Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Pournelle: Republican Principles or Democrats Light?

The incomparable Jerry Pournelle examines how the Republican Party has lost its way.
While the article begins with a discussion of the Anthropogenic Global Warming hoax, it does so mostly to explain why the McCain-style "me-too" approach is a loser. Turning to the general principle:

But do note that playing loyal opposition, Democrat Light, has been effective for many Country Club Republicans: they were allowed to keep their positions and influence. That was the situation when Newt Gingrich organized the Republican takeover of Congress. Unfortunately, without Newt's iron control -- you may ascribe his motive to dedication to principle or to simple desire to keep power -- without Newt's iron control the Republican congress went mad and truly acted as if it were Democrats: it spent money in ways that even the Democrats wouldn't have (then; not now), including the old Wilson/Roosevelt interventionism that generally led to war.
Dr. Pournelle offers this advice for the future:
The only way the Republicans can survive will be to become a party of principle: smaller government, devolution of power to the states, transparency and local control; the old principle Adams stated, "we believe that each man is the best judge of his own interest". Trust the Associations (as Tocqueville described) rather than government, and states more than federal. Give up "right to life" and adopt the constitutional position that abortion ought to be left to the states -- as should education and many other matters. We have plenty of failed experiments in federal control to show that it's not always a good idea and sometimes federalizing things is disastrous.
On this matter, I offer a weak semantic disagreement with the use of the word "federal" to mean "national". What he advocates (as do I) is a return to the original meaning of "federal": power devolved to the most local level practical, where the resources it commands can be used more efficiently, and tailored to the peculiar needs of the locality. Most of what the US Government does would be better done by state, county, or municipal governments, or by private-sector entities. If the GOP is ever to be trusted with power again, it will need to make that case, and make us believe they'll actually do it this time.
[Click on the title above, or date stamp below, to see the full article.]

Given the choice between faux Democrats and the real thing, the voters chose the latter. We need to give them a real choice.


  1. I love Jerry Pournelle. If you have not read "Lucifer's Hammer," I recommend it highly to anyone who has ever contemplated surviving an apocalypse.

    I totally agree with his advice to Republicans; but it is your semantic quibble that interests me. I usually endeavor to be precise with language. Although I always capitalize it, I say "Federal government" all the time; by which I mean the central government of our federation. Is this really an error? When we say the "Feds," should we be saying the "Nats?"

    I would quibble with his (oops... and your) use of "state(s)." I was taught that when referring to a State of our union that it must always be capitalized. Otherwise, "state" is synonymous with "country" or "nation."

    I speak semantically, of course; philosophically, I invert the pyramid and place the Federal/National government on the bottom, the 50 States (which I consider to be individual states / republics in their own right) above it, the counties above the States, and the sovereign individuals residing within them above the counties. I explain this in some detail in my "Sovereign Rights" essay, which is on point to Pournelle's advice on power devolution. If all Americans understood our history and what our founders meant for this country to be, we wouldn't even be in this mess. ◄Dave►

  2. Well, Dave, in a federal system, the "States" are not truly sovereign states, in that immigration, foreign policy and military action are specifically delegated to the national government. To any outsiders, there is a single face.

    On the other hand, county and municipal governments, and special districts for schools or other services, are all creations of the state. These subdivisions can be reorganized in whatever way those states see fit. My own city and county governments (Kansas City and Wyandotte County, KS) were merged together into a "Unified Government" years ago, when we voted locally for the merger, and the state legislature enacted a law to authorize it. Had they not done their part, we could not have gone through with the plan, because the county and city are not sovereign.

  3. Interestingly, I have been reading one of series of books Pournelle edited, called the "There Will Be War" series. In this book, "Warrior" (written in the mid-'80s), it talks about how the United States, not being an Aggressor nation, needs to keep up on Defense, especially in the realm of human Intelligence gathering, which of course went by the wayside after the fall of the USSR.

