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Announcement | Video Video | Audio Audio | Transcript Transcript

Bush, Obama, and Presidential Power
January 7, 2009
Ivan Eland, Ron Paul, Richard Shenkman

Contents:

Welcome and Introductions

Mr. David Theroux
President, Independent Institute

Good evening, ladies and gentlemen. My name is David Theroux, and I’m President of the Independent Institute. I’m delighted to welcome you to our independent policy forum today. As many of you may know, the institute sponsors the Independent Policy Forum, which is a series of lectures, seminars, debates, and panel discussions on important social and economic issues, on a regular basis, and we hold these events here in Washington and also at our conference center in Oakland, California.

Our program today is especially timely with the inauguration of Barack Obama as the 44th President of the United States. Our event is entitled “Assessing the Bush Presidency and the Obama Promises,” and we’re delighted to have with us here three excellent speakers. Dr. Ivan Eland, Senior Fellow at the Independent Institute, is the author of the new book which we’re featuring tonight, Recarving Rushmore: Ranking the Presidents on Peace, Prosperity, and Liberty. In addition we’re very pleased to have Congressman Ron Paul, former candidate for the United States Office of President–he’s just started his 11th term as U.S. Congressman—and the historian Richard Shenkman, who is editor of the History News Network and the author of many books.

To provide some background the Independent Institute is a nonprofit scholarly public-policy research institute. We sponsor many in-depth studies of social and economic issues, and we publish the result as books as well as our journal, The Independent Review, and this is the current issue. And for those of you who are with us here, there are complimentary copies downstairs and you’re welcome to take one. We’d also invite you and our viewers at C-SPAN to visit us at our website at www.independent.org. You’ll find information about our publications, conferences, media, and other projects. You’ll also find information about our blog, The Beacon, which I think you’ll find quite intriguing, as well as our news letter or e-mail newsletter The Lighthouse, and you can sign up for a free subscription on the homepage of our website.

America’s first president, George Washington, noted that “government is not reason, it is not eloquence, it is force. Like fire, a troublesome servant, and a fearful master never for a moment should it be left to irresponsible action.” As you know, the subject of our event today is the use of power by American presidents. The U.S. presidency is by far the most powerful position in the world. Indeed the U.S. government is almost entirely the presidency. The budgets of the Congress and the Supreme Court are virtually inconsequential compared to that of the Executive Branch. The presidency, after all, includes all of the departments of the Federal government including Treasury, Commerce, and Defense, the IRS, CIA, NSA, NASA, and the FBI, all of the U.S.’s nuclear and other weapons, spy satellites, aircraft carriers, ICBM missiles, hundreds of military bases worldwide, and huge tracts of federal lands, minerals, highways, and waterways. All of the regulatory agencies, the FTC, the FDA, the SEC, OSHA, EPA, and the list just goes on.

But to be so pervasive and so powerful the presidency is far, far more. For most Americans the presidency has become a sort of sovereign king and father figure who stands above and beyond mere citizens in order to oversee our lives and our wellbeing. As such, the presidency is really sort of a secular religious figure; sort of an earthly messiah who many believe will save them from all forms of harm by wielding government power against others. As a result, around the presidency has grown a cult of power and personality not unlike in many respects what we find in the history of rulers of the past. The spectacle and circus of the presidential inauguration is really only the beginning of what we all witness day in and day out in the media and in popular culture of the cultural trappings of presidential glorification and worship. What exactly is it they’re worshipping? Stripped of the superficial pomp and vanity of some, what do you really have? Doesn’t each president, after all, take an oath to preserve and protect the Constitution, which has limits on executive power? So how do George W. Bush and his predecessors stack up in holding this pledge? Have they increased or decreased peace, prosperity, and liberty as Dr. Eland’s book subtitle is considering? And have they upheld the Constitution in the process? Was Lord Acton correct in counseling, and the Founders correct in being mindful of, “Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts, tends to corrupt absolutely”?

