I recently read a newsmax.com article (California Becomes Fiscal Basket Case) summarizing California’s fiscal woes that included an observation from USC professor Kevin Starr that “California is on the verge of becoming the first failed state in America.”
Recounting the history of California’s current woes, the article notes that “Had California lived within the limitation imposed under the 1979 Gann Amendment, which limited the growth of spending to the rate of economic growth, some analysts say the state would be in a far better fiscal situation today. But former Gov. George Deukmejian allowed exemptions to budget items, such as education, before leaving office in 1991, which began the state’s current fiscal trend.” With this permission from a Governor wearing the label that supposedly represents fiscal discipline, “California’ spending increased 180.9 percent between 1991 and 2001, and the state budget ballooned from $51.4 billion in 1991 to $144.5 billion during the past fiscal year, according to the Reason foundation.”
In recent months California pols have belatedly and desperately tried to medicate the state’s economic ills with a dose of spending restraint. “Under the budget deal Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and the Democratic-controlled Legislature cut this summer to close California’s $26.3 billion dollar budget deficit, billions were slashed from the education budget, and 60,000 state employees were slated to be sacked.”
Asked about all this, Grover Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform, chimed in with the silver lining: “The one thing that comes out of this is that California can be an example of what not to do for the rest of the country.” Sadly I wonder if Mr. Norquist would include in his list of things to be avoided, the election of a pro-abortion, pro-gay “rights” governor touting the Republican brand name, who wooed support from conservatives with half-hearted promises to implement fiscally responsible spending policies.
Like a lot of principled conservatives around the country, I supported then California state Sen. Tom McClintock, not Arnold Schwarzenegger, in the special election to replace Gov. Gray Davis back in Oct. 2003. At the time, McClintock combined proven and experienced fiscal conservatism with an equally proven commitment to carry out the moral understanding that demands respect for God-ordained natural rights (including first of all the unalienable right to life) and the prerogatives of the God-ordained natural family. On the other hand, somewhat successful comedic actor Arnold Schwarzenegger (his other movies delivered action, not acting) combined a proven record in the profession of physical narcissism with an equally proven commitment to Hollywood’s profoundly superficial but politically correct ethical code, which combines the profitable stupefaction of sex and violence with occasional bouts of self-congratulatory altruism.
The circumstances of the 2003 special election eerily foreshadow what may be the national political situation in 2012. A Republican’s (Deukmejian) surrender of conservative principle unleashes a Democrat imposed era of unsustainable growth in the size and expense and outstanding debts of government. The inevitable shortcomings of this era offer Republicans an opportunity to reclaim political leadership. Will they choose an alternative that offers proven fiscal conservatism combined with moral principle (McClintock) or the half-hearted promise of fiscal conservatism combined with moral surrender (Schwarzenegger)?
Right after the general election last year Donald Kent Douglas offered an excellent analysis of electoral realities which suggest that when it comes to a truly conservative political choice Grover Norquist is exactly right: California provides a good example of what not to do. In his article Douglas points to “a useful three-fold scenario” offered by “political scientist Marvin King in the Clarion-Ledger. He thinks the Republicans might focus on a ‘Sarah Palin and Mike Huckabee’ path to power; they might seek a path in a ‘Grover Norquist/Club for Growth’ agenda; or they might seek a route that ‘goes west’ – that is, a moves in the direction of Arnold Schwarzenegger.” In the electoral analysis that follows, Douglas rightly rejects the Schwarzenegger model. But he limits his analysis to political facts (which groups of voters might vote for which of the alternatives). He therefore neglects to consider whether any of these three alternatives has a substantive logic true and persuasive enough to shape voters’ convictions. To produce a political result that will actually restore the integrity and strength of American liberty, Americans need to rediscover the deeply reasonable convictions that were the foundation for the integrity and strength of American liberty. Without this restoration of freedom’s creed, the 2012 election will just decide which bunch of self-serving politicos presides over its final interment.
