Debate: Which sovereignty should pre-eminent: the State or the Individual? - Granite Grok

Debate: Which sovereignty should pre-eminent: the State or the Individual?

Jim Splaine                             Debate: man to man                             Skip
Jim                                                                                                            Skip

As I said here, Rep Jim Splaine has picked up the gauntlet laid down by me – it should be "interesting" as he is, perhaps, further Left than I am Right.  We have agreed to do the debate here on GraniteGrok (vs bouncing back and forth between two sites).

The Premise: Which sovereignty should pre-eminent: the State or the Individual?

The Genesis:  My Thanksgiving post here.  His response was in the first comment.  To understand this debate, you must read that whole post and his comments.

The Organization:  OK, I’m getting the point – we both "write long".  So either we have to concentrate on just one point w/1 or 2 paragraphs, or I’m going to break this up into a series of posts all linked together.  For now, am going to shorten up" the front page side of this post – majority after the jump.

15. Jim’s last response 12/10/09 (we are going to figure out another format!)

There is no question that we could debate what is "poor" or not for years — in fact, it HAS been debated for decades.  From my viewpoint, if people are in need of help and they have few resources, or they don’t have a job, or their job doesn’t pay a livable wage, and they don’t have health insurance, or they need housing or education, or need food for their family — that is when we as a society should find a way to help them.
It is a role of government to assist those in need.  That’s good for all of us.  About that, we obviously disagree.  It’s not a "conservative" or "liberal" disagreement, nor is it partisan.  Americans of all political beliefs have agreed through the years that there are poor people in this state and nation who need our help from time to time.  There is still room for philosophical disagreement, however.
If we don’t help people when they are in need, they won’t be able to help others as they are in need.  There are those who believe that everyone should be on his or her own — the survival of the fittest — but I would submit that if we adopt that approach, we won’t be the strong nation we need to be in order to meet the challenges of a competitive and threatening 21st Century.  To take on the future, we need a population that is healthy, educated, and strong.  The way we do that is to help one another when we need to.

14. Skip’s response (12/07/09) to #12 – the poor.

At what point is "poor" NOT "poor"?  Start here and here to see my point.  And what is your definition of poor, Jim?  I would posit that our poor would be considered at least middle class by European standards (square footage of living space, nutritional intake) and would be considered the rich by the standards of many developing nations given the material goods they posses.  Here in the US, often the inequality of income defines only the grade/quality of goods possessed.

That, I bet, will get your motor running….

13. Skip’s response (12/07/09) to #12 – education

Er, Jim – you missed my point – there are two phrases out there:

"…every child deserves a public education…,"

which is what I think you are discussing in #12.  My phrase:

"…every child deserves a publicly funded education…,"

has a small but distinct nuance – while we all continue to pay taxes to fund the education of our children,  it does NOT rely or mandate that only the public school system provide that education. Instead, it does rely on parental choice to pick the schools, public or private, that would best suit their child..  True, we have dedicated teachers and staff but my take is that parents will NOT have to rely on just the public system (with the lock down grip of the NEA and AFT). The money would follow the child instead of merely flowing to the public system.

So what is wrong with that, Jim?

12. Jim’s response (12/07/09) #10, #11,

To be briefer with this response, I’ll reply to just two of Skips observations this time.  Skip, about your point that "…every child deserves a publicly funded education…," thanks for agreeing with me.  Despite the shortcomings of our education system, we have hundreds of thousands of dedicated teachers and millions of successful students who go on to become productive, well-educated Americans.  Our education system has some shortcomings, but our public schools are getting better all the time.  By the way, we DO have competition throughout our education system, from daycare centers to private and charter schools, and certainly universities and colleges.  It’s been a Republican right-wing myth that we don’t, generated in part by their desire to be critical of everything-education.
Concerning your observation about "…slums are in the cities…" the reality is that poverty is all over, including in many rural areas, including in New Hampshire.  That slums and poverty exists isn’t because of either the Republican or the Democratic Parties, or the misdeeds of either liberals or conservatives.  It’s a condition that happens in every nation, regardless of government.
We have work to do to be sure that all Americans have some level of health care, housing, education, and nourishment so that they can get out of poverty.  That requires all of us working together, and that is an important role of government — where collectively we work together to solve problems.  Fortunately, we’re doing good things with our public school system, school meals programs, Medicare and Medicare — though it would be good to have Medicare for all so that no one falls through the cracks, and affordable housing efforts.  But that it is a role of government to work in those areas to help Americans and make our country even stronger should be beyond debate.  How would our nation look today if through the past hundred years or so we had ignored those problems? 

