Thursday, April 16, 2009

Bradley Rees at the Lynchburg Tea Party

Saith Bradley, about the 3:00 mark:
While the old addage of “strength in numbers” holds true to a certain extent, it is imperative for us to keep this one simple point fresh in our minds: this is a nation of INDIVIDUALS. THIS is what we are rebelling against tonight. This idea of “the collective.” The smallest minority on Earth is the individual. And every single politician that stands before you and proclaims it your moral duty to “contribute” to some “common good” is engaged in hyperbole to promote the same end: discrimination against you, that smallest of all minorities, the individual taxpayer. Forcible confiscation of the fruits of your labor is not “contributing.” And to foist upon you that line about the “common good” is the height of arrogance. Who decides what “good” is “common?” And by what right? What’s good for you and your family may be decidedly bad for someone else. (emphasis mine)
While the rest of Bradley's speech laid out his calls for political engagement (vote, talk to people, run for office) and his four campaign issues (Fair Tax, 10th Amendment, controlling lobbyist influence, and the return of a servant political class), I was disheartened to hear Bradley critique one of Rep. Perriello's campaign themes: the Common Good.

Rep. Perriello's belief that America is stronger when we stand together stems from his social justice and Catholic upbringing. Found throughout religious history, this teaching is especially pronounced in the life and ministry of Jesus, and, in Christian terms, the Common Good is a relational and communal ethic premised on the Golden Rule. Let me, humbly, quote Jesus in Matthew 7:12 (NRSV):
In everything do to others as you would have them do to you, for this is the law and the prophets.
Also check Luke 6:31, Tobit 4:15, and the Wisdom of Sirach 31:35. Simply, Jesus teaches us that Christian discipleship calls us to a higher standard. This discipleship calls for us to give our coat when someone is in need, to walk the extra mile, to help our neighbor, the widow, the child, the sick and imprisoned, the oppressed, and the least among us. This is not a denouncement of the individual, but a belief that we are stronger, more loving, more Christian, when we serve in common purpose. Bradley, it is not a politician saying this, but in orthodoxical terms, our Lord and Savior.

And yes, while the Constitution does establish individual freedoms, the Preamble of the Constitution does articulate the bonds that tie the citizens of the United States together:
We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.
From the Framers of the Constitution, Bradley, here is the Common Good.


A Faithful Reader said...

Great analysis Drew, and some very nice reminders of where our liberties come from. The common cause is the cause of freedom.

uberprof said...

Nicely stated.

Max said...

Good deal sir. I've never understood the kneejerk reaction against working together.

I also find it a little inconsistent when they talk about individualism on the one hand and the need for them all to stand together on the other hand.

CWPNRG? said...

So, in order to work toward the Common Good, the Framers established the Constitution, and in it, they delineated things that could and could not be done. If the Framers looked down today and saw that the Congress had appropriated my tax dollars for swine research, they would be shocked - they would not consider swine research for the common good.

The Framers, mostly Christian, some Deist, all moral, opposed the government taking on the role of private charity. James Madison said, "The government of the United States is a definite government, confined to specified objects. It is not like state governments, whose powers are more general. Charity is no part of the legislative duty of the government."

He was later echoed by Virginia's own William Giles, who said that Congressmen should not "attend to what generosity and humanity require, but to what the Constitution and their duty require."

One Davy Crockett said: "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 appropriate a dollar of the public money."

Somewhere we migrated from an attitude of private charity to an attitude of public charity, an attitude that the Framers would surely declare unconstitutional.

Why? It goes back to Locke's ideas of property. If I have put labor into something, it becomes mine, and no man can take that from me. So I have worked and I have gotten money for my labor. That money is mine, and the government cannot take that from me to give to someone who did not labor for it, unless I consent.

We consent to that taking (to taxes) when we agree to abide by the social contract. Our federal social contract is embodied in the Constitution, and it provided limited things for which the government could take my money. Roads. National defense. Coining money. Things necessary and proper to the execution of such powers (yes, that includes a central bank, I'm not that extreme).

