Allan C. Brownfeld
Allan C. Brownfeld is the author of five books, the latest of which is The Revolution Lobby (Council for Inter-American Security). He has been a staff aide to a U.S. vice president, members of Congress, and the U.S. Senate Internal Security Subcommittee. He is associate editor of The Lincoln Review, and a contributing editor to Human Events, The St. Croix Review, and The Washington Report on Middle East Affairs.
Socialism and American Politics: The Strange Involvement of Both Parties
Suddenly, the term “socialism” is on the lips of more and more men and women engaged in our political life. In August, Sen. Bernie Sanders said that socialism has gone “mainstream,” and urged Democrats to embrace the term. He is an avowed Democratic Socialist, as is Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who unseated 20-year incumbent Rep. Joe Crowley in a New York primary. Another self-proclaimed socialist, Rashida Tlaib, is the Democratic candidate for Congress in Detroit. Both Ocssio-Cortez and Tlaib are almost certain winners.
The Economist notes that, “Socialism is having a moment in America unlike any since perhaps 1912, when Eugene Debs, the socialist candidate won 6 percent of the national vote. A recent Gallup Poll showed that 57 percent of Democrats have a positive views of socialism.”
The poll, however, never defined “socialism,” so exactly what people were expressing support for was not clear. While Republicans immediately tried to tie Democrats identifying themselves as socialist with failed regimes in places like Venezuela and Cuba, and Newt Gingrich declared that socialists are “demons,” the reality may be somewhat more complicated.
Under classical Marxism, government ran the economy, owned factories and farms, and determined what was to be produced, who would get it, and what workers would be paid. This does not seem to be what today’s Democratic Socialists are promoting. Instead, the pro-free market Economist characterized what they are advocating this way:
“Even the platform of Bernie Sanders . . . left capitalism fundamentally intact, calling instead for a broader and more redistributive social safety net. His supporters seem enamored of Nordic-style social welfare policies. But those countries are not socialist; they are free market economies with huge rates of taxation that finance generous public services. Indeed, the ‘socialist’ part of those countries that (Democratic Socialists) support would be unaffordable without the dynamic capitalist part they dislike.”
While Republicans denounce “socialism,” the fact is that they endorse a form of government intervention in the economy — what many have called “crony capitalism” — which also challenges the idea of free market capitalism, except it serves a different constituency than would Bernie Sanders and those who embrace his philosophy.
In an article entitled “Corporate Welfare Lives On and On” in The American Conservative, Doug Bandow, senior fellow at the Cato Institute, notes that:
“Fiscal responsibility is out of fashion. The latest federal budget, drafted by a Republican president and Republican-controlled Congress, blew through the loose limits established by Democratic President Barack Obama. The result is trillion-dollar deficits as far as the eye can see.”
In Bandow’s view:
“Any amount of corporate welfare is too much. . . . Business plays a vital role in a free market. People should be able to invest and innovate, taking risks while accepting losses. In real capitalism there are no guaranteed profits. But corporate welfare gives the well-connected protection from many of the normal risks of business. Business subsidies undermine both capitalism and democracy. Allowing politicians to channel economic resources toward their preferred ends distorts investments and trade. Turning government into an engine of illicit profit encourages what economists call rent-seeking. Well-organized special interests usually triumph over the broader public and national interest.”
Tad DeHaven, a Mercatus scholar at George Mason University, makes the case that:
“Corporate welfare often subsidizes failing and mismanaged businesses and induces firms to spend more time on lobbying rather than on making better products. Instead of correcting market failures, federal subsidies misallocate resources and introduce government failures into the marketplace.”
Government aid to business comes in many forms, and is distributed through a variety of agencies, such as the Export-Import Bank and the Small Business Administration. We see spending, usually in grants, loans, and loan guarantees. There are limits on competitors, such as tariffs and quotas. There are tax preferences attached to broader tax bills to benefit individual companies and industries. All of these are a form of corporate welfare — insuring corporate profits. Those corporations on the receiving end of such subsidies employ armies of lobbyists — and huge campaign contributions — to achieve their goal. They contribute to both parties, so they always have a friend in power.
The Cato Institute argues that:
“Agriculture in particular has spawned a gaggle of sometimes bizarre subsidies, payments, loans, crop insurance, import quotas and more to underwrite farmers. When these distort the marketplace, further efforts are concocted to address these dislocations. A dairy program created milk surpluses, which in turn encouraged state price fixing that generated massive cheese stockpiles. . . . The federal government killed off cows as it continued to subsidize milk. . . . The Export-Import Bank is known as Boeing’s Bank. It provides cheap credit for foreign buyers of American products. This gives foreign firms, such as airlines that purchase Boeing airplanes, an advantage over U.S. carriers that must pay full fare. The Export-Import Bank’s biggest beneficiary, in recent years, has been China.”