11. Skip’s response (12/05/09) to Jim’s #7 (OK!  So he made lots of points in writing long!)

Jim said:

And education is the key for our young people to be able to be prepared for the wonderful things of  the future that today we can only dream of….Education is an "investment," not a luxury.  It is a necessary role of us working together, with our government.

Here is my answer to that:  Every child deserves a publicly funded education.

I believe that, in the vast majority, Parents know better than any Govt  employee what their kids need.  Our present system is a monopoly – and Parents are often on the lowest rungs.  If Jim TRULY believes in what he says, given how badly our present system is educating our youngsters, he’d agree with me.

Most urban school systems have an almost 50% dropout rate; DC is even higher. Let there be competition – let local Govt’s set the standards and then allow the competition to begin among ALL schools to attract the students and the money that follows them.  Studies are showing that when competition begins, lower rated schools improve.  Be a Progressive, Jim, and move forward past the paradigm of the Govt monopoly of K-12.

10. Skip’s response (12/05/09) to Jim’s #7 (in part)

While we do have slums in some cities …That there are so many homeless and so many slums in our country remains a national disgrace. 

I will point out that slums are in the cities.  Almost always (and especially here in the Northeast), those cities with worse slums have had decades of "effective" Progressive / Liberal "leadership" – tell you something?

9. Skip’s response (12/05/09) to Jim’s #7 (partly, to be viewed with my #8)

Another fallacy from Jim (and this time, I shall try to be shorter):

And as society becomes bigger and the complications of life in the 21 Century become greater, there IS more of a need for us to act together — if we are to continue to make America even stronger to face the challenges of continued economic worldwide competition, and the threats of terrorism.  We certainly cannot allow ourselves not to be ready for those who would harm or defeat us.

This stems from the Progressive philosophy from 19th Century that life was becoming too hard and complicated so that individuals were not capable of coping.  The only answer was a Govt that would mitigate that complexity.  I will agree that "we", in terms of national defense (as I said in #8) is a mandatory feature of Govt.  What Jim always stresses is the "we" and "caring" – and then posits that only Govt can successfully combine the two.  This I reject as a rather limiting notion – it conveys the philosophy that we outsource the caring of our friends and family to Govt.  It also shows that doing so renders those receiving Govt care dependent upon it.

Two examples: the elderly on S.S. that only want their "independence" from their families but become dependent on Govt to supply for their needs.  And I will posit, after watching three generations of several families on welfare, that they too, have become dependent on govt.  With little incentives to prod them off, why put in the effort to leave a life where all of life’s necessities are provided?

As the need for dependent care grows, so does Govt. – and lessens Liberty for us all.

8. Skip’s response (12/05/09) to Jim’s #7 (partly)

And now we start to get to the meat of the discussion – and fast:

Government itself serves a purpose — to help, to protect, to encourage all of us to do better, be better, and care for others

Here, Jim truly begins to show the mindset of the Liberal – Govt as an overbearing "Mommy" taking care of her "adult children" that require care. The notion of self-reliance, of individualism, the ability to care for oneself is a vacant one to Liberals.  With that one statement, he transfers control from the individual to the collective – the opposite of what the Founders vision was for this country.