Not swine research. Not tsunami relief, worthy as that is. The American people proved that they were more than capable of donating to the Red Cross for tsunami relief without the government helping. Certainly not bailouts or stimulus packages or a walking trail in Boydton (I'm looking at you, Virgil Goode) or shrimp research off Galveston Bay (I'm looking at you, Ron Paul).

This does not mean that I'm opposed to the government working for the Common Good. I'm opposed to the federal government working for this conception of the Common Good.

Going back to the Madison quote, he recognized that state powers were more general. So if my state social contract allows for public charity such as what Giles and Crockett and Madison were against, then that's fine by the social contract. If Virginia's constitution guarantees a living wage, then by gosh, we'd better redistribute enough income so everyone has a living wage.

But the federal social contract doesn't do that. It leaves things very broad and general, and it kicks charitable powers back to the states in the 10th Amendment.

This is why people like Bradley are riled up. They see the federal government as having run away from the social contract as embodied in the Constitution. The Constitution doesn't let the feds take my taxes, the fruit of my labor, and give it to someone who didn't labor for it. (It does allow the states that possibility.) But with every bailout, with every stimulus, that's what's happening.

Cite for quotes:

CWPNRG? said...

The link at the bottom failed to work, let me try again.

CWPNRG? said...

Looks like we're going to tinyURL.

Jesse said...


I think you provide a pretty eloquent and deep case for fundamental political conservatism.

Why I disagree with this is that I fundamentally believe that there are areas of common good where the government is capable of doing a better job than the free markets or private entrepreneurs. Swine research is a perfect example of ordinary pork, and I certainly won't make the case for that specifically...but there are areas of scientific research, for example, that can dramatically help society and that would suffer for funding without government support. Even so, not all of these would be justified in receiving federal funding - but if you find some projects where the benefits greatly outweigh the costs, then I think they should be strongly considered.

I also worry that items like "swine research" are used essentially as a straw man argument, and allow conservatives to avoid discussing issues that are less obviously wasteful. Not all government programs are either national defense (which obviously should be state-run) or swine research (which clearly is questionable). What do you think about education? What do you think about healthcare? What do you think about support for veterans, seniors, the unemployed?

I believe that in all of these cases, if the government steps away entirely, then not only do you get unacceptable levels of inequality - you get cyclical inequality, where a child born into a family that has fallen through the social safety net has virtually no chance of getting further ahead. This goes against two of our strongest creeds as a nation: that "all men are created equal," and the American Dream of being able to get ahead if you put in the work. As a result, equality of opportunity is a fundamental part of the American founding philosophy - and one that frankly cannot be promoted without the support of our government.

Our debates should be about which areas we think the private citizenry can do better than government. I think there are many of them, but there are also places where this is not the case, and in many of those cases I think the government should be involved. CWNRG, you seem to agree, but think there are many fewer places where the government has the right to intervene. I'm glad to feel that, in a space like this, the two of us could have an honest and open discussion about the benefits and dangers of giving various powers to the U.S. government. I wish there were more places where I could say the same thing.

matt said...

"A government big enough to give you everything you want is a government big enough to take from you everything you have." - Gerald Ford

matt said...

Drew - those are great scripture quotes, however, what do you think Jesus would think of a federal government that takes money from certain citizens based on an arbitrary classification system that says those citizens can "afford it" and gives that money to people who by another arbitrary classification system "deserves it"? Would he consider that a faithful example of the golden rule, or stealing?

I think this is a perfect example of using the portions of the Bible when it's convenient to prove a political point, while avoiding other parts of the Bible that could possibly disprove the point.

Jesse said...

...uff, I should stop posting after 2AM. I have a tendency to rant even more than usual.

Anonymous said...


I HAD planned to write a rather lengthy comment, taking your argument apart piece by piece, but I see CWPNRG? has covered that nicely. (Thank you! Spot on!)

So I will limit my comment to this:
I read the verses you suggested in your post, and they speak to the point of charity and compassion in a very poignant fashion. I noticed one thing, however. In none of those verses, nor any others I could find in my concordance that dealt with the subject of charity, could I find one instance where Jesus placed a gun to the head of a single follower in order to force them to give of themselves (which is what our governments do, routinely, in the name of the "common good").

If you happen to find even one such Biblical passage, please let me know. :D


Anonymous said...