    It also has an essay on how the SDI Program was analyzed as being implausible by two different groups, which then became the "common knowledge" of the day, and undoubtedly made a huge impact on the funding of the program. This section looked rather like the Global Warming analysis of today.

    All in all, a good read, and I would suggest trying to find a copy just for those essays, if not the stories themselves.

  4. Yes and no, Monster. I accidentally submitted the above comment without the HTML link to my Sovereign Rights essay, which explains what I am getting at. I am speaking philosophically and historically, and recognize that just as our central government (through neglect and abuse) is nothing like what it was when established, the same can be said of many of our State and county governments. I know little about Kansas, because I was just a kid in the Army when I was stationed at Ft. Leavenworth (on this side of the wall) back in the '60s. :)

    However, I'd be a little cautious about suggesting to a Texan that Texas isn't a sovereign Republic, which retained its right to secession before agreeing to join the Union. States do have their own military. Except when called up for national duty, the Governor of each State is its own National Guard's CinC. States have their own Sec. of State, and they do negotiate trade agreements with foreign entities. Each State has its own citizenship requirements, etc.

    A really good way to look at it is that as originally established, one could view the USA as the equivalent of the EU. Thirteen individual sovereign states agreed to band together in a free trade agreement and mutual defense pact. They crafted a very weak central government to present a more imposing face to the world, and gave it very limited powers only to do things that were mutually beneficial, such as coin money, etc; but I can assure you that if these states had thought they were giving up their sovereignty, they would never have ratified the Constitution! See the Federalist Papers, et al.

    Re: local governments, the hierarchical relationship of municipalities, townships, etc. are all over the map; but the real action is in county government in America. That is where deeds, marriages, births, and deaths,  are recorded, etc. As my essay demonstrates, counties are not "creations of States," quite the opposite. Most counties predate their States by a long shot, and existed back when vast swaths of our continent were just "territories" that were yet to be subdivided into individual States.

    An oft repeated fiction is that the Attorney General of the U.S. is the "highest law enforcement officer in the land." Not true. That distinction belongs to your local sheriff. It comes as a shock to most to learn that no Federal law enforcement officer, of any strip (FBI, BATF, IRS, etc.) has any jurisdiction within any county unless the local sheriff specifically grants them the privilege of functioning in it. This is routinely reauthorized yearly (or else the sheriff wouldn't get those Federal funds his budget needs); but that does not change the relationship. Call that power what you will; but sovereign works for me. :) ◄Dave►

  5. However, I'd be a little cautious about suggesting to a Texan that Texas isn't a sovereign Republic, which retained its right to secession before agreeing to join the Union.

    How'd that work out for them back in 1861?

    Before the "Civil War" (another misnomer), everyone apparently assumed states had the legal authority to secede. Now we know that authority was struck down, not at the Supreme Court, but at Appomatox Court House.

  6. "...in a federal system, the "States" are not truly sovereign states, in that immigration, foreign policy and military action are specifically delegated to the national government."

    How does this assertion gibe with "Sanctuary Cities" that seem to be able to resist Federal immigration laws, or states like AK & HI, that regularly have to deal directly with foreign countries on matters of trade, land-rights, etc.?

    - MD

  7. "Before the "Civil War" (another misnomer)..."

    Correct. Oh, they seceded alright; and even joined another federation. Then their new federation was invaded by a foreign empire (known as the USA) and they were conquered and occupied. Eventually, they were annexed back into the conquering empire as a State. Several Indian nations suffered the same fate. This aside, of course, does not refute my philosophical / historical assertion regarding what our founders intended the relationship between the central government, the States, and more importantly the free and sovereign individuals residing therein to be. ◄Dave►

  8. MD, "sanctuary cities" are a load of crap.

    States cannot engage in independent diplomacy -- trade missions aren't really diplomatic in character; they're just business deals. States are flat forbidden (Art. I, § 10) from entering into any treaties.

