Democrats and Republicans Destroying this Country

I've talked about how I admire politicians from early American history because even though they're not the marble statues we make them out to be now, they at least tended to fight for what they legitimately believed. Parties existed, but they wielded nothing like the power they do now.

Recently it's come out that Nancy Pelosi most likely had known about the torture that was taking place in 2002. Suddenly, the Democrats have backed off the calls for torture investigations because their own speaker could be portrayed in an unflattering light.

This is a sad demonstration that Democrats and Republicans do things that are good for their parties, not the American people. Investigations (Watergate, Monicagate etc.) are not really for finding the truth, but are only ways for one party to damage another.

It's very simple, she was hedging her bets in 2002 in case another building came down, so that if it did, no one could say that she was 'soft on terrorism'. She either felt that the CIA was doing something wrong and didn't say anything to not damage her political career or she felt that torture was justified and has now abandoned that position since it's politically expedient.

The two parties feel they own this country and the sad thing is, the voters always affirm their view.


James Madison: No Good Soundbytes

Madison is a hard guy to write about, at least it's hard to write about his presidency.

Everyone knows Madison as one of the founding fathers, he was responsible for the bill of rights, much of the wording of the constitution and worked with Hamilton and Jay on the Federalist papers to support the passage of the constitution.

But when it comes to him as an executive, he's harder to write about. Maybe it's because he wasn't as much an ideologue as the previous administrations, maybe it's because he didn't have an identifiable plan when he came into office or tried to do too much, but whatever it was, I can't define him in one sentence.

Washington was the father of the country and set about to form the idea of America, Adams tried to put in place checks and balances and help build up national power while preserving the uneasy peace with Europe, Jefferson was a 'man of western waters' and wanted to increase the land holdings of the U.S. to make his agrarian, democratic dream possible. Even Monroe who came after him you could say was the National Security President and Jackson was the Populist President.

This does not mean he was a bad president, if anything, maybe he was less image and legacy conscious than the other presidents, or maybe he felt his legacy was already secure as a Founding Father.

After reading this book about Madison, I feel like I just watched a really good movie and someone asks me what it was about, but I can't explain it.


James Madison: War of 1812- Burn this Mother Down

Before and during Madison's time in office, the relations between the United States and Great Britain became worse. The British continued 'impressment' which was a policy of conscripting U.S. sailors against their will to serve in the British Navy.

This aggravated Madison and Jefferson before him. For a long time, Adams was able to hold off the populist rage against Britain and resist war. Jefferson imposed the disastrous tariffs that almost made New England secede. Madison continued these restrictions on trade and the conflict eventually reached a boiling point.

Madison and the nationalist Republicans pushed for war and sold it to the American people by convincing them that they could easily invade British Canada and force them to come to terms.

The American people weren't completely sold on the idea of a fight with the British (still the most powerful military in the world) but went along with 'Mr. Madison's War' as they called it. The Republicans now had their war, but the problem came when they didn't properly fund the Army, preferring to rely on militias for ideological and economic reasons.

The militias turned out to be ineffective as an invading and national defense force since they often refused to fight outside of their own state. The irony of this is that Madison wrote about this problem in the Federalist papers describing the Militias as inadequate for national defense.

Detroit was captured along with Washington D.C. and the White House was burned to the ground. Right before he torched the place, Admiral George Cockburn (yes, that's his real name) held up his glass and gave a toast to 'Jemmy's health. For some reason, I don't remember seeing the White House in flames in my early history classes.


James Madison: The Arlen Specter of his times

James Madison is a fascinating figure in our history. He is best known for the large part he played in drafting the constitution and writing the federalist papers. He was also of course, the fourth president of the United States.

When Madison came to the office of president, there were two primary political parties- the Federalists and the Republicans.

In a nut shell, the Federalists tended to think of America as a nation, while Republicans thought of the United States as several more or less autonomous Republics working together for common good. You could say they thought of the U.S. more as a league of states than as a nation.

The Republicans, being for local rule over national, also tended to be against standing armies and a national banking system.

