The Founders’ Fears

There are undoubtedly many reasons that the American Revolution succeeded and the French Revolution failed. Indeed, history shows that most revolutions end in violence and tyranny. But one reason must surely be that while other revolutions sought to remake man and human nature, the American Revolution explicitly grappled with man’s unchanging nature. In his editorial last week, the editor disdainfully dismissed the Founders’ concerns about mob rule as “well-worn.”

If the editor will forgive me for quoting some more “well-worn” folderol, Alexis de Tocqueville wrote: “If ever the free institutions of America are destroyed, that event may be attributed to the omnipotence of the majority, which may at some future time urge the minorities to desperation and oblige them to have recourse to physical force. Anarchy will then be the result, but it will have been brought about by despotism.”

But the Founders were just as worried about minority factions as they were about majority factions. What is a king if not a minority of one? Madison defined factions as “a number of citizens, whether amounting to a majority or a minority of the whole, who are united and actuated by some common impulse of passion, or of interest, adversed to the rights of other citizens, or to the permanent and aggregate interests of the community.”

This is why the Constitution intentionally seeks to pit factions against one another — so that neither the minority nor the majority will be able to tyrannize the other. The House of Representatives is elected directly by the people. The Senate was originally elected by state legislatures, themselves elected by the people of the states. The president is elected by electors, originally selected by the state legislatures, later by popular election. The Supreme Court justices are appointed by senators and the president. At every step, the legitimacy of our constitutional Republic stems from the people, whose passions are filtered through layers of representative government.

The ideas of our founders may be well-worn, but they have sufficed.

The Tyranny of the Majority

In 1787, James Madison, writing as Publius in Federalist No. 10, warned against majority rule in pure democracy: “Such democracies have ever been spectacles of turbulence and contention; have ever been found incompatible with personal security or the rights of property; and have in general been as short in their lives as they have been violent in their deaths.”

It is just this type of tyranny of the majority that lends support to demagogues such as Bernie Sanders. When Sanders says that it is “immoral” for the “top 1 percent” to have as much wealth as the “bottom 90 percent combined,” what is he advocating? For that matter, what did Hillary Clinton mean (other than that she was trying to lean as far to the left as possible) when she tweeted, “The top 25 hedge fund managers make more than all of the kindergarten teachers in America combined. That’s not acceptable.” What is she proposing that the teachers (the majority) do to the top 25 hedge-fund managers (the minority)? Donald Trump, who decided to call himself a Republican about five minutes ago, is no less a demagogue than the other two when he appeals to the silent “majority” who have been taken “advantage of.” All three are suggesting that the “majority” punish the “minority.”

Madison, like so many of the Founding Fathers, worried deeply about the dangers of pure democracy. Federalist No. 10 is devoted to mitigating the tyrannical effects of majority rule; Madison wishes to achieve this through factions (parties or other interest groups that arise naturally due to human nature). “The inference to which we are brought is, that the causes of faction cannot be removed, and that relief is only to be sought in the means of controlling its effects.” The Constitution, drafted largely by Madison, creates a divided government in which power is intended to be balanced. We do not live in a democracy, and so long as we follow the Constitution, we can avoid the dangers inherent in such a form of government.

Maynard Thomson (Letter to the editor of the Granite State News, March 31) is right to ask us, “If 51 percent of the voters want something, are they justified in using government to force the other 49 percent to support that undertaking?”

Spending More Is Still Spending More

In their editorial on March 31, the editors of the Granite State News wrote of the county budget that it “included reducing the budget for the fishing expedition known as the forensic audit from $200,000 down to about $140,000 – still a waste of taxpayers’ money, but less of a waste.” I share the editors’ frustration when it comes to wasting taxpayer money.

In a previous letter to the Grunter, I wrote about budget maneuvers by which legislators raise spending less than they had initially intended and then claim it as a “cut.” This is a perfect example. The county did not cut spending on the forensic audit from $200,000 to $140,000. Let me repeat that: The county is not cutting spending on this. It is not a cut. The county will be spending $140,000 on a budget line that did not exist in the previous budget. That, my friends, is a spending increase.

Say I go to buy a new car. The dealer shows me a new Mustang for $50,000. Then he shows me a used Chevy S10 for $4,000. I want the Mustang. But I can afford the S10, so I buy that. Did I cut $46,000 from my car budget?

When you increase spending less than you had originally planned (or than you wanted), you are still increasing spending.

