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The Conservative's Handbook
Defining The Right Position On Issues from A to Z
By Phil Valentine
Sourcebooks, Inc.Copyright © 2016 Phil Valentine
All rights reserved.
America is good.
THERE'S A DISCERNIBLE difference between a great country and a good country. There's no doubt the United States is a great nation. We are the preeminent superpower of the world. The former Soviet Union, however, was a great nation in terms of military might and its influence around the world. Likewise, China is a great nation, as was the Roman empire, but great is not always good. China, the Soviet Union, and the Roman Empire are all what Yale law professor Amy Chua refers to in her book Day of Empire as hyperpowers. Chua defines hyperpowers as "societies that amassed such unrivaled economic and military might that they essentially dominated the world." She classifies the United States as a hyperpower too, but that classification does not delineate between good and bad. To be sure, not every nation is all good, and few nations are all bad. In order to make that distinction, a country or civilization must be judged by its totality.
A good nation is not measured by its military strength nor its size. A good nation is, in short, a nation that is generally a positive force in the world. The United States is such a place. That's not to say that we haven't made mistakes, but what we have accomplished as a nation — what we have given to the world as a nation — far outweighs our mistakes.
But Weren't the Founding Fathers a Bunch of Racists?
Detractors love to focus on our national warts, foibles, and stumbles. While most of us learned about our country's founding and the brave men who risked their lives to form a more perfect union, too many school lessons focus on the fact that some of the founders owned slaves. Slavery was a contentious issue even during the infancy of our nation. Slave owners like Thomas Jefferson grappled with the contradiction of breaking the chains of oppression from Great Britain while some around him remained in bondage. Jefferson didn't invent slavery; he was merely a link in its ever-weakening chain. While the writer of the Declaration of Independence and our third president never freed his slaves during his lifetime, he helped bring us a step closer to slavery's inevitable abolition.
While some argue that the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution must be viewed as flawed documents because some of their authors were slave owners, they ignore the enormous impact our break with Great Britain had in placing us on a certain path toward abolition. Benjamin Franklin argued that a break with the mother country was necessary if we were to ever end slavery because all prior efforts to end the practice had been thwarted by the British Crown. In fact, after the Revolution, many of the Founding Fathers who had owned slaves chose to release them, including John Dickinson, William Livingston, John Randolph, Caesar Rodney, George Washington, and George Wythe. Franklin, along with Founding Father Benjamin Rush, formed the nation's first antislavery society. Based, in part, on the work of some of our founders, slavery was abolished in eight states relatively soon after the Revolution. Furthermore, Rufus King, a signer of the Constitution, authored a federal bill prohibiting slavery in the territories of Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Ohio, and Wisconsin. That bill was signed into law by President George Washington.
Slavery was a hotly contested issue at the constitutional conventions. Pro- and antislavery advocates squared off on more than one occasion. Some feared the issue might divide the country before it was fully constituted. Principle gave way to pragmatism, and the nagging issue of slavery was tabled to be fought another day.
Much has been made of the three-fifths compromise during the haggling over the Constitution. This three-fifths clause has been portrayed as a means of dehumanizing blacks in eighteenth-century America. It was, in fact, an anti slavery provision. By allowing slaveholders to count only three-fifths of their slaves in congressional calculations, it denied Southern states additional proslavery representation in Congress. Instead of our Founding Fathers being hypocritical taskmasters who only wanted freedom for themselves, they actually fast-tracked the issue of slavery that had been accepted and encouraged under British rule for the prior two hundred years. Richard Allen, a former slave who had been freed after converting his master to Christianity and who went on to found the African Methodist Episcopal Church, reminded fellow blacks of this fact. "Many of the white people [who] have been instruments in the hands of God for our good, even such as have held us in captivity, are now pleading our cause with earnestness and zeal," he told them. Allen recognized, even then, that his country and his people were in a better place, a place where the notion of abolishing the wicked practice of slavery was no longer relegated to the hushed corners of slave quarters but was now being etched into the consciousness of the entire nation.
The Rise of Capitalism
Freedom is the birth mother of capitalism. Today, China practices a limited form of capitalism. So did the former Soviet Union. Both nations, however, begrudgingly adopted their own forms of capitalism as a means of benefiting the state. There is free enterprise in China today, but the communist government, like that of the Soviet Union before it, maintains a controlling interest. A truly capitalist society is a free society. And capitalism attracts brilliant minds like a magnet to steel. Names like Albert Einstein, Mikhail Baryshnikov, and Joseph Pulitzer were drawn to the United States because there has never been a place on earth where so many with so little have accomplished so much.