  9. Dave, Monster, and MD, thank you for an enlightening discussion. I thought I had something to contribute to your angle until about halfway down the page, when you all had covered everything I had to say and moved on to aspects I never had considered. Thank you for making me a little smarter today! :)

    I am going to kick a tired horse back into action here and take another angle from the OP. As I've belabored in this and other forums lately, how can we go about doing what the inestimable Mr. Pournelle and our beloved Monster recommend, i.e. getting the message of personal responsibility and limited government out to the people? What can we do to make the message of freedom heard over the siren song of freebies and handouts and the never-ending mantra of hopenchange? Naturally we can support candidates locally who embrace true principles - I've got my eye on that once my relocation is done - but we can't get them elected if the people don't understand and vote accordingly. What can we do individually and locally in the flesh world, in addition to our debating and pontificating online? I am a big fan of clear objectives and tasks, so I harp on this a lot. Hope y'all don't mind. I am a very strong proponent of the sovereignty of the individual States, and true Federalism, but most people I know are not so politically and historically knowledgeable or invested. A lot of people vote who are not interested in history or political theory. How do we reach out to them? I honestly don't know right now.

  10. Monster,

    I believe that "Sanctuary Cities" ought to be a load of crap - but there they are.

    Trade missions embarked upon by States aren't supposed to affect things diplomatically, but I submit that they do nonetheless. (seems that the only substantive difference between a trade agreement with HI and a trade-based treaty with the US is who-is-bound - and tell me the former wouldn't have a wider diplomatic impact)

    There are also laws that should keep the Speaker of the House from going to 'officially' meet with the heads of nations hostile to the US, but...

    A lot of "shoulds", "oughts" and "supposed-tos" in there...

    My question referred to WHAT IS.
    (if it walks like a sovereign and talks like a sovereign...)

    - MuscleDaddy

  11. "I believe that "Sanctuary Cities" ought to be a load of crap..."

    I won't even go that far. The whole border / illegal alien issue has driven me 'round the bend since they started waving Mexican flags in our streets nearly three years ago. As far as I am concerned, San Francisco is welcome to fall in the ocean. However, were it not for the fact that Federal taxes are being spent on health, education, and welfare programs for these illegals, and to subsidize their resultant increased crime fighting requirements, I would care less what goes on in metropolitan America. I can and do avoid these decadent places like the plague. Moreover, I respect the principle that gives rise to local governments refusing to enforce Federal laws they find onerous, whether or not I agree with their choices.

    Be careful what you wish for. There is a good chance that in the near future imprudent statutes will emanate from DC that might make you proud of your local sheriff for refusing to enforce them. Think Second Amendment, Hate Speech / Crimes, Compulsory Public Schooling, Compulsory Public Service (Obama Corps), etc. ◄Dave►

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  13. Dave, immigration is specifically a matter for the national government. The Constitution gives Congress that power, exclusively as of 1808.

    There are many cases in which Congress or USGOV agencies overreach the authority granted them under the Constitution. I applaud local governments who refuse to cooperate with such shenanigans.

  14. "Dave, immigration is specifically a matter for the national government. The Constitution gives Congress that power, exclusively as of 1808."

    Believe it or not, it is quite the opposite, Monster; but I do want to thank you for the fascinating excursion this comment sent me on. It was so revealing, and to avoid a lengthy post here in this comment section, I have posted my rebuttal in my own space. I promise it is worth the trip, for in the process I encountered all the evidence one would ever need to assert that our States are in fact and unquestionably sovereign. Start here. ◄Dave►