Each of the three alternatives falls short of what is needed, and for the same reason. The logic is missing. The Grover Norquist/Club for growth “fold” most perfectly represents this deficiency. They rightly champion fiscal restraint, low taxes and in general the idea of limited government that has been the key to implementing the constitutional sovereignty of the people. But while pretending to deal with the practical requirements of successful limited government, they neglect a simple, very practical truth often reiterated by those who framed, and then argued for, the adoption of the U.S. Constitution: There can logically be “no limitation of a power destined to effect a purpose which is itself incapable of limitation.” (Alexander Hamilton, Federalist #31)
James Madison later (Federalist 51) alludes to the general purpose of all government when he first asks “But what is government itself, but the greatest of all reflections on human nature?” and then observes “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.” Government owes its existence to a purpose imposed by the human tendency toward behavior that selfishly violates right and justice. Without restraint, this tendency leads to perpetual conflict and disorder. Given this purpose, unrestrained human viciousness implies unlimited government power.
But restraint may be internal or external. Madison alludes to angels as the archetype of perfect internal restraint. That presumably puts devils at the opposite extreme, with human beings somewhere in between. If as Madison suggests, angels require no government then devils require the maximum application of government’s restraining power. But if Hamilton is right, this means that limited government makes no sense when dealing with devils. It is only necessary and appropriate when dealing with human beings. Humans have a tendency to behave like devils, but oftentimes have the will and desire to behave like angels as well. (Rather like the bad boys and girls who go off to Hollywood. There they play at being destructive, self-indulgent devils, all the while longing to be the angelic saviors of the world.)
The difference between men and angels is not that angels are good and men are not. It is that angels are perfectly good, while men can only strive to be. For human beings, perfection (whether of good or evil) is always a work in progress; a question of acting according to a model or standard of perfection, rather than fully attaining that standard. (The wisdom of Christ suggests this duality. We strive to be perfect even as our heavenly Father is perfect. But we pray as those who always miss the mark (sin) and must beg the Lord’s forgiveness.) Limited government depends on the extent to which people, in their overall behavior, approximate the standard without having to be constrained by government force. The more they act out their unruly passions, the more untenable limited government becomes.
What is it that keeps some people who profess to be proponents of limited government from accepting this simple, practical fact? Their alliance with those who seek to defend the God ordained standards of right conduct should not be a matter of electoral calculation. It is a natural and logical necessity. Someone like Arnold Schwarzenegger cannot be a consistent champion of limited government (and therefore of conservative fiscal policies) because his acceptance of ‘political correct’ moral anarchy contradicts the practical prerequisite of limited government. The more people lie, cheat steal and kill, the more pervasive and heavy handed the police powers of government must become. The more people seek sexual pleasures without regard to the responsibilities of procreation (childbearing and rearing) the more intrusive the caretaker role of government must become. The more people seek and indulge in stupefying pleasures (drugs, sex and rock n’ roll) the more government dictation (in health care as well as other economic sectors) must compensate for their indolent, selfish and counter-productive habits (like sloth and overeating for example.)
It is a self-evident and self-defeating sham to champion limited government, feign moral indifference, then give real support to moral licentiousness and collapse. Inevitably, the rhetoric of limited government must surrender to insistent and ever increasing demands for government action, until the possibility of just government is swallowed up in a maelstrom of economic/social bankruptcy and confusion. As part of the United States California may for a time postpone the worst effects of the maelstrom. But like Gov. Deukmejian, President G.W. Bush abandoned conservative principles, pushing the bank bailout that opened the door to Obama’s debt financed spending frenzy. So the U.S. now stands at the edge of a national version of California’s ills. Electing a national version of Schwarzenegger’s deadly ‘moderation’ will no more allay the coming storm in the U.S. than it did in California. Tragically for all of us, the storm probably portends the reemergence of age old tyranny, albeit armed with new technology for repression. This the Obama faction eagerly prepares to impose.
Does the proffered Palin/Huckabee fold of the “three-fold scenario” promise a really different result? I’ll be thinking about that in my next posting.