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Opening Arguments

American dreams

President Obama said something at his town hall meeting that I think is very revealing, both about his own political essence and about the ideological jungle we're all hacking our way through:

And by the way, I think most people understand -- because I spent two years running around the country talking about my life and why I was running for President -- they understand that I was the kid of a single mom, and I got my education through scholarships, and I lived in a small apartment with my grandparents, and they were helped by the G.I. Bill and FHA in terms of being able to climb into the middle class.

The whole reason I ran was because my life is a testimony to the American Dream. And everything that we've been doing since I came into office is designed to make sure that that American Dream continues for future generations.

Now, the president also talked about personal responsibility and our dynamic private sector, so I can be accused of taking his remarks out of context, but I think it means something when he juxtaposes "American Dream" with all that federal aid that helped his relatives "climb into the middle class." He really does see things that way -- that the chief purpose of government is to give to those who lack, which means first taking from those who have. His "redistribution of income" remarks have not been slips of the tongue. To Obama and those who think like him, the American Dream is about what you have, not how you got it.

There has been much angst lately about the great divide in American political life, with a lot of commentators wondering why we can't "all get along" and find some common ground. It's because we have core values that are almost -- not quite, but almost -- mutually exclusive. We either see things through the prism of freedom or the prism of equality, the two dynamic forces always in tension in our republic. Those of us who have one of those core values will give in somewhat to the other side -- freedom will admit to a basic safety net for the most vulnerable, equality will tolerate the need for the private sector to actually create the wealth that's passed around -- but we're also in the grip of the "never give 'em an inch" mentality. The more equality we have, the less freedom; the more freedom, the less equality. That's just the way it is.

My core value always has been and always will be freedom, because with it, everything is possible, and without it, nothing is. And if greed is the dark side of liberty, I'll accept that. The dark side of equality is envy, and that seems to me a far uglier quality.


Bob G.
Wed, 09/22/2010 - 8:34am

VERY well said...kudos to you, sir!

tim zank
Wed, 09/22/2010 - 10:28am


Wed, 09/22/2010 - 11:40am

So given the choice between

a.) a society that does at least some minimal working together and contributes to help improve every member of that society


b.) Fuck You, I've Got Mine(tm)

You're going to swing as far as you can to (b.) while couching it in terms of some sort of "core values" (as you define those values.)

Well said, indeed.

Leo Morris
Wed, 09/22/2010 - 11:47am

Those aren't the choices, though. As I said, each side will bow somewhat to the other side, and considering how much your side has been on the ascendancy, forgive me if I want to sound a little strident for my side. How far are you willing to go, exactly, as you "swing to" the "I'm going to take yours" view? But thanks for making my point that there's little inclination to see the other side's values.

Andrew J.
Wed, 09/22/2010 - 12:00pm

But your side was in ascendancy for a longtime, and the stridency continued unabated (meaning our side's values weren't really listened to either).

Wed, 09/22/2010 - 12:08pm

I think your talk of "values" is a smokescreen, and therefore not anything to be seen.

"My side" isn't even on your radar yet, Leo. I'm pretty sure we don't even have a cohesive name at this point. But that's an entirely different discussion, once we get past your apparent need to put people in a neat little box that you can comprehend.

(And really, you disagree with the G.I. Bill? Donating a good portion [or even the entirety, if you're not lucky] of your life to the defense of the state, with the state helping you pay for college in return? Take that "federal redistribution of wealth" away, see who you have left to fight wars in the middle east and maintain the security of the energy supply we depend on, for instance.)

The current administration, in any case, has tried to make some changes that I would have agreed with. But then it promptly neutered them and we still have a mess.

As for "I'm going to take yours:" It's still really "cooperate and contribute as a society." Nobody can "take yours," as you are still entirely free to leave this society and take what you have with you.

Even the things you got while benefiting from the federal programs you disagree with so much.

tim zank
Wed, 09/22/2010 - 12:23pm

Obama's words are indeed telling. His version of the American Dream, after gaming the system his entire life, is based upon all he could "get" from the government. He believes with all his heart that government is there to take care of everyone like a parent, as do most younger Americans (and left over hippies) anymore.

Andrew J.
Wed, 09/22/2010 - 12:33pm

But Tim, that "government" there to "take care of everyone like a parent" is us, isn't it? Isn't government made up of everyday Americans from all incomes and walks of life, and the elected representatives are the people we elect to speak for us/share our visions and views? If that's the case, isn't "government" doing our bidding? I mean, isn't that what representative government stands for? Or are you on the fringe looking in, wishing you were governed by some other form of governance?

Andrew J.
Wed, 09/22/2010 - 12:34pm

You also talk of government as made up of aliens. It's made up of neighbors, yours and mine.

William Larsen
Wed, 09/22/2010 - 1:11pm

Here is a good way to characterize the debate.


