Friday, July 24, 2009

Madison versus Obama: How Much Power Is Necessary?

"If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary. In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men, the great difficulty lies in this: you must first enable the government to control the governed; and in the next place oblige it to control itself. A dependence on the people is, no doubt, the primary control on the government; but experience has taught mankind the necessity of auxiliary precautions." (James Madison, The Federalist #51)

"People should not be afraid of their government. Governments should be afraid of their people." (V for Vendetta)

Every time I think about the new direction of our government, I am reminded of Madison's wise words. (Why did we have such an abundance of genius in the eighteenth century and have none today??? We have replaced Madison, Jefferson, Jay, and Hamilton with Pelosi, Reid, Frank, and Waxman). President Obama campaigned on a platform of change, he received an overwhelming number of votes. After eight years of President Bush, our country wanted a fresh, new direction. What we have though, is the greatest expansion of the powers of the American government since Franklin Roosevelt. The question that should be at the forefront of the discussions involves a debate on the size and role of the national government. Is it the job of the national government to provide health care for its citizens? Is it the job of the national government to dictate or tax cigarettes, fast food, and alcohol in order to make us a healthier nation? (remember John Marshall's warning: "the power to tax involves the power to destroy") Is it the job of the national government to provide a college education for all of its people? Is it the job of the national government to provide all of its citizens with jobs? These are all fundamental questions that we seem to be ignoring. How much power do we want to give the government? How do we force the government to "control itself?" Now before someone labels me as a nutcase, we must recognize that the Jeffersonian model of an extremely limited national government is gone forever. In a modern world, you must give the government enough power "to control the governed." The old idea of Thoreau's that the "government is best which governs least" is not acceptable in this modern age. However, how much governmental power is enough. I'm not sure that even Alexander Hamilton would be comfortable with the government bailing out corporations, taking over a majority share-ownership of those said corporations, and dictating the firing and hiring of the CEOs. I believe that Hamilton, one of the major proponents of the expansion of the powers of the new central government, would be quite uncomfortable with the notion of nationalized health care. I am simply asking for a discussion of the central issue, how much power is enough power? Who is to be the master, the people or the government? How much control do we give the government over the daily lives of its citizens? This is almost a return to the sixties, when many liberals became convinced that the national government was the only vehicle to secure social justice. Therefore, should it be the responsibility of the national government to make our citizens healthier, more tolerant, and more financially successful. On the other hand, is that the responsibility of the individual? How do we draw the line between giving the government "control over the governed" and forcing that same government to "control itself?"That is the fundamental point. I am sincerely praying that we will get over the name-calling and start discussing that major issue.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Exploring the Holocaust

It has taken a while to decide how to classify my recent trip to Germany, Poland, and the Czech Republic. The trip was a paradox. While it was exciting to visiting these sites of such enormous historical importance, it was sobering to realize that you were actually walking in the footsteps of over a million innocents who went to a premature grave in the name of a racial vision. I will still stand by earlier statements, the holocaust is the most understood-least understood topic in history. It was amazing how many of the "professional" local tour guides were so lacking in their knowledge of the event (i.e. the Warsaw guide informing the group that the Zyklon B was administered through the showerheads). Regardless, walking the grounds of Auschwitz-Birkenau and Dachau filled me with a sense of awe. It was a trip I will never forget and to be honest, has re-energized me to teach the subject. This was my first return to Germany since 1990 (the summer after the wall came tumbling down). I was amazed at how the Germans are beginning the confront the ghosts of the Nazis as opposed to ignoring it. There are numerous sites dedicated to a confrontation of the past (i.e. the Topography of Terror in Berlin; the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe; the Documentation Center at Nurmeberg). On my first trip to Nuremberg (June 1990), when I went to the tourist information center (seeking directions to the stadium-site of the infamous Nazi party rallies of 1934-1935) the lady chewed me out for wanting to see the "Nazi" sites instead of focusing on the German cultural sites. This time there seems to be a feeling of exploring the past for the purpose of never allowing it to happen again. In the end, we as Americans seem to get carried away with this notion of the Holocaust being a "German" event. We must never lose site of the fact that if it could happen in Germany (at the time arguably the most intelligent nation in the world), it could happen anywhere. That sobering truth makes the need for these types of trips essential. I stated earlier that I wasn't sure if I was up to the trip to Birkenau, I'm still not sure that I was. May we never forget the innocents who perished and the evil that made it so.


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