I will agree that Govt is to protect us (after all, it IS one of the first enumerated powers in the Constitution) at the national level.  While Jim has said he wants a "limited
government", his definition just on its face value is not one a Conservative will EVER agree with. What Jim has done is completely define his role of Govt – the Nanny State; fussing over what I should do and what I should not do.

Govt is NOT here to encourage me to be better or to make me better – that is for ME to do for myself.  It is NOT the role of Govt to force me or to coerce me to "care for others" or be nice or thoughtful or any other notion that comes to mind.

What Jim wants is to allow (nay, expect!) Govt to intrude into SELF; to shape my morals, my thoughts, and my philosophy.   That is NOT the role that I see for Govt – that is a function of the individuals that surround me – God, my wife, my parents, my family, and my friends. 

Once again, we see, with not smudged lenses but with laser precision, that Govt is to be an end all for all needs in his phrasing of "and care for others".  Once again I will state, as I have oft done so on GraniteGrok, that this is the LAZY way that Progressives take as I say here:

It used to be that family would help those in need.  It used to be that friends would help those in need.  It used to be that charitable societies would render aid when needed.  Government has pushed them aside.  In essence, distorted the "charitable marketplace" by stepping in where private citizens used to volunteer.

Why Lazy?  Progressives merely think that persuading the politicians that hold the purse strings to spend for their "next good idea" is showing compassion. I hold that it is LAZY in that Progressives, having accomplish this, slap their hands together, walk away.  This value leads to an overbearing

This country was founded on the ideals of Freedom and Individual Liberty; for Govt to do what Jim expects, the individual must be willing to consent to grant that to the Govt.  What the Progressives wish to do, to create an unreachable Utopia, is to take those away.

7. Jim’s response (12/04/09)

As usual, my friend Skip sees the world through finger-smudged glasses.  He should wipe them now and then.

Sometimes he can see through the smudges — for instance, he has joined those of us who for years have defended the public’s right-to-know by supporting transparency in our government.  That required transparency, which by the way was a "liberal" cause back in the 1960s and 1970s — part of the "Sunshine Laws" after decades of government secrecy by Republicans — have opened the books and meetings of government in more ways than not.
Unfortunately, it is true that some people from both political parties and all political philosophies have in recent years tried to do more government behind closed doors, so the cause continues to make sure our government is "of the people, for the people, and by the people."  We’ll continue to team up on that.  The public’s right to know should not be compromised.
But Skip’s glasses smudge up even more — maybe they just fog up — when he talks about "limited government."  I’m for limited government in that I want to keep government out of my bedroom, and away from my basic human rights.  Republicans and conservatives showed even earlier this year that they don’t want me to have those basic human rights.  Many of us fought, and succeeded, in having  marriage equality despite them.
Government itself serves a purpose — to help, to protect, to encourage all of us to do better, be better, and care for others.  Government itself — which IS the collective "we" no matter whether we like that or not — allows us together to do things that are more difficult, or impossible, for us to do individually.