The 2016 Budget

The two letters to the editor of the Granite State News written recently by Tuftonboro budget committee member Tyler Phillips are illuminating. The proposed 2016 budget is 9.2% (that is, $297,141) larger than the 2015 actual spending. Of that increase, 74% (or $219,884) is for increased salaries and benefits, which Philips says represents a 15% increase over 2015 for that category. I understand that the 15% increase is spread out among the town employees, and that each employee is not receiving a 15% increase individually. However, a 15% increase in spending on any category in the budget would be a lot, so I disagree with Phillips’s colleague on the budget committee, Helen Hartshorn, who wrote on February 25th in this space that the budget is “not extravagant.”

I do think that a 9.2% overall increase in spending, and 15% increase for employee compensation, is extravagant. That doesn’t mean I think our town employees shouldn’t get raises — if they deserve raises and if we have the resources, that is. And all of us who are property-tax payers here in Tuftonboro should keep this in mind: These are our employees. They work for us. We are their employers. So we have a responsibility to understand the numbers. We can’t approve a 15% increase ($219,884 per year) in spending on employee salaries without knowing what we’re paying our employees in the first place.

Phillips tells us that Hartshorn has made some “terrific” graphs showing the difference in spending year over year, but that we won’t get to look at them until Town Meeting. How can we make an informed decision about the budget based on last-minute glances at out-of-context numbers on a graph? That is not the way to make a decision.

Public-employee compensation is public information as established in New Hampshire law (RSA-91) and upheld by the Supreme Court of New Hampshire (Mans v. Lebanon School Board, 112 N.H. 160, 164 (1972)). On Monday I went to the Town Office and obtained the 2016 proposed employee compensation information. You may view it for yourself here:https://goo.gl/H427UF. You can also get the town report from the Town Office, which details current spending on town employee compensation as well as the proposed spending increases.

I have written previously of my admiration for Clay Gallagher’s stewardship of the transfer station. I continue to think he does a great job. We paid him $48,631.14 in base salary last year, and the 2016 budget proposes raises his base salary to $51,568.00. Under the proposed budget, total spending on compensation for Gallagher would be $67,451 (including health costs and employer taxes). I don’t think that’s extravagant, in and of itself. If the taxpayers think the employees truly do deserve, collectively, $219,884 in raises, then let’s cut $219,884 from somewhere else in the budget. For instance, why are they adding $3,000 for “Blue Loon Bus Service”? Do we need to start sending the American Red Cross $1,093? Why do the Selectmen want to appropriate $45,000, and the Budget Committee want to appropriate $35,000 for Direct Assistance (item 4442) when we spent just $4,890.29 on that item in 2015? We all want to be compassionate towards people who are in need, but why the huge increase? It’s easy to be compassionate with other people’s money. But as Margaret Thatcher said, eventually you run out of other people’s money. We can all make individual contributions to the Red Cross if we want. We don’t have to spend each other’s money.

I will be voting against the budget. I hope you will join me. Let’s send the budget back to the selectmen, as Phillips recommends, so that they can trim it down.

Thank You, Clay

The letters section of a newspaper is a good place to publicly air one’s grievances. However, today I have another purpose entirely. Today I write to say thank you to Clay Gallagher. Clay is the supervisor of the Tuftonboro Transfer Station & Recycling Center, which is the most well-run transfer station that I have ever seen. It’s almost an oxymoron to say that a transfer station is clean. It is, after all, where we take our trash. But our transfer station in Tuftonboro is clean, well run, organized, and efficient. That means Clay is very good at his job. And his men are also good at their jobs. They’re also pleasant fellows, by the way.

I’m a new resident in town. I moved here last November. The first time I went to the transfer station, Clay gave me a tour. He explained that while recycling is not mandatory in Tuftonboro, there’s a big difference between the trash compactor and the recycling bins. It costs us money to ship the compacted trash to the landfill in Rochester. On the other hand, we sell the recyclable material. Clay told me that Tuftonboro has higher rates of recycling than other towns where recycling is enforced by ordinance.

Last Sunday when I made my weekly run to the transfer station, I was chatting with Clay and he mentioned that the station, while it is not entirely self-sufficient, brings in about $50,000 more per year than it did when he took over several years ago. That’s $50,000 that we as taxpayers don’t have to spend. Or rather, that we can spend on something else. Like repaving the roads. Or we could even reinvest it back into the transfer station. Either way, Clay’s doing a great job, both for the transfer station and the town in general.

Thank you, Clay.

