Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Lincoln: Protector of states rights

Many today long for a President and Congress who would respect the rights of each state and its people to control what goes on inside the state. They require their state legislatures to assert protection against Federal legal incursions that have come in the form of state mandates, gun control, heavy taxation and now a body of health care constraints so burdensome that they comprise a form of servitude to the state. I was wrongly taught that Lincoln was a Destroyer of states rights, but in fact he held a respect for them incomparable to any President in our lifetime.

Lincoln's First Inaugural Address focuses on the issue of states rights. There are a number of interesting passages in it, including this excerpt from the 1860 Republican platform:

Resolved, That the maintenance inviolate of the rights of the States, and especially the right of each State to order and control its own domestic institutions according to its own judgment exclusively, is essential to that balance of power on which the perfection and endurance of our political fabric depend"

Lincoln believed he was constrained to respect state laws, and he explicitly states in the address that this included the right to own slaves where it was then legal and the duty of all states to return fugitive slaves. He explicitly denied any intention to forcibly abolish slavery in any state. Of course, he wished to abolish slavery and was elated at that certain prospect shortly before his death, but he wished it abolished by majority vote, not force.

What I find quaint is his naive belief that the Federal gov't would remain constrained. As we all well know, those who comprise all branches of our Federal gov't no longer exercise such constraint. Consider these two passages (again from his First Inaugural):

Think, if you can, of a single instance in which a plainly written provision of the Constitution has ever been denied. If by the mere force of numbers, a majority should deprive a minority of any clearly written constitutional right, it might, in a moral point of view, justify revolution -- certainly would, if such right were a vital one. But such is not our case. All the vital rights of minorities, and of individuals, are so plainly assured to them, by affirmations and negations, guaranties and prohibitions, in the Constitution, that controversies never arise concerning them.

By the frame of the government under which we live, this same people have wisely given their public servants but little power for mischief; and have, with equal wisdom, provided for the return of that little to their own hands at very short intervals.

Can anyone today earnestly state that the Federal gov't holds "but little power for mischief"? Does that describe our current situation of massive bailouts; phony, crony "stimulus" packages; ubiquitous and oppressive carbon taxes; and now the looming health care slavery? This government intends to deny us the vital right to make decisions about how we care for our health and that of our loved ones, while a bare majority stand by and cheer. They respect no "guaranties and prohibitions". Apparently, some do not even feel the need to read the text of the laws they pass!

Lincoln would not recognize the Union he preserved. But he would remind us of the duty we have, come the end of the "short interval" in 2010 when we have a chance to put an end to the power to make mischief; that in so doing we free ourselves from the reimposition of slavery masked as free health care. A revolution at the polls, I expect nothing less. The first shots have been fired this Spring. The next rumble will take place on September 12 in Washington. These are but precursors to the quake in November 2010.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

I wish I had calibrated my words differently

"I wish I had calibrated my words differently", said Obama, after saying that the police "acted stupidly" by arresting someone who had let his ego overcome his common sense.

Obama misuses his words about as often as his predecessor, but because he choose Latinate words, and because the watchers of his words tend to be enamored of his style, they fail to properly parse what he actually says. The word calibrate was wrong. One calibrates measuring instruments. One precisely adjusts tools and machines so that they work properly. That is calibration.

To some of us, words mean what they mean and not what we wish them to mean. We use them to express ourselves, albeit sometimes with less precision than we'd like. But to others, words are meant to be twisted and meaning is meant to be distorted for personal advantage.

Am I the only one who finds this abhorrent? I think not. I hope not. The low esteem in which journalists, lawyers and salesmen often find themselves, is testament to the unpopularity of twisting words. "Weasels" we will say, recalling an animal with uncanny skill at bending and twisting its very body to elude capture.

Obama might have said, "I wish I had chosen my words differently" (which is probably what he meant to say, but hoped to sound more intelligent by using the longer, Latin word "calibrated"). He could have said, "I wish I had calibrated my meaning differently", as he could have used words to adjust his meaning or to express a slightly different intention.

Or he could have said, "I wish I had phrased it differently", "I misspoke", or "I spoke rashly", or "I spoke before talking to the cop", or "I wrongly assumed the world would be interested in my ignorant opinion on this or any other trivial matter."

But he didn't. He looks at words as malleable in meaning and devised to calibrate our perception of him. This is canny in a politician or anyone else whose primary job is to manipulate people. However, a statesman is concerned first about the effect of his actions and secondarily about his words. This is why many of us admire W despite his infamous malaprops. It is why we often hear the word "Trumanesque", but never the word "Eisenhowerian" (or hear the word "Clintonian" to mean one who thinks he can spin his way out of anything).

It is why some of us watch plain-spoken Sarah Palin and rejoice. It is why thousands of intellectuals look at her and wince. She lacks polish, but she seems to speak from her heart and that is a welcome change, and quite a contrast to her President.