Bill Bennett on Glenn Beck's CPAC Speech/Reestablishing Principle?

I was asked recently what I thought of Bill Bennett’s National Review blog saying Glenn Beck’s CPAC speech was wrong. I’m sure you’ll be surprised to know that as I read Bennett’s comments, I had reactions spouting one after another. In light of my first reaction, I should say that I like Bill Bennett whom I don’t know, as Bennett says he likes Beck, whom he does know. But that first reaction was that Bennett’s remarks sounded like a sobered Democrat, which he is, just as was Ronald Reagan who voted for Franklin D. Roosevelt four times. That’s great. Sobriety is a fine and helpful thing, which is not exactly inconsistent with what Beck was saying at CPAC. I’ve never had a liberal or even a Democratic impulse. (Democrats were frankly very different when I was young, and I don’t consider things like feeding hungry children to be liberal impulses.) I said before that Beck was not elaborate in recognizing that Republicans have acknowledged that when they were in power, they fell into the easy path of greasing their constituents with favors, which was especially easy while there was economic growth. Unlike what Democrats are suggesting, most of Bush’s tenure was not economic discomfort, and in fact, the financial profligacy only caught up with us after Democrats had taken Congress. Though he wasn’t principled in controlling spending and he gladly wore the badge of the “ownership society” that came from bullying the financial industry into careless lending, Bush catching all of the blame for the current bad economy is sort of the flip side of Clinton getting credit for a healthy economy and balancing the budget after Republicans had taken Congress in 1994.

Another reaction is to note the irony which Bennett specifically pointed out, that it was McCain who said that Republicans had lost their way. And McCain is one whom Beck has remarked on particularly harshly as a “progressive.” It was even McCain that Beck was referencing at CPAC who had said that Teddy Roosevelt was his hero. McCain is not philosophically clear and doesn’t follow people that way. But, I supported him because he is a spending hawk who didn’t even support Bush’s Medicare expansion and he has never voted for a tax hike, even though McCain-Feingold (which Bush signed, by the way) was unconstitutional. Tom Coburn, who is one of the 2 or 3 most conservative US Senators, supported McCain enthusiastically.

But, of course Beck doesn’t think Republicans and Democrats are the same, particularly the specific ones Bennett noted. He said he had always voted Republican. But, it is true that many Republicans are, if more modest about applying them, infected with the same Keynesian reflexes that have nearly enveloped Western politics for the past 75 years. Only a relative few would renounce that. A lot of “conservative” Republicans and economists supported both TARP and some “stimulus,” if not quite so large and poorly directed one as the Democrats passed. And, only Reagan in 1982 had no impulse to “stimulate” the economy with spending a recession. I’m not sure if we can eradicate such an impulse that is so deeply ingrained in all of their education.

All of my life, I heard that Roosevelt’s New Deal saved us from The Great Depression…after about 13-14 years and a war. It really didn’t. It protracted The Depression. Roosevelt won 4 elections by sweet-talking people on the radio. Obama can’t do that. He has had a rough first year, and probably won’t get a second term if the economy doesn’t turn up. And, I can’t see why it would, though much of the media will be playing “Happy Days Are Here, Again,” if unemployment drops below 9%. But at some point in the next 2-3 years, hopefully before November 2012, I think things are going to get a lot worse: a LOT worse. If that doesn’t purge those foolish ideas, nothing will. In fact, it will force us to change more than our ideas: I think we’re talking about major social restructuring.

And, I’m thinking that would be a good thing. I’m getting a little older and I’m disabled and grounded, so it isn’t holding me back from conquering the world. But, I think we have lost the fuel of a pure enough liberty to optimize human potential and production. Even more than just for the sake of our progeny, I think we owe it to mankind and to God to demonstrate the potential of free people. I think we need a domain that respects liberty. And, given that the US has fairly shattered the limitations of The Constitution that were only explicit in the 9th and 10th Amendments’ reserving non-enumerated powers to the states and people, I think a new expression is required that is insistent and indubitable about federal limitations, like a big red stop sign. States should be the social laboratories. Free people can be plenty voracious, too. So, I think we also need such a free domain constrained by a virtuous Judeo-Christian ethic. That has also largely faded. Some will protest. Fine. Set up another one to compete, perhaps in another state, and good luck with that. One thing I’m certain about: a society that follows the European prototype that bleeds away liberty, privacy, and the virtue of respect for God will be in a race to see if it devours itself before it is devoured from the outside. Like I said, I won’t be marching at the front of a parade, so I’ll just try to sound my alarm like a watchman on a cyber-wall.