Those who believe in free markets have adversaries in both parties. The left’s advocacy of socialism and the right’s embrace of corporate welfare, both lead us in the direction of a government-managed economy. In the long run, other basic freedoms are also challenged when government control of the economy increases.
In their initial consideration about what kind of government to establish, the Founding Fathers, when they turned their attention to questions of economic organization, asked themselves which economic form would best maintain the free society they were in the process of creating. Clearly, the answer was free enterprise. For men suspicious of government power, this was an obvious choice.
Professor Milton Friedman explained that:
“The kind of economic organization that provides economic freedom directly, namely competitive capitalism, also promotes political freedom because it separates economic power from political power and in this way enables the one to offset the other. Political freedom means the absence of coercion of a man by his fellow men. The fundamental threat to freedom is power to coerce, be it in the hands of a monarch, a dictator, an oligarchy, or a momentary majority.”
In Friedman’s view:
“The preservation of freedom requires the elimination of such concentration of power to the fullest possible extent and the dispersal and distribution of whatever power cannot be eliminated — a system of checks and balances. By removing the organization of economic activity from the control of political authority, the market eliminates that source of coercive power. It enables economic strength to be a check to political power rather than a reinforcement.”
Political partisanship prevents Americans from understanding the forces that are at work in Washington. Republicans and Democrats regularly demonize each other, but regardless of which party holds office, government power grows and freedom declines. Whether it is bailing out Wall Street with taxpayer dollars, or subsidizing failing businesses, or keeping out competing products with tariffs, the last thing either party seems to want is a genuinely free market.
Understanding that the political parties are co-conspirators in the expansion of political power and the diminution of freedom is the beginning of political wisdom.
What Would the Founding Fathers Think of the Growth of Executive Power?
Executive power has been steadily growing, regardless of which party was in power. The Constitution clearly gives Congress the power to declare war. Still, we have gone to war in Korea, Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan, and a host of other places upon the authority of the president alone. Today, the president, on his own authority — without approval by Congress — imposes tariffs upon China, Canada and a host of other countries. We are even told by some that a president cannot be indicted or subpoenaed — even though the Constitution says no such thing. This would, in effect, place a president above the law. And how many of the rules under which we live have been imposed by executive order — by Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, Barack Obama, and Donald Trump — with no action by our elected representatives in Congress?
The Founding Fathers understood that freedom was not man’s natural state. Their entire political philosophy was based on a fear of government power and the need to limit and control that power very strictly. It was their fear of total government which initially caused them to rebel against the arbitrary rule of King George III. In the Constitution, they tried their best to construct a form of government that, through a series of checks and balances and a clear division of powers, would protect the individual.
The Founding Fathers would be disappointed to see the growth of government power, particularly in the executive branch. But they would not be surprised. In a letter to Edward Carrington, Thomas Jefferson wrote that, “The natural progress is for Liberty to yield and government to gain ground.” He noted that:
“One of the most profound preferences in human nature is for satisfying one’s needs and desires with the least possible exertion, for appropriating wealth produced by the labor of others, rather than producing it by one’s own labor . . . the stronger and more centralized the government, the safer would be the guarantees of such monopolies, the weaker the producer, the less consideration need be given him and the more might be taken away from him.”
That government should be limited — and clearly divided between separate branches — and that power is a corrupting force was the essential perception held by the men who formed the nation. In The Federalist Papers, James Madison declared:
“It may be a reflection on human nature that such devices should be necessary to control the abuses of government. . . . But what is government itself but the greatest of all reflections on human nature? 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.”
The Founding Fathers were not utopians. They understood man’s nature. They attempted to form a government that was consistent with — not contrary to — that nature. Alexander Hamilton pointed out that:
“Here we already have seen enough of the fallacy and extravagance of those idle theories which have amused us with promises of an exemption from the imperfections, weaknesses, and evils incident to society in every shape. Is it now time to awake from the deceitful dream of a golden age and adopt as a practical maxim for the direction of our political conduct that we, as well as the other inhabitants of the globe, are yet remote from the happy empire of perfect wisdom and perfect virtue.”
Rather than viewing man and government in positive terms, the framers of the Constitution had almost precisely the opposite view. John Adams expressed the view that, “Whoever would found a state and make proper laws for the government of it, must presume that all men are bad by nature.” Adams attempted to learn something from the pages of history:
“We may appeal to every page of history we have hitherto turned over, for proofs irrefragable, that the people, when they have been unchecked, have been as unjust, tyrannical, brutal, barbarous, and cruel as any king or senate possessed of uncontrollable power. . . . All projects of government, formed upon a supposition of continued vigilance, sagacity, and virtue, firmness of the people when possessed of the exercise of supreme power, are cheats and delusions. . . . The fundamental article of my political creed is that despotism, or unlimited sovereignty, or absolute power, is the same in a majority of a popular assembly, an aristocratic council, an oligarchical junto, and a single emperor. Equally bloody, arbitrary, cruel, and in every respect diabolical.”