"My papers say that last winter you voted for a bill
to appropriate $20,000 to some sufferers by a fire in
Georgetown. Is that true?"

We have the right, as individuals, to give away as much of our own money as we please in charity; but as members of Congress we have no right to so appropriate a dollar of the public money. Some eloquent appeals have been made to us upon the ground that it is a debt due the deceased. Mr. Speaker, the deceased lived long after the close of the war; he was in office to the day of his death, and I have never heard that the government was in arrears to him.

No, Colonel, Congress has no right to give charity. Individual members may give as much of their own money as they please, but they have no right to touch a dollar of the public money for that purpose. If twice as many houses had been burned in this county as in Georgetown, neither you nor any other member of Congress would have thought of appropriating a dollar for our relief. There are about two hundred and forty members of Congress. If they had shown their sympathy for the sufferers by contributing each one week's pay, it would have made over $13,000. There are plenty of wealthy men in and around Washington who could have given $20,000 without depriving themselves of even a luxury of life.

The Congressmen chose to keep their own money which, if reports be true, some of them spend not very creditably; and the people of Washington, no doubt, applauded you for relieving them from the necessity of giving by giving what was not yours to give. The people have delegated to Congress, by the Constitution, the power to do certain things. To do these, it is authorized to collect and pay moneys, and for nothing else. Everything beyond this is stipulation, and a violation of the Constitution.

So you see, Colonel, you have violated the Constitution in what I consider a vital point. It is a precedent fraught with danger to the country, for when Congress once begins to stretch its power beyond the limits of the Constitution, there is no limit to it, and no security for the people. I have no doubt you acted honestly, but that does not make it any better, except as far as you are personally concerned, and you see that I cannot vote for you. "NOT YOURS TO GIVE"

Wed, 09/22/2010 - 2:10pm

So, you object to scholarships for promising young students? Do you understand that you subscribe to a view that virtually no one else shares?
Yeah, I know. So did Galileo. Sir, you're no Galileo.

john b. kalb
Wed, 09/22/2010 - 5:05pm

"Small place to take a pee": My answer is NO, but witrh the understanding that the student aid scholarship is given with private dollars NOT AS A GRANT FROM THOSE WHO PAY TAXES!!!!!!!! Our Northeast Indiana Engineer's Week organization gives Academic Achievement Awards each February to 20 to 26 engineering students. Every dollar of these awards comes from engineering society members and local businesses that hire graduate engineers. (As of last February, over 50 plus years, almost $1 million has been given locally)
From what I have heard about Obama's scholarships, they were mainly at "public" expense. Leo's post is talking about these, not ones like those given out by local engineering groups.

William Larsen
Thu, 09/23/2010 - 9:13am

If you are smart enough to go to college, you are smart enough to figure out a way to pay for it.

It always amazed me when I was in college how many students thought they should not have to pay their way. There are many ways to pay your way and when these were brought up, the same reply came back: I don't want to join the military and have to wait four more years to graduate; I don't want to delay my graduation by working three years to save the money; I don't want to work my way through college taking fewer classes and delay my graduation; College should be free like public schools.

Another person

Andrew J.
Thu, 09/23/2010 - 9:18am

So William, I guess you oppose your tax dollars paying for public elementary and high schools as well. Let them pay their own way!

Bob G.
Thu, 09/23/2010 - 2:23pm

I'm just opposed to "entitlements" for the lazy-asses.
Let them EARN it...the way everyone else does in ordetr to get what THEY want.

And tax dollars for PUBLIC schools is fine...AS LONG AS you PROPERLY use the money to raise student achievement, and NOT create all those "programs" meant to stroke their little self-esteems...

But I'm just one of those people that believes in PERSONAL responsibility...and ACCOUNTABILITY - fopr EVERYONE.
(silly me).


William Larsen
Thu, 09/23/2010 - 8:49pm

Public schools are a strange and very misunderstood entity. With K-12 children are given an education that is worth starting today at about $6,500 a year per student. By the end of 13 years, they have amassed a huge debt to society. Many believe that those who do not have children should not have to pay for K-12. Many retired say their children are out of school, so why should they continue to pay.

Think about how schools are paid for? First a bond is issued to pay for the building. Teachers are paid, pensions are earned and maintenance costs begin. Schools were paid for mainly through property taxes. Renters paid rent, the owner paid the property tax. The owners raised the rent to a sufficient level to pay the property taxes, so the renter is the source of the property tax. For the most part nearly all parents pay some form of property tax (direct or indirect).

If each parent were to pay for their child's K-12 cost each year, they would have to pay a combined (property, local, state) tax of $6,500 a year or more for each child. This is a pretty steep order when property tax average $1,500 a year and 65% of it goes to K-12. So it is unlikely that many of us pay for our children's education in the year they attend.

