-election against the Democratic nominee, Adlai Stevenson. I knew nothing about politics and had little interest in the subject. But I well recall knowing — knowing, not merely believing — that Democrats were “for the little guy” and Republicans were “for the rich guys.”

I voted Democrat through Jimmy Carter’s election in 1976. He was the last Democrat for which I voted.

Obviously, I underwent an intellectual change. And it wasn’t easy. Becoming a Republican was emotionally and psychologically like converting to another religion.

In fact, when I first voted Republican I felt as if I had abandoned the Jewish people. To be a Jew meant being a Democrat. It was that simple. It was — and remains — that fundamental to many American Jews’ identity.

Therefore, it took a lot of thought to undergo this conversion. I had to understand both liberalism and conservatism. Indeed, I have spent a lifetime in a quest to do so.

The fruit of that quest will appear in a series of columns explaining the differences between left and right.

I hope it will benefit conservatives in better understanding why they are conservative, and enable liberals to understand why someone who deeply cares about the “little guy” holds conservative — or what today are labeled as conservative — views.

Difference No. 1: Is Man Basically Good?

Left-of-center doctrines hold that people are basically good. On the other side, conservative doctrines hold that man is born morally flawed — not necessarily born evil, but surely not born good. Yes, we are born innocent — babies don’t commit crimes, after all — but we are not born good. Whether it is the Christian belief in Original Sin or the Jewish belief that we are all born with a yetzer tov (good inclination) and a yetzer ra (bad inclination) that are in constant conflict, the root value systems of the West never held that we are naturally good.

To those who argue that we all have goodness within us, two responses:

First, no religion or ideology denies that we have goodness within us; the problem is with denying that we have badness within us. Second, it is often very challenging to express that goodness. Human goodness is like gold. It needs to be mined — and like gold mining, mining for our goodness can be very difficult.

This so important to understanding the left-right divide because so many fundamental left-right differences emanate from this divide.

Perhaps the most obvious one is that conservatives blame those who engage in violent criminal activity for their behavior more than liberals do. Liberals argue that poverty, despair, and hopelessness cause poor people, especially poor blacks — in which case racism is added to the list — to riot and commit violent crimes.

Here is President Barack Obama on May 18, 2015:

“In some communities, that sense of unfairness and powerlessness has contributed to dysfunction in those communities. … Where people don’t feel a sense of hope and opportunity, then a lot of times that can fuel crime and that can fuel unrest. We’ve seen it in places like Baltimore and Ferguson and New York. And it has many causes — from a basic lack of opportunity to some groups feeling unfairly targeted by their police forces.”

So, poor blacks who riot and commit other acts of violence do so largely because they feel neglected and suffer from deprivations.

Since people are basically good, their acts of evil must be explained by factors beyond their control. Their behavior is not really their fault; and when conservatives blame blacks for rioting and other criminal behavior, liberals accuse them of “blaming the victim.”

In the conservative view, people who do evil are to be blamed because they made bad choices — and they did so because they either have little self-control or a dysfunctional conscience. In either case, they are to blame. That’s why the vast majority of equally poor people — black or white — do not riot or commit violent crimes.

Likewise, many liberals believe that most of the Muslims who engage in terror do so because of the poverty and especially because of the high unemployment rate for young men in the Arab world. Yet, it turns out that most terrorists come from middle class homes. All the 9/11 terrorists came from middle- and upper-class homes. And of course Osama bin Laden was a billionaire.

Material poverty doesn’t cause murder, rape or terror. Moral poverty does. That’s one of the great divides between left and right. And it largely emanates from their differing views about whether human nature is innately good.

Personal Libert Digest New

Money and drugs

The CDC is in bed with Big Pharma

And you should take its guidelines with a grain of salt

Pronouncements, guidelines and recommendations by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention set the standards for mainstream medicine in America and hold great sway with patients and around the world and with the World Health Organization because the CDC is considered independent and free of industry relationships. The organization even features the following disclaimer with its recommendations: “CDC, our planners, and our content experts wish to disclose they have no financial interests or other relationships with the manufacturers of commercial products … CDC does not accept commercial support.”