CWPNRG says it best. But, I want to add that it's a problem for me when scripture is mixed with Constitutional Law. While I like the idea (because scripture always makes "common good" sound less "socialist"), it hearkens to a Christian nation. And, then, we're back to the argument on whether this nation is Christian or not again.

On the other hand, I agree with you, Drew. I'm not of the mindset that everyone who needs help is a slacker. In fact, 250,000 Vietnam vets still don't have a place to live (ie: homeless) in this country. Vietnam! How many years have we had to remedy that situation, and it's ongoing. It's more popular to give to a tsunami victim from across the world than it is to look in our own backyards. One reason for this is that most Americans with money do not want problems like homeless people in their backyards, so they don't see the problem to begin with.

I wish it were true that Americans who have money were willing to give 10 percent or more to help people who cannot fend for themselves for various reasons, but surveys over the past twenty years have shown that nonprofit organizations see a dip downward in income when the government doesn't include those programs in its budget (oops! socialism again...).

It all comes down to this: no matter what you believe and how selfless you think you might be, those attributes are rare in humans. When it comes down to what the "I" wants, "I" will fight for it. If "I" want a union because they'll fight to raise my pay as a supervisor, you can bet "I" will fight for Unions. If "I" don't see any sense in swine research, then "I" will fight against it. No matter that swine research has increased as a result of regulatory pressure on other large animal species, but also because swine are recognized as a suitable animal model for human disease based upon their comparative anatomy and physiology. If everyone donated their bodies to science when they died, perhaps there wouldn't be a need for using swine. But, I recognize that full-body donations might be against some religious beliefs...

Locke had it right..."If I have put labor into something, it becomes mine, and no man can take that from me." That's human nature in a nutshell, IMO.

CWPNRG? said...

"What do you think about education? What do you think about healthcare? What do you think about support for veterans, seniors, the unemployed?"

Education, I think from the beginning, has been recognized as something that can be private or public. ( The important thing is that kids get educated. It's my belief that state and local governments can best make education policy.

Healthcare: We got on for 200 years without government healthcare and we can keep getting on without it. If you want a look at what gov't healthcare would look like, check out the VA. It's a mess.

Veterans: We've always treated veterans differently, so I'm a fan of veteran benefits from the government.

Seniors/Unemployed: I believe that state and local governments can handle these issues best.

Anonymous said...

Education: In this country, education was private and largely unorganized until after the Civil War, when mass education became a project of the Reconstruction (Republican movement). It was not compulsory nationwide until the 20th century. Today, education is mostly provided by government, state and local funds and even private schools must meet government standards for education.

Health care: Churches basically took care of health needs and social work within colonial communities, both north and south in this country, until after the Revolutionary War; but even today churches often take care of their congregational members. During the 19th century, fraternal organizations helped to take care of their members with the first group insurance policies. Actually, umbrella policies did not exist until after the 1950s. While the government hasn't been involved with citizen health in the past (except with veterans), neither has the insurance industry been that involved in citizen health until the past century. The main goal of insurance, initially, was to protect shipments of goods and buildings and their contents.

Veterans: Yep, always did treat them differently. With every war, it was different. Veterans had to fight for their pensions until WWI. Sanitary surgery wasn't thought of during the Civil War and wasn't available until well after that war - in fact, it was U.S. Army Major Walter Reed who proved in 1900 that yellow fever was (and is) transmitted from mosquitoes. You pointed it out, CWPNRG - many times VA care stinks and I agree. But, I know of many instances where the VA has saved lives, including two members of my immediate family.

PS - the first home for Confederate vets was established in Richmond in 1884 - this was a Republican decision, too (Grover Cleveland, the first Democrat to gain presidential office since 1856 - before the Civil War - was elected this same year). "The home was under the Dept. of Public Welfare until it closed in 1941, upon the death of the last resident." (see

Seniors/Unemployed: I have friends in Australia and London who can take time off work without fear of losing a job or of losing health care. They get to travel, relax, enjoy their families and their elders. If a state handled my retirement plans, what would happen if I decided to move to another state? What would happen if I died in a different state?

