David Rodeback's Blog

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Friday, May 14, 2010
Mike Lee over Tim Bridgewater: My Explanation

I have wanted to evaluate the candidates thoroughly enough to be comfortable supporting one over the other. Meanwhile, you might say I've been staying not so much on the fence as within an arm's length of the fence. Now I'm finally ready to abandon the fence altogether and say, Mike Lee for Senate. Here's why.

[As requested, a much shorter version of this post is now available -- more than 2000 words shorter, in fact.]

Prelude: Why Change and Why Not?

I take no joy in Senator Robert Bennett's defeat in convention last Saturday, though I voted for someone else on all three ballots and would do so again. There were only one or two Republican candidates whom I preferred to Senator Bennett; I preferred him to at least five others. So I was not part of the anyone-but-Bennett contingent, who seemed to be happier at Bennett's defeat than at anyone else's victory. For the record, at the convention I neither saw nor heard the uncivilized few who I later learned were verbally abusive to the Senator on the convention floor after his defeat. But I did write this to someone on Facebook that evening, when I thought he was indulging an excess of schadenfreude:

I think all the crowing over Senator Bennett's defeat is in bad taste and ill serves the process, the party, and the victors. I see the Senator as an intelligent, diligent, honorable man who got more right in 18 years than he got wrong. We didn't like a few of his votes, so we decided that someone else would be better. I hope we're right. I hope the gains justify the loss. I think they will. But I am sober, not gleeful.

In my thinking, it is not so much that Senator Bennett had to go, as it is that the times require someone different -- of which more below.

Is It about Conservatism?

As a convention delegate I was not looking for the most conservative candidate -- or the most moderate, for that matter. Even if we grant for the sake of discussion that a one-dimensional conservative/liberal spectrum adequately reflects our politics, my spot on that continuum is decidedly to the left of many Utah Republicans. I am still a conservative, not a moderate, but if my oft-stated views anger any demographic in Utah, it is more likely the right-wingers than the left-wingers. They seem so sensitive, and there are so many more of them here to anger.

Moreover, I have great difficulty distinguishing the tyranny of extreme liberalism from that of extreme conservatism. I don't care to embrace tyranny of any sort. This can lead in some odd directions. When dogmatic, sectarian would-be tyrants ply their philosophical wares at the off-year Utah County Republican conventions, for example, I find myself in the curious position of siding with Satan against them -- in their view, I suppose, not my own. But I am not my point.

Now that we have a Senate primary race between two more-or-less mainstream conservatives, Mike Lee and Tim Bridgewater, I am not scrutinizing the pair in an effort to decide which is more conservative, so I can vote for or against him. I'm not going through a checklist of issues, to see who passes more little tests of conservatism. As I did during the preconvention campaign, in which another conservative, Senator Bennett, also loomed large, I am looking ahead as best I can to the times which seem to be coming, and attempting to discern which of the two candidates is best suited to such times. For philosophical reasons, you will understand, I do not see a modern Democrat or a third-party candidate as a viable or appropriate response to what is developing.

Two Crises, Both Large Enough

For a long time, and well before I articulated this view at my precinct caucus and got myself elected to represent it, I have watched our economic collapse progressing by fits and starts. I have seen a constitutional crisis building at the same time, principally in terms of the the rapid extension of government power where there used to be individual liberty. I have reasoned that the two are tightly linked. In fact, if the economy declines far enough, the Constitution cannot stand. And if the Constitution's restraint over our government continues to fade, there is no hope for renewed economic prosperity in the foreseeable future. I see nothing in history and nothing in the present trends at home or abroad to suggest that one of these pillars of our still relatively free and prosperous society can long stand if the other completely collapses.

By analogy, consider the human organism. Both the heart and the kidneys are essential to life. The heart circulates the blood which fuels the cells of every organ and carries away much of the waste. If your heart stops for even a few minutes and doesn't restart, and its function is not somehow replaced, you're dead. For their part, the kidneys filter impurities from the blood and regulate blood pressure. If they stop working, and their function isn't somehow replaced, it will take a little longer, but soon you'll be just as dead. Simply put, if the heart fails, the kidneys die. If the kidneys fail, the heart dies.