Ivan Eland is Senior Fellow and Director of the Center on Peace and Liberty at the Independent Institute. Dr. Eland received his master’s degree in applied economics and his Ph.D. in public policy from George Washington University. He has spent 15 years working for Congress on budget and national security issues, including with the House Foreign Affairs Committee at the Congressional Budget Office and the Government Accountability Office, and he has testified before many committees in the House and Senate. His articles have appeared in major newspapers and magazines across the country, and he’s the author of many books, including the one that we’re featuring today, Recarving Rushmore. I’m very delighted to introduce Ivan Eland. [Applause]


Assessing the Bush Presidency and the Obama Promise

Dr. Ivan Eland
Senior Fellow and Director, Center on Peace and Liberty, Independent Institute

Thanks for coming tonight. I appreciate the nice crowd here. I have a hunch some of you are coming to see the Congressman here, but that’s okay. I’ll get a few sentences in before that. Now the reason I wrote this book Recarving Rushmore was because I felt that the way historians, political scientists, journalists, and even the public evaluated presidential success was off kilter. I didn’t go around in musty archives trying to unearth startling new historical information about this president or that president. What I did was I took existing sources, and I just tried to think about it in a different way, that is reanalyzing it from a different perspective. Now although the book is about the presidents, it is really an alternative history of the United States. So although we all in Washington go to lectures and we hear the speaker speak and then we all get up and ask questions, I thought it would be interesting if I asked the audience some questions first, kind of reversing the role here. So I’m going to give you a little quiz. I’m going to take a baseline first and then I’ll get into the presidents. I have some questions first.

The first one is what happened on July 4, 1776? Does anybody want to hazard a guess? I don’t hear any. I guess you didn’t learn that in school, huh? Anybody have a guess? Okay and question number two, who did the first powered controlled flight? Anybody got any ideas?

Audience Member

The Wright brothers?

Dr. Ivan Eland
Senior Fellow and Director, Center on Peace and Liberty, Independent Institute

Okay. And who was the first person to fly across the Atlantic?

Audience Member

[Inaudible]

Dr. Ivan Eland
Senior Fellow and Director, Center on Peace and Liberty, Independent Institute

When I was in college I went, I volunteered for psychological experiments, and when you go in they basically trick you because you think you’re doing one thing and you’re really doing another thing. That wasn’t the baseline, that was the quiz, and you all flunked because those answers unbelievably are wrong. The Declaration of Independence was not signed on July 4th. The vote for independence was on July 2nd. Nothing major really happened on July 4th, and John Adams said that he wrote that July 2nd would always be our Independence Day. Well he was wrong. [Laughter]

Now I’m going to go through these quickly because I really do want to get onto the presidents, but I have a point in doing this. What was my second question? Oh yeah, the Wright brothers. The Wright brothers were not the first people to fly under controlled powered flight. There was a guy named Gustave Whitehead who did it two years before, and while the Wright brothers were getting 800 and something yards in their plane, he took a flight 7 miles and he did it two years before the Wright brothers, and the reasons that he didn’t get the fame: first, nobody took a photograph. The famous photograph that got in all the school kids’ history books the Smithsonian for years refused. They wanted the Wright brothers’ plane because it became so famous, but they refused to put “The Fathers of Flight” because they knew it wasn’t really true until the family said, well, you’re not getting the plane unless you put that on there. So they did. And the second reason he didn’t get any credit was because he was a German immigrant, and if you recall we were leading up to World War I at the time and German immigrants were not too fondly regarded at the time.

Okay, the third one Charles Lindbergh. He was probably the 82nd person to fly across the Atlantic, and I’m not kidding. But it’s hard to say because there were various crews and various aircraft that did it, but he was not the first, many more people did it. The reason he became famous is because people in Paris listened to all the tribulations that he had on his trip, and so they all rushed out to the field. And he was really shocked when he landed and all of these people were making such an issue that he landed, and they picked him up and carried him around, and of course he became famous. But of course, the reason I mention these three events is not because they had anything to do with presidents, it’s because what you think you read in you history books in high school and college may not be true, and then some of the stuff that is true they’ve left out.

So I just want you to think about that while I go into this because my ratings of presidents are much different than the ratings of conservatives and liberals, which although there are some differences they seem to be coalescing around some agreement even on presidents like Reagan, but it’s not really because that I think they’re right. Everyone thought the world was flat until they figured out it wasn’t. Some guy did it and he figured out it wasn’t, right? So groupthink is not necessarily correct, and I believe that both parties now, and both the left and the right in the United States, share a bias: they like activists, big government, both at home and abroad, with noted exception sitting to my left [laughter].

