Dollars & Crosses

Obama’s Attack on Free Speech

WASHINGTON–President Obamas first State of the Union address featured a strong rebuff of the Supreme Courts recent decision in Citizens United v. FEC, which struck down restrictions on certain kinds of political speech by corporations.

In his address, the president said: With all due deference to separation of powers, last week the Supreme Court reversed a century of law that I believe will open the floodgates for special interests . . . to spend without limit in our elections. I dont think American elections should be bankrolled by Americas most powerful interests. . . . And Id urge Democrats and Republicans to pass a bill that helps to correct some of these problems.

According to Ayn Rand Center analyst Don Watkins, Obama is condemning powerful interests, while claiming for himself and his colleagues the awesome power to decide who can speak during an election. In Obamas universe, he should be free to use his unmatched megaphone to push his agenda, but a corporation–which is just a group of individuals–should not have the right to speak out in opposition to it.

But the true outrage is Obamas promise to correct the Courts decision. Lets be clear about what this means. The Supreme Court is the final interpreter of the Constitution, the supreme law of the land. It has ruled that any restriction on the ability of corporations to spend money on political speech is a violation of the First Amendment rights of the corporations members. And now, the president of the United States, who is constitutionally bound to enforce the laws of the land, is vowing to ignore and correct the Courts ruling. This is brazen defiance of the rule of law. I should hope that someone tells the president that saying with all due deference to separation of powers does not by itself constitute due deference to separation of powers.

Now, more than ever, we need to protect our right to speak out against government power. Thankfully, the Supreme Court made a significant step toward securing that right.

Bush and Obama Both Put America … Last?

WASHINGTON, September 23, 2009–In a recent statement by top U.S. commander Gen. Stanley McChrystal, he criticized the U.S. military for being “preoccupied with protection of our own forces” in Afghanistan. He wrote that American forces should “share risk, at least equally, with the people” of Afghanistan. What makes our leaders think that they can ever win a war with this sort of philosophy? 

“If Afghanistan now seems unwinnable, blame Bush and Obama,” writes Elan Journo, a fellow with the Ayn Rand Center. “Bush crusaded not to destroy the Taliban but to bring Afghans elections and reconstruction. Obama’s ‘new’ tack is to insist we spend billions more on nation-building and bend over backwards to safeguard the local population. Both take for granted the allegedly moral imperative of putting the lives and welfare of Afghans first–ahead of defeating the enemy to protect Americans.

“This imperative lies behind Washington’s self-crippled war–a war which could have worked to deter other jihadists and their state-sponsors, but instead encourages them to attempt further attacks.

“How many more Americans must die before we challenge this conception of a proper war?”

Is Opposing “Health Care Reform” a Crime?

WASHINGTON, September 22, 2009–The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services recently launched an investigation into an attempt by the health insurance company Humana to enlist its customers to fight proposed cuts to Medicare Advantage. The investigation was initiated at the urging of Senator Max Baucus, who said, “It is wholly unacceptable for insurance companies to mislead seniors regarding any subject–particularly on a subject as important to them, and to the nation, as health care reform. . . . I’m not going to let insurance company profits stand in the way of improving Medicare for seniors.”

According to Don Watkins, a writer for the Ayn Rand Center, “It is painfully obvious–and alarming–that Humana is not being investigated for its ‘marketing’ practices. It is being investigated because it had the gall to challenge the assertions of a member of Congress.

“The implication of Baucus’s statement is that Humana must be investigated for in effect defrauding its customers by misleading them about the nature of Baucus’s proposal. But what did Humana’s ‘fraudulent’ claim consist of? No one disputes the fact that the budget for Medicare Advantage could be slashed under the health care bills now in Congress. The dispute is over the effects this will have. Humana claimed it could potentially lead to some of its customers losing benefits–not an unreasonable view–but Baucus insists ‘The health care reform bill we released . . . strengthens Medicare and does not cut benefits.’

“Think of what it would mean for politicians–hardly notorious for their scrupulous honesty–to be able to punish Americans because our claims about the effects of a proposed law conflict with their assertions.

In a free country, it is not a crime to question the claims of one’s political leaders. If Baucus’s action is allowed to go unchallenged, however, free speech is gravely threatened.”

Individual Rights and the Tea Party Movement

On Friday, September 11, 2009 the Ayn Rand Center for Individual Rights and the Competitive Enterprise Institute held a briefing at the National Press Club for Tea Party Organizers. Perhaps 300 people listened to four talks on the historical, economic, and moral bases of the tea party protests.

My own talk–15 minutes plus Q&A–focused on the need for a moral principle to integrate tea party activities: the principle of Individual Rights. This is America’s Founding Principle–the idea that guided the American Founders, more than any other, to establish this nation, and to create its limited government. About two dozen crowded around me afterwards, wanting more information and asking questions about the meaning of rights.

