- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 4, 2008




The 2008 presidential campaign underscored an American dilemma more troublesome than the racial divide and hypocrisy identified in Gunnar Myrdal’s writings.

The prominence of Barack Obama, Sarah Palin and Hillary Clinton verified the commendable U.S. strides towards the equality celebrated in the Declaration of Independence, but defiled in the Constitution’s endorsement of slavery and subjugation of women. But the endless blather and inanities that earmarked candidate speeches and debates demonstrated America’s deadly egalitarian love affair with mediocrity or worse at the expense of leadership, statesmanship and political wisdom that is possessed only by a super-talented few.

The presidential and congressional elections held today will yield intellectually jejune winners clueless about the purpose of the United States (“to secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity”) and wedded to extra-constitutional frolics at home and abroad that are making the nation less safe, less free and less prosperous.

None of the presidential or vice presidential candidates would have been worthy of the constitutional convention of 1787 or the Federalist Papers, the high-water mark of political erudition and profundity in more than a thousand years. Among other things, they all subscribe to the delusions that the government can outfox the efficiencies of free markets; that the United States can be made safer and freer by sacrificing the lives and limbs of tens of thousands of American soldiers abroad and squandering hundreds of billions of dollars in quixotic adventures to transform incorrigibly tribal or feudal societies into friendly secular democracies; and, that international terrorism justifies a permanent global war crowning the president with perpetual war powers, including the authority to detain American citizens as “enemy combatants” for life without accusation or charge; to spy on Americans without warrants in contravention of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act; and, to employ waterboarding against detainees with impunity.

As Alexis de Tocqueville feared in “Democracy in America,” the egalitarian ethos of the United States has reduced political leadership to the lowest common denominator, i.e., to the level of hockey moms and Joe the Plumber. Nothing is more predictable than that the mass of ordinary people collectively endowed with decisive political and economic power will exalt idols and embrace ideas that flatter themselves. Literacy tests for voting, which were initially banned because they were manipulated to disenfranchise blacks, have been forever banished from the political scene. And the idea that a candidate for public office might be required to demonstrate at least a passing acquaintance with the United States Constitution would be political blasphemy today. The intellectual vetting of individuals seeking stewardship of the nation’s destiny would require a constitutional amendment. At present, the only permissible qualifications concern age, residency and citizenship.

The Founding Fathers did not anticipate the triumph of an egalitarian culture that, in the process of dismantling feudalistic hierarchies, also enshrined political orthodoxies that effused over the purported wisdom of the masses. The first six presidents of the United States were giants: George Washington, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, James Monroe and John Quincy Adams. Then came President Andrew Jackson, who rode into the White House by wooing the common man. He celebrated “rotation in office” based on the folly than any fool can perform any government task. Alexis de Tocqueville observed during President Jackson’s first term: “It is a constant fact that at the present day the ablest men in the United States are rarely placed at the head of affairs; and it must be acknowledged that such has been the result in proportion as democracy has exceeded all its former limits. The race of American statesman has evidently dwindled most remarkably in the course of the last fifty years.”

In America’s egalitarian culture, the common ill-educated voter and their typical carbon copies in the White House or Congress are envious, disdainful or unappreciative of authentic political leadership and brilliance necessary to maintaining and strengthening the Republic and its institutional balances. To summon de Tocqueville again: “[T]here exists … in the human heart a depraved taste for equality, which impels the weak to attempt to lower the powerful to their own level, and reduces men to prefer equality in slavery to inequality with freedom…. [N]othing can satisfy them except equality, and rather than lose it they resolve to perish.”

In 1969, then-Sen. Roman Hruska, Nebraska Republican, testified to this debasement in defending the semi-witless G. Harold Carswell’s nomination to the United States Supreme Court in preference to excellence: “Even if he were mediocre, there are a lot of mediocre judges and people and lawyers. They are entitled to a little representation, aren’t they, and a little chance?”

Carswell’s nomination was defeated, but Hruska had the last laugh from the grave. Think of President George Bush, former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.

The best of America’s egalitarian culture has permitted Mr. Obama and Mrs. Palin to rise to political heights. The worst is permitting them and politicians of their sub-optimal caliber to drive the Republic over a cliff.

Bruce Fein is a constitutional lawyer at Bruce Fein & Associates, Inc. and author of “Constitutional Peril: The Life and Death Struggle for our Constitution and Democracy.”

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