So I wrote this book saying, well, let’s just look at the policies, let’s not look at charisma. Many historians wouldn’t consciously say they fall victim to charisma, but they take it into account, I think, otherwise why would Teddy Roosevelt get so much play? William McKinley, his predecessor, was a much more important president than Teddy Roosevelt. They also love activism, an active president who is bold and that sort of thing, but is that always the way to the right policy? David was just talking about how the presidency has gone into an imperial mode and maybe now with Bush even into a hyper imperial mode. Is this the way we want to go?

What about the way the Founders envisioned the system was that the Congress would be the primary first among equals in the government? Article I is not the executive branch, it’s the congressional branch. The Constitution specifies a great deal what the Congress’ powers were, and in Article II it’s very vague. And of course unfortunately the presidents have filled that void with many actions that were probably unconstitutional. So now I tried to get rid of the charisma bias. I tried to get rid of the activism bias. We like presidents who can give a great speech. We have all heard speeches by Roosevelt and Kennedy, who I don’t think were that good of presidents. Maybe we can go into that later, but we love presidents who can turn a good phrase or at least their speech writers, like Theo Sorenson, who can turn a good phrase and the President can deliver the speech in a good way.

And lastly, historians are biased because they love presidents who serve in a war or during a crisis even if the President contributed to the crisis, didn’t prevent the crisis, made it worse, or caused the crisis in the first place. And we have many instances with that in American history I think.

Now my problem with some of the other analysis is that they assume the posture of the neutral observer, and none of this is neutral because everyone looks back on history with their current policy views. I’m no different but I’ll tell you what my policy views are; you have to dig around to figure out what the other policy views of other people are, not everyone but an example of this is they use the effectiveness criterion. Now I term it presidential success not effectiveness because I want to focus on not whether the President was able to implement his agenda and how effectively he was doing that because if you take that to the extreme, if Lenin and Stalin and Mao were presidents of the United States they would have been very effective. They should be one, two, and three right? They did what they wanted to do. So of course policy does matter. What they do does matter and I say that’s what we ought to concentrate on. Does it matter that Bush is not a good orator or he can’t put a sentence together? Probably doesn’t matter. The policy is what matters and that’s what we need to concentrate on and I think we haven’t really done that very well, and I try to do that.

I’ve noted all of these biases and so I basically, well how did I evaluate the presidents? I evaluated them on the basis of whether they upheld the constitution meaning a limited role for the presidency. I also evaluated them on whether their policies promoted peace, prosperity, and liberty, and I think we can all agree on those goals but how do we get there? Right? Well in my view a limited reads small government with a restrained Executive and a Congress that was first among equals compared to the other two branches is the ideal. That’s a republic, and we saw what happened to Rome as power went from the Assembly to the Senate to the Dictator to the Emperor. And I’m afraid we’re on the slow road to that and it’s sort of like the from who jumps in the bathtub because it’s not cold and they gradually put up the temperature of the water so that he doesn’t know it and eventually he’s dead, and unfortunately we don’t have the dictators that just come in and take power. Over time through U.S. history the President has accrued more and more power. Now the Congress or I mean the Founders initially wanted the system to be that the Congress dominated and the States dominated. Well now we have a system where the President and the Supreme Court dominate with the President being the strongest stronger of those two players. So I say that we don’t really have the government that we all celebrate on Independence Day even though it’s the Declaration of Independence that we’re supposedly celebrating which wasn’t even signed on that day. But so we have this idealized vision of what we’re celebrating and it really doesn’t correspond with the modern day government.

Now you say well we have a government you can change the Constitution. Well I have no problem if people amend the Constitution even if don’t agree with the amendment but they’ve made the Constitution so hard to amend that people have just amended it without amending it and that means that it’s a living constitution. I have a problem with that because that undermines the rule of law. So basically I evaluated each president whether on the margins they took us away or towards the Founders’ original vision of small government which I believe is the best route and on the road to a small government, a restrained Chief Executive, and restrained foreign policy which the Founders also advocated which of course both parties have moved way away from. So a president who has served in time of big government who tried to reduce it like Jimmy Carter and Dwight Eisenhower get a better rating than presidents who served in a time of small government and increased it, Thomas Jefferson, James Monroe.