But that statement is blatantly false, as recent research by The BMJ (formerly the British Medical Journal) shows. In fact, the CDC gets millions of dollars annually from Big Pharma and then turns around and recommends testing and drugs created and marketed by those same companies, and this is often done upon the contributing company’s demand.

Congress authorized the CDC to accept “external gifts” from industry and private parties in 1983, and in 1992 passed legislation for the creation of a nonprofit foundation to encourage relationships between industry and the agency. In fiscal year 2014, the CDC Foundation raised $52 million, $12 million of that from Big Pharma. Also in 2014, the CDC received $16 million in direct funding from corporations, individuals and foundations, including the CDC Foundation, which makes the foundation nothing more than a pass-through organization.

As The BMJ reported, much of the funding from Big Pharma was conditional and earmarked for specific projects that turned out to be the promotion of the contributing company’s products.

One example is a $600,000 donation from Genentech to the CDC Foundation in 2012 which required the CDC to promote expanded testing and treatment of viral hepatitis. Genentech’s parent corporation is Roche, which just happens to manufacture test kits and treatment drugs for hepatitis C.

That same year, the CDC issued guidelines to physicians recommending that everyone born from 1945 to 1965 be screened for hepatitis C virus.

In 2010, the CDC Foundation created the Viral Hepatitis Action Coalition. The coalition’s purpose is to support research and promote expanded testing and treatment of hepatitis C globally. Members of the coalition, which has received $26 million in contributions from Big Pharma, include Abbott Laboratories, AbbVie, Gilead, Janssen, Merck, OraSure Technologies, Quest Diagnostics and Siemens. All of those companies produce products and tests for the diagnosis and treatment of hepatitis C.

On its website and in press releases and public pronouncements, the CDC recommends a person sick with the flu take an antiviral flu drug. It bases this recommendation on a study it claims is “independent.” But the study cited was sponsored by Roche, which manufactures the antiviral flu drug oseltamivir (known by the brand name Tamiflu). And the study’s four authors all had ties Roche, Genentech or Gilead (which holds the patent on oseltamivir).

In February, The BMJ reported that the CDC was claiming antivirals “save lives” even while the Food and Drug Administration was warning Roche that it could not make that claim in its marketing because oseltamivir “has not been proven to have a positive impact on the potential consequences (such as hospitalizations, mortality, or economic impact) of seasonal, avian, or pandemic influenza.” In other words, there was no evidence the drug worked, but CDC Director Thomas Frieden was publicly claiming otherwise.

This recommendation went to physicians who prescribed the drug to their patients, telling them it would “save” their “lives” or at least shorten the duration of their illness.

By the way, the FDA also promotes drugs based on bogus industry studies and payments from the drug manufacturers, as I told you in my report “Emails show pay-for-play scheme in drug trials.”

And Big Pharma uses a similar marketing technique with physicians. It pays physicians exorbitant fees to endorse its products in industry papers and in speeches on behalf of its drugs at conventions. Doctors also receive kickbacks for prescribing certain drugs over others, even if those drugs are prescribed for off-label purposes.

Lawsuits have revealed that more often than not that industry papers are ghost written by the pharmaceutical company’s PR hacks and the physicians just sign their name to them without reading or understanding the research in order to receive the fee.

The legal drug business is a multibillion-dollar scam on the people, and government has no interest in keeping people “safe.” I laugh when people claim government agencies are necessary to protect the people from drug makers and the other “greedy capitalists.” Many government agencies are funded by corporations and serve as revolving-door job programs between government and the corporations they supposedly oversee.



by Hans von Spakovsky 

Sen. Mike Lee has written a fascinating book about the six most important “lost” provisions of the U.S. Constitution, and how they need to be “restored.”

According to Lee, a Republican who represents Utah, that is the key to reinvigorating our country and getting rid of “what the founding generation would never have ratified and what subsequent generations have never endorsed—a federal government of unlimited power.”