The way the system was set up was to accrual the cost and when the child graduated would pay for their education starting at age 19/20 and over the course of the next 65 years would pay sufficient taxes to pay for the debt of their education. Maybe this is what they call "Pay it forward."

Now with the change in the way schools are funded, many seniors are getting off the hook for their K-12 education.

If no kids were in school today, the only cost we would have would be paying of the bonds for schools. In fact we might be able to sell the property and lower the level of bonds.

When people speak about school vouchers for those who do not go to school, this would eliminate many parents from ever paying back their education costs. One way might be to allow vouchers to those children who attended non public schools so that they could pay back their parents.

I had an interview with Case years ago and was asked what I thought about ISO 9000. I stated that it does not ensure you make a quality product. It only helps you set up standards by which you do the same task the same way over and over. If you have a bad design or process, you will consistently make bad product. The VP of engineering looked at me with shock. I had been the last to interview for this position. His look informed me that I had just wasted ten hours on a plane and two days all within the first five minutes. After a minute, the VP began to smile and said you are absolutely right. You are the first person to have ever said that to me. When I arrived home late that night, my wife relayed a message to me stating the VP was very much interested in having me come work for them. What does this have to do with K-12? School standards like ISO do not ensure a quality education nor guarantee that the correct information is being taught. In fact, Standards like Indiana significantly reduce the overall knowledge of known material because instead of teachers teaching what they think students need to know (diversifying education) we end up with everyone being taught the same thing. What happens when we are all taught the same thing?

Why do companies higher different people, to get different talents and experience? There is so much information out there, why are we allowing a few to decide what is to be taught and how?

tim zank
Fri, 09/24/2010 - 9:29am

Andrew J. Says:


Andrew J.
Fri, 09/24/2010 - 10:11am

The reality, however, isn't quite what you make it out to be, romanticizing elected representatives at the start of our country vs. now.

From author John Armor, who argues for terms limits, research shows:

Reelection rates have risen, but not sharply. In the first 102 years of our history beginning in 1790 (the second election), the reelection rate in the House was 82.5 percent, overall. In the first 13 elections, 1790 - 1812, the average reelection rate was a very modern number of 93.7 percent.

In the next 50 years, extending into the 20th century, it was 82.7 percent, overall. In the most recent 52 years it was 90.5 percent, overall. For the entire second 102 years, it was 86.7 percent. So, comparing apples and apples, the reelection rate in the second fifty-one House elections was only 4.2 percent higher than in the first fifty-one elections.

Maybe politicians stay in office, like your Mark Souder, because he's a Republican in a Republican district who voters wanted to represent them and take advantage of all the perks he brought the district because of his seniority. It was only personal scandal that got him to leave.


tim zank
Fri, 09/24/2010 - 12:12pm

AJ, From your very same source (you neglected to include the next paragraph)

"This modest increase in the reelection rate cannot account for the large increase in average tenure of congressmen.

The other factor, ordinarily overlooked, is the decline in "voluntary quits". Members who simply decided to go home, rather than run again, used to account for more than two-thirds of the turnover in every election. The lack of "voluntary quits" accounts for more than two-thirds of the drastic increase in average tenure. Rising reelection rates and declining voluntary quits are both necessary to create the present level of careerism in Congress.

I think you newspaper guys call that "selective editing" don't you?

Andrew J.
Fri, 09/24/2010 - 12:41pm

No selective editing. As the article states, voluntary quits are one factor but not the only one. From the beginnings, most members who got elected to Congress stayed there. As the article states, for the first 125 years, 35 percent of the members of the House retired before every election. Meaning 2 of 3 stayed to serve their country.
You really believe two terms and your out benefits the constituent? Why does experience count in every other career as far as providing more bang for the buck except in Congress? You want a doctor with 20 years doing open heart surgery on you, or someone who's four years removed from a residency?

tim zank
Fri, 09/24/2010 - 1:04pm

"You want a doctor with 20 years doing open heart surgery on you, or someone who

Andrew J.
Fri, 09/24/2010 - 2:04pm

That would be some kind of government, lol!

William Larsen
Fri, 09/24/2010 - 11:12pm

I stated in my campaigns that if a problem or issue was not successfully fixed, that we needed new legislatures. In fact I went a step further stating that there is no single representative that is an expert on every issue. There are many individuals in this country who have expertise in one particular area that is far superior to that of the representative and their staff. Is is these people we need to elect so these individuals can lead us through the issue and fix it once and for all and then leave for another person to take their place to fix the next problem.

What we have are representatives who do not care about fixing problems, for if they did, they would be out of a job. They love mixing it up and in this way they can state "they tried, but it was the other party" that messed it up. Too many politicians go to Washington with the intent of passing a new program to help some disadvantage group before they address the problems that have been plaguing us for decades.

I am in 100% agreement with Tim.