Now a word on political party affiliation; evaluating according to my criteria the Democrats seem to have the best presidents but also the worst presidents and the Republicans seem to have somewhere in the middle and that probably goes for modern presidents because party is a very bad indicator. If you look at the, and I think this is a good statistic to use, government as a percentage of GDP you’ll find some astounding things. You’ll find that Reagan wasn’t a small government person. He doubled the size of the Federal government and LBJ, Nixon, Reagan, and the current president are the biggest spenders if you use the change in GDP, change in federal spending as a portion of GDP which is astounding, and the two presidents that reduced it the most were Clinton and Carter. Eisenhower came in third. He basically held the percentage roughly constant. So that’s just one indicator of how things are kind of topsy-turvy.

Of course also the parties have changed position over time until Woodrow Wilson Democrats were for small government and Republicans were for big government. Then after Woodrow Wilson the Democrats joined the Republicans in the big government camp, present company excepted. He was never in the big government camp. And pre-McKinley both parties advocated a restrained foreign policy, that was the traditional foreign policy of the United States meaning limit your interventions militarily overseas. Now of course both parties are interventionists aboard. They have different versions of it but they’re still in agreement on it.

The third thing about parties is that sometimes it’s easier to go against your party to achieve big success. Nixon went to China, Clinton did welfare reform and free trade, and John Tyler who incidentally is a very obscure president but I think was the best president in U.S. history was almost impeached by his own party sticking up for small government because he was a whig and whigs were for big government, they were the precursor to the Republican party, and he almost got impeached by his own party. I think most analysts both liberal and conservative are evaluating presidents with a hidden bias toward big government at home and abroad and a powerful chief executive.

And to show you how presidents’ reputations will change over time Woodrow Wilson after World War I was roundly reviled for having gotten us into that war because there was a lot of carnage, people weren’t used to deaths on that scale and Woodrow Wilson had said we were going into World War I because of all these idealistic reasons and it turns out that when the Bolsheviks took power in Russia they published all of these secret treaties which indicated that our allies, Britain and France, were really making deals so they could expand their empires. So back then he was reviled. Well of course now he’s fairly well regarded because everyone has adopted the Wilsonian foreign policy of intervention and so he has been rehabilitated. And so this is an example of how we view history through the present day. So I ranked Wilson the 40th of 40 presidents because basically he ruined the entire 20th century and he’s currently working on ruining this one, and he’s been long dead. And the reason he did that of course was because many of the things he did helped bring Hitler to power. He didn’t directly bring Hitler to power but of course he let the allies run all over Germany and he also demanded the abdication of the Kaiser and of course that opened the way toward Hitler’s power, getting to power. And of course also he offered aid to the provisional government in Russia and tried to keep it in World War I. Well of course World War I was even more unpopular in Russia since they had mass casualties and so of course the Bolsheviks were the only anti-war party. They came to power and of course the rest is history there.

Now similarly Harry Truman ended his presidency with Bush-like popularity numbers which numbers, which isn’t good. And he didn’t run for another term because the Korean War was so unpopular but Truman does give Bush hope because his interventionist template for fighting the Cold War was adopted by every post-World War II president until the East Block and the USSR collapsed. So of course Truman has been rehabilitated, and bookending the Cold War was Reagan, the last president to serve any length of time before the Berlin Wall fell, and he has become an icon because that happened. Of course we could have had an alternative policy in the Cold War and that is to let the Soviet Union have South Korea, Vietnam, Angola, Afghanistan, and these other countries with no GDP. Let them administer them,them; let them take the expenses for aid et cetera. So there are alternative policies that could be followed, and I go into that in the book with various things especially Lincoln. I think we could have avoided, we could have freed the slaves by avoiding a war that killed 600,000 Americans and is still the worst war we’ve ever had, so you don’t have to be a closet southern sympathizer to criticize Lincoln for that. I think because the alternative policies can be found.