I was going to comment the other day on another item you posted (re: conservatism, libertarianism, clarity, etc.) but it's nearly a week old and this is new.

I'm not a constitutional scholar. I'd be very happy if everyone else who likewie isn't one would not pretend to be. I'm not just saying this to you. It applies to a lot of people. Most recently to Debra Medina and Ron Paul (see below). It also applies to language in the Texas GOP platform which isn't consistent with the historic position of the party.

I take a very different view than you do on the Tenth Amendment. I think my view is consistent with the Founders and with the first GOP president; I find other arguments, like those by Medina (since she's running for office and using this as an issue, even though it's unclear where she thinks she gets to invoke it under the Texas Constitution), a bit specious and incongruent both with the history of the GOP as well as the views of the Founders.

I recently covered this issue -- tangentially and as it relates to allegations of racism (the history of the issue of "states rights," particularly in the South, runs from protecting slavery to defending segregation) -- in a comment at Dallas Morning News. It remains, at the time I write this, the "most recent" comment to an article written by Lynn Woolley (find the comment by madman-atx).

In that response, I referred to Federalist 44 and Lincoln's Message to the Special Session of Congress (July 4, 1861) which, unfortunately, was in defense of Chris Matthews' claim that Medina was flirting in racist territory.

For reference --

Federalist 44:

Lincoln's Special Session speech:

In Federalist 44, Madison expressly opposed the notions peddled today by "state sovereignty" advocates. He wrote that if the states were co-equal with or superior to the federal government "...the world would have seen, for the first time, a system of government founded on an inversion of the fundamental principles of all government; it would have seen the authority of the whole society every where subordinate to the authority of the parts; it would have seen a monster, in which the head was under the direction of the members." He wrote this in explaining the second paragraph of Article VI, also known as the Supremacy Clause.

This was clearly in Lincoln's mind during the aforementioned speech before Congress. He called the underlying thesis of the "states rights"/secessionist argument sophism and said, "Having never been States, either in substance, or in name, outside of the Union, whence this magical omnipotence of 'State rights,' asserting a claim of power to lawfully destroy the Union itself? Much is said about the 'sovereignty' of the States; but the word, even, is not in the national Constitution; nor, as is believed, in any of the State constitutions. What is a 'sovereignty,' in the political sense of the term? Would it be far wrong to define it 'A political community, without a political superior'? Tested by this, no one of our States, except Texas, ever was a sovereignty. And even Texas gave up the character on coming into the Union; by which act, she acknowledged the Constitution of the United States, and the laws and treaties of the United States made in pursuance of the Constitution, to be, for her, the supreme law of the land."

He had much to say about the special case of Texas in this regard, since the United States had taken on Texas' debts: "A part of the present national debt was contracted to pay the old debts of Texas. Is it just that she shall leave, and pay no part of this herself?"

I'd go even further about the shifting demographics of the parties and how the old secessionist/segregationist sentiments have infected our party which fought against all that crap but I'll leave it at that; the world is full of irony. As I closed in my reply to Woolley, "If the Ron Paul/Debra Medina view is correct, Madison was a crank and Lincoln was a RINO.... I think, though, it's really the other way around."

A week after writing that, I still think so.

To begin with, I'm not certain how you qualify "a constitutional scholar," but A)  I make no pretense to any credential agreed on by any group of a professional or acaedemic standard for such.  and B)  I can't conceive of any such standard with which I would be necessarily impressed, having seen quite plenty of decorated and acclaimed "scholars" defend diametrically opposed conclusions and/or regularly spout what seemed clearly nonsense to me.  And, I hope you aren't saying that except by some unknown standard of scholarship, it is improper or unbecoming for a citizen to make assertions about what seems the plain language of The Constitution.

All of that aside, it was the states/colonies that formed the union, subjecting themselves only to those few and enumerated federal principles and powers and not as indentured servant colonies aspiring ro repayment of a debt, but as granting assent to the objective justice of those terms established by The United States, in fact agreeing that they themselves would enforce and prosecute in defense of those standards as in fact, the federal government could not do then, and in fact can only most awkwardly attempt to, now.