During the colonial period, Americans became all too familiar with the dangers of an all-powerful King and unlimited and arbitrary government. The Revolution was fought to prevent such abuses. When the Articles of Confederation were being considered, fears of excessive concentration of authority were often expressed. The town of West Springfield, Massachusetts, to cite one examples, reminded its representatives of the
“ . . . weaknesses of human nature and growing thirst for power. . . . It is freedom, Gentlemen, it is freedom, and not a choice of the forms of servitude for which we contend.”
To prevent the growth of unlimited government power, the Constitution divided government between a legislative, executive and judicial branch. The Congress was to be the most important branch, elected by the people on a frequent basis. The experience of life under an all-powerful King made a powerful president less than appealing. As years went by, however, the executive — whether Democrat or Republican — assumed more and more power.
Under President George W. Bush, for example, many began to refer to a new “Imperial Presidency.” The Cato Institute study, “The Cult of the Presidency” notes that the Bush administration’s broad assertion of executive power includes:
“ . . . the power to launch wars at will, to tap phones and read e-mails without a warrant, and to seize American citizens on American soil and hold them for the duration of the war on terror — in other words, perhaps forever — without ever having to answer to a judge.”
The study’s author, Eugene Healy, points out that:
“Neither Left nor Right see the president as the Framers saw him: a constitutionally constrained chief executive with an important, but limited, job: to defend the country when attacked, check Congress when it violates the Constitution, enforce the law — and little else. Today, for conservatives as well as liberals, it is the president’s job to protect us from harm, to ‘grow the economy,’ to spread democracy and American ideals abroad, and even to heal spiritual malaise.”
The modern presidency has become one far different from the one set forth in the Constitution. The Cato Institute provides this assessment:
“The constitutional presidency, as the Framers conceived it, was designed to stand against the popular will as often as not, with the president wielding the veto power to restrain Congress when it transgressed its constitutional bounds. In contrast, the modern president considers himself the tribune of the people, promising transformative action and demanding the power to carry it out. The result is what political scientist Theodore J. Lowi has termed ‘the plebiscitary presidency’: ‘An office of tremendous personal power drawn from people . . . and based on the . . . theory that the presidency with all powers is the necessary condition for governing a large democratic nation.’”
The men who led the Revolution, different from many today — in both parties — were suspicious of power and those who hold it. Samuel Adams declared:
“There is a degree of watchfulness over all men possessed of power or influence upon which the liberties of mankind much depend. It is necessary to guard against the infirmities of the best as well as the wickedness of the worst of men. Jealousy is the best security of public Liberty.”
The Founding Fathers would not be happy with our increasingly powerful government — and chief executive — but they would not be surprised. Leaving the Constitutional Convention, Benjamin Franklin was asked what kind of government had been established. He replied, “A Republic, if you can keep it.”
People who call themselves “conservative” used to understand all this. Now, they seem to have forgotten.
An Epidemic of Child Abuse in the Catholic Church: What Would Jesus Say?
More than 300 Catholic priests across Pennsylvania sexually abused children over seven decades, protected by a church hierarchy who covered it up, according to a sweeping grand jury report released in mid-August. The investigation, one of the most comprehensive inquiries into church sex abuse in U.S. history, identified 1,000 children who were victims — but reported that there are probably thousands more.
The grand jury wrote that, “Priests were raping little boys and girls, and the men of God who were responsible for them not only did nothing, but hid it all for decades.” The 1,400-page report described some of the abuses in disturbing detail. In Erie, a 7-year old boy was sexually abused by a priest who then told him he should go to confession and confess his “sins” to that same priest. Another boy was repeatedly raped from ages 13 to 15 by a priest who bore down so hard on the boy’s back that it caused severe spinal injuries. He became addicted to painkillers and later died of an overdose.
One victim in Pittsburgh was forced to pose naked as Christ on the cross as priests photographed him. Priests gave the boy and others gold cross necklaces to mark them as being “groomed” for abuse. One priest raped a girl who bore him a child. Another made his victim get an abortion. The report notes four cases in the Scranton diocese in which bishops and other church leaders allowed predator priests to continue in the ministry. The leadership also used confidentiality agreements with settlements to silence the victims. In one instance, they provided tuition for a boy to attend a school in the diocese.