This is not the type of book we often get from Washington political types, who tend to write superficial books intended to enhance their future office desires.

But then, Mike Lee is not your usual Washington politico: he is a former Supreme Court clerk for Justice Samuel Alito, an appellate lawyer well-experienced in fundamental constitutional issues. He ran for office because he was tired of seeing members of Congress fostering a huge increase in the administrative state by delegating their legislative powers “to federal bureaucrats unelected and unaccountable to the American people.”

Lee has obviously thought long and hard about the problems we are experiencing today with an out-of-control, bloated federal government and an overregulated, overburdened American economy.

Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call

In “Our Lost Constitution,” he explains why these problems are the direct result of how the courts, Congress and the executive branch have minimized or ignored what he considers to be the most important provisions in the Constitution that limit the size, scope and power of the federal government.

Lee has a family history that grounds him in his constitutional analysis: his father was Rex E. Lee, the 37th Solicitor General of the United States under President Ronald Reagan and the founding dean of Brigham Young University’s law school. When he was 10 years old, Lee “routinely” accompanied his father to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Lee says he learned how to be an appellate lawyer early on, not just because he attended Supreme Court arguments where he watched as “the black-robed justices fired questions” at his father, but because whenever he disagreed with his parents’ decisions on chores or allowances, “they would say, ‘Make your case. You’re probably not going to win, but we’ll listen.’” So he started his legal career at a very early age.

>>> Read Our Exclusive Excerpt from Lee’s “Our Lost Constitution” 

Lee even got his first experience of the political heat generated by constitutional fights when pro-abortion protestors showed up at his family’s home in Falls Church, Va., while his parents were out shopping with three of his sisters. They were angry about the arguments that General Lee was presenting to the Supreme Court in City of Akron v. Akron Center for Reproductive Health. All of these experiences helped start Lee’s “lifelong love of the Constitution” and his “growing frustration with legislators, judges, and presidents who ignore and distort it.”

The five essential but “forgotten” provisions of the Constitution—and the sixth provision that has been vastly expanded—that Lee discusses are:

  • The Origination Clause—“All Bills for raising Revenue shall originate in the House of Representatives; but the Senate may propose or concur with Amendments as on other Bills.”
  • The Legislative Powers Clause—“All legislative Powers herein granted shall be vested in a Congress of the United States, which shall consist of a Senate and House of Representatives.”
  • The Establishment Clause—“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion.”
  • The Fourth Amendment—“The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.”
  • The Tenth Amendment—“The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.”
  • The “inflated” Commerce Clause—“The Congress shall have Power … to regulate Commerce with foreign Nations, and among the several States, and with the Indian Tribes.”

For anyone who thinks this book must be a boring legal treatise, think again.

Lee starts each chapter with a fascinating, historical story about how and why each particular provision was created by the delegates to the Philadelphia convention in 1787. This is a book that any layman will easily understand, because Lee put his considerable skills as a lawyer to work not only telling the stories of the convention and the vigorous debates between James Madison, Alexander Hamilton, and a host of other famous (and not so famous) early Americans, but explaining the historical Supreme Court decisions that interpreted (or more often misinterpreted) these essential parts of the Constitution, including decisions within the past few years, such as the Obamacare case.

Photo: Newscom

Given the current fervor over the state religious freedom laws in Indiana and Arkansas, Lee’s chapter on the forgotten Establishment Clause is particularly interesting and timely. Chapter 4 is entitled “The Supreme Court’s Klansman” and tells the disturbing story of how Hugo Black, a member of the Klu Klux Klan, became a justice in 1937. Black built his career on his successful defense of a Southern racist who murdered a Catholic priest in 1921 for marrying the racist’s daughter to a Puerto Rican.

According to Lee, Black was a virulent anti-Catholic who used his position on the Supreme Court to push a distorted interpretation of the Establishment Clause that was intended to destroy Catholic schools. Black’s legal skills, however, were so mediocre that Justice Harlan Stone told a reporter on background that Black “made blunders which have shocked his colleagues.” Yet, according to Lee, it is Black’s view of the Establishment Clause that has prevailed and become the dominant view over the past eight decades.

