Sunday, December 21, 2014

Further Thoughts On The Bush III Candidacy

A republic in which executive and legislative authority are conferred by popular election has several characteristic weaknesses. Perhaps the worst of these is its susceptibility to glamor and its bastard cousin demagoguery.

We confronted a clear case of political glamor in 1960, when John F. Kennedy, despite strong evidence that Democrat machines in Illinois and Texas had stolen the election for him, was elevated to the presidency. The electorate, charmed by the boyish Kennedy and his beautiful wife, sat still for it. Richard Nixon, who by rights should have been elected, decided not to unleash a tumult by raising a row over it. Kennedy’s 1963 assassination and the ascent of the utterly unglamorous Lyndon Johnson seemed to put the matter beyond question.

The Kennedy glamor might have given us a second Kennedy presidency with the candidacy of younger brother Robert, were it not for his assassination in Los Angeles, just after his successful California primary campaign. Fortunately Edward Kennedy’s attempt to follow his brothers’ tracks was derailed by the Chappaquiddick incident, forever barring higher office than United States Senator to him. Yet Ted Kennedy acquired wildly disproportionate influence in national politics that lasted until the day he died. Indeed, when Scott Brown won the Massachusetts Senate seat thus vacated, it caused widespread consternation that “Kennedy’s seat” should be occupied by a Republican.

The Bush presidencies haven’t exhibited the glamor associated with the Kennedy family. Yet there’s an important similarity there: the promotion of a specific political family as a preferred source of persons fit for high office. That sort of dynastic succession is not unprecedented: it first occurred with John Adams and John Quincy Adams, early in the history of the nation. But never before have we had to ponder the possibility a father and two of his sons in the Oval Office. It’s causing frowns and misgivings even among those whom Jeb Bush’s articulated policy stances strike as perfectly congenial.

“I smell a rat. It squints toward monarchy.” – Patrick Henry

Henry, the most impassioned, most gifted orator of the Founding Era, disliked the proposed Constitution specifically because of the office of president, which he believed would gradually absorb powers never intended for a single man’s hand. He saw in the Constitutional design a well-concealed plot to strip the sovereign states of their latitude, such that they would eventually become mere administrative subdivisions subservient to Washington’s policy dictates. The presidency, in his view, was the linchpin of that plot: the locus at which all power would eventually be concentrated.

Whether or not he was correct in positing a conspiracy to create an American monarchy, Patrick Henry accurately predicted the process that followed the ratification of the Constitution. He was more foresighted than any other scholar of his time – or afterward – proved to be.

In our time, the president has been demonstrated to wield de facto powers the Founders probably did not intend. The Constitution’s separation of powers appears to prevent such a concentration of power in the White House. Indeed, the powers allocated to the president are very few and stringently defined. They include none of the pseudo-authorities presidents have wielded since the Roosevelts.

The acceptance of usurped authority in the presidency and the creation of an immense, unaccountable bureaucracy that exercises executive, legislative, and judicial powers nowhere contemplated in the Constitution have nullified the Founders’ design. At this time, there is no longer an effective separation of the powers of the federal government. More, the immense glamor of the presidency combined with the powers exercised by federal bureaucrats has made it difficult at best for the state governments to resist violations of the Tenth Amendment: i.e., usurpations of powers reserved to the states. All effective power to direct those immense forces lies in the hands of one man: the current occupant of the Oval Office.

We cannot get any closer to an actual monarchy without explicitly declaring one.

If you’re unaware of the Constantian Society, it’s worth your time to become acquainted with it. The Constantians are the world’s last promoters of monarchy as the most preferable form of government. Their arguments are not absurd. Indeed, in our time, when elected governments do more harm and villainy than any king ever managed in the history of Man, the Constantians have important points to make:

Modern experience shows that kings generally rule better, not worse, than do presidents, due to the practical circumstance that a king is born to his office, is trained all his life to be king. A president must spend half his time learning his job, the other half preparing for the next election in an attempt to keep that job. His loyalty is to many sometimes competing constituencies all of whom combine to help him get elected. The king is a genuine professional, an expert in state craft. His constituency is his whole nation, and he serves that constituency with polished professionalism. As Archduke Otto observes, in all walks of life the fully qualified, trained expert is rated more highly than the gifted amateur; knowledge and experience may often outweigh sheer ambition.

Monarchy provides the stability which is essential to the solution of major problems. In a republic, whoever is in office must achieve a positive success in the shortest possible time, for otherwise he will not be re-elected. This urgent need, the constant spectre of re-election, leads to short-term policies which cannot cope with problems of worldwide scope. A king faces no elections, and is able to make long-term plans and policies, for the duration of his reign, which is his lifetime, and for the hereditary succession. A monarch, too, through the vestiges of that misunderstood Divine Right and because of his symbolic paternal role, faces a higher responsibility than a professional politician; Prince Norodom Sihanouk of Cambodia told the Society in an interview, "The duty of a king or of a prince worthy of the name consists of remaining true, under all circumstances, to the noblest and most legitimate ideals of the nation to which he belongs."

