Celebrating the Founders

July 4, 2010

I found this video on libertycentral.org. They didn’t produce it. It was made by Soomo Publishing, a company that makes catchy, modern videos for educational purposes. They took the “break up” song “Apologize” by One Republic and put new words to it. Very nicely done I think. Today is the anniversary of our “break up” with England. Ooh it sucked! But we were better for it in the long run, as “just friends”.

When I first saw this my first reaction was to think of Obama’s “apology tour” to the world. I know it’s out of context, but I do feel like saying to Obama, “It’s too late to apologize.”

The road to serfdom

June 19, 2010

This is one of Glenn Beck’s best shows (from June 8). The conversation he has with Thomas Woods, Jr. of the Ludwig von Mises Institute and Yuri Maltsev of Carthage College is amazing. Listen very carefully to what Woods says. What he reveals is that in the 20th century, over and over and over again, and possibly in recent years as well, we the people have been fooled by a combination of market failures and supposed leaders who come along and confidently tell us that under their plan we will never experience this failure again. All that their plans do is set the stage for the next failure which inevitably occurs. The point is not that their plans cause the next failure (even though they do). The point is, as Beck points out, that this is what market economies DO! They rise and fall. It’s in their nature. Our supposed leaders never solve the problem, yet they assure us each time that “this time” will do the trick. By the time the next market failure happens we either conclude that we were lied to, or we forget that some past leader had put a supposed “solution” in place. The problem is not that their plans fail, it’s that their plans often have an ulterior purpose. They tell you that the plan is a salve for the problem we all want solved (which is a false hope), when all it really does is satisfy the desires of an interest group. The idea that the plan was for you was just marketing. It wasn’t for you. It was for someone else.

Each “plan” along the way compounds the previous problem. As years pass we forget the past “solutions”. We think they’ve always been with us, and just become a part of the “established order”. We feel secure knowing that they’re there, or we’re not even conscious of them anymore.

Each “solution” increases the power of the state, and takes away a little of your freedom. In this context I’m talking about, it’s not necessarily a legal restriction on your freedom. It could be the fact that the federal government has the ability to inflate the currency you use to conduct transactions and save for your retirement. It could be that it allows the government to mismanage its fiscal situation, raising interest rates that impact your ability to do what you need to do, both vices making everything you depend on cost more, sapping your wealth, your future. This has political implications as Friedrich Hayek says in his book, “The Road to Serfdom”, leading to a country that is less and less free, and eventually turns into a dictatorship, where the common people are all serfs of the state. This could happen because we the people are ignorant and do not understand the nature of our own systems. Instead we’re always trying to change it to make it “better”, screwing it up further, and always in a state of denial.

The road to serfdom is not inevitable. We can change course if we learn to recognize what it means to live in liberty: socially, politically, legally, and economically, and understand that this is the best system yet devised–warts and all. Any attempt to improve on it should be taken in small steps with great care, and always, always, always in most cases err on the side of individual liberty, as Woods said. Any attempt to do otherwise will likely lead to disaster.

Edit 6-21-10: The focus of this article is the economic means by which we happen to restrict our freedom. However, I did mention a legal component. To be clear, there’s a caveat I would apply to the above paragraph in the case of state security. I still believe as I have long believed, taking a lesson from 9/11, that if there is a conflict between protecting individual liberty and protecting that state which protects our liberty, I would err on the side of protecting the state over our liberty. Otherwise we could end up in a paradoxical situation that’s analogous to a saying I’ve heard about in the Far East: “One man, one vote, one time.” In other words, by erring on the side of individual liberty, even to the point of risking the security of the state, we could end up losing our freedom that way as well.

Below is a video I found a while back done by Econstories.tv. It’s an entertaining “rap” contest between John Maynard Keynes and Friedrich Hayek. It focuses in on their economic theories.

What I like about this video is it shows the intuitive notion that Keynes presents, something that seems to make sense to most people. Hayek presents a non-intuitive point of view, that it’s the boom, caused by artificially low interest rates (created by the Federal Reserve Bank), which you need to be wary of, not the bust, because it’s the boom that potentially leads to a horrendous financial collapse. It all depends on what created the boom.

