Conservatism


Independence Hall

By: Brian Sikma

As Americans gather with family and friends across our great nation to celebrate the greatest of our national holidays, it is a good time to reflect on where we as a people have come from, and where we are going. Nothing will stifle the possibility of our future success as a nation as much as a careless ignorance of our past. Similarly, a knowledge of our heroic and vivid history will inspire us to dream bigger dreams and tackle still greater challenges. History is not created in a vacuum.

Perhaps the greatest dream that we can have is to preserve this liberty that we enjoy so much today. The process of preserving and perpetuating liberty is not passive, but active. It demands a consistent series of actions on the part of individuals and local communities. It is a trust that should obligate every man, woman, and child in our country. It has been often said, and it cannot be said too often, that freedom is only one generation away from extinction. If anything, recent political and social developments remind us of just how fragile our experiment is.

When our founding fathers solemnly covenanted with one another and the millions of people looking to them to expend their “lives, fortunes, and sacred honor” in the defense of independence, they were standing for something far greater than themselves. Personal comfort and economic expedience all argued staunchly against independence. But deep in the soul of each man who, in effect, signed his own death warrant by signing the Declaration of Independence, was an unwavering commitment to a higher law. This higher law was referred to as “the laws of nature” and it declares that rights flow from the Creator, not a king, Parliament, or charter.

As Americans survey the landscape around them today, and see an ever expansive government attempting to become a social safety net for every individual, organization, and business, they should be skeptical about the direction of the country. Our present leaders have wondered from the path trod by our founders, and by the millions of everyday Americans who followed in their footsteps and forged our land. By simply returning to that path, that course of liberty lighted by freedom’s unfailing flame, we can once again return to a better day.

Just as our founders declared independence from England in 1776, we in our day must declare a new independence from the all-encompassing grasp of big government. This second declaration of independence must be preceded, or at least accompanied, by a great spiritual reawakening. Setting the stage for the political revolution of our founding was a nationwide awakening towards private virtue and deep spiritual values. A return to first principles in the public sphere must be paralleled by a return to individual virtue and personal responsibility.

Unless we understand the moral questions of what is right, what is wrong, why absolutes matter and why our rights are not universally true because an international body happens to say so, a return to first principles will be a futile exercise. We must commit now to building not a facade, but a strong structure with a sure moral foundation. The construction of this foundation is preeminently a personal, and not public, endeavor. To preserve liberty in our day, we must return to political first principles and personal responsibility coupled with individual virtue.

Editor’s Note: This was originally published in this morning’s edition of the Muncie Indiana Star-Press.
 
By Rep. Mike Pence

The Fourth of July is a time of great tradition across Indiana. It means watermelon passed around the family picnic table, communities gathered together at parades and blankets laid out on freshly cut grass to enjoy fireworks displays.

And so it should be. As President John Adams wrote of the first Independence Day, “It ought to be commemorated as a day of deliverance by solemn acts of devotion to God Almighty. It ought to be solemnized with pomp and parade, with shows, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires and illuminations from one end of this continent to the other…”

We would be remiss if we did not take time, as individuals, as families and as a nation, to commemorate and reflect on our independence. Today we celebrate that day over two centuries ago, when America stepped out from the shadow of tyranny, and founded a government “of the people, by the people and for the people.”

We remember the courage of our founders, who took this stand in the face of the most powerful empire in the world. And we pay tribute to the sacrifices made in places near and far by the men and women who have worn the uniform to defend the freedoms we enjoy.

America’s love of freedom is deeply ingrained in our nation’s history. We live and breathe the cause of liberty. Freedom is at the very core of an American spirit that is alive and well today.

We have seen it at tea parties, town hall meetings and gatherings across America. It is a force in America great enough to redeem our national government and reaffirm our revolutionary ideals.

This Independence Day, let us take to heart the decree of our second president. Let us celebrate our great gift of freedom with pomp and parade and the joy that befits a free people. Let us also commemorate this day with thanksgiving to God for the liberty and blessings we enjoy in our great nation.

