Saturday Night Ethics Fever, 8/27/2022: Davy Crockett, and Other Ethics Stories…

For once, here is a germane Davy Crockett historical ethics note that has nothing to do with the Alamo. The episode is relevant to the recent vote-buying Hail Mary by President Biden, using tax-payer funds to deliver a large monetary gift to those who took on a financial obligation, derived its benefits, and were complaining that requiring them to pay their debts was “unjust.” It comes from an essay published in Harper’s Magazine in 1867, first flagged by the Foundation for Economic Education in 2008, and today by Instapundit.

A bill was taken up in the House of Representatives appropriating money for the benefit of a widow of a distinguished naval officer, and several impassioned speeches had been made on the bill’s behalf. The Speaker was just about to put the question when Rep. Davy Crockett (D-Tenn) rose to speak. He said,

“Mr. Speaker–I have as much respect for the memory of the deceased, and as much sympathy for the sufferings of the living, if suffering there be, as any man in this House, but we must not permit our respect for the dead or our sympathy for a part of the living to lead us into an act of injustice to the balance of the living. I will not go into an argument to prove that Congress has no power to appropriate this money as an act of charity. Every member upon this floor knows it. We have the right, as individuals, to give away as much of our own money as we please in charity; but as members of Congress we have no right so to appropriate a dollar of the public money. Some eloquent appeals have been made to us upon the ground that it is a debt due the deceased. Mr. Speaker, the deceased lived long after the close of the war; he was in office to the day of his death, and I have never heard that the government was in arrears to him.

Every man in this House knows it is not a debt. We cannot, without the grossest corruption, appropriate this money as the payment of a debt. We have not the semblance of authority to appropriate it as a charity. Mr. Speaker, I have said we have the right to give as much money of our own as we please. I am the poorest man on this floor. I cannot vote for this bill, but I will give one week’s pay to the object, and if every member of Congress will do the same, it will amount to more than the bill asks.”

The bill, which up until that point had been considered a cinch to pass overwhelmingly, was voted down. Later, the Harper’s piece claims, Crockett was asked by a friend why he had opposed the appropriation, and replied by telling the story of a man who told him he would not vote for him again because he had voted for a Treasury pay-out of $20,000 to relieve its suffering women and children as a result of a recent fire in Georgetown. The man, as Davy told it, explained in part,

“‘It is not the amount, Colonel, that I complain of; it is the principle. …The power of collecting and disbursing money at pleasure is the most dangerous power that can be entrusted to man…while you are contributing to relieve one, you are drawing it from thousands who are even worse off than he. If you had the right to give anything, the amount was simply a matter of discretion with you, and you had as much right to give $20,000,000 as $20,000. If you have the right to give to one, you have the right to give to all; and, as the Constitution neither defines charity nor stipulates the amount, you are at liberty to give to any and everything which you may believe, or profess to believe, is a charity, and to any amount you may think proper. You will very easily perceive what a wide door this would open for fraud and corruption and favoritism, on the one hand, and for robbing the people on the other…So you see, Colonel, you have violated the Constitution in what I consider a vital point. It is a precedent fraught with danger to the country, for when Congress once begins to stretch its power beyond the limits of the Constitution, there is no limit to it, and no security for the people. I have no doubt you acted honestly, but that does not make it any better…

Crockett claimed that he replied,

“‘Well, my friend, you hit the nail upon the head when you said I had not sense enough to understand the Constitution. I intended to be guided by it, and thought I had studied it fully. I have heard many speeches in Congress about the powers of Congress, but what you have said here at your plow has got more hard, sound sense in it than all the fine speeches I ever heard. If I had ever taken the view of it that you have, I would have put my head into the fire before I would have given that vote; and if you will forgive me and vote for me again, if I ever vote for another unconstitutional law I wish I may be shot.”

1. Wow, the battle over which Democratic big city mayor is the biggest walking disaster is a tough one…but my money is on Muriel Bowser of D.C. Being a Democrat, she has embraced dictatorial pandemic restrictions on students—besides, those masks send a message of fealty to Big Sister—and recently declared at a press conference that no alternative options, including virtual learning, would be available for students banned from attending school due to the District’s vaccine mandate. Unvaccinated children could not get a public school education. “We’re not offering remote learning for children, and families will need to comply with what is necessary to come to school.”