As for elders, I plan to work until I can't work, unlike my grandfather and father who both at least enjoyed a retirement and a pension (although the government - meaning the taxpayers - are paying for my father's pension today, because the corporation he worked for went bankrupt. When did that pension get transferred to the government? In 2002, when President Bush was in office).

Ah, well, Social Security. That was developed in 1936 under the New Deal by Franklin D. Roosevelt, Democrat. According to the White House site (, "By 1935 the Nation had achieved some measure of recovery, but businessmen and bankers were turning more and more against Roosevelt's New Deal program. They feared his experiments, were appalled because he had taken the Nation off the gold standard and allowed deficits in the budget, and disliked the concessions to labor. Roosevelt responded with a new program of reform: Social Security, heavier taxes on the wealthy, new controls over banks and public utilities, and an enormous work relief program for the unemployed."

Roosevelt believed in the "good neighbor" policy, which is interesting, as it's much like the "common good" idea. While Roosevelt was re-elected, Social Security has become mismanaged and a joke. I'll give you that. But, it's helping me because it's helping my parents stay afloat (along with the pension).

Finally, Medicare and its companion program Medicaid, (which insures indigent recipients), were signed into law by the Democratic President Lyndon Johnson as part of his "Great Society." That program has grown into a monster as well, with many elderly unable to understand or fill out those forms (much like taxes these days).

Your points are salient, but when history is brought into the picture, it seems clear that social programs were developed during very difficult times. Their development was equally shared by both parties. Those programs helped at times and they become cumbersome in others - and, at least in one case mentioned above - the program was eliminated because all the people who benefited from it eventually died.

I'm grateful for what few social programs the government does provide for my family. Those programs have saved two lives and they have kept my parents afloat so I don't have to support them during a time when my kids are in college (yes, on grants, loans and scholarships). I hope that my kids (or my parents) never have to go on Welfare (like I did for six weeks to my utter embarrassment) and I hope that they will be able to afford medical treatment or insurance (like I can't - although I work ten hours a day and I don't consider myself poor).

I don't have answers. And, I do know that "social" programs have their problems. Shoot - look at what happened during Katrina. My friends in that part of the country never would have made it without help from local churches and neighbors. But, on the other hand...a social program might help dismantle the tent cities that are growing around the country. Maybe one that's planned for your backyard.

Jesse said...

I should add on education:

In many cases, locally-developed policies and policies with strong private involvement are some of the strongest policies. But unfortunately, although the best education programs are developed this way, local and privatized programs also lead to some of the worst failures.

Examples of good locally-developed, privately-connected policies: charter schools with strong community involvement and accountability, pay systems like Denver's ProComp, the Harlem Children's Zone.

Examples of why local and private policies can be some of the worst failures: segregation pre-Brown v. Board, treatment of disabled students pre-ADA, tremendous school spending gaps in states that rely on local taxes to fund local schools, for-profit charter schools who care more about money than about educating students.

The federal government is capable of providing rules that can prevent some of the worst outcomes (e.g. banning segregation, mandating equal funding for women's programs, providing funding to help underfunded districts reach an adequate level of funding, and, as NCLB was intended, creating standards to establish a minimum level of acceptable school quality). It is also capable of misguided policies that put unreasonable constraints on schools and teachers. And none of this stuff is cheap. I suppose I'd classify the federal role in education as "necessary but imperfect."

I don't think you can include a history lesson about federal vs. local vs. private education policies without mentioning the unacceptable outcomes that have occurred when the federal government hasn't intervened.

I think this can also be said about a lot of other issues - healthcare, for instance, works well privately for many people, but there are also millions of people who are unable to attain affordable, private health insurance. That's not acceptable - in this country of equality of opportunity, the idea that a single accident or illness could ruin the lives of an individual or an entire family is deplorable. The current system isn't addressing that, I don't think it's reparable without a stronger federal role.

Anonymous said...

"I don't think you can include a history lesson about federal vs. local vs. private education policies without mentioning the unacceptable outcomes that have occurred when the federal government hasn't intervened."

You're correct, Jesse. One such example off the top of my head is the fact that many companies ignored early child labor laws until - I believe after about five years into those labor laws - the federal government intervened to make education compulsory for children under age ten. I'm sure there are many other examples.