Thursday, 10 October 2013

#Shutdown: Who slapped who?

“Well, Doctor, what have we got—a Republic or a Monarchy?”
  “A Republic, if you can keep it.”

- response attributed to Benjamin Franklin, at the close of the Constitutional Convention of 1787

It’s fair to say that few commentators on the shutdown appear to know anything at all about the American constitutional structure—and in that number I include the President himself, who seems entirely unaware that the division of powers entrenched by James Madison, John Adams and colleagues was not intended to establish an activist all-powerful presidency, a a virtual monarch presiding over a Congress whose only role being to provide him with an enthusiastic rubber stamp.

The division of powers the founders established was intended to allow dissension, to limit presidential power, to allow proper investigation of Bills written by the House, to delay and/or veto altogether legislation inimical to one branch or other. In short, the division of powers was intended as a check on absolute power. So as Thomas Sowell points out:

As for the House of Representatives' right to grant or withhold money, that is not a matter of opinion ... You can check the Constitution of the United States. All spending bills must originate in the House of Representatives, which means that Congressmen there have a right to decide whether or not they want to spend money on a particular government activity.

And, in fact,

The Republican-controlled House of Representatives voted all the money required to keep all government activities going — except for ObamaCare.
    This is not a matter of opinion. You can check the Congressional Record…
    [So] the hundreds of thousands of government workers who have been laid off are not idle because the House of Representatives did not vote enough money to pay their salaries or the other expenses of their agencies — unless they are in an agency that would administer ObamaCare.

So who is really responsible then for this latest partial shutdown? George Reisman’s answer: "the leftist fanatics ... who [in voting]  for ObamaCare were willing to impose massive, and massively expensive, legislation on the American people without any real idea of what they were doing."

In his estimation, the Republican stand against being forced to present a Budget in the House (the lowest chamber of Congress, in which all Budgets are supposed to be introduced) shows full respect for their role given them under the founders’ constitution, under which “their first obligation is to uphold the Constitution of the United States and protect its citizens from a government that knows no limits to its reach and power, as manifested in ObamaCare.”

This is actually an extremely modest exercise of the House’s power over the budget. It should be seen as giving the Democrats in the House and Senate an opportunity finally to read and study the law they have passed (along with the 20,000 pages of government regulations that have already been written in order to carry out its provisions). Moreover, the elections of 2014 will give the supporters of ObamaCare a chance to present their case to an electorate that can then decide the issue by determining the makeup of the next Congress.
    However, instead of agreeing to this very modest and thoroughly justified proposal, the Democrat leadership of the Senate has dug in its heels in a fanatical defense of ObamaCare, to the point of closing down major portions of the federal government in order to implement it, irrespective of not knowing what it is and irrespective of its consequences. The Republican majority in the House does not want to shut down the federal government or have it default on the national debt (which could happen later this month). It is fully prepared to fund the federal government and has repeatedly done so, with the single exception of ObamaCare. It is for the sake of maintaining ObamaCare that the Senate Democrats have shut down the federal government.

With all the “shutdown theatre” attached.

So in George  Reisman’s estimation then, the stand of the House Republicans is actually a stand on principle—an important one in the life of the Republic.

Yes, terrible consequences can result from upholding principles. The United States has fought wars in order to uphold the principle of individual freedom. The House of Representatives should be willing to risk a default on the national debt to uphold that same principle today…
    [I]t well may be that the Democrats in the Senate hate individual freedom and love the augmentation of government power more than they hate or fear anything else. They well may hate liberty more than they fear nuclear weapons in the hands of Iranian religious fanatics or North Korean Marxist fanatics. And if that is the case, then while they would meet and negotiate with the Iranians and North Koreans and in some ways agree to their demands, they will not be willing to be as accommodating to the House Republicans and thus will be willing to bring about an actual default on the national debt.
    The only way to deal with this possibility is for the Republicans to do everything in their power to make sure that the American people understand what the issue is. Namely, responsible, knowledgeable legislation consistent with the principle of individual freedom, or reckless, power-grabbing legislation of a kind enacted by Congressmen who might as well have been drunk or asleep as far as their votes for ObamaCare were concerned.
    If the American people can be made to understand this, then even a default on the national debt will serve as the basis of a great victory and be well worth the price. It would establish a turning point in American history: the point at which the relentless advance of government power was stopped by unyielding, principled opposition.

If only the Republicans were able to articulate that. Instead, as Sowell says in his latest column, “If the continued existence of mathematics depended on the ability of the Republicans to defend the proposition that two plus two equals four, that would probably mean the end of mathematics.”

If only it were possible to believe they would mean it if they did. Instead, as Reisman notes, “Speaker Boehner’s pledge, reported in The New York Times of October 5, to avoid default, implies that the Republican opposition will collapse, isolating whatever men of principle there may be in the Republican Party.”

But if they could, and did, then America could begin a turn back towards the model of the Republic that Benjamin Franklin once wondered to his interlocutor if they would be able to keep.


  1. the drunken watchman10 Oct 2013, 20:46:00

    Thomas Sowell? the homophobe?


  2. the drunken watchman10 Oct 2013, 20:53:00

    Thomas Sowell, the irrational, dysfunctional, paranoid, fundamentally dishonest homophobe? (there was more, but I forget now. Whatever, I dont think it was 'racist':))

  3. If the slack-jawed, wild-eyed freedummy ideologues want to repeal healthcare reform then they should do just that, rather than threaten to default on debts for programmes they've previously approved. What about the principle that you pay what you owe? Surely a fundamental libbo tenet?

  4. Silly Holden McGroin... the House is not defaulting on anything else, just refusing to fund Obamacare. Boehner has made that plain. It is Obama that is holding up the cash on everything else.