  15. How telling that this commune-ity subscribes to the entertaining yet always fascist-toned writings of an old time conservative water carrier like Jerry Pournelle.
    Some of this SciFi writers greatest hits:
    -The star wars defense SD fiasco for the Reagan administration (thanks for that trillion dollars right in the toilet there Dr. Evil)
    -a plagiarist copy of the Nolan Chart, complete with two-dimensional thinking axis, called of all things...the "POURNELLE CHART" LOL
    -A skepticism in that radical of all beliefs, yes, that's right Global Warming. I mean what crazy scientists that belong to the NAS would believe in that mullarky right?
    -A disbelief in Evolution.
    -A conspiratorial belief in the origin of AIDS, much like the well known "conservative" Reverend Jeremiah Wright LOL.
    -and the one you gotta love from all dog whistle bigots, the belief that race and IQ have a "link"

    How telling that the e3 koolaid drinkers subscribe to this "sci-fi" as reality. I'm curious to hear how after the Comet hits the Earth and conservatives, now turned cannibals, are going to continue church services with "Lucifer's Hammer" looming. I mean come on people, I like Stephen King too, but I'm not going to start believing in pets coming back to life and all... Sheesh. Let the comedy hour continue.

  16. Troll, you're getting tiresome. If you have anything to contribute other than bile, do so. Otherwise, shut up.

  17. Dave, the contents of a state constitution really aren't relevant in this case, per the Supremacy clause (Art. 5, ¶3):

    This Constitution, and the Laws of the United States which shall be made in Pursuance thereof; and all Treaties made, or which shall be made, under the Authority of the United States, shall be the supreme Law of the Land; and the Judges in every State shall be bound thereby, any Thing in the Constitution or Laws of any State to the Contrary notwithstanding.

    You actually quoted the most relevant part of the US Constitution on the matter of immigration in your response (Art. I, §9, ¶1):

    The Migration or Importation of such Persons as any of the States now existing shall think proper to admit, shall not be prohibited by the Congress prior to the Year one thousand eight hundred and eight, but a tax or duty may be imposed on such Importation, not exceeding ten dollars for each Person.

    Now, let's think this through. This is a specific temporary limitation on the power of Congress, so that it could not supersede states' decisions about immigration prior to 1808. Why would the Constitution include this very precise language if Congress would not otherwise have had that power from the day it was first called into session?

    The clear meaning of this provision, combined with the enumerated power to enact a uniform rule of naturalization (Art. I, §8, ¶4), the aforementioned Supremacy provision, and the inherent power of any nation to control its borders, is that effective 1 Jan, 1808, Congress could enact immigration law binding upon all states.

  18. Thanks MD. Good point on E3 vs. E3Gazette. I fixed it. ◄Dave►

  19. Monster,

    Alas, I suspect our horse has died. It is unclear to me whether you read the entire piece at the Federalism website. It refutes your assertions quite well on multiple grounds, and if you find their logic unpersuasive, I am sure nothing I could add would change that.

    I suppose I could ask you to point out where the Congressional power to regulate immigration is enumerated in section 8, which you claim is only temporarily suspended for twenty years in section 9, by what has always been referred to as the slave trade clause. Were I in search of a hidden implied power, I wouldn't expect to find it in section 9, powers prohibited to Congress. Our Founders were not that sloppy, and the ninth and tenth amendments are unambiguous.

    Besides, if you are going to suggest that a statute passed by Congress attempting to usurp power that was never granted to it, somehow magically transfers power that had always belonged to the States (for over 100 years) to the Federal government - because of the Supremacy Clause - then we are not even discussing the same document.

    After my study today, I am even more enamored with the EU metaphor. A citizen of any country in the EU can acquire an EU passport; but the EU is not empowered to tell England who they can or cannot allow to migrate to or from the British Isles.

    Further, I reckon we were fools for not demanding 47 more seats in the General Assembly when the UN was formed. The Soviets got one for each satellite. Now, the economic juggernaut EU gets one for each constituent state. We are chumps. ◄Dave►

  20. Dave, the fact that the section in question is always referred to in terms of the slave trade is irrelevant. It does not use the word "slave"; it says "persons".