The justification of the hereditary succession is not only in the professional upbringing of the future king, not only in the continuity of a line, although these are important factors, but in the fact that an hereditary ruler does not owe his position to any particular social or interest group, but rather to divine will alone. This is the meaning of "by the Grace of God" - the ruler is not an exceptional person, but rather a person with an exceptional burden, extraordinary obligations, a great task. The formula "by the Grace of God" is a constant reminder to the sovereign that an accident of birth, and not his own merits, was responsible for his position, and he "must prove his fitness by ceaseless efforts in the cause of justice," as Archduke Otto says. John Adams, one of the redoubtable Founding Fathers of the American republic, said that "Mankind have not yet discovered any remedy against irresistible corruption in elections to offices of great power and profit but making them hereditary."

A king is much freer than a president, in that he is not tied to any party, as a republican leader invariably is. The king does not owe his position to a body of voters or to the support of powerful groups; the office of a royal ruler is based on higher law, his power derives from a transcendental source, whereas a president is always under someone's very earthly debt. It is probably impossible to become the president of a republic without immense financial and organizational support of certain groups, and a president bears too heavy an obligation to those who really put him in office. A president is not truly president of all the people, regardless of what the electorate may think, for he is president first of all the groups which enabled him to attain office. There is a very real and constant danger that a republic will cease to safeguard the interests and rights of all citizens when the highest positions become the privileged domains of the groups which placed a president in office.

There’s some justice in that. Surely we have seen elections steadily converted from sober consideration of the characters, intellects, and convictions of candidates to outright slander-fests in which each contestant does his best to ruin his opponents’ images. Surely we have experienced enough deceit, corruption, graft, porkbarreling, unconcealed patronage, and general skullduggery by elected officials to have been shorn of our illusions that an election will reliably choose the best man for a post. Yet our Constitution and our traditions have foreclosed the monarchical alternative. Besides, there’s the characteristic vulnerability of monarchies to deal with:

The greatest danger of the monarchical system is that an incompetent might succeed to the throne. This danger, however, is not restricted to monarchies, for incompetents and worse (consider Warren Harding, Adolf Hitler, Ayatollah Khomeini, Fidel Castro, Idi Amin, Muammar Qaddafi, Saddam Hussein) have been popularly chosen or otherwise come to power in republics. During the Middle Ages, it was always possible to replace an unsuitable successor with a more suitable one, and the system has not entirely disappeared: King Saud of Saudi Arabia was essentially deposed by his family, and replaced by his eminently capable brother, Faisal. Any decision as to the suitability and competence of a successor by primogeniture should preferably be left to a dynastic tribunal, which would be empowered to change the order of succession, if necessary, or to require a regency.

Given that pithy observation, what American family would be qualified to assume royal status?

“Do you favour a change of dynasty, Thomas? Do you think two Tudors are sufficient?” – Cardinal Wolsey, in Robert Bolt’s screenplay for A Man For All Seasons

It is a multiply confirmed historical fact that a group that acquires power will struggle with all its might to retain it. When it reaches a certain continuity in power, the only effective method for its removal is bloodshed. Whether the group is a political party, an oligarchy of unrelated individuals, or a family bound by blood relations is utterly irrelevant.

At this time, we have the unprecedented spectacle of a third member of a prominent American family presenting himself to the nation as a candidate for president. That’s not a bid for royal status for the Bush clan...that is, not quite...but it comes pretty close. But if we reflect upon the Bush I and Bush II presidencies, would we choose their clan for our American royalty?

Paterfamilias George Herbert Walker Bush (Bush I) proved unreliable in office. His most memorable default was reneging on his promise not to permit a tax increase. Yet there were several other defections from the Reaganite positions he had promised the electorate he would maintain.

George Walker Bush (Bush II) began well and ended poorly. Though the military campaigns he begin in Afghanistan and Iraq began brilliantly, both deteriorated under the pernicious influence of “nation building” ideas absolutely incompatible with Middle Eastern cultures. The handoff of those campaigns to Barack Hussein Obama has merely dramatized the extent to which we snatched defeat from the jaws of victory, essentially by refusing to accept the victory we had won as the proper terminus to our armed expeditions. The rest of Bush II’s tenure was characterized by excessive deference to the Left under the guise of “compromise” and “working together.” Even his foreign policy toward the increasingly threatening regime of Vladimir Putin was far too trusting.