If it's your heart that's failing, the best nephrologist (kidney doctor) in the world cannot save you. If your kidneys are failing, the world's best cardiologist will be of little use. So it's fairly important to know whether you're suffering from heart disease or kidney disease. If you have symptoms of both, you would best discover which is the the root cause. If you cannot tell which precedes the other, you may have to settle for beginning treatment where you can get the firmest footing.

The Constitution Is Firmer Ground than Economics

I don't believe it to be the case in the United States' present malaise, but let's suppose that our troubles are equally based on economic folly and unconstitutional government, and that fixing either problem will largely solve the other (or at least render it unimportant). To be sure, if we were sufficiently committed to economic freedom and sensible economics generally, we would not have done some of the things we've done. And if we were sufficiently attentive to the US Constitution and its express limits on federal power, we could not have done those things. A sufficient commitment either to sensible economics or to the Constitution would have spared us much past, present, and future trouble. It is reasonable to suppose that a sufficient revival of either commitment would greatly reduce our difficulties.

If the two approaches, economics and constitutional law, were equally viable, then it wouldn't matter whether we based our approach on economics or on the Constitution -- as long as the two offered equally firm ground on which to stand. But they don't. The Constitution offers much more stable and solid footing, and economics -- especially when politicized -- is a slippery and unstable surface on which to seek a foothold.

Many modern policy initiatives are poison to economic freedom and therefore to prosperity. But they can be spun, at least for a while, as solutions to our economic problems. Thus we are told, for example, that a federal takeover of health care is necessary to control rising medical costs, when history and economics (not to mention Europe and Canada) suggest that such a takeover will have the opposite effect. We are told that large companies or whole industries are "too big to fail"; we spend little official effort wondering whether they are too bloated, too regulated, or too unionized to succeed.

Moreover, many modern policy initiatives have at their core -- either tactically or strategically -- the pitting of the wealthy against the non-wealthy. In the case of the health care takeover, for example, we are promised that the wealthy will be taxed to provide benefits for the poor. Economically-based class warfare may be the philosophical justification, the sales pitch, or the predictable consequence of a policy, or it may be two or three of these at the same time. When class envy prevails, any given individual may easily dismiss the significance of larger economic harm in the hope of personal economic benefit.

Sincerely or otherwise, one can foretell happy economic consequences quite easily, either for the people generally or for a favored group, until the consequences actually arrive and are seen to be unhappy for everyone. At that point, sometimes the game is up. At other times, one can prolong the illusion by shifting the blame for a while and demanding more of the supposed cure, which is actually more of the disease.

For these reasons, it seems easier temporarily to obscure threats to and conditions in the economy, at least long enough to implement bad policy, than it does to hide the unconstitutionality of a proposed law.

It is much easier -- though certainly not always simple -- to judge whether a policy exceeds the limited, constitutional powers of the federal body which is adopting or implementing it, and whether it treads upon the constitutionally-protected rights of individuals or institutions. We have a formal mechanism for that, the judiciary, which is more than we can say for economics.

So even if sensible economics and constitutional principles were equally viable approaches to our present and coming dilemmas, a constitutional solution would be preferred, because it offers a better foothold and less opportunity for political sleight-of-hand.

Looking Ahead

But let's stop speaking hypothetically, shall we?

As I contemplate the next several years, I foresee deepening economic and constitutional crisis. The two will continue to be related, even to the degree than one pillar's complete collapse will likely cause the other's collapse -- if we allow things to collapse at all. I also see -- already -- a great and dangerous dearth of economic and constitutional understanding among the population. I am not convinced that we understand either subject well enough to look beyond the troubles of the moment and evaluate the long-term threats and benefits of proposed policies to the American way of life. Whether you believe this generations-long accumulation of ignorance to be deliberately induced or purely coincidental matters little now. It is real, widespread, and potentially lethal to both constitutional, limited government and to economic freedom.

Further, I am not persuaded that a majority of voters are so committed to political or economic freedom that they would refuse to surrender it in exchange for temporary or even illusory security. Perhaps our lack of understand saps our commitment to freedom, or perhaps the cause is a deficiency of character. Either way, I conclude, the Tea Party notwithstanding, that the American people themselves may not be able to protect themselves adequately on their own. They -- we -- require very capable help on Capitol Hill. We'd better make sure that we have it.