This kind of draconian vaccination requirement can be defended when the disease at issue is polio or smallpox; it is ridiculous when the target is the Wuhan virus and its relatives. Bowser, however, had not thought things through, as is typical for her. Over 40% of black children ages 12-17 are not vaccinated, according to city data. In contrast, about 90% of white students are vaccinated. First Bowser denied the statistics—she is a Democrat, after all. (We’re not in a recession either.) Then she realized that this was the black activist’s friend, “disparate impact.” That makes all the difference, of course. The African- American mayor who directed that a giant BLACK LIVES MATTER be painted on a city street quickly made a U-turn: if “her people” were going to be affected, obviously the policy was wrong.

“Never mind!” she decided

2. If Joe Biden was truly interested in the welfare of the nation, he would take a unifying and collaborative stance in his public statements, avoiding divisive rhetoric, and actually follow through on his promise not to fan the flames of hyper-partisanship while demonizing his political opposition. This would, of course, involve among other things condemning anti-democratic rhetoric from allies like the Governor of New York. But the President lacks the character, common sense, integrity, patriotism and courage to do that, so he now makes statements like he made last week, telling a group of reporters, “What we’re seeing now, is either the beginning or the death knell of an extreme MAGA philosophy. It’s not just Trump, it’s the entire philosophy that underpins the – I’m going to say something, it’s like semi-fascism.”

What is “semi-fascism”? What is “extreme MAGA philosophy”? Apparently the gratuitous racism label isn’t working as well as it once did, thanks to over-use, so “fascist” is the new insult du jour. This all occurs as Biden’s administration plots to imprison his most likely adversary in a re-election bid. Meanwhile, his addled and barely coherent paid liar, Karine Jean-Pierre, babbled when challenged about Joe’s statement, “I was very clear when laying out and defining what MAGA Republicans have done, and you look at the definition of fascism, and you think about what they’re doing in attacking our democracy, what they’re doing in taking away our freedoms, wanting to take away our rights, our voting rights, I mean, that is what that is.”

Facts Don’t Matter, in other words. Just fling unsupportable accusations into the air, and hope they generate enough fear, hate and anger among the gullible, ignorant and biased.

What a despicable way to lead a nation.

3. And speaking of the incompetent Ms. Jean-Pierre...CNN’s Don Lemon exposed her shallowness on his show. (Apparently Don is going to try to be a journalist for a while after getting the message from Brian Stelter’s overdue firing.) “What exactly is semi-fascism, Karine?” Lemon asked.

“The American people have a choice in front of them and the President laid that out very clearly, very powerfully tonight. When you look at what Democrats are doing and what they are delivering, and what they have done, Don, in less than two years, which is lowering costs on prescription drugs, lowering the energy costs, making sure that we have this historic legislation to really deal with [the] climate crisis. All of these things are important,” Jean-Pierre told Lemon. 

The administration has not “lowered energy costs” at all; they are just lower than the earlier increased energy costs Biden’s policies triggered. Of course, the “historic legislation” will not have any effect on climate change whatsoever.

Lemon asked once more what Biden meant by “semi-fascist.” Once again Jean-Pierre tried to duck. “I am… I was just about to get to your question. I really was… You brought me on the show for a reason. And I have to talk about,” she said. Lemon, aggravated, said “I understand that, I just have limited time with you… I just want to make sure that we get all the answers.”

“Well, by having this back and forth, we are actually taking away from the time. So here we go,” she said.  “So what we’re seeing from Republicans and what we have seen from Republicans these past several years is that they are attacking our democracy. They are taking away our freedom. And they are trying to put on the chopping blocks Medicare and Social Security. That’s what we are seeing, and it’s being done — if you look at the Republican Party, it is being done by this element, this MAGA element of the Republican Party. And that is what we are trying to prevent. That’s what you heard from the president today,” Jean-Pierre told Lemon, running out the clock.

Oh. Attacking democracy how? She really defaulted to the “scare the old folks” mantra about the mean GOP wanting to get rid of Medicare and Social Security, which has been a part of Democratic play book since at least the 1980s. Translation: “I got nothin’.”

What kind of person listens to such utter drivel and thinks, “You go girl!”?

6 thoughts on “Saturday Night Ethics Fever, 8/27/2022: Davy Crockett, and Other Ethics Stories…

  1. Jean-Pierre seems to have studied at the Kamala Harris School Of Babble And Jabber. Looks like she was at the top of her class, too.