Keynesian economic theory dominated the 20th century since the 1930s. It got its “big break” during the Great Depression. There was a brief period in the 1980s where it was rejected in favor of Hayek’s and Milton Friedman’s theories. But Keynesian theory has since come back to life in the political world. It’s a sad tale. Some in the political class in the developed world realized that Keynesian economics doesn’t work, at least not anymore, and managed to gain power in the 1980s, but the universities never made that realization. They’ve been teaching Keynesian economics as THE established economic theory ever since the middle of the 20th century. They’ve been blithely unaware of what the political class discovered, for a brief time, 30 years ago. This isn’t surprising. Since Keynes’s theory was so dominant, the only university that would hire Hayek as a professor of economics in the U.S. was the University of Chicago. Hayek eventually went back to Austria to continue his work. This is where he lived out his remaining days.

From what I remember, listening to some von Mises Institute lectures, is Hayek advocated that interest rates need to be allowed to “float” (find their own level in the marketplace). This will coordinate times of investment for future production, and times of consumption when the new production can be put to use by the economy. Allowing for this requires delaying gratification in our society. It means that consumers need to become more thrifty sometimes. What we’ve had for the last 20 years, perhaps longer, is government policy, coordinated with Fed policy, that always tries to drive consumption, spending, and gratification. It interrupts the investment cycle, thereby leaving little room for development of new forms of production.

My own theory from experience is that in this environment the investment is only in optimizing old forms of production, which is cheaper, and is compatible with low capital reserves (low savings rate). This leads to more automation, possibly joblessness and flat wages, because bold new ideas, which tend to be more capital-intensive, labor-intensive, and require creativity, are discouraged in the economy.

A good documentary mini-series on Keynes, Hayek, and Friedman was produced by PBS in 2002 called “Commanding Heights: The battle for the world economy”. When I saw this it was the first time I had heard of Hayek.

A couple good articles by Robert J. Samuelson

May 10, 2010

I think these two articles are worth paying attention to. The first is about the export-led growth that we are now experiencing due to growth in Asia. The second is about how what’s going on in Greece is a warning to us. We will be in the same boat as they are in another 10 or so years if we do not either cut entitlement benefits or increase revenue to the government sufficiently to decrease the spread between revenue and spending.

“A new economic world order?”

“The welfare state’s death spiral”

If I had to make a prediction I’d say that we’re not going to react to head off the problems with entitlements until we start to feel their effects on our economy, namely “stagflation”–lethargic economic growth and inflation. The answer our society will most likely come up with is to try to increase government revenue through various taxing schemes. I don’t think we’re going to see a repeat of Ronald Reagan this time, because of demographic differences between now and the 1980s.

History has shown that increasing taxes doesn’t really increase revenue to the government relative to GDP. If you increase taxes the people who spend the most money (the wealthy) will find ways around the taxes, and so the government will get about as much as it’s been getting relative to GDP. If we have economic growth, the government will see revenue increase. If we pass a Value-Added Tax (VAT) I think the government will see a “step up” in its revenues (history shows that it does, and provides a more reliable revenue stream than with income taxes), but it’ll stay at that level no matter what they do with it.

If elderly voters have to make a choice between economic growth and a sense of security from government entitlements, history has shown that they vote for security every time.

The reason I make the above prognosis is that seniors are not going to want their benefits cut. I know that the Tea Party movement is feeling its oats now, and is supporting more fiscally conservative candidates. What it really represents in my view, is a defense of the status quo, no matter how Democrats try to cast it. It’s a rebellion against out of control government spending, but it is not a rejection of entitlements. Unfortunately this is not radical enough, because the existing entitlement programs are going into fiscal insolvency. The only way out that I see is a translation of entitlements into private sector, market solutions, with little government regulation, that provide less security, but more affordability and access. I doubt that this is the direction our society will choose, because of the tendency of the elderly to vote for security over all else.

As the Baby Boomers retire they are going to swell the ranks of elderly voters, who vote most reliably, and vote most often for candidates who promise more entitlement benefits, or to protect the ones the elderly already get. The follow on generation to the Boomers, my generation, is small. We cannot possibly out-vote our parents, even if we tried. Personally I think the days of bullish economic growth that we saw in the 80s and 90s are over for the time being. We may be in this state or worse for another few decades when today’s children of Boomers may gain political power and decide to change course.