Through our ingenuity, we gave the world airplanes, refrigerators, and sewing machines. We gave the world roller skates, toilet paper, and rock 'n' roll. We gave it the telephone, blue jeans, jazz, lightbulbs, air conditioning, and Coca-Cola. We gave it bubble gum, microwave ovens, cellular phones, calculators, artificial hearts, and the polio vaccine. Skyscrapers would not be practical were it not for Elisha Otis and his elevator. Heck, we invented the skyscraper too. Some people would go through life deaf were it not for R. G. Rhodes and his hearing aid. Imagine where the world would be, were we not able to tap into the earth's energy because of Edwin Drake's oil well. The world is so much more productive thanks to Eli Olds's assembly line. Crayons, tea bags, Popsicles, cotton candy, frozen food, chocolate chip cookies, photocopiers, defibrillators, carbon dating, integrated circuits. The list goes on forever. Do you think all this could happen anywhere else but America?
Former British prime minister Tony Blair summed it up nicely. "For all their faults," he said of America, "the U.S. is a force for good. I sometimes think it is a good rule of thumb to ask of a country: are people trying to get in or out of it? It's not a bad guide to what sort of country it is." Our immigration problems, daunting as they may be, are a testament to our nation's attractiveness. You'll notice that Mexico is certainly not in the position where it has to worry about a flood of humanity heading south from the United States.
Just because a nation is free doesn't necessarily mean it's going to be a magnet for the best and the brightest. Mexico is a case in point. Mexico is a federal republic, very similar in governmental organization to the United States. Mexico, however, has been plagued by corruption. It's what I refer to as a "corruptocracy." Transparency International bills itself as "the global coalition against corruption." On a scale from one to one hundred it rates countries based on corruption, with one hundred being the least corrupt. The United States rates a seventy-three. Mexico rates a thirty-four, behind such notoriously corrupt nations as China, Greece, and Colombia.
Bribery is legendary in Mexico. Although the Mexicans have made strides in stemming corruption, it's still not unusual to have to grease the palms of police officers and government officials. Dr. Shang-Jin Wei is assistant director and chief of the Trade and Investment Division at the International Monetary Fund (IMF). Wei has found that corruption stifles foreign investment and economic growth. In fact, he says if Mexico reduced its level of corruption to that of Singapore, it would have the same effect on foreign investment as lowering the capital gains tax by 50 percent! Mexico is rich in natural resources and is the second-largest supplier of oil to the United States, yet it remains a third-world country in part because of rampant corruption. Were Mexicans to eliminate corruption, there's no reason they couldn't be on par with the United States and Canada, and millions of Mexicans wouldn't find it necessary to break into our country.
But capitalist nations don't just happen by mistake; they happen by design. The United States was founded as a capitalist nation. That's why calls to end capitalism by those on the extreme left aren't just wild ramblings from disgruntled socialist misfits. Capitalism and America are inextricably intertwined; in fact, capitalism is the shortest path to individual freedom. Anyone who is anticapitalist is, by definition, anti-American. One cannot be simultaneously free and dependent on the government. Our freedom to be all we can be is what makes the United States unique. It's also what makes us good.
Through the Eyes of a Foreigner
Does the rest of the world hate us? You'd think so by listening to many on the left. Certainly we've had our ups and downs in world opinion, and Uncle Sam's eye was blackened a bit by the Iraq War. But America's relationship with the world is not represented by a single snapshot in history. National relationships are cultivated and nurtured over time. Suffice it to say that our relationship with Great Britain has seen its ebbs, but the Brits remain one of our strongest allies in the world, as do the Canadians.
Toronto television commentator Gordon Sinclair captured America's good in a 1973 editorial. What he said about the United States back then still holds true today. "Germany, Japan and, to a lesser extent, Britain and Italy were lifted out of the debris of war by the Americans who poured in billions of dollars and forgave other billions in debts," Sinclair observed. "None of these countries is today paying even the interest on its remaining debts to the United States." Regarding France, then one of our most vocal critics, Sinclair noted, "When France was in danger of collapsing in 1956, it was the Americans who propped it up, and their reward was to be insulted and swindled on the streets of Paris. I was there. I saw it."
Sinclair recognized the unbridled altruism of the American spirit. "When earthquakes hit distant cities, it is the United States that hurries in to help." He noted that no one lifts a finger when Americans suffer their own natural disasters. "Our neighbors have faced it alone," Sinclair concluded, "and I'm one Canadian who is damned tired of hearing them get kicked around." Sinclair was right, of course. When the tsunami hit Indonesia in 2004, the U.S. government stepped up with $656 million in aid, in addition to sending our military to the region on a humanitarian mission. What's even more remarkable are the private donations from American citizens that topped $1.8 billion. More than a third of Americans gave to private charities to help the victims of the tsunami. Yet, according to a Pew poll, even after all our generosity, only 38 percent of Indonesians have a favorable view of the United States.