    You almost have to admire the ability to not just fail to inform, but to blather and ramble so incoherently that you actually remove information from the conversation, rendering those involved less informed than before you spoke. It’s a rare talent.

  2. I wouldn’t worry so much about the rhetoric that the president and his underlings are flinging around at this point. What I would worry about is the actions that will follow. I thought that a lot of the rhetoric about putting supporters and members of the previous administration in jail or borrowing them from public life was just that, rhetoric delivered by overheated partisan journalists, who ultimately don’t get to make decisions or try to make their overheated rhetoric a reality. I sneered at Jennifer Rubin, who is nothing more than a partisan hack who let Trump derangement syndrome melt her brain. I lashed back out at Leonard Pitts, who might bark viciously, but is ultimately no more than a barking partisan dog. I thought that ultimately these people were just loudmouth extremists who had been given undeserved megaphones, and their talk would ultimately go nowhere, as the Democratic Party settled into actually governing and trying to deal with the problems that this nation is facing, and they are myriad.

    The thing is, the Democratic Party never really settled into governing, because governing in the nation’s best interest was not their primary goal. It has not been for probably 3 decades. Their primary goal has been ultimate power. A majority of the Democratic Party now really believes that this nation would be better off as a one-party state, with them as that one party. However, their failure to govern was producing some less than stellar results, and I don’t need to tell you what they are because you’ve seen them. If they continued on the path they were headed on at the beginning of this year, they would have been doomed.

    However, instead of tacking to the center and trying to come up with some solutions to the real problems we faced, which I won’t list because we’ve already listed them several times, they’ve decided this is the time to move to eliminate the opposition. You can say that’s silly. You can say that could never happen here. You could say this is a special case because Trump is just such a threat to this country slipping off the path it was intended to follow. However, if you said those things, you would just be fooling yourself and trying to fool those around you. The fact is that this attempt to put one’s political opponent in jail is unprecedented. Talk of that used to be reserved for the crank leftist journals who thought they were “driving the engines of history” by pushing things further and further left. These were the same people who said that George W. Bush ought to be locked up for the war in Iraq and that his father should also have been locked up for the first Gulf War. If you look back far enough I’m sure you will also find examples of individuals saying that Ronald Reagan should have been locked up for Iran Contra, those who were not saying that he should have been bundled off to a mental institution. I haven’t gone far back enough to see if any journalists said at the time that Nixon should have been prosecuted and jailed rather than pardoned and that would have been the best course for the country, since it must be proven that no man is above the law, but it would not surprise me if it was said at the time. The American people would not have pushed Gerald Ford out of office so quickly if there hadn’t been at least an element of disappointment with his decision to grant Nixon a pardon and so close that unpleasant chapter in American history in order to facilitate moving ahead. I’d like to believe that America eventually came to a somewhat grudging consensus that that was probably the correct course. However, I do remember during the second term of George W Bush that several of the leftists who opposed him brought the watergate question up again and said prosecuting Nixon would have been the right thing to do and maybe this time someone would prosecute this war criminal. That idea never caught on either, and although some Europeans made noise about arresting Bush or some of his cabinet if they dared set foot in Europe, I don’t think anyone ever thought of seriously taking action except maybe that crackpot Spanish judge Baltazar Garzon, who was later thrown off the bench for at least some period of time for behaving like a crackpot attention seeker.

    Putting it another way, crazy actions that would have potentially very bad consequences were once the province of crazy people who couldn’t hope to make them a reality. It was reasonable to believe that both political parties had leaders who were if not sober enough, if not wise enough, practical enough not to do crazy things.

    I don’t recall any governors ever telling those who disagreed with them to simply leave their state. Andrew Cuomo was the first governor I ever heard say anything like that. I chalked it up to him being the bully that he was talking like the bully he was. Now we hear his successor and presumably closest lieutenant telling those who disagree too simply leave New York for Florida, they are not wanted here. We also hear former Florida Governor Charlie Crist saying that if you are a Trump or DeSantis voter he simply does not want you, because you are all about hate and he is all about love. I could say that it is a funny form of love that consists only of loving those you agree with. I could point out that Christ in the Bible said that there was nothing particularly meritorious about loving those you were expected to love, since tax collectors and other sinners did as much. I could get into the whole question of agape, the concept of universal love for others, but I think that would take us far afield.