We not need individual castles and moots to protect ourselves because together we have provided for defense of our nation, and we have city and town police departments and fire departments to help each of us when they are needed.  Would we want eliminate any of those common protections?
While we do have slums in some cities, and concentrations of poverty in some rural areas, we do help one another, through government, with meals in our schools for the children of those who have low income, some degree of health care for those who have none, and housing for some of our homeless.  That there are so many homeless and so many slums in our country remains a national disgrace.  But would we "cut" the programs aimed to reduce poverty, homelessness, and hunger?
And education is the key for our young people to be able to be prepared for the wonderful things of  the future that today we can only dream of:  going to the Moon and beyond, solving medical mysteries like eliminating cancer and extending our life spans to over 100, and creating computers that will allow us to do amazing things.  Education will also give our young people the tools they need to face an uncertain future which we today only visit in our nightmares:  stopping dangerous viruses that today we don’t yet know of, keeping terrorism at bay, solving Climate Change or Global Warming or whatever we choose to call it — something "real" is happening out there — and finding a way to feed and house a dramatically growing world population.   Education is an "investment," not a luxury.  It is a necessary role of us working together, with our government.
And as society becomes bigger and the complications of life in the 21 Century become greater, there IS more of a need for us to act together — if we are to continue to make America even stronger to face the challenges of continued economic worldwide competition, and the threats of terrorism.  We certainly cannot allow ourselves not to be ready for those who would harm or defeat us.
And my friend Skip might take his smudged glasses off now and then and pray, and feel he knows "What Jesus Would Do."  But I’m not sure he really can answer my question of What Would Jesus Do?  As Skip observes, perhaps Jesus did attack the government at that time — one that wanted to kill people, crucify people, and hurt people.  But Jesus would, I submit, be pleased about a government — "us" working "together — that helps us to be better, do better, and care for one another.  He probably would still be against capital punishment, as I am.  Skip, will you join Jesus and me on that?  I also think Jesus would support those couples who want to love and care for one another, and will make a commitment to do so.  Skip, did Jesus ever oppose two loving human beings from loving and caring for one another, and making a commitment to do so?
I think Jesus would want all of us to watch out for one another, until it is time for us apply for a place in Heaven, when on that Judgement Day we will be asked not what we did for ourselves as much as what we did for others.
Skip — back to you, and if you’d like I have a good lint-free cleaning cloth for your glasses.  

6. Skip’s response (12/03/09)  #3 more fully

A couple of things:

That’s one of the reasons why I talked with you and Doug months ago on your radio program to defend the public’s right-to-know by putting teeth into our New Hampshire’s Right-To-Know Law.

We DO agree on an Open and Transparent Government ("OTG") regardless of its size with enhanced penalties for those that willing
ly/consistently violate it.  I believe, overall, that it is easier to ensure an OTG when it is smaller as there are fewer places and chances to "hide things".  It is also easier w/a smaller govtto start and encourage a culture of openness (Score a Practical reason for a more limited Govt!)

While our democracy does give all of us a chance to be part of our government, I vehemently disagree that it is an "us / govt / us" relationship – the "we" is not a collective and our society is just not an amorphous "we are the govt and the govt is us; a win-win".  The Founders set up govt to be specific & limited – your vision is one of "sprawl" which is not, by definition, a limited government.  Your description:

but as our society becomes bigger and the complications of life in the 21st Century become greater, there is more of a need for us to act together

is one that is a "this BUT then again" argument – the careless reader might assume you and I are on the same page but nothing could be further as you believe that only a collective GOVT response is sufficient to meet today’s challengers; I do not.

I reject your notion, started by Von Bismark back in the 1880s and brought to life here in the US first by Wilson (and further by FDR), that "life is too complicated" for the Founding vision of "rugged individualism" to succeed (see below, lazy).  Your  communitarian mode is really a repudiation of individual liberty and freedom; from that notion has to spring an ever increasing growth of govt. While we do have common ideas, your degree of "necessary size" is MAGNITUDES more than mine.

OK, Jim – the moment of truth, you say you want limited govt?  Define it! What would you cut (and how much)?

Charity alone cannot accomplish what we need as a society….want all of us working together as our "government"…Government is all of us together being compassionate for one another

HERE is the encapsulation of the differences between Liberals & conservatives.  There is a role for govt – the protection of Private Property, enforcement of contracts, protection of the elements of the Bill of Rights, staying within the bounds of the Founders vision of the Constitution.  Govt should enforce the laws and met out justice to lawbreakers.  Add in basic infrastructure (roads, bridges).

Then get out of the way and let the private mktplace thrive. Much of govt could easily be privatized w/out loss of service, quality, and at lesser cost.

Theologically, you are wrong – Jesus spoke to individuals; to convict, convince, and win individual hearts.  His great example was The Good Samaritan; an individual and not a committee.  Salvation is one soul at a time and not a co-operative venture.  Remember, he DID condemn the "govt" of that time – the Pharisees and the Sadducees which were collective groups – His compassion was for individuals. 