Mike Pence represents Indiana’s Sixth District in Congress.

By: Brian Sikma

A well-meaning arrogance dominates, drives, and defines the modern political left. Throughout the West, liberals consistently advocate for policies that leave government, generally unelected experts and commissions, with more power and average citizens, entrepreneurs and families with fewer choices and less freedom. Europe is quite a bit closer to the consequences of such policymaking, but the Obama Administration is working hard to drive our country down that same path of soft socialism.

Conservatives believe that many choices are best left up to the individual, and to individuals working collectively through free-market based economic systems. Government, no matter who it is run by or how big it may be, cannot determine the specific needs of every individual and develop a targeted solution for every individual’s private problem. This is not to say that government should not limit choice in some areas. Moral issues are matters of absolute right and wrong, and failure to enforce a prohibition on making choices that violate morality is an open invitation to anarchy, and freedom cannot function when every man is a law unto himself.

Radical environmentalism, and the alarmist rhetoric and shoddy science resulting from it, provide an excellent case-study on the arrogance of liberalism. As the oil continues to spew at a rate of about 210,000 gallons per day out of the broken BP/Deepwater Horizon deep-sea oil well in the Gulf of Mexico, the left is up in arms over the extent of the damage being done to the environment of the Gulf of Mexico and southern coastal states. There is significant immediate and mid-term damage being done as the oil washes up on the coasts of Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama, and drifts out on the currents threatening the coastal beaches of Florida.

After broadly denouncing corporations (that employ millions of Americans and pay billions in taxes), the private sector, and Republicans, President Obama’s most ambitious step towards solving the immediate crisis has been to order a freeze of all deep-sea drilling. Besides costing the nation part of its vital intake of domestic oil, and putting thousands of much-needed jobs on the line, the freeze does very little to prevent a repeat of the Deepwater well disaster. It does look good on the surface, however, as do the photo-op commission announcements and meetings with various academic and bureaucratic experts.

The one sector that the president has most heavily criticized throughout all of this is, ironically, the one entity that is doing the most to cap the gushing well and solve the problem. The oil industry, and particularly BP, has engaged in round-the-clock efforts to staunch the hemorrhaging of oil and thereby reduce the likelihood of greater environmental and economic damage. What, exactly, is the usefulness of Attorney General Eric Holder’s criminal investigation into the situation remains to be seen. It is doubtful that its value will measure up to what is being done with robotic equipment thousands of feet below the surface of the Gulf.

Broadly freezing all deep-water drilling, and announcing criminal investigations into the situation, are overkill responses to what is happening. Ultimately, once the oil leak is stopped and the clean up takes place, the environment of the Gulf and the coastal areas bordering it will recover. The oil that is causing the problem is a natural substance. In time, the affected areas will recover, and human efforts will only speed that recovery. The left worships the concept of “Mother Earth” and laments the tragic impact that human beings have on the environment. But liberals view themselves as the ultimate protectors of the earth and go about their do-good work with the attitude that without their loving and expert care, the earth would simply commit suicide and kill itself, human beings or no human beings.

Instead of blaming Republicans, the President should set aside the pretentious photo-ops and get to work helping state governments and private organizations that are better equipped to deal with the disaster. The American people in their haste should not be quick to blame the President, Washington, or either political party for the event that led to this problem (though an interesting case can be made for how environmental regulations forced the development of higher-risk deep-water wells when shallow coastal wells were available). But though the President may not be responsible for the problem, or for how large it grows, he is responsible for how he responds to the problem, and that is something the voters should begin to pass judgment on this November.

This Thanksgiving week, Congressman Mike Pence delievered the weekly Republican address to the nation. Pence’s optimism for the future, candid assessment of the present, and respect for those who went before us in this great country come through in this statement, which is one of the better Republican addresses.