In fact, as you say that you interpret the 10th Amendment differently, I'm surely curious to know exactly what your interpretation IS.  What might I incorrectly understand about the simple text that those powers not explicitly enumerated are reserved to the states and to the people?  Again, that would have been taken to be just a common sense understanding absent which the colonies would not have agreed to the union in the first place.  Texas of course, later joined in similar assent to those principles

Now, as for Lincoln, I am not one of them, but you surely know that a lot of people thought and still think that it was a stretch if not an overreach for Lincoln to forcibly impose his will on seceding states.  Myself, I do not think that, because the U.S. was a unique experiment in liberty and men had come to clearly see that the practice of human slavery was a direct defiance of the most fundamental moral principles of the union, that physical and cultural differences could no longer suffice as an excuse to ignore.

Never mind that I do allow that there were concurrent interests for the North of retaining the union.  I would not, and I don't think even they would have justified the prosecution of that particularly ugly war, absent the moral justification of the abolition of slavery.

By the way, I may feel differently disposed than you with respect to this question, but I should note that you seem a fine writer, an observation which today is not always merited.

First I would like to say I have read Dr. Bennett's books and listen to him frequently on his talk show and have the deepest respect for him.

Second I would like to say I listened to Glenn Beck's speech at CPAC and have read his books and have the deepest respect for him.

Third I am a recovering alcoholic.  Again I read excerpts from those that are not, and think a recovering alcoholic should not take what they have learned and use it to improve their life but instead live their lives in total remorse mode.  This is not what the twelve steps teach.

Fourth I believe this country's leaders and critics could all use some twelve step work.  The twelfth step says that we have learned nothing if we do not live the first 11 steps in our daily lives and to share what we have learned with those that still suffer.  This country is suffering. 

Mr. Bennet obvisouly doesn't understand the meaning of the 12 steps of any recovery program or he would not have conflict with Glenn Beck using this analogy to "teach" Americans what is happening to their country's government and politcal parties and what needs to be done to change course.

Lighten up people and "listen" to the message.  It is easy to criticize the accuracy of the content and miss the message.  That is exactly what is wrong with both political parties today and our current administration.

DP of Michigan

When I commented last night, I overlooked the irony of your suggestion that the Tenth Amendment could be used to justify ignoring or obviating the First Amendment -- which is what you're suggesting vis-a-vis allowing some states to be run as "Judeo-Christian" experiments. I'll spare you my opinion of sentiments which border on theocratic.

The Tenth Amendment isn't a loophole for states to get out of protecting the First Amendment rights of the people in all the states. There shouldn't be a patchwork of laws or policies which favor any religion over another, nor that would have the effect of driving people of conscience from one state to another in the interest of finding refuge from any kind of theocratic tyranny. I don't care much for the vision of a hypothetical "virtuous Judeo-Christian state" -- however you care to define "virtuous" -- possibly bordered by a similarly ill-conceived state where virtue is defined by something akin to sharia law. And shall we, in the interest of tolerating diverse religious opinions and "virtue" and even "states rights," allow Utah to once again allow polygamy?

The enumerated rights of the people aren't violable in the name of running disparate "social laboratories" in the states. Individual citizens are free to "constrain" themselves "by a virtuous Judeo-Christian ethic" voluntarily, but they're not free to force others to yield to it involuntarily. I think we already have enough of that in Texas (e. g., I have to wait until NFL games have already begun before I can buy beer on Sundays and I can't buy liquor at all on Sunday). We need less of that, not more.


I'll begin where I left off in my response to your first comment, and welcome your interaction as I think it can be useful to all readers to consider the points of a thoughtful exchange, and I like to interact with a thoughtful defender of an alternative philosophical perception.  I also might hope you would find yourself in closer aliance with we at Texas GOP Vote who have trodden into hills of fire-ants who take exception with our view that the immigration issue is not most satisfactorily resolved with a strategy more elaborate than one composed exclusively of walls, a few million investigative law enforcement officers, fleets of deportation buses and trains, and possibly heavy firearms.

However, while I have said that I am not what most would identify as a "constitutional scholar," I do think in this second comment, THAT you have wandered closer to my wheelhouse:  that specific area of the strike zone that prompts a hitter's eyes to bulge and provokes a lustier stroke.