Perhaps what we will see in the future, going off of what Samuelson says in “a new world economic order?”, is that the U.S. government will try to benefit off of the economic growth in Asia, through export-led trade. Until then it’s going to be more “exciting” in the political arena, though all too predictable if one is paying attention, than it is in the economic one.

Being inspired by our legacy

February 22, 2010

I saw this Saturday night. Wow! I’ve been saying I don’t listen to Glenn Beck often, but I guess I have lately. Time will tell if that continues. He was on fire with this speech. Very inspiring. This last part brought tears to my eyes.

He tells a bit of the story of the Statue of Liberty that really does change the character of it. Ken Burns did a short documentary on it many years ago. What I remember him saying was that the statue was commissioned at the end of the Civil War, and that it was meant to be a symbol of unity between the North and the South. He might have even said the passage about the “huddled masses” “yearning to breath free” was a message directed at the South, which had been destroyed by the war. I forget. Beck was reading the Emma Lazarus poem that’s inscribed on a plaque, inside the statue’s pedestal.

Understanding the unconstrained vision in the 20th century

February 8, 2010

This is a follow-up to a couple previous posts I wrote, called “We are suffering under the ignorance of our national heritage”, and “The liberal/conservative divide explained”. Next to the show where Beck introduced Sarah Palin to the world (before McCain picked her as his VP candidate), the following show, from 1/29/2010, is the best one I’ve seen him do.

He’s talked for a while about the origins of socialist, fascist, and communist thought, mostly its European origins and its effects in Europe, though he’s talked some about the effects of progressive thought in the U.S., from what I’ve seen. Like I’ve said before, I don’t watch his show much. He’s usually too hysterical for me. This episode was an exception. It really gets into what the original progressives were thinking, and how they influenced our entire society to separate us from the founding philosophy of the United States, and the understanding of why the original ideas were good. (h/t to The 912 Diary):

Edit 3-10-2010: I’ve added/updated the following four paragraphs.

I just recently found this interview with Norman Dodd, a man who was a researcher with the Reece Commission in 1953. This interview was done in 1982. It really helps fill in what the men on Beck’s show were talking about, regarding how our notions of our history were deliberately changed by a group of elites and their tax-exempt foundations in the first half of the 20th century. It also gets to their motivations, which will sound outlandish.

The reason behind this push to change our history is that the Progressives saw the Constitution and the founding ideas as their enemy. They thought of them as backward and outdated. They were ignorant of why these ideas were (and are still) good. Their world view is understandable by listening to what Thomas Sowell has had to say about the unconstrained vision, which believes that special elites need to be put into leadership so that they can work their will to bring about a better society. Their conceit was the belief that there are such “perfect” people who are so refined and educated that they do not have the flaws that the rest of us have. As was briefly mentioned in the Glenn Beck episode, this notion came from pseudoscientific ideas that were popular in intellectual circles at the time, namely eugenics and social darwinism. They thought they could improve upon the Founders by moving away from the idea that there’s a wise tension between the “wisdom of crowds” and an accomplished elite whom we elect to represent us that respects the sovereign rights of all Americans, and move us toward the idea that the people need to be led by philosopher kings who contain all the wisdom necessary to do what is right. The struggle between the constrained and the unconstrained vision has been around since the dawn of Western civilization, 2,500 years ago.

I’ve been discovering that there have been some very powerful people in our country who have had some very foolish ideas. The more I read about this subject the more they sounds like mad scientists. We can understand their foolishness by keeping in mind that these people operated under technocratic assumptions. They believed that a better society could be achieved by making everything, even human societies, conform to mathematical “laws” that were predictable. They would also benefit from this, as it would keep their businesses profitable, and help them consolidate their power. They tried to use their notions of science and engineering to bring about this utopia. They believed that efficiency was the ultimate value in society. I don’t mean to say that the disciplines of mathematics, science, and engineering are not valuable. They just don’t deliver what people of this consciousness think they do. Nevertheless, most of us have been at the effect of these foolish ideas for about 60 years, and it has been to our detriment.

The reason I favor getting back to the Founders’ vision for the U.S. is it seems to me they understood these disciplines well, and they wanted to use the perspective that they really do provide to help the members of society improve society. They did not worship mathematics as the ultimate perfecter of humans, nor did they worship science as the ultimate revealer of truth.