By: Brian Sikma

Long recognized as a measure of achievement, the Nobel Prizes are usually awarded to individuals who have labored diligently in a chosen field and can point to real accomplishments resulting from their work. With the announcement that President Barack Obama is the recipient of the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize, it appears that earning this distinction is becoming more a matter of good intentions and not substantive actions. Examining the current record of the President with respect to diplomatic affairs gives ample evidence that his recently awarded laurels may be a crown not quite fit for his head.

The circumstances surrounding this announcement are indeed interesting. The time period in which it is possible to nominate a person to receive the Nobel Peace Prize ended on February 1st of this year. The President was sworn into office a mere twelve days earlier. In that span of time the President did not give any major foreign policy speeches outlining his vision of a world without nuclear weapons. Inevitably, this creates a question mark around the thoroughness of the Nobel Committee’s deliberations because the reason they cited for giving the prize to the President was his dedication to a new era of international relations, and specifically a world without nuclear weapons.

Three previous presidents have earned the Nobel Peace Prize. In mediating a peaceful end to the Russo-Japanese War, and encouraging the adoption of an amiable treaty between the formerly warring parties, President Theodore Roosevelt won the prize in 1903. Not very long after that President Woodrow Wilson became a Nobel laureate for his work in forming the League of Nations, an unsuccessful post-World War I precursor to the United Nations. President Jimmy Carter earned the prize in 2002 in recognition of his numerous attempts at settling international disagreements and brokering uneasy truces.

Standing in somewhat stark contrast to the vigorous and diligent efforts of these previous presidential recipients of the Peace Prize is the current recipient. Notwithstanding the fact that when he was nominated for the prize he had done precious little work, and overlooking for a moment the fact that he still has done very little to earn a prize of this magnitude, President Obama’s record on international affairs is a dismal one. Since assuming office he has taken a global tour in which he apologized for American exceptionalism and our commitment to the core values that define us, offered his hearty personal support to the thug Hugo Chavez, refused to take a hard line with Iran’s maniacal leaders, left our allies in Europe hanging with the cessation of missile defense projects, and refrained from providing any public support for those who are fighting for the rule of law in Honduras.

These are not actions that deserve a prize or tend towards the maintenance of peace. They may be founded on good intentions but that cannot make up the unintentional damage that is now resulting from them. Appeasement and apology abroad and arrogance at home are not good policies. No prize, no matter how undeserved, can rescind the fact that unless our President alters his course, our nation will continue to earn friendship with those nations that do not matter and lose the friendship of those nations that count. It would be wise for the President to bear in mind that a committee in Norway is not responsible for the final judgment of his policies. Years from now history will show us what an unmerited prize cannot: decisions that placate the progressive left do not lead to the preservation of Western Civilization.

Iranian Missile

Iranian Missile

By: Brian Sikma

The past few weeks have seen a rapid series of developments take place with respect to our nation’s foreign policy goals. In the first part of September we saw the President continue his reluctance to speak out forcefully against Iran’s nuclear pursuits. Iran has repeatedly insisted that it is enriching uranium for peaceful and civilian purposes. To believe this line, and assume that Iran is limiting its program to only meeting its energy needs, is overly optimistic at best and terribly naïve at worst.

Former Senators Dan Coats and Charles Robb, and retired General Charles Wald, recently analyzed the Iranian situation and concluded that by 2010 Iran will have enough weapons-grade uranium enriched to fuel a nuclear device. Their conclusion factored in only the enrichment plant at Natanz and was made before the revelation that there is another small enrichment facility built into a mountain at Qom. The addition of this plant could further reduce the time line that Iran is working with on this project. Since the concept of a nuclear armed Iran became a serious possibility, observers, analysts, and other experts have repeatedly updated their projections with shorter and shorter estimates for when Iran will become only the second rogue state with nuclear capabilities.

Beginning after the last day of the Bush Administration, our nation has lacked a comprehensive approach to dealing with the building storm swirling around Iran’s nuclear ambitions. In the free world the nation that has continued to pose a significant moral and potential military objection to Iran’s action has been our ally in the Middle East: Israel. While Washington continues to solace itself with platitudes of peace and promises of dialogue, there is reason to believe that some in the position to shape US policy with Iran are hoping that Israel will play the bad cop role in this precipitous situation. But this is not an instance in which our country can afford to be a part-time, one-part player on the world stage.