Here is an audio of the talk:     Press Club 9-11-2009 Rights

The audience response confirms one of my key selling points: when speaking about rights, don’t water down the principle. Speak in clear, unambiguous terms about each person’s right to his own life and liberty, and his right to pursue his own happiness. People today are surrounded with mealy-mouthed slogans, with arguments based on costs, and with claims that success can come only through compromise. People are hungry for a clear statement of a moral principle–because they need guidance on how to understand the many issues with which they are confronted every day.

Don’t argue about incremental steps toward statism–about a 7.5% versus 8% sales tax, about health care co-ops versus a government option, about a carbon tax imposed by legislation versus EPA diktat–for each of these is the same thing in principle. Don’t allow a tea party to be reduced to a series of disconnected issues, approached willy-nilly and without a guiding thought. A tea party without individual rights is not for anything, and cannot have any lasting influence.

The next day, September 12, I had the distinct pleasure of standing near the speakers’ platform at the foot of the capitol steps. I saw a sea of individuals that reached from behind my left shoulder, across my entire field of view, to over my right shoulder–and stretched from the steps of the capitol to beyond the Washington monument. I cannot offer an accurate count of people–where are the overhead images?–but it must have been close to a half a million or more. The signs I saw were almost all hand-written; very few were manufactured, and many decried socialism. I met people who had driven from Detroit, and had come from Nebraska, California, New Mexico and Georgia.

The speakers did not, by and large, offer much intellectual content. This was a rally, and given that most speakers were given only 3 minutes, the overall effect was to boost people’s awareness that they are not alone in their concern for the growth of government power and the increasing attacks on our freedom. There was a rap music group that performed conservative themes, a couple of politicians (Senator Jim DeMint of South Carolina for instance), and a young black woman who argued passionately against an obsessive focus on race. Yaron Brook of the Ayn Rand Center for Individual Rights was cut-off at two minutes, but managed to make the point that your life is yours, that to be the best person you can be is the truly American way to live, and that you are not your brothers’ keeper.

All in all, this was the most amazing public gathering I have ever seen. I do not agree with everything said. I do not agree that religion, which values humility and sacrifice before a divine being, can provide the basis for individual rights. I do not agree that there is any difference between “Give unto the poor” and “To each according to his need.” History shows that the most religious periods–Rome under Christian emperors, the dark ages, Calvin’s Geneva, the Religious Wars of the Reformation, Holy Mother Russia–were defined by stagnation, oppression and warfare. This history was broken only when the American Founders elevated the individual’s self-interested right to his own life into a founding principle, and established a government limited to that purpose.

But the protesters of 9-12-2009 stood by their own energy against the power of the state, and expressed a healthy sense of self-esteem. They demanded that American politicians cease attacking the freedoms of American citizens, and cease adding to the tide of government power that threatens us all with moral, political, and financial catastrophe.

Why Obama’s Supporters on the Left Dishonestly Smear Tea Party Protestors as Racist

Writes Robert Tracinski in “It’s the Liberty, Stupid“:

[…] a major part of Obama’s appeal was his symbolism as the first black president, which was supposed to give Americans an opportunity to put the whole ugly history of racial politics behind them. Yet here we are, less than eight months into Obama’s administration, and the racial politics are worse than they have been in a long time. Within days of Saturday’s giant “tea party” rally in Washington, Obama’s supporters in the press began denouncing the protesters as racists.

[…] The common theme of the signs was individual rights versus collectivism, an advocacy of limited government held to the restrictions placed on it by the Constitution. One of the signs in the photo essay sums up the message of the tea party rally: “It’s the Liberty, Stupid.”

The fact that the tea party had such a clear philosophical message, and that the bogus racism smear so thoroughly evades this message, says a lot about the intellectual confidence of the tea party movement—versus the lack of philosophical confidence on the left. The tea partiers are very happy to have a philosophical debate on the most basic political issues. The left, by contrast, wants to change the subject with personal, ad hominem attacks—which indicates that they are not confident that they can win the debate if it stays on the question of the size and role of government.
[Those on the Left] are resorting to a decades-old politics of racial slander, reflexively accusing any opponent of racism in an attempt to shut down discussion. Racism is one of the worst insults you can throw at someone today, only a few steps up from accusing him of being a child molester.


Washington Bullies American Bankers

WASHINGTON, September 18, 2009–The Wall Street Journal reports today that the Federal Reserve is about to propose new regulations that would give it power to control compensation policies at American banks–including banks that did not receive bailout funds. As the Journal notes, critics have long complained about high executive compensation packages, which have become increasingly unpopular in the wake of the financial crisis.

“It’s understandable that taxpayers think they should have some say in how bailed-out businesses are run, which is one reason why Washington should have never bailed-out those companies in the first place,” says Yaron Brook, president of the Ayn Rand Center. “But why have the critics been so intent on dictating to shareholders of private companies how much they can pay their CEOs ?”