This brings me to Bush and then I’ll quit here. Bush is hoping for a Truman-like resurrection from the ash heap of bad presidents. I think it’s possible that he could actually be but probably less likely than in Truman’s case because although Truman had the communists which eventually fell because of their own dysfunctional system to bring him back Bush even if Osama bin Laden is caught or captured or killed somebody will just say well gee Bush spent seven years trying to get this guy and the next guy got him or maybe the next guy, who knows? But I also think Bush will be blamed for the economic meltdown. They’ll probably fail to realize that Bush was less conservative than Clinton in many areas such as trade and in fiscal matters. And I already mentioned Bush profligate spending, and I’m not sure how that will turn out but Bush’s presidency he likes to compare himself to Ronald Reagan but I would say his presidency most closely parallels LBJ his guns and butter. Of course the butter, the flavor of the butter is a little different but the butter is still there. Now there is no way the historians will put lipstick on a pig and have different evaluation of the Hurricane Katrina response. I think there’s no way he can rehabilitate himself from that one, and I think somebody is going to ask why it did take so long to get Osama bin Laden and did we go off on other tangents, nation building in Iraq and Afghanistan while Osama bin Laden was in Pakistan. Of course Bush can claim that there were no further major attacks on the U.S. soil after 9/11 but of course terrorist attacks on U.S. soil have traditionally been rare anyway. We’ve been a haven against terrorism here because of the distances involved and of course so the astute historian would ask well how many attacks did we have before 9/11? The other thing is what about 9/11? Bush has been criticized for ignoring warning signs leading up to the attack. So I’m not sure he’s going to come out very well on that, and he was sort of baited by Osama bin Laden to overreact as most gorillas and terrorists try to get the formidable power to do, and of course he went into two Muslim lands and that’s of course what drives Islamists crazy is non-Muslim forces on Muslim lands. So of course Osama bin Laden, Bush did exactly what he wanted to. Also even if Iraq becomes a democracy back in the Spanish-American War days the Philippines eventually became a democracy but I don’t think historians have changed their opinion that the Spanish-American War was an embarrassing colonial conflict which resulted in the deaths of 200,000 Filipinos which you don’t hear very much in your, excuse me, it probably wasn’t in your high school or college textbook either. But to me it’s doubtful whether a democracy will hold in Iraq. I think there probably will be a conflict when the U.S. leaves so I don’t think that’s over with yet, and of course Afghanistan is probably a tougher nut to crack than Iraq.

Now Bush’s worst transgression is his usurpation of presidential power turning the imperial presidency into the hyper imperial presidency. His transgressions include eliminating habeas corpus, illegal and unconstitutional warrantless wiretapping, torture, and kangaroo military tribunals. But alas if you arch liberals in the audience, if there are any here, I did not rate Bush the worst president ever and the reason that I didn’t was because there are other presidents who have started wars for even more questionable reasons or presidents who started wars and had much greater implications. Now why do I focus on the wars? My book says peace, prosperity, and liberty. I think peace is the most important one of those, and I think conservatives should listen up here because a lot of conservatives are really neo-conservatives and they don’t know it because ever since William F. Buckley in the 50s conservatism has been defined or at least the mainstream conservatism, present company again excepted, on the basis of, well in the 50s it was we fight the Soviet Union and we’re going to get some big government so we better take that too but we’ll try to reduce it as much as we can but the central thrust is to fight the communists. Well of course we still have this bias I think and we’ve got the, so of course Bush is neo-conservative is the extreme portion of this but Bush is I think in his own mind he probably had some legitimate reasons for invading Iraq, I’m not sure they were correct. James Polk on the other hand invaded Mexico, grabbed half its land, and then of course lied about it to Congress so if that’s similar yes it is but I think Polk’s is probably a worse transgression because he was just out after the territory and there was no dressing it up.

William McKinley I rated below him because he started the Spanish-American War which War, which of course had tremendous implications for our foreign policy. It was our first colonial war and it started us on the road to what I call an informal empire. And also McKinley was the first modern president and whenever you say modern we mean excess in power, excess in the constitution. Of course there were other presidents before that that did that but McKinley was the first president of the 20th century and he certainly consolidated power as a result of the Spanish-American War. He was a much more important president than Teddy Roosevelt who was much more charismatic.