In this near crisis we must not continue to abdicate our national position of responsibility and leave it to others to resolve this problem. Every diplomatic and military option must be on the table. Whether or not we like this obligation is irrelevant because our position in the world, the magnitude of the threat posed directly to us by Iran, and the grim consequences of inaction compel us to do something. Unfortunately, doing nothing or resorting to dialogues not backed up by a common commitment to realistic goals or a firm final policy position all form an array of poor choices we can choose from.

Related to the forward progress of Iran in acquiring nuclear weapons and perfecting and testing delivery systems is our voluntary withdrawal of key missile defense elements from Europe. In a sudden, though not unexpected move, President Obama surrendered the diplomatic achievements made by some of his predecessors in announcing that we will not deploy 10 missile interceptors to Poland and build an advanced radar and tracking station in the Czech Republic. Although they came under intense pressure from Moscow to not cooperate with the United States, these nations chose freedom over following the heavy-handed dictates of their former masters.

In making the brave choice to become part of our nation’s global missile defense system, Poland and the Czech Republic put their faith in us and in the success of our policy. The people of these countries and their leaders vividly recall what it was like to live in oppression and since they have escaped their shackles they have pursued liberty and state sovereignty with zeal. Their decision to become an integral part of our effort to neutralize the threat of WMD-tipped ICBMs was not only one of cold decision-making, but also a symbol of their willingness to put national sovereignty ahead of regional appeasement, to reinforce their separation with Russia, and assert their own security needs and their own view of what must be done to protect against 21st Century threats.

Our decision to abandon full-scale development of missile defense in Europe not only undermines the position that Poland and the Czech Republic have taken on their regional stage, it ungratefully leaves them to bear the shame of having to explain why they put their trust in a super power that is only interested in keeping the commitments it finds convenient. These nations took a risk with us and by extension we have a duty to lead them well. Abruptly folding the alliance and leaving them with nothing to show for their risk exposure discredits our credibility with the nations that matter.

Teddy Roosevelt

Teddy Roosevelt

Extending beyond the consequences for our European policy, eliminating missile defense initiatives in Europe dramatically hurts our capacity effectively respond to the Iranian threat before a catastrophic event materializes. By presenting a bolder diplomatic front – something the present administration has not done – and backing such forceful words with meaningful action both inside the region and within the ranges of Iran’s missile capabilities, we can achieve a far more meaningful result than we are on track to get right now. The old adage to speak softly and carry a big stick still rings true today, and replacing it with unfounded hope and unwise change carries a heavy penalty.

By: Brian Sikma

In order to be mainstream and successful, American political candidates and office holders must profess a strong faith in freedom and declare in resounding terms their belief in the idea and principle of liberty.  Yet often two very different understandings of freedom seem to be present when opposing sides, the right and left, offer their policy proposals to the American people.  Not every opposing, or competing, set of solutions or proposals find themselves rooted in two distinct understandings of freedom.  But often enough it is quite clear that although two very different policies are advocated for with the same language of freedom, it is not possible for the advocates to be sharing the same understanding of that principle.

As our nation continues to struggle economically, the economic and fiscal proposals outlined by President Obama and the Democrats in Congress on one hand, and House Republicans and conservative thinkers on the other hand, give us an insight into the ramifications of competing understandings of freedom.  Although both sides offer us their plans by saying that they are consistent with freedom, it could well be that each side is talking past the other by agreeing on the terminology but not sharing in the same definition.

It is not possible for a plan that involves stimulus plans that must be paid for either by debt or higher taxes, and arbitrary bailouts that are sometimes forced on companies and give the federal government the power to pick winners and losers in the private sector, to be consistent with freedom when freedom is understood to mean the liberty to pursue one’s own choices consistent with a moral order.  Freedom of opportunity and the freedom to rise to one’s full level of potential and meet one’s own destiny requires that government not interfere with and over regulate individuals as they pursue this goal.  Freedom is not a right to do whatever you want to do, it is a right to do what is right.