This appeared as a letter to the editor of the Granite State News.

Libeling Israel

Claude Roessiger wrote in a letter to the Granite State News on July 23rd that “the Republican congressional bloc takes its orders from Israel.” The anti-Semitic idea of an “Israel lobby” that controls elements of the United States Government is not new. It is base and should be condemned.

Further libeling Israel, Mr. Roessiger claims: “There is no agreement that Israel would have favored. Why? Because Israel sees its interest in a continuation of the stand-off and wars that have existed for three decades.” This is absurd. The reason Israel does not favor the so-called deal with Iran is that Iran has stated repeatedly that it wishes destroy Israel, or in the words of Iran’s former president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Iran wishes to “wipe Israel off the map.” Iran’s real leader, Ali Khamenei, reacted to the agreement with the P5+1 last week by leading chants of “Death to America” while holding an AK47 in his hand. According to the AP:

Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said Saturday a landmark nuclear deal won’t change his country’s policy toward the “arrogant” U.S. … ” Our policy toward the arrogant U.S. government won’t change at all,” Khamenei said in an address carried live by state television. “We have no negotiations with America about various global and regional issues. We have no negotiations on bilateral issues.”

Khamenei’s speech, which he gave to a large crowd in Tehran to mark the end of the Muslim holy fasting month of Ramadan, stressed that Iran will continue to support its allies in the Middle East, including the Lebanese Hezbollah, Palestinian resistance groups and the Syrian government.

Iran calls its Lebanese ally Hezbollah a “resistance movement” while the U.S. classifies it as a terrorist group. Iran also continues to call for the destruction of Israel, which Khamenei described in his speech as a “terrorist, baby-killer government.”

Agence-France Press reports of the same speech:

Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said Saturday that a landmark nuclear deal with world powers “won’t change” the country’s stance toward the “arrogant” United States.

The remarks were greeted by chants of “Death to America” at a ceremony in Tehran marking the end of the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan, which was broadcast live on state television.

The New York Times:

Mr. Obama has made the agreement a benchmark of his presidency. It is opposed by Republicans and by Israel and Saudi Arabia, two of the United States’ most significant allies in the region. They have denounced it as a diplomatic mistake that will strengthen the economic and military power of a nation that threatens its neighbors, engages in and supports hostage-taking and terrorism, and is bent on acquiring nuclear weapons. …

At the same time, Mr. Khamenei made clear that a single agreement did not mean Iran’s overall relationship with the United States would change, and he promised to continue Iran’s support for allies in the region, including President Bashar al-Assad of Syria and the Lebanese-based Hezbollah movement. He praised Iran’s annual anti-Israel rally, known as Quds Day.

I think it is shameful that Mr. Roessiger blames nefarious Jews—AIPAC—for the “virtual commandeering of our foreign policy in the Middle East.” Perhaps he should pay more attention to Iran’s intentions, as stated, repeatedly, by its own leaders.

Saudi Arabia also opposes the “deal” with Iran, but for some reason Mr. Roessiger doesn’t condemn the Kingdom for trying to influence Congress. Only the Jews are singled out.

Perhaps Mr. Roessiger is taking his cues from President Obama, who has been warning for some time, most recently in his July 2015 appearance on The Daily Show, about the influence of “lobbyists” who oppose his deal with Iran.

According to a January 15, 2015, article in the New York Times, “The president said he understood the pressures that senators face from donors and others, but he urged the lawmakers to take the long view rather than make a move for short-term political gain … Mr. Menendez [D-NJ], who was seated at a table in front of the podium, stood up and said he took ‘personal offense.’ ”

Petitioning our government for grievances, i.e., lobbying, is of course a fundamental right protected by the First Amendment. In the context of the Iran deal, warning about “lobbyists” is obviously a reference to AIPAC, and “donors” is meant to refer to Jewish donors. Mr. Roessiger goes a step further than the president by explicitly stating that these donors represent “foreign” influence, thereby invoking the old anti-Semitic charge that Jewish Americans hold dual allegiances.