Consider the case of Rev. Thomas D. Skotak. He sexually assaulted a minor female between 1980 and 1985, resulting in pregnancy. He helped her get an abortion in 1986. When Bishop James Timlin became aware of the situation, he transferred Father Skotak to another parish in 1989, and offered $75,000 to the girl and her family, contingent on a nondisclosure and confidentiality agreement. After the settlement, Bishop Timlin sought to reassure senior Catholic leaders in Rome that Father Skotek’s “criminal” acts would likely remain hidden. Sadly, we can fill pages with reports such as these — and that is what the Pennsylvania grand jury did.
The unfortunate fact is that the decades-long cover-up by the church hierarchy has created a situation in which few criminal cases may result from the massive investigation because most instances of abuse are too old to be prosecuted because of the statutes of limitations. One answer many are now calling for is a re-thinking of the whole idea of statutes of limitations.
Pennsylvania State Rep. Mark Rozzi said he was raped by a priest at his Catholic Church in Berks County, Pa. The same priest, he said, sexually abused one of his childhood friends, who killed himself in 2009. Rozzi called on fellow legislators to pass measures that would eliminate the statute of limitations for criminal prosecution of sexual abuse of children. In addition to ending such limitations, the grand jury also called for a law to allow older victims to sue a diocese for damage inflicted upon them as children, tighter laws that mandate the reporting of abuse, and an end to nondisclosure agreements when settlements have been reached.
Corruption in the church has been widespread, from parish priests to bishops and beyond. In July, Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, former Archbishop of Washington, resigned after being accused of sexually abusing children and adults for decades. Cardinal Donald Wuerl, the current archbishop of Washington, figures prominently in the report because he led the Pittsburgh diocese as its bishop from 1988 to 2006. It reports that, at times, he removed abusive priests, and, at other times, guided them back into parishes.
The fact is that there has been no full accounting of abuse in the Catholic Church in the U.S. Peter Isely, a longtime advocate for victims of sexual abuse, said groups have long been pressing the U.S. Government for a national investigation of child sex abuse, particularly in the Catholic Church. Isely, who was abused and is a spokesman for the global group, Ending Clergy Abuse, said that a five-year inquiry in Australia is “ the gold standard,” but that other nations, including Canada, Germany, and Ireland, have conducted national reviews. “Imagine if they did what was done in Pennsylvania, but nationwide,” he said. In Chile, prosecutors and police are raiding church offices, confiscating documents and looking for crimes that went unreported to police.
Hopefully, the Pennsylvania grand jury report will lend new momentum to statute reform efforts both in that state and nationwide. “This will reignite these battles at the state level,” said Michael Moreland, a law professor at Villanova University, a Catholic school outside of Philadelphia. The grand jury also urges a two-year “civil window” in the existing statutes of limitations that would allow victims to sue the church for damages no matter when the abuse occurred. “These victims ran out of time before they even knew they had a case,” the grand jury wrote. In the past, the Catholic Church has lobbied fiercely against any such provisions that would hold it accountable. The church argues that it would be left open to “financial catastrophe.” Given the church’s role, that might, many would argue, constitute simple justice.
How would Jesus react to a church acting in His name in such a manner? When it comes to the abuse of children, consider these words of Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew:
“Anyone who welcomes one little child like this in my name, welcomes me. But anyone who is the downfall of one of these little ones who have faith in me would be better drowned in the depths of the sea with a great millstone around his neck.”
For a much lesser offense than the sexual abuse of children, we know how Jesus reacted to moneychangers and others who were corrupting the temple. Jesus and his disciples traveled to Jerusalem for Passover. He finds the holy temple corrupted by merchants and moneychangers. He expels them for having turned the temple into a “den of thieves” through their commercial activities. In John 2:13-6, we read:
“And making a whip of cords, He drove them all out of the temple, with the sheep and oxen. And He poured out the coins of the moneychangers and overturned their tables. And He told those who sold the pigeons, ‘Take these things away; do not make my Father’s house a house of trade.”
Nathan W. O’Halloran identifies the actions of Jesus with “a calculated prophetic action evocative of the temple condemnation in Jeremiah 7:1-15.” The Gospel of Mark uses the phrase, “Then he taught them. . . .” as Jesus references the prophet Jeremiah. The quote from Jeremiah reads:
“Are you to steal and murder, commit adultery and perjury, burn incense to Baal, go after strange gods that you know not, and yet come to stand before me in this house which bears my name, and say: ‘we are safe; we can commit all these abominations again?’ Has this house which bears my name become in your eyes a den of thieves, I, too, see what is being done, says the Lord (Jeremiah 7:9-11).”
The Catholic Church portrayed in the Pennsylvania grand jury report is not a “den of thieves” but something far worse. One can only imagine how Jesus would respond to those who have inflicted such horror, pain and suffering in His name. *