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December 03, 2005


Wild Pegasus

Soul-crushing boring. Heh heh, I spent the last summer doing state insurance law. I would call my buddies up and read them the statutes over the phone for shits and giggles. God knows I didn't get out much.

- Josh

jon corzine

In studying history, in particular the history of Western Europe in the centuries prior to the American Revolution - as well as the evolution of political philosophy in the 17th and 18th centeries - one becomes informed of the influences that shaped the "founding generation". Without re-examining every detail in the collected works of Madison, Jefferson, Hamilton, Adams, and Washington, it does seem fairly clear that these thinkers dreaded absolute power and placed no trust in the individuals or groups unfettered by the rule of law. For this reason they created divided government and proscription of powers, checks, and balances.
Their foresight and fears were prescient - as within a decade of the Constitution the excesses of absolutism were on vivid display in the reddened streets of Paris, where government had succumbed to Rousseau's doctrine of the "General Will", better known today as "The Will of the People". My suspicion is aroused whenever I head a politician use this phrase, as in, "We must continue to recount until we ascertain the will of the people".
The presidency, that institution which executes the laws (not the abstract will) is but one in a triumvirate of power. Keep in mind what power actually means in reality, on the ground, in peoples real lives. It is the power to coerce, to enfore. The Founders knew from the hard lessons of history that this power to coerce has to be held in very tight check.
We know the history of the Republic - the tensions between centralism and the periphery. During this period the power of the presidency waxed and waned, but mostly towards greater power - especially in periods of war. The big change came in the 1860's, when Lincoln and the Republicans defied the Constitution in order to save it. Lincoln himself said as much as defending the suspension of the writ of habeus corpus, supressing dissent, arresting and exiling opposition politicians (in the North) and supressing the Maryland Legislature. Not to mention sending armies into the suceding states. These acts will be debated forever - but the point here is that the power of the presidency was enhanced, distorted and exaggerated in ways that changed it forever.
From the 1860's onward, the original seperation of powers and equal co-governance has been dramatically altered, resulting in the very concentration of power (ability to coerce) which the creators of the Constitution sought to gaurd against.
With every successive war, the occupant of the White House has grasped more power. The Twentieth Century has seen the further consolidation of power in the Executive, augmented by the new phenomenon of celebrity, which is just a reincarnation of the old phenomenon of allegiance to the strong man or cult of personality. What used to be a nation of citizens in the model of the ancient Athenians, has been eroded by war powers, emergencies, propoganda, and usurpations into a mass population of quasi-citizen consumers, largely misinformed, easily manipulated and reduced to being brain-washed into believing that democracy and freedom is about voting every four years between two guys in a decision about who you dislike least.
Either way, with each election and subsequent ratification of legitimacy the presidency gathers and almost omniscient power. From the modest and humble servant, the citizen-soldier George Washington, we have arrived at the great Father of the People, or if Hillary gets her way, Mother. Just behind the facade of geniality and overt empathy sits the agents of coercion and enforcement: a personal army, FBI, ATF, Secret Service, IRS, NSA - which dwarfs the praetorian guard of any tyrant in the history of the world. We have become accustomed to Executive usurpations, so much so, that they have practically taken on the force of law in practice.
But there is a reason for mirth this Yuletide season. The United States may or may not be the last best hope for mankind; history is long, and civilizations come and go. But right now, along with a handful of democracies with viable institutions in Western Europe, its all we've got. There are many reasons to fear trans-national corporations, ruthless tycoons and financial despots - but ask yourself, where is the greatest concentration of power? Who holds the power to tax, to coerce, to confiscate, to emprison, to conscript, to wage war?
The Founders knew well the lust of power in the human heart and understood the government institutions needed to be held in strict control. We have allowed things to get way, way out of control.
When I hear justice, journalist, pundit, or lawyer talking about "determining the intent of the voter", or "looking for the will of the people", I hear echoes of a thousand feet on the cobblestones of La Place de la Concorde, and the shrill of metal slicing into flesh.......

R.J. Lehmann

But...wouldn't that be YOUR flesh, Mr. Governor?

Bob Detlefsen

I was with you until I got to the part where you embellish your misery by describing the southern California beaches just outside your hotel.

You're at the NAIC winter meeting, right? In Chicago in December, right? (Even in southern California, it's well past bikini season, though I did enjoy the picture). Having been to more than a few NAIC meetings, it wouldn't surprise me if you started hallucinating after the first day. You have my sympathies.

Bob Detlefsen

Whoops -- disregard my previous post. I scrolled down a bit and now realize you were reporting from the NCOIL meeting in San Diego, so the California beach reference makes sense. But if you thought the NCOIL meeting was bad, you really ought to try an NAIC meeting sometime. They're even more painful.

R.J. Lehmann

No, no, I lucked out of that one, and I'm actually back in D.C. now. I *was* at the NCOIL meeting in San Diego. A very different animal.

Kevin O'Reilly

Dissing the NCOIL meeting? For shame!

Anyway, isn't that God invented laptops for? Take it with you to the beach!

Kevin B. O'Reilly

I agree with Mr. Detlefsen. NAIC meetings are worse than NCOIL meetings.

R.J. Lehmann

Oh, no arguments here. I've experienced both and NAIC meetings are WAY worse. The NCOIL meetings also tend to choose much more sensible locations, like Southern California in the late fall, South Florida in the late winter, and Newport in the summer. While the NAIC will opt for, say, Chicago in December and Phoenix in July.

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