The final four chapters of “The Lost Constitution” detail Lee’s recommendations on how the Constitution can be reclaimed through the courts, legislation and the power of the purse. For example, he recommends passage of the REINS Act, which would require all regulations with an economic impact over $100 million to be enacted into law by Congress before they can take effect.

Although Lee says that “we have plenty of reasons to be concerned about our republic’s state,” he remains “optimistic about its fate.” But “the Constitution has taken a beating over the years, and restoring it is a daunting endeavor.” He urges Americans to “demand that our elected officials respect” the Constitution and its essential provisions, and that we “hold each of those officials accountable for disregarding them.”

Personal Libert Digest New

by Chip Wood


In “‘Birth tourism’ is another immigration scam,” I discussed “a very twisted interpretation of the 14th Amendment” that has led to the insane policy of granting U.S. citizenship to any babies who are born in this country — even if their mothers are illegal immigrants who sneaked across our border a few hours before they were born.

Today, I want to raise an issue that is even more controversial — and is almost never part of this discussion. And that is the possibility that the 14th Amendment was never legally adopted in the first place.

Now, before you denounce this suggestion as the feverish ravings of a right-wing lunatic, bear with me for a few moments as I share some history with you — history that has been carefully suppressed from all of the conventional history books.

Let me begin by stating something you may have never considered: The Southern states that formed the Confederacy never the left the union. Yes, they certainly tried to do so. Many people, then and now, think they had every legal and moral right to secede. But Abraham Lincoln refused to recognize the Confederacy as a separate, legitimate government. And the country fought a terrible war over the issue.

When the North won, Lincoln said he was ready to welcome the South back “with malice toward none.” But if the Southern states never left the Union, then as soon as hostilities ended, those states and their citizens were entitled to all of the promises and protections of the U.S. Constitution.

Remember, the Constitution guarantees every state “a republican form of government.” So when the war ended, all of the states that had comprised the Confederacy formed new state governments, including both branches of their state legislatures.

When the federal Congress approved the 13th Amendment to the Constitution, which abolished slavery, and submitted it to the states, it was promptly ratified by most of the states that had comprised the Confederacy. Thus, it became part of the Constitution.

But that wasn’t enough for the Radical Republicans, as they were called, who controlled the federal government. They were determined to punish the South. They certainly didn’t want the Southern states sending people to Congress who would oppose their plans for Reconstruction. So they proposed the 14th Amendment.

There is some question whether that amendment was actually approved by two-thirds of the members of both branches of Congress, as the Constitution requires. In fact, several contemporaries back in 1878 said it was not. Nevertheless, the Radical Republican majority passed a resolution saying it had been and submitted it to the states.

Ah, but this time, six states that had approved the 13th Amendment refused to approve the 14th. The legislatures of Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Louisiana, North Carolina and South Carolina all said “no!” (So too, incidentally, did New Jersey and Ohio.)

The Radicals in Washington were furious. They promptly approved a series of bills, called the Reconstruction Acts, that divided the former Confederacy into 10 military districts. The legislatures of each state were forcibly dismissed and replaced by political hacks appointed by the federal army of occupation. Seven of these military-controlled bodies then did as they were told and “ratified” the 14th Amendment.

But these dictatorial regimes weren’t “the republican form of government” that the Constitution guarantees each state. They most emphatically did not represent the wishes or the will of the citizens they ruled. Our Founding Fathers wouldn’t have agreed for a second that any “vote” by these bodies could authorize a change to the Constitution.

And that is why a handful of very brave historians insist that the 14thAmendment was never legally ratified.

By the way, there is a lot more involved here than citizenship for a few million children of illegal immigrants. The 14th Amendment has been used by the Supreme Court as the legal justification for banning prayers in public schools, authorizing abortion on demand, requiring the forced busing of children and scores of other usurpations of power by the federal government.

As I said when I first wrote about this subject many years ago, I can understand why those who benefit from today’s Goliath government want to keep this issue swept under the heaviest rug they can find.