The constrained and unconstrained visions in everyday life

We can see the difference between those who believe in the constrained vs. the unconstrained vision by their attitudes. There are gradations of these attitudes among people. One should not take these as cookie cutter templates. I’m presenting “purist” definitions here to provide contrast.

Those who believe in the constrained vision of humanity approach the ideas of governance from a philosophical, principled standpoint. They are interested in the give and take of ideas, and encourage vigorous and robust debate. They believe in the fallibility of human beings, and so are wary of the idea that any one person has the one right answer, though they are confident that there are many wrong answers. The challenge is to try to tease out which are the good ideas, and to filter out the bad ones. They believe that power in government must be checked by competing forces, and that competition has its benefits in other arenas. They see society as a collection of systems, and they have a keen understanding of human nature. Their debates center around a comparison of systems, and which better serve the greater good, making human nature a key factor.

Those who believe in the constrained vision believe in a literary and scientific education (ie. testing our notions about what we think we know, and what we think we see, and forming our own models which map well to the results of those tests) to empower individuals to understand and reason about their world, and their society.

Those who believe in the unconstrained vision approach the ideas of governance from a moral and symptomatic standpoint. They see some problem or other in the moment, and in response attempt to address it with a grand solution, big or small, that seems to fit the size of the problem in the moment. They do not look at fixed systems of interaction which may have created the problem. Instead they see groups of people acting morally or immorally and attempt to stymie and correct the people who they deem to have acted immorally. In short, they are reactionary.

They see it as the job of those who govern to manage everything, and to some extent everyone, for the benefit of those whom they deem are oppressed. The leaders demand something in return, to maintain their power–“I scratch your back, and you scratch mine”–and so they set up systems of patronage, even with the oppressed.

They do not care for debate. Authorities whom they deem to be cultured, intelligent, educated, moral, and know how to wield power are to be respected, without question. They do not see any “wisdom of crowds”, which are just “the seething ignorant mob” to them. These “mobs” cannot have grievances that they have determined for themselves, because they are not intelligent enough to have any. It’s assumed that the leadership will be able to determine which groups of people are aggrieved, and that they will act appropriately to address them.

Any group that is to be respected must have a leader or group of leaders that is deemed respectable by the aforementioned criteria, or else they are illegitimate. If you are not a member of the aforementioned oppressed, and you are not considered a legitimate leader of a group that can help the oppressed and maintain the leadership’s power, you must abide whatever the leadership deems is appropriate to do. If you resist, you are made a pariah.

Those who believe in the unconstrained vision also believe in education, one that is cultured and literary. Critical thought is encouraged, but there is a heavy emphasis on approaching subjects in a symptomatic way. In all but the best schools, deep understanding of subjects is not encouraged. Instead there is an emphasis on analysis and case-based skills.

The Founders used a constrained vision of humanity in designing our government in the Constitution. They were men of the Enlightenment. They designed the government to address human nature as it has been, as it is, and will be for a very, very long time. The Progressives have always been deluded, as the socialists of all stripes have been, in believing that humans can be perfected. Our flaws can be rectified and eliminated. The Founders believed that our flaws can only be mitigated. That’s the difference. In other words, our flaws are innate and unchangeable, but systems can be put in place and used in order to improve our lot, to bring out and encourage the positive aspects of our nature, and put a damper on and frustrate the extremely negative aspects of it, so as to create a society that is as harmonious as humanly possible. That’s a limited statement. The Founders never envisioned America as a utopia, and did not believe that was possible. What they went for was a “as good as it gets” society. The Founders formed it based on a learned view of history, of past regimes, and worked carefully to construct a system of government that promoted freedom, but did not allow anarchy and the concentration of power. They tried to learn from past mistakes. They went for a “happy medium”.

Secondly, they understood that the project of building our society and government was not complete when they first created it, and that future generations would need to change the structure of our government to create a “more perfect union”. Thankfully we did. The most significant accomplishments have been freeing the slaves, which the Founders could not reconcile and deliberately left to a future generation to resolve, giving women property rights and the vote, and promoting equal rights for all citizens, no matter who they are or where they came from. We should rightfully celebrate those changes. I think they have created a more perfect union. Where we “went off the road” was with the idea that the Constitution is an interpretive document in all respects, that we need not try to understand the original intent of its articles and amendments–what was in the heads of those who wrote them, and that they mean whatever we want it to mean. That way leads to a gradual erosion of our rights, and our freedom. We become a nation of flawed, hubristic humans ruling to try to correct the actions of flawed humans; not a nation of law, but a nation of will, which will ultimately lead to a tyrannical government if we remain ignorant of our legal heritage.