    Bill Clinton could not stand his Republican opponents in congress, but he did try to work with them and get some compromise legislation like welfare reform done. Never once did he accuse those who might have agreed with the admittedly foolish Republican decision to impeach him as being bad citizens or those who should leave this nation. Obama at least made some pretense of trying to be everyone’s president, although his actions often said otherwise. He never went so far as to say that those who disagreed with him were bad citizens and should be sent elsewhere, although he did several times when campaigning, use the rhetoric of the other side being the enemy. Each time, we slipped a little further towards Americans demonizing those and hating those who didn’t think like them. Interestingly, I never heard anyone on either side say that Bill Clinton should be locked up for his adultery and perjury that brought shame on the office of president. I also never heard anyone on either side say that Obama ought to be locked up for his incompetence. I do remember very well when Donald Trump said that Hillary belonged in jail and did not discourage his supporters from saying “lock her up.” However, once he was in office, he never took any serious step or even any tentative step toward actually throwing her into prison. Now Joe, or whoever is pulling the strings behind the scenes, is seriously attempting to lock a former president up. What is more, the media and his party are pretty strongly behind him on that idea.

    I don’t know how much of it is simply raw Trump hatred, but I think anyone who is not blinded by hatred would at least have the wisdom to see the danger inherent in such an action. I also think that anyone who really understands this country’s history and the role of the Constitution in it would think twice before opening this door.

    For one thing, it would set a very bad precedent. Trump may be the first president actually prosecuted and possibly imprisoned, however, I guarantee you he would not be the last, and those reluctant in the past to take that step against a political rival would no longer be reluctant. Potentially, any opponent of the current administration, whichever party may be in control, could become a target for prosecution. You’d also be foolish if you think it would end with presidents and former presidents being targeted. If a president down the line part way through his first term sees a governor or senator or other official who could be a potential challenger in the next election, what’s to stop him from sending the FBI to put together a prosecution that might or might not succeed, but will definitely sideline that person for a period of time, like say, until that next election is over and the president is safely reelected because he did not have to face this challenger? What is to stop other party minions at the state level from taking the same steps? Several states are already safely red or safely blue, but do we want to get to the point where governors, county executives, and mayors simply lock up anyone who could challenge them, or cripple their lives with bogus prosecutions? I said once that the reason Bernie Sanders must never be nominated and never be elected as president is that he admired the Soviet system, where the leaders of a tightly controlled one party state simply locked up those who disagreed with them or who might pose a challenge. I can see now that Senator Sanders was not simply the outlying gadfly of the Democratic Party (to which he only belonged when it suited him). The slide towards tyranny and becoming exactly what we spent 40 years fighting and swearing we would never become was much more pronounced and widespread than a lot of us thought. What is more, the American people, or at least a sizable number of them, are perfectly okay with this.

