Sunday, August 02, 2015

Is being Great all that good?

Is being Great all that good?
With all the 'Great' candidates we have running for high office around the nation today, we seem to be forgetting an important rule for a self governing people:
'Greatness' doesn't make you fit for office; demonstrating an understanding of the nature and purpose of the office you're seeking to be elected to, does.
To advance someone for high office because of their great qualities alone, and in spite of knowing little or nothing about how well, if at all, they understand the purpose of, and the restraints upon the power of, that office which they are campaigning for, and without knowing how they intend to use its power, is dangerous to everyone that that elected office has power over.

We are naturally drawn to those who demonstrate great qualities such as courage, honesty, integrity and intelligence, and one of the common responses which those who live in a republic often have to people who show that 'right stuff', is "You should run for office!". Nothing wrong with that at all. But once that person has made their decision to run for high office, no matter who they are, Ben Carson, Donald Trump, Eric Greitens, then they should do what would be expected of anyone else to do, that person should be actively demonstrating their understanding of the nature, purpose, laws, powers and principles of that office, which the proper and just execution of that office depend upon.

These great men brought great change - was it all good?
But there is an additional responsibility which those with such unique and outstanding qualities have, as it is doubly important for them, particularly when they have no history or track record demonstrating their convictions and political intentions, they then have the responsibility to proactively make their own understanding of the nature and purpose of that office clear to the electorate, laying out the key policies they intend to advance while in office, along with some indication of how they intend to do so.

For such 'great' candidates to not do everything they can to make their positions and convictions known, or even to actively avoid doing so, means that they've chosen to rely upon their own personal qualities to win them support, rather than risk their popularity with the public on information about how they actually intend to use their power over them while in office. Such a scenario is suspicious at best, but if We The People do not insist that they explain themselves, or worse, join in on promoting them for office because of their great qualities alone, that's a recipe for disaster.

The Great Why ask why?
Most people realize that good intentions alone can cause disastrous results, correct? Those disasters occur not because the well intentioned person meant to cause harm, but because they didn't understand what was important to understand, didn't understand what actions should or shouldn't be taken, and so they take actions without being aware of the pitfalls and unintended consequences that are sure to follow from such actions, and so disaster follows, right?

Well what do you suppose happens when you couple well intentioned ignorance with the great and dynamic qualities of 'the Great Man', fueled with the power of high office? Far and away the greatest restraint we have upon the abuses of power by those in power, is their own understanding of the proper purposes and limits of their powers, and their knowledge that those who elected them know it as well. Without that understanding on both sides, the subsequent errors and abuses are going to multiply, intensify and magnify the disasters that are sure to follow.

Mistaking Greatness of character with Fitness for office can be the greatest of dangers to a nation and its people; History is rife with examples as to why that should scare the hell out of you, and we don't need to reach very far back in time or place for examples of this, one of our own national monuments, Mt. Rushmore, being far enough. Those four Presidents that are carved upon its face, George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, and Teddy Roosevelt, were all great men who left their mark upon our nation by bringing about revolutionary changes.

But were those great changes all for the good? Did they lead us to make Progress in regards to realizing America's founding principles? If you understand and revere those principles, I don't think you can say that they all were. For instance:

George Washington, with his outstanding qualities of courage and integrity played a pivotal, indispensable role in our founding; as the father of our nation he led the battle in our revolutionary break from England, he helped to create and implement our Constitution and was elected to be the first president under it, and in so doing he helped bring about a revolution like none other in history - I'd call that progress for the good.
Thomas Jefferson, with his powerful intellect and passion for liberty, not only put America's ideals into the words of our founding document, the Declaration of Independence, but he also later led one of the most remarkable of revolutions, the "Revolution of 1800", the first peaceable overthrow of one political power in favor of another, by ballots, not bullets - I'd absolutely call that progress for the good.
Abraham Lincoln, who had the depth of character and wisdom to hold our nation together through the darkest times of civil war, helped to give this nation "...a new birth of freedom -- and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth" - I'd definitely call that progress for the good.
Teddy Roosevelt utilized his undeniably great qualities of energy and intellect to turn us away from what his fellows on Mt. Rushmore strove for, and he called that progress. Personally, I call that Pro-Regress, not progress, and I most definitely don't call it good; do you?

What did he do differently? It might be useful to first ask what he did differently than the mostly unremarkable presidents who came between Lincoln and TR - how many of those president's names do you recall? Probably not many, and for good reason - facing no great crises they didn't try to bring about any great changes to our nation, they only tried to do the job of President of the United States, as defined by the Constitution, while operating within the powers it defined for their office. Some did it better than others, but for the most part they all entered office under those terms, and were willingly bound by them.

Teddy Roosevelt was a very different president than his predecessors.