Edit 2/10/2010: I found out about this ad after the Super Bowl. We could be looking forward to this if we’re not careful.

It really would behoove us to reject the Progressive philosophy of governance, because it has been shown to be a failure many times over. They never seem to learn. Because of their cultural influence, we have forgotten, and so we haven’t learned either. That can always be corrected, but we as individuals have to undertake our own education. Unfortunately our schools, for the most part, are not going to help us with that.

Lifting the veil of the Left

February 7, 2010

I watched the conversation between David Horowitz and Pat Caddell at the 2009 Restoration Weekend, talking about the “insides” of the Democratic Party, and how it’s been taken over by neo-Marxists and crooks. (Update 12/1/2014: I had the video of this here for a while, but it looks like it’s now gone. Too bad. It was a very interesting conversation.)

What I found impressive about it is how explicitly they explained the general pattern we’ve seen of Democrats “saying one thing and doing another.” It isn’t just the same old thing where “politicians lie.” There’s a specific strategy behind it with an end game, and it’s not just to get around the “greedy capitalist Republicans” so that help can be delivered to those who need it. It’s to gain and maintain power for these neo-Marxists by making the citizenry dependent on them. The big lie of the Left is that they are doing these things to help the downtrodden. No, they are doing these things to help themselves, all the while saying, “It’s all for you.” The more dependent the citizenry is on Democratic governance, the longer they can have jobs and stay in power. That’s the idea, anyway. According to Horowitz, (I heard this from him in an interview) the neo-Marxists don’t give a damn whether their programs are sustainable. They don’t even think about that.

Now, I am sure that there are many, many Democrats who have been supporting Democratic proposals in the last year out of a selfless love for the downtrodden. I hate to break it to you, but you’re being used. Simply saying that is not going to be satisfactory to many. I only hope that some of you become aware of what you have been involved in at some point (these will be people with long memories and critical minds), and realize what I am saying here. Just hold the thought for a while. You don’t have to accept it as true right now.

What Horowitz and Caddell have made explicit is an idea that Jonah Goldberg laid out at this same event (at a different talk), which is that the powerful far left wing of the Democratic Party has been trying for the past year to turn the U.S. into a client state, which means that every American would be a client of the government for many of our important needs, such as health care. What’s interesting is that they have so far not been able to pull this off, even though they had a super-majority. The far left is powerful in the Democratic Party, but there are also enough centrists in the party to moderate what happens. The Republicans have largely been powerless up until this past Thursday. What’s ironic is that the Democrats helped elect these centrists so that the far left could rise to leadership. They wouldn’t have gotten where they are without them. They’ve tried as hard as they could to shove their crap through the legislative process, but they haven’t been able to do more damage than they’ve already done with the “stimulus” bills they’ve passed, and their outrageous yearly budgets. That’s a consolation, and I wish I could say things were better than this. As things stand now we’re headed for “stagflation,” a lethargic economy that will not produce that many jobs, and rising interest rates and inflation, which will make everyone poorer. Plenty of change, without hope.

Yep. The “zeros” have turned out to be almost a repeat of the 1960s and 70s, just without the social revolution, and the amazing technological innovation and exploration. Maybe that’s yet to come.

In case anyone’s interested, Horowitz referred to discoverthenetworks.org.

Tea time

February 6, 2010

I’ve been observing the Tea Party movement since last year. In recent years I’ve found it difficult to be involved in political activism. My life is occupied with other responsibilities and pursuits. However, I’ve felt an affinity with the concerns of the Tea Partiers, and have been supportive of them “from afar”. I, too, am worried about the runaway spending of the federal government. I am also bothered by the government seeming to not be concerned with solving real problems. Instead the goal of every proposal has been to satisfy certain constituencies, as if that’s good enough.