In fact, said Brook, “The critics want to bring down banker’s pay, not because it is economically unjustifiable, but because they view it as morally unjustifiable.”

But, says Brook, “successful CEOs earn their pay by creating vast amounts of wealth. In smearing America’s great wealth creators as villains and attributing their high pay to greed and corruption rather than productive achievement, the critics want us to overlook the virtues that make individuals successful. In demanding lower compensation, despite the wishes of shareholders, the critics aim to deprive them of their just desserts.

“Ultimately, how to pay bankers is a question that only shareholders have a right to decide. But in today’s anti-business climate, it’s vital that we recognize the moral right of successful individuals to huge rewards.”

How the Freedom to Contract Protects Insurability

In “How the Freedom to Contract Protects Insurability” Paul Hseih makes the economic case and moral case for a free-market in health insurance. Here is just one choice quote:

It is true that patients today with preexisting medical problems can have difficulty purchasing health insurance. But forcing insurers to cover such patients is not the solution. On the economic level, such coercion would create many new problems. For instance, under such legislation patients would have a strong incentive to delay purchasing insurance until they got sick, knowing they could not be denied coverage at that time. Why pay for insurance before you need it if you can wait and purchase it when you need it? Thus, many people would simply go without insurance until they needed medical care, at which time they would purchase an insurance policy and receive immediate coverage far in excess of the price paid for the policy. Such laws would legalize plunder.

Required reading.

The Unfairness of “Fair Speech”

WASHINGTON, September 15, 2009–The Supreme Court has recently finished an unusual second round of hearings in the case of Citizens United v. FEC. The case concerns the government’s decision to ban Citizens United from airing a movie about Hillary Clinton during the 2008 Democratic primaries on the grounds that it violated a campaign finance provision in the McCain-Feingold Act. Supporters of campaign finance restrictions argue that by limiting the ability of the wealthy to promote their political views, these restrictions make speech more “fair.”

“What campaign finance supporters call ‘fair’ speech is anything but fair,” writes Don Watkins, a writer and researcher with the Ayn Rand Center.

“Those who acquire wealth through productive activity, whether individuals or corporations (which are nothing more than groups of individuals), have every right to use their ‘louder megaphone’: they earned it. What possible reason could make it ‘unfair’ for these individuals to use their resources to support and further their political views?

“In ordinary speech, ‘fairness’ means justice: getting what you deserve–i.e., what you have earned. But the advocates of campaign finance laws twist it to mean equal results: everyone, they claim, must have ‘equal speech.’ They are speech egalitarians.

“But real fairness demands, not ‘equal speech,’ but equal freedom–not equal megaphones or equal commercial time but the equal right to get your message out as widely as you can given your time, interest, resources, and persuasiveness. But that’s precisely what campaign finance laws prevent, by having government bureaucrats dictate what you can spend, how you can spend it, when you can speak, and what you can say.”

Anti-Capitalism: The Legacy of George W. Bush and The Republican Party

Writes John Lewis in the The Objective Standard:

The administration of George W. Bush, for instance, greatly expanded government power. President Bush doubled the national budget, doubled the deficit, added a digit to the national debt, signed the largest entitlement bill since the 1960s, ordered his cabinet to cooperate in regulating carbon dioxide as a “pollutant,” signed Sarbanes-Oxley, distributed economic “stimulus” checks, asked for $700 billion as business handouts, and never vetoed a spending bill. […] Although no Republican in three generations has defended capitalism in a principled way, Republican rhetoric continues to use pro-capitalist language, mainly to oppose Democrats. Ronald Reagan’s assertion that “government is the problem” continues to resonate among supporters of the free market. However, few Republicans have been willing to face the inescapable fact that the federal budget and debt grew exponentially under both Reagan and his Republican successor, George H.W. Bush. Republican lip service to the free market has muddied the waters and continues to make it difficult for people to see that Republicans were, in fact, throttling freedom under a maze of growing federal controls. Hence there was no uprising against Republicans or their policies.

Following eight years of Bill Clinton, George W. Bush appeared to offer the best hope to regain that alleged free-market, low-tax legacy. Once again, most people did not see that the free-market image of this Republican was a mirage that bore no relation to his actions. This image gained power when Bush was touted as an alternative to his leftist Democratic challengers. This contrast of images obscured the fundamental differences between Bush’s policies and a truly pro-capitalist position. This obfuscation—instigated by the Republicans—deeply confused many honest Americans about the nature of his policies, and caused enormous harm to their understanding of both capitalism and conservatism. This split between appearance and reality—between the image of a pro-freedom Republican and the reality of a welfare-state Republican—made it difficult for people to recognize that no candidate in either party was willing to defend capitalism. As a result, any real discussion of capitalism—properly understood as a truly free market, in which individual rights are protected by the government—was obliterated from public discourse.