Mr. Roessiger cites national polls in aid of his anti-Semitic charge that the “Republican congressional bloc takes its orders from Israel,” but U.S. senators—whether Democrats, Republicans, or self-declared socialists such as Bernie Sanders—should not concern themselves foremost with national polls, but rather with the concerns of their own constituents. Furthermore, the national polls that I have looked at, which purport to show support for the Iran deal, often ask questions such as this one in a CNN poll: “Do you favor or oppose direct diplomatic negotiations between the U.S. and Iran in an attempt to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons?” Sixty-eight percent of respondents said yes. But what this tell us is that 68 percent of the respondents would like to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons. The deal that Secretary Kerry has negotiated will do nothing of the sort. At best, it will delay Iran’s acquiring of a nuclear weapon by 10 years. But that assumes that Iran will not violate the terms of the agreement. Considering that they are currently in violation of numerous international agreements, this seems unlikely.

This post appeared as a letter to the editor of the Granite State News.

Free Speech Is Free Speech

I thank the editors of the Granite State News for taking the time to respond to my letter (Other Voices, June 25th). I take them at their word that they are not challenging the basic right of free speech. Readers can go back to the May 21st editorial and see if they come to the same conclusion that I did upon first reading it, that the editors were proposing curbing the first amendment. They wrote then, “Every one of the rights listed [in the first amendment] … have been subject to limitations in our history.” Then they concluded with, “We simply cannot allow free speech to degenerate into hostile speech or let unrestrained self-expression drive us apart.”

What do they mean by “cannot allow free speech to degenerate” and “or let unrestrained self-expression drive us apart”? How do they propose that we control free speech? Who will do the controlling and the restraining? I believe reasonable readers, in whose company I fancy myself, can come to the conclusion that the editors were proposing limiting the right of free speech. But they write that they were not.

Again I must thank the editors for printing my correspondence. They are under no obligation to do so. If the editors were to decline to publish my letter, my rights would not be violated. I could write to a different newspaper, I could start a blog, I could start my own newspaper. The first amendment prohibits the government from limiting my speech.

My fellow Tuftonboro resident, John Ratcliffe, writes on June 18th that he “hated what [George W.] Bush did to [the U.S.],” but “wouldn’t have dreamed of posting a sign at the end of [his] driveway with crude insults on it as regards to the president of the United States.” This is perhaps admirable but by no means typical of American history. (Mr. Ratcliffe also does not know the difference between yearly deficits and cumulative debts, but that’s for another letter.)

Much of the American left—and I’m not sure if Mr. Ratcliffe or the editors would be included in this category, though it seems likely—are under the delusion that Barack Obama has received more abuse than other presidents. This is simply not true. To take just the most recent example, George W. Bush was the target of countless “crude insults,” even if Mr. Ratcliffe would not have dreamed of putting a sign at the end of his driveway. Bush was often hanged in effigy during anti-war protests, he was depicted in political cartoons as a monkey, and even booed by Democrats during his State of the Union speech in 2005. (And he was by no means the first to receive such treatment from the opposing party during a speech.) There was even a movie made about assassinating him! “After the last eight years, it’s great to have a president who knows what a library is,” said Paul McCartney in 2010, evidently not knowing that George W. Bush was a voracious reader who consumed over a hundred books a year. Natalie Maine of the Dixie Chicks famously called Bush a “dumb F—.”

The editors worry that today “the opportunity of free speech is often taken as a license to be rude and disrespectful and shout down those you assume do not agree with you.” (June 25th) They are also under the misimpression that we are living in a new era of “hostile speech.” They wrote on May 21, “Instead of free speech as it was protected in our 18th century Constitution we have hostile speech that is intended to attack and provoke rather than inform and lead to debate.” Put aside their formulation of free speech as an “opportunity” rather than a basic right, it is simply not accurate that our times are any different, or that free speech has ever been conditioned on whether it intends to inform and lead to debate.

The election of 1800 was by many accounts one of the nastiest in our history, with slander flying in both directions. These “attack ads” from 1800, produced by Reason.com, quote directly from the campaign:

Thomas Jefferson paid a newspaper editor to call sitting president John Adams, among other things, a “blind, bald, crippled, toothless man.”  Adams’s allies in turn warned that if Jefferson were elected, “murder, adultery, rape, incest, and robbery will be openly taught and practiced.” And Jefferson and Adams had been friends for over 25 years at that point! There’s not enough space to list all the insults that other presidents have endured. From Washington to Obama, every single one of our presidents has been vilified at some point. Newspapers accused Washington of wanting to be a king, Lincoln was called an ape, etc., etc.

It is truly part of what makes America great that we can insult our presidents with impunity. Do you disagree? Ask yourself what happens to Russians who criticize Putin; to Cubans who criticize the Castros; to North Koreans who criticize the Kims.

This post appeared as a letter to the editor of the Granite State News.