I watched some TV coverage of the first day of the Tea Party convention in Nashville, TN. It gave me this feeling of deja vu. I was a supporter and member of United We Stand America (UWSA) beginning in 1992. Ross Perot was its figurehead and lead supporter. The history of it seemed to begin with a “throw the bums out” grassroots movement that began in 1989, or thereabouts. It was just in its nascent stages then. People were inspired by a Larry King Live interview with Perot in February 1992, and a grassroots “draft Perot for President” campaign began (I think it was called the Perot Petition Committee). He advocated higher taxes and cuts in spending in order to bring down the federal debt, which at the time was “only” $4 trillion. President Obama’s budget for next year almost equals that amount! Oh how far we’ve come! Anyway, back then we thought $4 trillion was an immense amount, too big to fathom. Perot advocated entitlements reform, to decrease their growth. He had read the projections of fiscal economists, which said that in the far off future there would only be two people working for every person retired, and that this would be unsustainable. We’re still on a collision course with that future.

He wanted to lower discretionary spending, and decrease the debt dramatically, because he foresaw the kind of events we’ve seen over the last 10 years. He wanted a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution, with some caveats that would allow deficit spending only for specific circumstances, like war, or national emergencies (the latter has problems, though, because literally anything can be classified in law as an “emergency”). He used to talk about how there would be wars in the future, and that carrying a large debt load into that situation would mean trouble, because the government is forced into deficit spending in every war. Well, that’s the situation we’re in now.

At the time of Perot’s run in 1992, the Cold War had just ended. Conventional wisdom held that it was “the end of history”, and we could enjoy a “peace dividend” (never mind the Gulf War of 1991). Unfortunately our society decided to go for that myopic message (despite the World Trade Center bombing in 1993). So much for “the end of history”. Nevertheless, beginning in the mid-1990s, with a Democratic president and a Republican congress, the government was able to run budget surpluses and decrease the federal debt. Pressure from Perot voters, with our advocacy for reducing the federal debt, helped make that happen.

I listened to Tea Partiers talk to the media yesterday, and call in to C-SPAN. They sounded a lot like the Perot supporters I used to hear from, just in their general tone. The main thing that seems to drive the Tea Partiers, like the UWSA supporters of yesterday, is that they are alarmed at what the two major parties are doing in government, and above all else they want to stop it. Like the Tea Partiers, UWSA supporters were ridiculed for not supporting anything in specific, though Perot did outline some agenda areas he’d like to see addressed (part of which I’ve described above). Most UWSA members agreed with his agenda, for a time (though there was a major split in the movement over Perot’s opposition to the free trade agreements, NAFTA and later GATT). It seems like the politics are different, though. From what I’ve been hearing, the main hope of the Tea Partiers is to bring the Republican Party back to a conservative agenda. UWSA was not focused on one party in this way. We used to say that there was no difference between the two parties. There’s also more of a focus on constitutional, limited government among the Tea Partiers, one that spends less and taxes less. UWSA did not emphasize the Constitution, and was in favor of higher taxes, and cuts in spending, with the goal of reducing the federal debt.

The goal of the Tea Partiers is to make the political system come to them. UWSA had the same goal.

There’s a lot of speculation about what the Tea Partiers stand for, and whether they will form a third party. From where I sit, I think it’s good for the Tea Party movement to lack definition, to allow the people who are participating to be a part of an association like this, but one where they can have their own individual voices, even though there will be a temptation to say, “Let’s create an official organization with official representatives. Let’s define ourselves.” If the Tea Party movement goes that direction, I see it falling apart. We went through that with UWSA. Beginning in 1993 we started getting “directives” from the UWSA headquarters in Dallas, TX for government policy issues to work on. It was framed as a way to promote a united message. After all, we were calling ourselves “United We Stand”. The problem was the membership was never asked about the details. I thought this was fine, since I supported these goals anyway, but other members resented it. This, along with other public advocacy activities that Perot subsequently undertook led to a schism within UWSA. I think an advantage that the Tea Party movement has had is it began in a leaderless way. People have come together around some principles, rather than in support of an individual who people believe embodies those principles.

Given actions that the government took subsequently, starting in 1993, we felt like we weren’t having a big enough influence. So in 1995/96, the Reform Party was formed. We were going to run political candidates. We actually had a contest for the presidential nomination between Ross Perot and former Colorado governor Richard Lamm. There was a lot of controversy about that. There were complaints about a corrupt nomination process. People who had been with the movement for a long time wondered whether Lamm was loyal to the party or whether he was a Democratic stalking horse. In any case Perot was picked as the nominee, and he did worse than the time before, getting 8% of the popular vote. The big difference was Perot was not included in the presidential debates, as he was in 1992. He got a big boost out of those then.