Those who advocate for stimulus plans, bailouts, and bigger government do not share this view that freedom means freedom of opportunity and the freedom to live up to one’s potential.  In their view, freedom means being free from certain pressures and restraints like individual responsibility and fiscal discipline.  It means an equality of outcomes regardless of the varying levels of investment put in by different people.  It means that we have a “freedom” to achieve the same level of subsistence, no less, and certainly no more.  Using your talents and work ethic to get ahead, to set goals for yourself, and to achieve great things and improve the lives of those around you is not allowed under this very narrow view of freedom.  Just as this view removes the pressures of risk and limits the level of responsibility one must assume, it also imposes a firm and unyielding ceiling on what individuals can do.

When government turns the right of opportunity into a “right to succeed” it must impose a basic floor that allows everyone to have equal, or nearly equal, resources and assets.  But whenever a floor is imposed, whenever a basic minimum of tangible assets is determined to be a right, there is also a cap and a limit imposed on how far one can rise above the mandated minimum.  If failure is unacceptable or even illegal, so is success.

To apply these two distinct understandings of freedom to an issue, let’s consider the matter of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. To the left, these entities were expanding freedom by making home ownership more accessible and more common by relaxing credit standards and encouraging-and in some cases mandating-that lenders make loans to individuals who would have normally been denied a loan. The program was a success at expanding “freedom” because it resulted in more Americans owning homes, never mind the fact that it did so by placing them in homes that they could not afford and put a tremendous amount of stress on the mortgage industry.

Conservatives viewed Fannie and Freddie as antithetical to freedom because they coerced banks and other lenders to make loans to people who’s financial standing was not yet strong enough to sustain a mortgage, even a modest one. They believe that lenders and their depositors should be free to decide how much risk they want their assets to assume as part of an investment.

If you work for your assets, then you should have some say in how those assets are maintained and invested. The theory of owning your own property actually means something to conservatives.

This does not mean that conservatives mean that people should not be able to obtain mortgages and start on the path of home ownership.  It does mean that conservatives want people to be responsible enough to work hard and earn the status of home ownership, not be handed the opportunity at the expense of someone else’s success.  People value what they earn, and they take care of what they work for.

To the left, freedom means helping people “get ahead” even when that means mandating that other people act against their own interest and against the best interest of the system (in the case of Fannie and Freddie, the loan and mortgage system). To the right, freedom means giving people the opportunity to actually own what they own, and have the ability to pursue upward mobility and set and achieve personal goals-be they educational, financial, or something else-without the government telling them what they can and can’t do.

As the American people sort through the speeches, proposals and actions that surround the debate over the economy and what to do about it, they should bear in mind these two very different interpretations of freedom.  One definition was realized in the founding of our country, with the seeds of this mature tree being planted long before 1776.  The other definition has been around for some time, too.  It has not always been labeled freedom, but well meaning and yet misguided individuals have often tried to persuade people that equal outcomes, and the comfortable chains of paternal government, are the highest form of liberty.  Philosophers can hold either view and harm few, government leaders can hold only one view and be serving the best interest of the people.

In order to survive this economic downturn and climb out of this economic morass and return to the upward leading road of economic prosperity, the American people will need to stand and let their leaders know that while some government action is necessary and warranted, a far reaching expansion of government’s role in business, finance, and personal economic choice will not be tolerated.

The freedom of our founding is not an easy freedom.  It is only worth something to vigorous, rugged, rough and tumble people.  It does not prevent failure, but it does allow for unparalleled  success and it does allow you to work hard, earn, save and invest and own your own property and prosperity.  It allows you to fulfill your own destiny and help your community as you see fit.  We are Americans, and we have chosen true freedom in the past and we must do so again today.

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