The United States is, by far, the single largest donor of foreign aid in the world. Unlike some countries that force philanthropy through tax policies, Americans donate the bulk of their money through the private sector. The U.S. donates far more in foreign aid than any other country on earth, giving over $30 billion per year to developing countries. That generosity from the coffers of the treasury is dwarfed by donations from private foundations, corporations, voluntary organizations, universities, religious organizations, and individuals, according to the annual Index of Global Philanthropy and Remittances. In the 2013 index, private philanthropy gave more than three times as much as the U.S. government! The largest chunk of that — 36 percent — came from individuals, families, and hometown groups. So much for the greedy American capitalists. Those who want to replace capitalism with socialism (or worse) never stop to think that it's capitalism that provides the resources that help so many people around the globe. They want to kill the proverbial goose that laid the golden egg.
Pope Francis has done his share of hating on capitalism. The pope needs to understand that his reference of so-called capitalism is another corruptocracy. Consider Argentina, where he was raised. Argentina rates a pitiful 34 out of 100 in the aforementioned Corruption Perceptions Index, tied with Mexico at 106 out of the 176 countries for which data was available. There are 196 countries in the world today. There's no doubt the pope wants to better the lives of everyone in the world, but you don't do that with socialism. There are only a handful of self-described socialist states left in the world since the disintegration of the Soviet Union. Thriving paradises like Cuba and Laos and Vietnam. Garden spots like Bangladesh and North Korea. China calls itself a socialist state, but the only thing saving it is capitalism. America is a force for good because it's a beacon of capitalism. Countries that want to lift their people out of poverty emulate it. Those that want to oppress their people try desperately to stop its influence.
It can be argued that it would be in our best economic interest not to spread our form of successful government around the planet. Free nations mean competitive nations. Still, being the altruistic country we are, we've not been swayed in our mission to nudge the rest of the world toward freedom. Sure, if you want to be cynical, you can argue that free nations mean capitalist nations, which means more markets to sell our stuff to (or buy cheap stuff from). Either way, it's hard to argue that freedom isn't better. (By the way, China is just pretending to be free. More on that in a later chapter.) But there's another reason for capitalism that these Occupy Wall Street/peaceniks ought to love. When was the last time we were attacked by a free nation? Free nations rarely, if ever, go to war with each other. Why? Because they're trading partners and it doesn't make good sense to kill off your customers.
Think about the international conflicts that have taken place throughout American history. Iraq and Afghanistan? Dictatorships. Invasion of Panama? Dictatorship. Grenada? Ousting the commies. Vietnam? Commies. Cuba? Commies. Korea? Commies. WWII? Dictatorship. WWI? Emperor. You get the picture. It's not only in our interest to spread freedom and "democracy," but it's in the interest of people all over the world.
Although we remain the preeminent economic powerhouse of the world, that title is not guaranteed in perpetuity. Nations like China have the sheer numbers of people power to dominate the world economically if they would only cast off the chains of communism. The productivity a billion and a half people could muster if only they were free is incalculable. There's no doubt that republics make better economic partners, but spreading democracy and capitalism to places like China and the Middle East will also, most assuredly, make for a safer world. Unfortunately, the so-called Arab Spring, which began in Tunisia in December of 2010, replaced dictators with theocracies, arguably much more dangerous for us and the rest of the world.
Sean M. Lynn-Jones, the editor of International Security, the International Security Program's quarterly journal at Harvard, laid out an impressive argument for spreading democracy long before the Iraq War. In his discussion paper for Harvard's Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, Lynn-Jones argued that democracy is good for the citizens of new democracies. He noted that democracies are less likely to use violence against their own people, they enhance long-term economic performance, they never have famines, and they historically don't wage war against other democracies, nor do they support terrorism. Spreading democracy, in essence, is spreading good. Our attempt at spreading democracy in the Middle East may not have been the most popular decision we ever made, but it is the only thing that will ultimately lift that region into long-term prosperity. It's unfortunate that President Obama diverted from the course set by President Bush and chose to back terrorists rather than liberators. Extremist groups like the Muslim Brotherhood have now been given the keys to the kingdom. The Arab Spring might very well end in a Nuclear Winter.
Excerpted from The Conservative's Handbook by Phil Valentine. Copyright © 2016 Phil Valentine. Excerpted by permission of Sourcebooks, Inc..
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