    I’d like to say I don’t know why this is, and maybe I don’t know a lot of this for a fact, but, I have a pretty good guess as to the factors that have let us to this point. One of them is the elimination of character as a factor that matters with regard to candidates. Much of this country chose to look the other way when a president in office showed himself devoid of the requisite character. That in turn set the stage for a later election to become a battle between two candidates both devoid of the requisite character. Had Bill Clinton lost the support of his own party and been sent packing, then I guarantee you that we would not have seen a 2016 election that was a battle between a corrupt influence peddler and an overgrown carnival barker. It should come as no surprise that the president who followed this should be not only devoid of character, but really not care very much that he is. Another is the fact that this country and the world generally have become far more dependent on a very few communications platforms and a very few systems. I am not sure that anyone ever stopped and considered the possible consequences of that or thought back to when the federal government specifically broke up communications networks that were becoming a bit too large and a bit too much like monopolies. For the longest time, in New Jersey the Bell system was the only game in town. Then it became Bell Atlantic, then Verizon, and finally other cable and other networks entered the picture to give you some actual choice and prevent everyone simply having to be satisfied with crappy service, long waits, and sometimes simple refusal, because you actually had a choice. At this point, there is only one Google, one facebook, one Twitter, and really not too much competition for any of the above. There is also only one Amazon. To lose your access to any of the above is to make life much more difficult and in some cases close to too difficult. That’s because many things that could have been alternatives to some of these things have faded away, they simply couldn’t compete. When I was a kid, there were still a few local independent toy stores, but the market mostly went to three or four major retailers: Lionel Kiddie City was one, Child World was another, and of course the tip top player in the field was Toys r Us. Well, the local toy stores are long gone, and those major retailers are also a thing of the past, although Toys r Us hung on much longer than the others. These days, if you want a gift for a family birthday party or whatever, you simply order it on and it’s there in often two days at the most. How much more difficult would things be if you lost your access? There’s now no possibility of zipping down to a retailer and grabbing a gift the day of. There’s not even any realistic possibility of stopping by a retailer when you are out and about running errands. Suddenly you’re reduced to gift cards or showing up for your niece’s birthday party empty-handed, when the former makes you look like you put no thought in and the latter makes you look cheap. That’s just something relatively unnecessary. At this point, if you lose your ability to tweet, lose your ability to post on Facebook, lose your access to Google, you are nowhere. This might all be well and good if the leaders of these networks were honest and unbiased. We all know they aren’t. They are really no different than the Pullman railroad becoming essentially a feudal Lord of its own industry and people or John Rockefeller attempting to drive his competitors out of business so that he alone could control the production and sale of oil and oil products. Anyone who’s read the history knows that those people abused their power and it was ultimately taken from them by government intervention, which prohibited behavior like Pullman’s and insured that there would be healthy competition in business. No one has done anything here, and the odds are that no one is going to do anything anytime soon or even not so soon, since one party benefits from this and the leaders and owners of these networks have that as their preferred party. The third is the usurpation of both political parties but especially the Democratic Party, by special interests. Neither party has represented ordinary people since probably the days of LBJ. The Democratic Party was the party of Big labor, then it was the party of minority colors, then it was the party of feminists. The Republican Party was the party of big business and big finance. Now the Democratic Party is the party of big woke and identity politics, and the Republican Party is pretty darn close to simply being the party of Trump, with all of its eggs in that basket. Trump may be a powerful figure with a powerful following, but even he is going to have a tough time competing with promises of free stuff, and he’s going to have a very tough time doing anything if he is in jail.

    That said, many were the regimes who thought they were 100% safe once they put the opposition in jail. A lot of them, the Batistas in Cuba, the Romanovs in Russia, the Afrikaners in South Africa, and the British Empire in the colonies, plus many more, found out the hard way that that approach only gets you so far before the people you are using it on say enough is enough, and you know what follows.

    We also said and are saying that kind of thing can’t happen here and won’t happen here. Those of us a little bit more well read might say that kind of thing has happened here but it belongs to the past. Does it?

    Just a few late thoughts from a long time student of history who doesn’t like the way its pages are turning now.

    • That said, many were the regimes who thought they were 100% safe once they put the opposition in jail. A lot of them, the Batistas in Cuba, the Romanovs in Russia, the Afrikaners in South Africa, and the British Empire in the colonies, plus many more, found out the hard way that that approach only gets you so far before the people you are using it on say enough is enough, and you know what follows.

      That is only even marginally true of Cuba, and false of the other three. If anything, they could have drawn the inference that they had not imprisoned all they should have (and, when you think about it, there was no such hard lesson for the British, since what was tried there – usually though not always successfully* – was to end or minimise the violence before independence so that the terrorists would not scoop the pool once the British left). Even the Batistas in Cuba, with hindsight, probably thought that letting Fidel Castro out was their main mistake about that.

      * It worked in India, Kenya, Cyprus, British Guiana, etc., though it failed in Palestine (where the terrorists scooped the pool once the British left).

  3. The radical leftists running this country have indeed embraced and are promoting fascism, There will be those that claim fascism is a right wing philophsy, but these leftists managed to embrace it nonetheless. As is usual, they’ll attempt to conceal this by accusing any opposition of fascism.

  4. When I hear people make the claim that Trump or others like him are fascists of proto- fascists I ask them to define what fascism is.

    Most cannot so I educate them by explaining that fascism requires a large bureaucratic central government to enforce social policies, mandates, and laws dictated by the strong central authority figures in the strong central government. Fascists tend to align themselves with academia and corporatists who will use their information dissemination and market powers to reinforce the ideology espoused by the fascists who are not able to use the coercive power of government to achieve its objectives. In return, the corporatists and academics get favorable treatment by the government.

    After educating them I ask them how Trump is behaving like a fascist, and I demand specific examples of laws or regulations he pursued that limited the rights of the people.

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