Mike Lee and Tim Bridgewater

I agree with Tim Bridgewater and his supporters; the voice of business, especially small business, is mostly missing among the ruling majority in Washington, especially among the President and his top advisors. We will be better off when that voice is heard again. Much is made of Bridgewater's rags-to-riches story, too, of his origins in a trailer park, which he overcame, and his subsequent success in business. This is an admirable and typically American story. And to the limited extent that one can judge the character of a senator by the character of a candidate, I expect he would represent me and Utah well on Capitol Hill.

For all that, I wasn't quite sure, as I went to the convention last Saturday, that that will be enough. I wasn't even certain that I would vote for Bridgewater over Bennett, if the choice came to that, though I had Bridgewater above Bennett on my list for most of the campaign. In the actual event, that choice did not present itself, and it does not in the primary either. In the end, if Tim Bridgewater is the Republican nominee after the primary, I will vote for him without hesitation, based on what I know now. He will be the best candidate left on the ballot, even if I'm not certain that he will be enough.

Here's why I'm voting and campaigning for Mike Lee in the primary, after a great deal of listening, reading, and reflection. You might say that I think the root cause of our malaise is kidney disease, not heart disease, and that I want a top nephrologist, Dr. Lee, on the case, no matter how fine a cardiologist Dr. Bridgewater may be.

I don't doubt Bridgewater's commitment to the US Constitution. But under the present circumstances, and looking ahead, I want to send the conservative to Washington who knows that Constitution, its history, its principles, and more than two centuries of relevant case law inside and out. I concede that there is merit in Bridgewater's humble roots, but I want the man in Washington who grew up discussing the Constitution at the dinner table with great minds who were steeped in it for decades, including his estimable father, US Solicitor General, law school dean, and university president Rex Lee. I want for a senator the one who sees most readily and can argue most persuasively and with the greatest credibility that a given policy is wrong not just because it is based on bad economics, or because it's bad for business, but, more fundamentally, because the Constitution does not grant the federal government jurisdiction over that part of our lives.

In this respect Mike Lee is not only the more satisfactory of the two candidates left in the race; he is the best candidate I have seen in any race in which I could vote in a  long time. I do not see him as a savior or as the answer to every problem. Nobama here, you might say. But I want, and I think we very much need, minds like his in the Senate chamber.

I believe Tim Bridgewater would defend the United States Constitution to the limit of his knowledge and ability. But I think Mike Lee will defend it far more effectively.

In Short . . .

I am looking at our constitutional crisis and our economic crisis, projecting both into the future, and judging that the constitutional crisis is both greater and more fundamental. Accordingly, I will work and vote to send a conservative constitutional lawyer to the US Senate, instead of a conservative businessman. As far as I am able to judge, both are good, intelligent men with sound conservative principles. But one, I believe, is far better armed for the greatest of the protracted battles I expect will occupy the next several years of our national politics. I expect that battle to be essentially constitutional.

Therefore, as far as I am concerned, with me it is . . . Mike Lee for Senate. End of story.

Brian Rawlings comments (10/15/2010, via Facebook):

Well written and explained. I always appreciate your point of view.

Tim Osborn comments (10/15/2010, via Facebook):

Again, David, your writings are very much appreciated and understood. Your analogy of the heart and kidneys is very much the same as our freedoms and economy. Again, thank you very much for your insight on this issue.

Donald Cutshaw comments (10/15/2010, via Facebook):

Very nice article, David. Well thought out and very well written. And, I completely agree with your conclusion.

Tim Osborn comments (10/15/2010, via Facebook):

You know, though, I like having Tim [Bridgewater]'s signs around. They have this big TIM on them, which can't hurt with my name recognition. ;)   [Note: Tim Osborn is currently running for reelection the Alpine School Board.]

Jim Burr comments (6/13/2010):

Thank you for your enlightening commentary on this subject -- well worth the read. I would add one thing, and that is this: Businessman vs. Attorney: Government is NOT a business. Government is simply laws, rules, regulations, statutes, codes and variations thereof. We cannot run government like it's a business, because it is not a business. Never has been, never will be. Government cannot, by its very nature, be a business. If the present system of government needs changing, modifying, or even reversal, it will not be done by the best business mind but by the best legal mind. (Your analogy of the two different types of medical doctors was great).

We have one small window of opportunity to provide our nation with a great legal mind -- a constitutionally sound legal mind, the mind of Michael Shumway Lee, and please, in the name of all that we love in America, do not let us pass this opportunity by.

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