But where have the conservative and libertarian talk shows, think tanks, advocacy groups and tax-free foundations been for the past 50 years? Have any of them written about this issue, filed lawsuits in the courts raising it or made even a peep of protest about what happened?

If they have, I’m not familiar with it. If you know otherwise, please let tell me. Because I don’t see how we will ever restore the Constitution without exposing the deceit that led to this incredible abuse.

Until next time, keep some powder dry.

–Chip Wood


U.S. House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) speaks to reporters at a news conference following a Republican caucus meeting at the U.S. Capitol in Washington in this file photo from January 7, 2015. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst/Files


It’s Not Just Tactics, Mr. Speaker

Posted By Jenny Beth Martin -Chairman, Tea Party Patriots Citizens Fund

“The issue with the Tea Party isn’t one of strategy. It’s not one of different vision … It’s a disagreement over tactics, from time to time,” said Speaker of the House John Boehner, on 60 Minutes Sunday night.

More than a year ago, Speaker Boehner took serious offense when conservative groups criticized a budget deal he favored. They had “lost all credibility… I don’t care what they do.” So irrelevant is the Tea Party movement that the Speaker took to 60 Minutes to complain about its criticism of him Sunday night.

 The Speaker trivializes the differences that led to the biggest intraparty rebellion against a sitting Speaker since the Civil War. His first problem isn’t with outside groups, it’s his own GOP colleagues in the House. When one out of every ten takes the extraordinary step of standing before his colleagues and calling out the name of someone else for his job, he should realize he’s got a problem.

As for us, our opposition to his leadership centers on our belief that we do NOT, in fact, share visions and strategies.

For example, we oppose amnesty for illegal immigrants because we believe it would not be fair to the millions waiting in line to get into America legally, nor to the millions who already arrived legally after waiting in line. Amnesty rewards lawbreaking, and only serves to incentivize further lawbreaking.

The Speaker, on the other hand, dances to the tune of the Chamber of Commerce, whose members and supporters want cheaper labor, and are, consequently, major proponents of the kind of comprehensive amnesty legislation that passed the Senate in 2013 and which the Speaker clearly wanted to put on the floor of the House last year before Dave Brat’s stunning upset of the former Majority Leader put the kibosh on those plans.

Moreover, we seek a federal government that is actually smaller than the one we have now, not merely one that is smaller than the one Barack Obama would prefer. We note with disdain the Speaker’s willingness to sign off on budget and debt ceiling increase “deals” that appear to have been negotiated by Popeye’s J. Wellington Wimpy — he will gladly give the president a spending/debt ceiling increase now, in exchange for the promise of spending cuts to come Tuesday. And when Tuesday arrives, somehow the spending cuts never materialize.

Similarly, we seek the repeal of Obamacare because we believe it tramples the fundamental liberties guaranteed us by our Constitution, destroys patient choice, degrades the quality of health care delivered, increases costs, and will ultimately break the bank. The Speaker, on the other hand, seems perfectly content to tinker at the margins (1099 repeal? Medical device tax repeal?) secure in the knowledge that many of his major funders — the health insurance and pharmaceutical companies who support Obamacare because of its mandates, which lead to a massively growing client base, and, hence, increased profits — don’t actually want him to fight to repeal the legislation.

Here’s a test of the Speaker’s assertion that our differences are merely differences in degree, not kind: Why has he refused to lead his GOP Conference to vote in favor of the bill introduced by his colleague Ron DeSantis of Florida, which seeks to overturn the August 2013 OPM ruling granting generous employer subsidies to Members of Congress and their staffs for the purchase of health insurance through the Obamacare exchanges, in clear violation of the law? That legislation is a fundamental part of a strategy designed to raise the temperature inside the offices of the Democrat Members of Congress whose votes are needed to build the necessary majorities for repeal in both House and Senate; yet, given multiple opportunities to put the bill on the floor, he has refused to do so.