Forming the party was probably the worst thing we did. Maybe I lack perspective, since I was more deeply involved with the Reform Party than with UWSA. There was constant infighting amongst ourselves, mainly because a political party is just a vehicle, and it must be this way legally. We, the Perot supporters, naively thought that since we had founded the party we could control the platform, and be careful enough to select candidates who represented what we wanted implemented in our government. It turned out there was more opportunity to control the agenda we wanted to promote with UWSA than there was with the party. Once the party was founded, any candidate, no matter their agenda–even if it was diametrically opposed to what we set out to do, could come in with his/her supporters and just take the party over. I eventually woke up to this fact, and saw some of the wisdom in this structure for parties, but there were many other “old timers” who resisted this to the bitter end.

A persistent problem we had from 1992 onward was we knew what we wanted to do, but we were ignorant and naive about what political structure would best advance that agenda. We tried UWSA, which was a 501(c)(3) educational organization, but we ran into problems when we wanted to endorse candidates for office. It was illegal for a 501(c)(3) organization to do that. Later we wanted to push forward a particular agenda, rather like an interest group, but we wanted to run candidates for office, to exert power. So the next “form” we took was as a political party, which is not designed for agenda advocacy. It’s basically a structure for coalition building, but according to the rules it’s not allowed to dictate what the coalition represents. The coalition that gathers the most power within the party at any given time gets to do that. You don’t own it just because you created it. You have to politically organize large numbers of supporters for the agenda you support, and you have to do that consistently, not just when you’re excited about a cause, like the Tea Partiers are now, or around elections, if you want the party to maintain a direction and purpose that you support. To do that, you need to be a consistent presence in the media, and you need supportive organizations. To do all this you need lots of money. And of course everyone who joins in with you has to understand and support the rationale for your cause. It’s a lot of work!

The other thing that was poisonous to the Reform Party effort, particularly after the 1996 presidential race, is that Perot had earned enough votes for the party to qualify for FEC money for the next presidential race in 2000. This was one of the goals, but it created monsters out of otherwise nice, decent people. I can’t remember the amount. It might’ve been $8 million. This started a gold rush for opportunists to come in and compete for power positions within the party. We started breaking up into factions. It was becoming a chaotic mess. We spent a significant amount of our time fighting each other rather than focusing on what we all came together to do originally, which was to reform government fiscal policy. It all basically ended in 2000, when Pat Buchanan ran for the party’s presidential nomination, along with someone who used to run for president regularly in the Natural Law Party. The party split in two at the national level, and had thereby mortally wounded itself. I saw people I had once trusted do the most despicable things. The corruption that was occurring was so obvious it was like witnessing Tammany Hall in the 20th century, though with no government power. It actually made the corruption in the two major parties look civilized by comparison. I thought, “You know what? It’s a good thing that not too many of our people have been elected to public office. They’d be worse than the people who are there now!” I did not think this of Buchanan, who I thought ran a good campaign for the nomination, putting in the sweat equity required to get it. Despite all of the chaos within the party, Buchanan was legally recognized as the Reform Party nominee by the FEC, and his campaign was given the $8 million in FEC money, but he limped over the finish line with 0% of the popular vote. The split in the party was one of the most heart-wrenching things I had experienced in my whole life.

As I think back on it now, I wonder why we didn’t organize ourselves as an interest group, or perhaps split between that and a 501(c)(3), with some choosing political advocacy, and some choosing to just educate. Given what we wanted to do this would’ve made so much more sense. Of course, we didn’t think of forming an interest group because we were AGAINST political interest groups! We used to complain about them constantly. We said we wanted to get beyond interest group politics, but legally it would’ve allowed us to do what we really wanted.

I’m telling this story so that Tea Partiers in particular can read it and learn from our mistakes, both in terms of organizing an association, and forming a third party. I would say to them, that beyond the conventional concerns about splitting the presidential vote down the road, they should approach the idea of forming a third party with extreme caution. From my experience, forming the party was the death knell of the reform movement. It became a huge distraction after 1996, and in the end it exhausted us. It was the best thing that could’ve happened to the powers that be in the Democratic and Republican parties, because we became so distracted with our own “inside baseball” political infighting that it removed our influence from the national stage.