Madison, in trying to drum up support for a national constitution, worked with John Jay and Alexander Hamilton to release the Federalist Papers in New York, writing under the pseudonym Publicus (public man).

The Federalist Papers argued that the articles of confederation were not sufficient for the new nation to handle national defense, taxation issues and internal strife from competing states for what was then the new nation and that a new Constitution was needed to define federal power and offer a national solution to many of the problems the country was facing.

This isn't surprising except for the fact that Madison was a Republican, not a Federalist.

I think that this says a lot about Madison's own philosophy and politics of the time which tended to be more personal and less dogmatic, but that's for another post. It is, however, ironic that the second Republican Virginia Triumvirate member (Jefferson and James Monroe being the others) wrote the most eloquent supporting document for Federalism ever written.


Embargoes- Then and Now- Cuba

The United States badly overplayed its hand when it sought to punish the European world powers in the early 1800's and it's just as naive now to think that embargoes can work in the twenty first century.

Let's look at the effectiveness of embargoes against communist countries such as Cuba or North Korea.

There's a few easy to understand problems with imposing restrictions on trade with communist countries. It validates their world view that the United States is punishing the world through it's financial might and limits the channels in which foreign currency and goods can flow into those countries.

Communist dictators like Castro or Kim Jong Il control their people in much the same way that middle eastern dictators do- they take their money straight off the top rather than relying on the tax base of an economically productive society.

In the middle east, democracy doesn't flourish because the welfare of the citizens of those countries doesn't matter to their leaders since they can take their money straight out of oil export revenues. Whereas in democratic countries, unhappy citizens would throw out the current administration if they're unhappy, in those societies- the people need to simply not be angry enough to revolt.

Command economies that have limited amounts of goods flowing into their country through UN approved channels can also behave in this fashion since it will ultimately be up to them to distribute that 'aid' to their people who not coincidentally tend to be favored political allies.

Corruption flourishes in the dark and open trade policies shine light on the dark places of the world. Embargoes are nothing more than ceremonial statements by weak leaders.


Thomas Jefferson: Adventures in Embargoes

For being an agrarian philosopher that hated cities and manufacturing, Jefferson had a curious obsession with embargoes.

Understanding that the United States could not stand up to fight another war against Europe, he felt that commerce was the best way to punish European aggression. This is a curious choice since the US was not quite the economic powerhouse it is today. Until around the turn of the 20th century, Argentina was a trading partner with Europe on roughly equal footing with the United States.

The policies led to huge economic hardships for the average citizen, especially in the Northeast. It's hard to believe that if a few things had gone a little differently, the civil war may well have been started by the North for economic reasons instead of by the South for the slavery issue.

It's harder still to believe that after trading embargoes were proven ineffective time and again, future administrations continued to try and use them as a policy tool. Even in the 5 mile an hour era of the early 1800's, the powers of the day could substitute American goods for Canadian, imagine how easily it is now in the age of high speed Internet and global shipping networks.


Thomas Jefferson: Slavery

It's become en vogue in the last part of the 20th century to tear down the myths of the founding fathers. I think that now every college freshman who protests the WTO knows that Thomas Jefferson owned slaves and is rumored to have fathered an illegitimate child with Sally Hemmings.

To be sure, Thomas Jefferson was a man of his times as much as he was an enlightened agrarian philosopher.

His views on slavery were mixed, he felt that it was at once the greatest evil in the world but at least subconsciously acknowledged that his life of learning and agriculture would have been impossible if not for the cheap (free) labor of the slaves. Giant country estates growing tobacco and other crops do take a lot of work after all, and a farmer that does all that work can't very well be a Virginia gentleman and scholar due to time constraints.

I don't want you to think that Jefferson's conflicted views on slavery came from his view of the African slaves as his fellow man though. In his 'Notes on the state of Virginia'- he makes it clear that he doesn't view them as intellectual equals and explains that they need 'guidance'.

It's too hard to psycho analyze Jefferson's racial views in one blog post, this subject could fill books, but it's interesting that as he grew older, he grew more depressed when he came to the understanding that Southern slavery, not Northern anger over the embargoes against commerce with Europe were going to tear the country apart.