Finally, I would note one other difference with the Speaker’s view, specifically regarding his assertion that the Tea Party’s opposition is manufactured for fundraising purposes: Every dollar we raise is contributed voluntarily, by donors whose only interest is seeking to influence their government to tax less, spend less, and stop running up a massive debt. They seek little from the government other than to be left alone, and we have nothing to offer them other than our promise that we will use the resources they contribute to do the best job we can to achieve our shared vision of greater personal freedom, economic freedom, and a debt-free future.

Contrast that with the Speaker, who raises tens of millions of dollars in campaign contributions from people who seek favors from government in the form of contracts, grants, tax loopholes, and the various assorted tricks of Washington’s trade. They don’t give contributions so much as they offer tribute, and they often seek specific government action, either to advantage themselves or to cripple their competition, using our hard-earned tax dollars to create these deals.

The Tea Party movement exists to hold elected officials accountable; in the last six years, this scrutiny has made a lot of politicians uncomfortable. Mr. Boehner takes issue with our tactics; we have concerns with a GOP leadership that has all too often cut deals with the administration based on empty promises. Fresh off historic midterm wins, the Speaker whipped votes with the president in December to get the government funded through 2015. This was weeks after the Speaker warned the president he could “get burned” if he enacted executive amnesty.

Forgive our skepticism.


Elections have become theater.

By regularly promising the impossible, political candidates give the dangerous impression that salvation is only one bill, one policy solution away. It breeds impatience, impetuosity and ecstatic hopes in citizens.

And it can make us bad voters.

James Madison and Alexander Hamilton had a different understanding of voting than we currently do. The authors of The Federalist Papers understood voting as an exercise in elevating citizens’ minds above the concerns of their engrossing private lives. That is, voting was to be a kind of civic education, preceded by genuine debate, perhaps similar to the Lincoln-Douglas debates.

Such elections might be like the ones Winston Churchill observed during his youth. Common men “took as much interest in national affairs and were as good judges of form in public men, as is now that case about cricket or football,” he wrote. “The newspapers catered obediently for what was at once an educated and a popular taste.”

Today citizens appear far more often interested in and better informed about sports than politics.

Voting can elevate the mind by forcing us to make choices, and choosing can subordinate the passions to reason, if only for a moment. Ronald Reagan, among our greatest statesmen, understood that a people must come to a time for choosing.

But too often today we seem to be choosing between two candidates’ different overblown promises rather than making a deliberate choice between two positions.

For instance, our current process focuses little on the character of the representatives. According to the Federalist, they must be practical men of experience—not mere promisors or visionaries. In voting, our duty is “to obtain for rulers men who possess most wisdom to discern, and most virtue to pursue, the common good of the society.” That is, much regarding the fate of our nation depends on citizens’ ability to properly discern the qualities of character of the individuals they elect.

And what should representatives know? How to regulate domestic commerce; understand the diverse interests in the nation (ports, roads, etc.), and tax policy. (When’s the last time you saw a campaign slogan focusing on that knowledge?) They should not, as is current to think, sell citizens a dream about satisfying all desires and fantasies. Sensible, practical politicians can eventually become statesmen; visionaries, on the other hand, usually destroy much before disappointing themselves and voters.

Choice also deals with judging the condition of political freedom—how to properly extend or preserve it. And voting is the ultimate check on government power according to The Federalist Papers: the House of Representatives “should have an immediate dependence on, and an intimate sympathy with, the people.” If the government’s power will be restrained by dependence on the people, the public must understand its role in restraining that government, which has a natural propensity toward expanding its powers and influence.

But it’s not over after the election. The Federalist observes that citizens must “take the most effectual precautions for keeping [representatives] virtuous whilst they continue to hold their public trust.” That’s what elections do. They keep representatives virtuous. To do that, citizens must have the capacity to discern the extent to which their elected representatives in fact fulfill their duties. And not in terms of providing pork, but in creating sensible policy.

We are perhaps too in love with promises and have developed a taste for the impossible. Rather than elections making us rational and prudent, they have become a playground for the imagination. Do we want promisers or effective leaders?

Because if we want the latter, we should consider with more thought our decisions before marking our ballots.