I rated Truman next to the last because he chose to fight an interventionist cold war, and I think he could have done it in a more republican fashion. His policies led to the first permanent standing army in the history of the United States. The Founders were tremendously against that and it endured for a long time, and it was only in the 50s that that happened which is amazing but he was responsible for that and of course he was also responsible for the imperial presidency creating the institutions of the imperial presidency.

Of course Wilson I’ve already gone into Wilson. He is my last president and I already explained that. I’ve only done the worst ones because those are the most interesting. In the question and answer we might be able to get to the best ones. [Applause]


Speaker Introduction

Mr. David Theroux
President, Independent Institute

Thank you Ivan. His book is full of surprises and it is one that’s been heavily recommended by historians and other scholars, and so I hope that each of you will take a look at it and I think you’ll find it quite rewarding.

I’m especially delighted to introduce our next speaker. Ron Paul is a member of the U.S. House of Representatives as well you well know, a two-time presidential candidate. He’s clearly the leading spokesman in Washington for limited government, low taxes, free markets, a noninterventionist foreign policy, and a return to sound monetary policies based on commodity-backed currency. He graduated from Gettysburg College and Duke University School of Medicine before serving as a flight surgeon in the U.S. Air Force during the 1960s, and then as a specialist in obstetrics and gynecology in private medical practice. Congressman Paul has been a member of the House Financial Service Committee, the International Relations Committee, and the Joint Economic Committee. He’s the author of numerous books including most recently the number one best-selling book “The Revolution; A Manifesto.” Congressman Paul is renowned for his principle voting record and his critique of the abuse of presidential power. [Applause]


Assessing the Bush Presidency and the Obama Promise

Congressman Ron Paul
U.S. Congressman, House Financial Services Committee, International Relations Committee, Joint Economic Committee, U.S. Federal Government

Thank you very much. It’s a delight to be here. David thank you for the invitation and Ivan congratulations on your book. It’s wonderful. It is nice to be here to visit about a subject that is very important but I want to assure that you should rest comfortably because yesterday we all at the Congress took our oath of office and everybody did it very seriously and held up their right hand, and they swore to uphold the constitution so I guess we’re all okay [laughter]. But the amazing thing is they were all very serious. And the other amazing thing is they actually believe they do [laughter]. It’s just their interpretation versus our interpretation and sometimes they’re different. But-

Audience Member

[Inaudible]

Congressman Ron Paul
U.S. Congressman, House Financial Services Committee, International Relations Committee, Joint Economic Committee, U.S. Federal Government

But when I was running last year for the presidency my staff told me we had a couple of things, a couple of problems to deal with, more than a couple but the one was that the record for those individuals who came from Texas and became president they weren’t all that great and they said they’re not ready for another Texan to be president. When you think about two Bushes and then LBJ, I mean they weren’t exactly the greatest presidents in the world. But the other thing is I had this habit of telling people I really didn’t want to be president. I mean I have no desire to under today’s conditions and that the only reason I want to be president if I’m to be the President is that it’s because of the things I don’t want to do. I don’t want to run your life, I don’t want to run the economy, and I don’t want to run the world, and they said well no you have to be sort of more positive about this thing. I said okay how about peace and freedom and prosperity? Those are pretty good. Those are positive things that we should be running on. But Ivan mentioned the things about sometimes we’re deceived into believing some things and they’re not, and they’re not really true, and that is so often the case but I think a lot of people in Congress and the presidents, everybody up and down, deceive themselves. I think that so often is the problem.

Right now I think when members of Congress and even the President takes the oath of office about defending this country and the constitution against all enemies foreign and domestic, very few of them think our enemies domestic, all of them, all the enemies are those foreigners whether it’s the foreigners who are always attacking us and we have to be prepared and have to have this military machine. Also it’s the foreigners who want to come here. They’re always our enemies that we have to deal with. It’s hardly those individuals that are undermining our liberties over here on the Hill. But I can tell you in the last year or two visiting a lot of people and by far and large the people who came to the rallies were young people. When I used, when I would emphasize this foreign and, and I would pause and, I said domestic and it got some pretty loud applauses so I think there are people starting to wake up and realizing the difference.