First of all I note (possibly your 2nd comment was reviewed before my 1st response?) that while you have elaborated some on what you think the 10th Amendment is NOT, you still have not described what you think it IS.

Though certainly not crystal clear, it seems to become more focused what your philosophical predisposition is.  Correct me if I speculate in the wrong direction, but telltale words like "theocracy," "patchwork," and "force" are consistent with a well-known current of protest.

Probably because you have no personal experience of any other animating force to explain a sense of the need for a "Judeo-Christian" perspective, other than a yearning for a "theocracy" that "forces" adherence to religious belief or conduct.  But in fact, none of such motivations apply.  The contingent of people who aspire to a police force who will knock on your door to affirm your adherence to the any particular confessional creed or ritual practice is so microscopically small that it it is more comparable to the population of those who believe thay have been visited by space aliens than to any actual political constituency.

You no doubt are aware of John Adams' statement that “Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.”  And of course you know that Thomas Jefferson grounded men's inalienable rights the defense of which are the foundation of our nation as the endowment of "their creator."  Now, I can perfectly well allow that others may doubt or expand Adams' awareness of religion or morality, or even have a broader sense of what may comprise that "creator." However, 1) I think it is essential to the maintenance of the American ideas of law and justice that we embrace an objective moral standard that transcends the corruptible mere deliberations of humans.  And clearly, we are aware of "religious" (not a word I prefer) systems of belief that are antithetical to those inalienable rights reflected in our foundational documents. 

Adams was only saying that human nature unconstrained by the standards of the religion he knew, would not hold together in selfless civility.  And at the time, he wasn't much dealing with American Jews, but I mentioned "Judeo-Christian" because the Judaism which is the soil of Christianity, teaches and practice s an ideal of compassion and custodianship of fellow human-beings in need.  If whatever extra-empirical (they all are) moral standards you embrace also summons you to a similar standard, welcome aboard!

So, I would advise you to chill out.  I'm sorry about the burden prevailed upon you by your community's oh-so-mild restraints upon the timing of your purchasing of alcolhol.  I went to college in a dry county where alcohol was only purchased at local watering holes.  But, I assure you that those martini-swizzling men at the after work bar gatherings kept whatever store of gin was necessary to comfort them, in their home cupboards.  I was aware of no urgent flight from the prison of that university town; impatient college boys found beer less than an hour away.  Nor do I expect that you strongly strain to escape the bondage of your confinement in the Dallas area.

On that note, it is remarkable that, amid a protest about a possibly nationally-imposed moral standard (as I said, there is none in prospect beyond those republican standards of respect for inalienable rights), that you inquire about the social constructions of Utah.  It isn't something I would personally advise or vote for in my own community, but I'm not hot to impose an external standard on the people of Utah.

Yes, I think a "patchwork" of "laboratories of democracy" beneath the basic respect of inalienable rights and a common defense, is much to be desired.  Thereby, without leaving those common fundamentals, one has recourse when dissatisfied with the scruples of a particular community:  LEAVE!


As you did in your first comment, I left out something in my earlier response:  my thoughts on your reference to The 1st Amendment.  My respect of The 1st Amendment is unquestioning and unequivocal.  I did mention that no one of any consequence whatsoever, has any interest in compromising your freedom of (or from, as your line of thinking suggests) religion.  However, on that thought, I suspect you, perhaps in accordance with your pop-misunderstanding of The First Amendment, embrace the idea that all arms of government under the umbrella of the federal government must flee any endorsement of a a religious or God-acknowledging tenet.  This is absolutely false and demonstrably so.

The First Amendment was devised to restrict the federal government from imposing religious constraints on states and communities, which is in fact, the genesis of Jefferson's letter to the Danbury Babtists of Connecticut who feared imposition of another denominational confession or liturgy or confession.  That is the only document of the period that actually contains a reference to "the separation of church and state."  Jefferson assured them that the federal government would not adopt a religion to be imposed on the states..

And as to that point, at the time of the establishment of The First Amendment, though no one including most like me, would advocate for that today, most states did in fact have established religions (denominations).  One today might wonder if that could possibly be, inconsistent as it is with today's pop-culture dogma about the meaning of The First Amendment.  That error is no surprise, however.  The list is pages long of the misunderstandings prevailed upon the public by the constricted minds who control what is presented in popular mass culture.

I thought I corrected it, but "Babtist" is an ironic typo for one who for years attended a Baptist church.

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