  5. You can check the Constitution of the United States. All spending bills must originate in the House of Representatives

    If only Thomas Sowell had checked the US Constitution. It does not say that all spending bills must originate in the House; rather it says that: "All Bills for raising Revenue shall originate in the House of Representatives."

    The House certainly likes to pretend that this bills for spending money are included as bills for raising Revenue, but one really can't point to the language of the Constitution to aid this argument.

  6. "Still, if non-investors in the CBD prefer investing away from the CBD, looks like your government is happy to step in."

    The headline of the linked article (and I'm afraid your summary of it) is a bit misleading. The significant story is that the CCDU are abandoning the worst of their restrictions on development on Chch retail blocks in the former CBD, and now letting individuals owners get on and do their own thing to a greater degree. i.e. it's good, not bad news.

  7. @Mark: Yes, you're right. Well spotted. (But I still win a point, since you posted this in the wrong thread.)

  8. @Graeme: In fact, you make Mr Sowell's point even stronger. For which he would undoubtedly thank you. The point being that the House has "the power of the purse," and legitimately so.

    @Drunken Watchman: I'm afraid I'm not privy to your problems with Mr Sowell, and nor do I understand them. Could you explain?

  9. the drunken watchman12 Oct 2013, 22:07:00


    re: MONDAY, AUGUST 19, 2013Marriage Equality

    I made some comments on this thread about the silliness of changing the age-old meaning of the word "marriage", about the wrongness of doing so by government decree, and suggested there may be an element of manipulation, social engineering and subterfuge involved.

    You responded @Drunken Watchman: "Silly"? In what way? Is it silly that loving couples of whatever sexual persuasion can formalise their relationship and ask for the state to recognise their contract?
    "Manipulative"? Of whom? How is it anybody else’s business who you love and choose to formalise a relationship with?
    "Social Engineering"? Who's being engineered?
    "Subterfuge"? What's being concealed?

    You may also recall the abuse hurled at me over my comments by Dolf, Mark Hubbard, and Lineberry (between them, they concluded that I am “a fundamentally dishonest, irrational, conspiracist, silly, hostile, paranoid, ranting homophobe”)

    In response, I posted 2 links

    In these two articles, Thomas Sowell articulated, among other criticisms of “marriage equality” legislation, all of the sentiments I had expressed.

    I presumed that, had my critics agreed with Sowell’s articles, they would have had the grace to acknowledge this to me (whom they had just finished abusing for expressing the same ideas). Therefore, in the absence of any such gracious acknowledgement, I presumed that they must think Thomas Sowell is also a “a fundamentally dishonest, irrational, conspiracist, silly, hostile, paranoid, ranting homophobe”. My reasoning was that the same abusive epithets would surely apply to whoever said the same things, regardless of their status or other circumstances.

    Just saying :)

  10. the drunken watchman14 Oct 2013, 19:37:00

    @ PC re: your request that I explain my query comments about Thomas Sowell

    I note no response from you. Did you access the links I posted? I would be interested to know on what grounds you either agree, or disagree, with Thomas Sowell.

    Happy to put to one side that I was attacked, viciously in some cases, for saying pretty much the same things as did Thomas Sowell.

    Just interested to know whether you think Thomas Sowell has got it right, or wrong?


  11. the drunken watchman14 Oct 2013, 19:55:00


    of course, Mark Hubbard could always demand that Thomas Sowell explain why he is interested enough to comment :)

    come on Mark, dont feel shy


  12. @DW: Ah, I see the connection now. Sort of. Because just because a person is correct on one issue, doesn't ensure he's right on others.
    Mr Sowell is right on so many issues it almost feels churlish to admonish him when he's wrong. But on that issue we debated before (which I'd say is off-topic here, except that no-one else is bothering to debate any topic at all) I'd say Mr Sowell is wrong.
    Marriage is simply the recognition of a relationship in law, in which the folks involved have asked for a contract to recognise the relationship so formed.

    It is the job of the state to register and protect contracts, for whatever reason the participants wish to have them registered and protected.
    It is not the job of the to deny folk any contract they wish to register, not as long as the terms protected under the contract are legal (by which I mean, do not infringe another's individual rights).
    Registering the marriage contracts of same-sex partners is simply recognising what should never have been unrecognised.

  13. the drunken watchman15 Oct 2013, 12:10:00

    oh, i get it :)

    If you are Thomas Sowell, it is churlish to criticse him.

    But if you are a drunken watchman, then for saying the same things, you are a fundamentally dishonest, irrational, conspiracist, silly, hostile, paranoid, ranting homophobe

  14. You asking me?

    Or asking those who called you a fundamentally dishonest, irrational, conspiracist, silly, hostile, paranoid, ranting homophobe?

    PS: Sounds like the perfect T-Shirt slogan: "Ask me about being a fundamentally dishonest, irrational, conspiracist, silly, hostile, paranoid, ranting homophobe." Should sell like hotcakes.

  15. the drunken watchman15 Oct 2013, 20:58:00

    haha - it wasn't a question, I was combinalising - I know you didnt lower yourself to personal abuse, but you saw those who did.

    I kind of liked Mark Hubbard's the best - "Why are you commenting on the subject?" (i.e you must be a homophobe). Reminds me of too many tourists complaining about too many tourists. Or better still, "The election of Barack Obama shows the US is no longer racist". Just been talking about it with my daughters - we reckon there should be a word for it. A neologism :) It's all a bit like trying to pick yourself up by your own bootlaces.

    Meantime, I'll take it - a nice ring to it. Is there enough space in "Name/ URL" for " Silly, fundamentally dishonest, irrational, conspiracist, hostile, paranoid, ranting drunken homophobic watchman" ?


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