Govt is not and cannot be compassionate – only people can be such.  Compassion is a voluntary act of individual charity to another.  Govts by definition are not charitable – they cannot give to one except by taking from other involuntarily.  This IS one of the primary differences between Conservatives and Liberals:  Liberals have conflated, wrongly, the role of govt and that of individuals.  While govt is BY us, it is not US. The role of govt is justice (not "social justice"); people then have the freedom to be compassionate and charitable.

Frankly, in this regards, Progressives are lazy – they rely TOO much on govt doing everything for them instead of doing on their own or in groups that voluntarily band together, accomplish a goal, and then disband.  Instead, the M.O. is to persuade a few politicians that hold the purse strings that an idea requires money from ALL taxpayers, get them to vote for it, and then feel good as those Progressives walk away. 

MY, we are getting wordy….methinks we have to concentrate on just one thing per response instead of several.   Jim?

5. Jim’s response (12/02/09):

Those whom you call "a small group of elites" are actually elected citizens who, in our representative form of government, make laws for the "common good" within the confines of our constitutions — the United States Constitution and the New Hampshire Constitution.  I know that some people on the right enjoy offering their own interpretations of the federal and state constitutions, but we have courts to decide that, and so far those laws on the books which provide for the common good have been considered constitutional.  Those that are not constitutional have been, from time to time, thrown out by the courts.  That’s the balance of powers that we have in our society.
I can well assume that from your anti-government, government-does-nothing, government-knows-nothing, government-serves-no-purpose viewpoint, there are many things that we do on the state and national levels that you don’t think we should do.  I happen to believe that government does good things.  Noble things. Not always, but usually.  Government IS people, it’s not just some thing or machine.  It is an institution in which all of us in this democracy can get involved to be sure that we, together, serve that "common good."  It’s not much unlike the very same kind of government that our Founding Fathers lived under so long ago.
Perhaps you want to get specific and explain which laws or budgetary spending is not for the "common good," and let’s discuss those.  I can assume I might agree with you on some things, but instead of just being general or theoretical, let’s look at each of the areas of public services that are determined by our elected representatives to be for the "common good" that you don’t like.  "Cut government" just doesn’t cut it.  Let’s get specific.  Let’s talk about how those areas of public services help people.
In fact, let’s talk about those people, and their needs.  Defense?  We need that.  Roads and highways? — if we’re to have interstate commerce, we need those.  Education? — if we don’t have a smart society, we have a society full of crime, and a weak, non-competitive economy.
How about health care?  That’s a hot one debated heavily by conservatives right now who say we as citizens have no "right" to health care and that the federal and state governments have no constitutional right to provide it.  If it wasn’t for Medicare we would see a lot of our older citizens die miserably.  If we didn’t have Medicaid, we would see many very low income citizens die early.  And I would contend that if we had health-care-for-all, or "Medicare For All" as one of my heroes, the late Senator Ted Kennedy called it, we would have a stronger, healthier nation better prepared to take on the challenges and very real threats of the 21st Century and beyond.
All those matters are in the "common good."  That’s not a failed philosophy.  That’s the American way, and a good way to protect our nation in these times of uncertainty.
As to our Founding Fathers (how come there aren’t any "Founding Mothers" too? — oh, they couldn’t vote, could they?), I haven’t talked with any of them so I don’t know what was really in their mind.  I do know, however, that they left some of their philosophies and their words in our federal and state
constitutions, which have through the decades been interpreted by Supreme Courts — which are created in our constitutions as arbitrators of interpretation — as allowing government to provide services for the common good.  And since government is the people, and we are a nation of laws, I’m quite comfortable in placing my trust in the good judgement of the people who vote, in our democracy, for our representatives.
And as to God, I have little idea what He would decide on these matters of state and decision-making, but I do ask myself now and then, "What would Jesus do?"  My answers usually are that Jesus would like us to love one another and care for each other, so that leads me to support marriage equality.  I believe He would appreciate that we look out for one another, so I can support housing for the homeless and school lunch programs for the hungry.  And my faith tells me that He would welcome vigorous discussions like this, as long as it’s civil.  He might even have a chuckle while watching it.  