    You seem to agree that Congress had the power to regulate immigration of slaves effective 1808. That power is temporally restrained by the explicit language we're discussing. Where is the language that limits that power so that it does not extend to indentured servants or free men seeking to immigrate as well?

    I submit that the only limit on Congressional power to regulate immigration, other than the 1808 rule, is the selection of Senators by state legislatures. It inherently biased that chamber toward restraint in making laws that supersede any enacted by those legislatures. To me, that was a vital counterweight that we need to restore.

    Then there's the practical problem. The original 13 states all had Atlantic coastal borders and ports, but the government under the Articles of Confederation had begin organizing territories that would eventually become new states, which were landlocked. In what meaningful way could my state of Kansas choose to allow immigration of people that must pass through several other states to get here? Those other states would seem to hold a veto over our decisions. That is precisely analogous to the logic for including the Interstate Commerce provisions.

  21. Monster,

    I entirely agree with you on the new subject. 1913 was a very bad year for our Republic, when Wilson and the Progressives endeavored mightily to recast it as a mobocracy. Both the 16th and 17th Amendments caused havoc with State's power over the Feds, and ought to be repealed.

    As you suggest, the 17th changed the loyalties of Senators to the national Party that helped them get elected, rather than their own State's best interest. Although it was never properly ratified (another subject), the 16th allowed the Feds to bypass the messy business of asking the States to fund their adventures, by taxing their Citizens directly.

    Then to top off their Progressive coup d'├ętat, they passed the Federal Reserve Act to enable them to debauch our currency. We are currently in the initial stages of a massive hangover from that imprudent little bender. The pall presently hanging over DC is actually just smoke coming from the Treasury department's printing presses, which desperately need a rest. They are robbing us blind with inflation, and we won't even recognize this place a year from now when it has manifested in prices. Buy a wheelbarrow and buckle up.

    As for our dead (or at least comatose) horse, we must agree to disagree. I find those extensive arguments and quotes at The Federalist Blog far more persuasive. They even address the westward expansion issue. ◄Dave►

  22. Man. I had a good comment loaded up, went back to look at Dave's link, and lost it. Curses...

    I can't agree, though, Dave. i think you overstate the sovereignty of the States, and your article's arguments WRT the Naturalization clause are circular. The Supreme Court has disagreed with that interpretation for at least 100 years.

    I was the Federalist Society chapter president of my law school. I'm sympathetic. But immigration is clearly an exclusively federal province - and it should be.

  23. "I had a good comment loaded up, went back to look at Dave's link, and lost it."

    Ugh, Orrin. Don't be afraid to try the [Back] button. Your input is still in memory, you just can't see it, and this often brings it back in view. Also, unless I intend to migrate away from a site, I always [right-click] on a link and open it in a new tab/window. This leaves any input in a form field still there when you come back.

    "The Supreme Court has disagreed with that interpretation for at least 100 years."

    Let's see, 2008-1913=95 years... close enough. I have repeatedly tried to make the point in this discussion that I am speaking philosophically and historically - not status quo. ◄Dave►

  24. "In what meaningful way could my state of Kansas choose to allow immigration of people that must pass through several other states to get here?"

    - Which brings us back around to the Reality of "santuary cities" - like entering the country, if illegals can get to such a place, they're good.

    And why would the Feds cede this authority, unless they didn't like the odds booking on the outcome of the fight?

    - MD

  25. Which brings us back around to the Reality of "santuary cities" - like entering the country, if illegals can get to such a place, they're good.

    No. If the President ordered INS (or whatever it's called today) to send agents into a "sanctuary city" and enforce the relevant laws, that reality would change very quickly. As much as I despise "mandates", I reconize that the threat of revoking all "Federal" aid from such cities could change things too.

    Instead, however, we have an enforcement regime that actively discourages state law-enforcement agencies from ascertaining the immigration status of someone in custody for some other infraction. That simply makes no sense to me. I would think that someone who is arrested for any reason would be subjected to a cursory check of criminal and immigration records.