Bush fostered his undeserved free-market image with tax cuts that accompanied huge increases in spending and led to enormous deficits. He also appeared to oppose business regulations, even as he approved thousands of pages of new controls (e.g., Sarbanes-Oxley and the steel tariffs). His selective repeal of some rules (such as parts of the Glass-Steagall Act) contributed to the image of a free-market administration that had “deregulated” the economy. He promoted the expansion of huge federally-sponsored entities such as the Federal National Mortgage Association (Fannie Mae), the Government National Mortgage Association (Ginny Mae), and the Federal Home Loan Mortgage Corporation (Freddie Mac) because he wanted to appear compassionate to people who “needed” loans. When the market imploded, Bush proposed hundreds of billions in federal aid, saying “I’ve abandoned free-market principles to save the free market system.”6

The visible result was an exploding welfare state in which capitalism was blamed for massive deficits, for rising health-care prices, for the collapse of Wall Street, for the cost of the Iraq war, and for every other bad consequence of Bush’s policies. The more fundamental, unseen result was a confused American public—a public confused about the very meaning of the free market, liberty, and individual rights, and about what a proper defense of those values would mean. “Capitalism has failed” became the mantra of the left: “We tried it under Bush, and look what happened.”

In his systematic treatment of the philosophy of Objectivism, Leonard Peikoff wrote that “[p]recisely because of their pretense,” conservatives “are the main source of political confusion in the public mind; they give people the illusion of an electoral alternative without the fact. Thus the statist drift proceeds unchecked and unchallenged.”7 George W. Bush is the quintessential example of this point.

Read the rest in The Objective Standard.

9/11: Recommended Reading

End States Who Sponsor Terrorism by Leonard Peikoff (September 11, 2009)
Fifty years of increasing American appeasement in the Mideast have led to fifty years of increasing contempt in the Muslim world for the U.S. The climax was September 11, 2001.

Hatred of Western Civilization: Why Terrorists Attacked America by John Lewis (September 11, 2009)
The hatred of the West is not based on jealousy but on hatred of the good because it is good. Nihilism, the desire to destroy, is why the enemies of freedom fly planes into buildings and blow themselves up with dynamite.

September 11th: Where Have Our Leaders Gone Wrong? by Keith Lockitch (September 8, 2006)
Unable to defend America intellectually, our leaders are unable to defend her militarily.

September 11th: Five Years Later by Edwin A. Locke and Alex Epstein (September 7, 2006)
It is now five years since September 11, 2001–and since that horrific day we have witnessed numerous additional attacks by Islamic terrorists against the West. In the face of a seemingly never-ending supply of suicidal killers, many still do not understand the motivation of the terrorists. Commentators are eager to offer a bevy of pseudo-explanations–poverty, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, etc.–while ignoring the motivation the terrorists themselves openly proclaim: Islam.

Columbus Day: The Cure for 9/11 by Thomas A. Bowden (October 5, 2004)
Columbus Day’s celebration of Western Civilization reminds Americans why they deserve to win the war against Islamic totalitarianism.

Reflecting America: World Trade Center Memorial Should Celebrate America’s Producers by Dianne Durante (September 2, 2004)
The people who worked at the World Trade Center (WTC) were all productive people: they were there to do a job and earn money. They died on September 11 because they symbolized that productivity, not just to millions around the world who aspire to live like Americans, but also to the terrorists who despise all that America stands for.

Diverting the Blame for September 11th by Onkar Ghate (April 1, 2004)
Sept. 11 could have been prevented only by having a principled foreign policy.

1776 vs. 9/11 by Edward Cline (September 11, 2008)
Non-actions also have consequences.

The Health Care Speech Was a Moral Obamination

WASHINGTON, September 10, 2009–In a joint speech to Congress last night, President Obama laid out his plan for health care reform. The president, quoting the late Senator Ted Kennedy, said: “What we face is, above all, a moral issue; at stake are not just the details of policy, but fundamental principles of social justice and the character of our country.” 

“The President and the Senator are right about one thing: health care is above all a moral issue,” writes Alex Epstein, an analyst with the Ayn Rand Center. “Unfortunately, the ‘social justice’ morality behind universal health care is utterly un-American and destructive.

“A proper system of health care, based on America’s founding principle of individual rights, is one in which each individual has a right to pursue health care on a free market of medical professionals and insurance companies. Such a system recognizes each individual’s right to his own life, and responsibility for its preservation–as well as the right of doctors and others to assist the poorest Americans through private charity. The practical result would be the same as emerges in any truly free market: ever better, cheaper products and services for your (health care) dollar.

“Health care is a moral issue. And it should be dealt with via the American morality of individualism, individual responsibility, and individual rights.”