4. Skip’s response – the challenge (11/27/09); additional response to 1. (and a wee bit to 3.)

You are championing a failed philosophy of the "common good" that is defined by a small group of elites, continue a policy of punishing those that have succeeded in life, that know better how to spend someone else’s money than that person himself.

In this, he shows the Progressive ideal in Politics:

One’s Rights are mere at the behest of the State and not, as enumerated in our Founding Fathers and in their simply elegant Founding Documents, derived from God.  Further, it is moral to take, via the coercion of the State, not just that treasure to run a minimal Government but to extend that Government so as to simply give to those that have not earned it.

Further is the attitude that voluntary charity, from one human being to another out of a sense of compassion and love for their fellow human being, is insufficient and no match for the nitpicking rules of a faceless bureaucrat doling out other peoples’ money; the victim’s needs outweigh the right to private property of the taxpayer.

In short, God and the individual have no standing, only the State.


3. Jim’s response (11/29/09)

Skip — about "sharing," I think we just differ on the role of government. I view "government" as people — it’s us, working together and collectively, to do those things that we as a society need to accomplish. In a democracy, each of us has a chance to help decide what our government looks like and what the government does for society. That sounds to me to be a win-win.

I share your view that we should have limited government, but as our society becomes bigger and the complications of life in the 21st Century become greater, there is more of a need for us to act together. Whether it’s fighting terrorism, making sure we have an educated and healthy citizenry, assuring that businesses and corporations don’t exploit labor, and helping our economy with good roads and highways, we have a lot of common interests. I certainly want to keep government within limits.

That’s one of the reasons why I talked with you and Doug months ago on your radio program to defend the public’s right-to-know by putting teeth into our New Hampshire’s Right-To-Know Law. I also want to keep government out of our lives by making sure that it doesn’t create discriminatory practices, so I worked for marriage equality this past year with that in mind — so that same-gendered and differently-gendered couples will be treated the same.

Charity alone cannot accomplish what we need as a society. A certain level of health care for all, education for all, some kind of housing for all, food for all, and our common defense in a challenging and threatening 21st Century will in the long term make America a stronger nation. I think that is necessary for our future.

It’s the American way to help one another. That’s where I ask, what would Jesus do? Yes, He would want individuals to come forward to help their fellow man and woman and child. But I think He would also want all of us working together as our "government" to do the same thing. Each of us can be compassionate toward one another. Government is all of us together being compassionate for one another.

2. Skip’s response (11/26/09):      

Sharing – a voluntary action on behalf of the giver to the recipient. I do believe in sharing – as a Christian, that is what I am called to do. The Progressive’s version of "sharing" is merely enacting more and more taxes to enforce sharing. If I am forced, under penalty of law, to relinquish that which I have earned, how is that voluntary? Forced contributions is not charity – there is nothing voluntary about it. The problem, Jim, as Dr. Brooks’s studies show, is that as taxes are raised, voluntary donations ($ or time) go down as the attitude becomes (as in Europe has found out) "why should I donate – Government already does it via my taxes?". Society operates better when we all take self responsibility for ourselves, and then reach out, as individuals, to each other.

Government can never be "compassionate" – only people can. Remember, Jesus spoke to individuals, calling each to redemption and service and laid upon them the call to redemption and service individually – not to Government. That is the lesson

1. Jim’s Comment (11/26/09):

Even a conservative should believe in sharing the bounty. Having a society of The Haves and the Haves Not is never an answer for survival — that’s just survival of the fittest. I’m reminded of the question, "What would Jesus do?" When we help one another, we help ourselves. Happy Thanksgiving.