    Perhaps my opinion on the inherently national character of immigration is based on living about a mile from the KS/MO state line, which The Bride of Monster traverses daily driving to and from work, and I cross with barely a thought. There is even a street appropriately named "State Line Road"; the eponymous boundary runs roughly down the middle of it, occasionally passing to one side or the other, even through some buildings, as the early surveys upon which the road was built were not as accurate as what the law now recognizes.

    There is no practical way that either state could police the border without making our lives far more difficult. The Berlin Wall truly divided two countries. We don't want that in the USA.

  26. "And why would the Feds cede this authority, unless they didn't like the odds booking on the outcome of the fight?"

    Bingo! Precisely! That point crossed my mind while reading the Federalist Blog; but never got expressed. Thanks for making it. ◄Dave►

  27. Monster, I saw a documentary on a small town that strides the Maine / Canadian border just like you describe, and life goes on just fine there. We can't even police our national northern and southern border. If memory serves, we have one border guard for every 200 mi. of the Canadian border. Why are you trying to make individual State sovereignty so complicated? It worked out well for the first half of our Republic's existence.

    The right to travel between the States is guaranteed to Citizens in the Constitution, so no State is going to completely close their borders. Nor would any State wish to inhibit tourism. Travelers spend money, even when just passing through. What they might wish to regulate, is residence and employment. As it stands now, politicians beholden to unions in Michigan are voting on whether to allow California to import temporary migrant piece-workers during harvest season. Politicians beholden to bleeding hearts in Seattle are voting on whether to permit mass migration of "asylum" seekers from Haiti into, and on the welfare rolls of, Florida; whether Florida wants them or not. These are the grievances.

    If Kansas desired to expand its population with immigrants, I doubt that any State would refuse to allow them to pass through on the way there - as long as they didn't decide to stop and take up residence instead, in detriment to their own economy. ◄Dave►

  28. "No. If the President ordered INS (or whatever it's called today) to send agents into a "sanctuary city" and enforce the relevant laws, that reality would change very quickly. As much as I despise "mandates", I reconize that the threat of revoking all "Federal" aid from such cities could change things too."

    As to the first - I'm certain you're right - much as Georgia's reality changed when Russia decided it would.

    The second sounds like Iraqi-economic-sanctions to me... the sort of thing one sovereign nation might use to bring another into line - ;-)

    - MD

  29. Please note that in neither case do the Feds have the authority to simply order the local police to report illegal aliens to ICE... yet the local authorities do. What does that say about local sovereignty?

    It is worse than "sanctions," it is robbery followed by extortion. This is the only real power the Feds have over the States. They suck local Citizen's tax money into DC, and then dole it back out to the local agencies with strings attached.

    I lived in Hawaii when the Feds decided they wanted a uniform drinking age of 21. In Hawaii it had always been 18, and they derived a lot of revenue from kids going there for HS graduation parties, university spring breaks, etc. Hawaii, as our youngest State, still jealously guards what they refer to as their "Home Rule" heritage, and there was a huge fight in the State legislature for a couple of years over the issue. The Feds flatly refused to release their share of the Interstate Hwy. funds until they changed their law. They almost didn't; but in the end they desperately needed the money, so arms were twisted and the law squeaked through. ◄Dave►

  30. It's a little off-topic, but why would Hawaii get any interstate highway funds at all? It's not as though you can drive from there to any other state.

  31. Good question, Doug. I had the same reaction when I first heard it. It turns out that the Interstate Hwy. system was initially justified on National Defense grounds, for the movement of troops and equipment in times of war. Oahu has several large military bases and nice freeways between them. They also have a Senator with lots of seniority. :)

    It is only fair, really. They pay the same Federal motor fuel taxes as mainland drivers. Besides they need them as "moving parking lots." There are many more cars than there are parking spaces anywhere near Honolulu, and if everyone tried to park them at once they simply couldn't. :) ◄Dave►


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