Beyond all question, Bushes I and II are fine people. There have hardly been any presidents personally more admirable than Bush II. But theirs is an outlook and a character best suited to wielding their individual and family resources only, not those of the nation. Let them start foundations, flack for noble causes, and exhort us to greater charity and reverence. They must not be permitted to become the founders of an American royal house.

The Constantian argument could well be correct; I admit to being torn over it. Yet only two nations – post-revolutionary France and post-Franco Spain have attempted the selection of a clan to act as their royalty. It’s a problem our republic has never faced...nor, given the attitudes and generally low character of our politicians, their families, and their hangers-on, would we want to face it any time soon.

The Bushes, though they might be the best of the available alternatives, are not suitable monarchs for these United States.

Just Say No...To Jeb.


Dr.D said...

I have long had monarchist sympathies, but every time I get enthusiastic about it, I look at the UK. Charles (the Idiot) is enough to cure anyone of supporting monarchy (or almost enough). His personal life is an endless scandal and his public statements are embarrassing. No wonder his mother cannot die or retire!

To be really effective, the monarch must be stronger than most constitutional monarchs are. Not too long ago, in one of the tiny duchies of Europe, the monarch (Prince, Duke, or whatever his title is) was opposed to abortion on demand. His Parliament simply went around him, passing legislation to first make his approval unnecessary. Thus his blocking abortion on demand was circumvented, and the people got their wished for evil.

But a more powerful monarch, one that can not simply be bypassed, frightens folks for obvious reasons. Thus, I am afraid we are stuck with what we have.

RichJ said...

Interesting post today, Fran. It has provoked me.

Regarding the monarchy, ultimately there will be one I think, but the ruler hasn't arrived yet. No one is certain when He is coming, but when He does arrive, He will kick some ass when he gets here and then teach those left that show some promise how to stand up straight and fly right.

Needless to say, today's pretenders attempting to control us sheep with bread and circuses, graft, corruption, lies, and other abominations haven't a clue. While I believe we are all sinners, there are degrees. I think Miss Barnhardt's axiom regarding those seeking office unfortunately applies here. Is there any hope for human government? Do you see anyone or any group that can fix it? I would say no... unless by some circumstance all of us can fix ourselves. We are all truly to blame for this mess.

This brings me to your quote of Patrick Henry. It made me try to recall the founder's quote regarding a virutuous people being a requirement if the republic is to survive. I didn't find that one, but did come across this site that has numerous quotes from various founders and commentators of the day. It seems that the problems and concerns then are the same as we see today (Eccl 1:9).

From, consider these four:

1) “The moral principles and precepts contained in the Scriptures ought to form the basis of all our civil constitutions and laws. All the miseries and evils which men suffer from vice, crime, ambition, injustice, oppression, slavery, and war, proceed from their despising or neglecting the precepts contained in the Bible.” – History of the United States, Noah Webster, ed. (New Haven: Durrie & Peck, 1832), p. 309, paragraph 53

2) “If thou wouldst rule well, thou must rule for God, and to do that, thou must be ruled by him… Those who will not be governed by God will be ruled by tyrants.” – William Penn, Founder of Pennsylvania, 1668 (Penn was imprisoned for writing this tract.)

3) “The great pillars of all government and of social life [are] virtue, morality, and religion. This is the armor, my friend, and this alone, that renders us invincible.” – Letter to Archibald Blair, January 8, 1799; Patrick Henry, Moses Coit Tyler ( New York: Houghton Mifflin Co; 1897), p. 409

4) “If religious books are not widely circulated among the masses in this country, I do not know what is going to become of us as a nation. If truth be not diffused, error will be; If God and His Word are not known and received, the devil and his works will gain the ascendancy, If the evangelical volume does not reach every hamlet, the pages of a corrupt and licentious literature will; If the power of the Gospel is not felt throughout the length and breadth of the land, anarchy and misrule, degradation and misery, corruption and darkness will reign without mitigation or end.” – 1823; Daniel Webster, Every Christian a Publisher, Ernest Reisinger, Free Grace Broadcaster, Issue 51, Winter, 1995, p. 17

These guys have it right. What IS heartening to me at least is that these problems are not new ones and there is a manual for them. It took me most of life to finally realize that.

Pascal Fervor said...

Was this what you were looking for Rich? “Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.” -- John Adams.

I've seen several writers only mention the Adams' "dynasty." There is another.

No, not that the Roosevelt's don't fit exactly because they were cousins (though their perspectives, both elitist Prog, appear to be familial).

The Harrisons. The first Ben was a founder, then William was our 9th President. His son died before advancing to higher office, but his grandson Benjamin was our 23rd. Anyway, I think it fits the meaning of a dynasty even if its occupants did not live long enough to establish their mark.

RichJ said...

Pascal, that is the one... John Adams... quite right.