TR was full of energy, intelligence, courage and valor; he was remarkably widely read, a man who felt sure that he knew what was best for the nation and was devastatingly capable of putting his ideas into action. But to those great qualities he added a markedly shallow understanding of, and disdain for, the constitutional restrictions that the Founders, through our Constitution, put upon the office of President and by which they limited the powers of the government of the United States. It was his fellow Mt. Rushmorean, Thomas Jefferson, who said:
"In questions of power, then, let no more be heard of confidence in man, but bind him down from mischief by the chains of the Constitution"
But TR would have none of that.

When he found himself in office upon the assassination of President McKinley, unlike his predecessors, TR explicitly refused to allow his powers to be bound by the office of President, and possessing those qualities of greatness that won him admiration and popularity around the world, he used them to resist and burst free of those restrictions, and in so doing he most definitely brought revolutionary change to the office of the President, and to the nature of the government he held such great power over, and those powers of office which he was instrumental is loosing upon the land, have been a plague upon us ever since.

It was Teddy Roosevelt, a republican by the way, who:
  • first proposed a national income tax to 'do good' with,
  • first proposed imposing American might upon the world stage,
  • first proposed a national health care system,
  • was the first president to consistently exercise his executive powers outside the defined powers of the office of the President of The United States,
  • first proposed, and began to implement, the administrative state, and all the alphabet agencies we contend with today, followed from his innovations with what became the FDA.
He didn't accomplish all of those tasks himself, but by setting them in motion, together with what he did accomplish,Teddy Roosevelt proved that you don't have to be a bad man to do great damage; a great man with little understanding of his true purpose and place in office, can do enormous damage to even the greatest of nations, and Teddy Roosevelt did just that. Barack Obama, LBJ, FDR, Woodrow Wilson were only able to succeed in putting into practice what they have, because Teddy Roosevelt first introduced, legitimized and got the ProRegressive ball rolling for them - without him, they might have remained frustrated, small minded nobodies, harming no one's lives but their own.

TR's unbound greatness and lack of understanding and even disregard for the nature of the office he held, made his time in office, IMHO, the most truly disastrous presidency in all of American history. Not because he was a bad man, or a corrupt one, but because he was a truly Great man, invested with the great power of high office, who used his greatness to turn us away from our Founding ideals.

But of course Teddy Roosevelt didn't 'accomplish' what he did alone, he had the uninformed enthusiasm of the nation, won over by his greatness, who let him do and get away with what should never have been permitted.

Those who don't learn from history....
Am I saying that any of those today, such as Ben Carson, Donald Trump, Eric Greitens, who are being touted for their great qualities, are, or will be, as bad for this nation as I believe Teddy Roosevelt was? No. I'm saying that seeking after great men to 'fix' our problems on the basis of their greatness alone, when we've been given little or no substantive reasons for having confidence that they even understand the nature and intended limitations of their office, is a reckless and foolish thing for us to do.

I'm saying that when we don't know know anything substantial about a candidate's convictions or plans, because of what they have so far been content to not say, then we cannot have any idea what they will do with the power of their office, once it has been combined with their own great abilities, to exert those powers over us.

I'm not saying that I suspect our latest crop of great candidates of intending to do harm, I'm saying that I suspect them of not knowing what will, and what won't, cause us harm.
I'm saying that it's not their great qualities that concern me, but the little knowledge, understanding and conviction they've yet to demonstrate having about the fundamentals of our laws and their underlying principles.
I'm saying that without that understanding, which are the qualities that make any person, great or not, fit for office, and the lack of which makes anyone, great or not, unfit for office, then unrestrained by those convictions, they are liable, with the very best of intentions, to bring great harm to this nation and/or to our state. and at this point I'm not sure how much more of that we can take.

I'm going to take the next few posts to examine some of the arguments of those who knowingly promote such great candidates, without even themselves knowing or understanding what they will do with those qualities of greatness that they have. I'll also take a look at what some of those candidates have told us about what they believe, in their own words. And at that point, given that that is all we can know about them and their plans, you can decide how great an idea electing them might actually be.


flyovercountry said...

Excellent commentary and insight! It makes clear that Obama IS a successful leader, but that in no way means he has led us to a better or stronger America.

USS Ben USN (Ret) said...

Outstanding post, Van!
I believe Coolidge belongs on Mt. Rushmore but not Teddy Roosevelt for the reasoms you indicated.

"Barack Obama, LBJ, FDR, Woodrow Wilson were only able to succeed in putting into practice what they have, because Teddy Roosevelt first introduced, legitimized and got the ProRegressive ball rolling for them - without him, they might have remained frustrated, small minded nobodies, harming no one's lives but their own."

I concur, although they may certainly have tried, being that they were/are all egotistical maniacs who hate the idea of liberty and justice for all, and they all despised our Constitution. But you are right, Teddy helped give them the power they needed to do all the harm they have done to our nation and our Constitution.

I look forward to hearing your thoughts on the current candidates we have. Very few have even an inkling of the harm their ideas will do, and most have not given any indication they have even thought about it all that much.
Let's just say, based on their own words, there have been many times I have inwardly cringed when I have heard them speak.
I'm certain you will address that in your future posts, so I won't get specific right now.