I do believe this is a true story about Harry Truman. He can hardly be one of our favorite presidents but I believe it was true that when he left here he walked down to the railroad station and got on a train and went home. Now that’s great symbolism and I wish it were that simple again but what is the symbolism that we have today of the presidency? Is it as bad as it was then? Is it as bad as it’s been throughout the 20th century basically. The symbolism is that Obama now has his Air Force One and he’s not even sworn in. He’s flying around the country and wherever he wants to go and it’s the Air Force One substitute but it’s the essentially the same plane, so this shows how much we have, how far we have come to sort of bowing to the presidency.

I guess the most astounding thing about how much power we have given the President is the willingness of Congress, the many congresses we’ve had in the last 100 years or so their willingness not only to just step back and let the President do whatever he wants but so often they pass legislation and then they give him the authority. I mean they pass it on and give the President the authority to do what he wants. The resolution to go to war against Iraq was literally amending the constitution. It didn’t tell the President to go to war. It didn’t tell the President not to go to war. It told the President whatever he wants to do he can do that. And some of them said well this is pretty good because if he gets into trouble then it won’t be our fault. They don’t want to assume the responsibility for it. On trade agreements the Congress is in charge of trade agreements and you can either do it directly in passing laws and tariffs, or you can have treaties and you could have the Senate approve treaties but it’s not done that way. We have fast-track legislation. We just give the power to the President and negotiate all these deals and the Congress never says a word. They just give it up. So the Congress yields so much power to the President both by just omission and letting the President get away with it but frequently it’s through omission they actually legislate. Now does that, that should mean maybe what we ought to do then is just don’t pay Congress any money and send them all home.

Audience Member

Here! Here!

Congressman Ron Paul
U.S. Congressman, House Financial Services Committee, International Relations Committee, Joint Economic Committee, U.S. Federal Government

One time I made a suggestion, of course being in Congress they thought this was self serving, I thought we would be better off if we just paid everybody on the Hill about a million bucks if they promised they would never come to Washington [laughter]. But that’s not so true anymore because this place is on autopilot. It’s just going no matter what. I mean the presidents will do whatever they want and the courts will do whatever they want. These small little banks called the Federal Reserve System they do whatever they want and they create all the money that they want, they create trillions of dollars and they don’t have any responsibility to tell anybody what they’re doing so that could be a little bit funny but it’s not funny because the government is just going on and on. But what does Congress do if they’re giving all this power to the President? What do they spend their time on? Well they’re doing all of the things they shouldn’t be doing. They fail to do the things that they should instead they get to give that power to the President, the President does what he wants, and then the things that Congress comes up with there, they’re passing out more funds. It used to be they’d collect money and then borrow a little bit and then they would have this political football game over there and who got the most money for their district and that’s how they would get re-elected but it doesn’t even require that anymore. I mean how much of this money that has been committed here in the last six months has come through a legal process? And it’s almost hardly any. The 700 billion: that’s just peanuts compared to the 8 trillion. We’ve committed 8 trillion dollars. Well where does this authority come? Is this presidential authority? Well indirectly but that’s another branch of government which is the Federal Reserve and they do all of this funding and government never slows up. But the President has had way, way too much power and it looks like it’s going to continue but why does the Congress do this? Well I think it’s a reflection of the educational system. I think the education the last 100 years has just been disastrous and they believe it as a principle that this is a patriotic thing. This is a constitutional thing to do because it’s proper and besides the constitution is not rigid, it’s flexible and it has to adapt to modern times and so let me tell you they don’t lose any sleep over that, and they really feel like they’re doing the Lord’s work by allowing the presidents these prerogatives to go out and do things more quickly than if you had to go through Congress. You send it through Congress at times so the congressmen get some credit, so that they can go back home and say that they had something to do with this.

One of the transfers of power is ongoing, this is rather small compared to the war powers, but is this whole issue of earmarks. We have a bunch of people, conservatives, that this is their whole issue is we have to outlaw earmarks. Well that’s what we’re supposed to be doing. We steal the money and now we’re passing it out. We ought to tell, we ought to have the right to tell people where it’s going to go but no there’s not to be any earmarks. The money if you vote against an earmark it means that the money goes to the Executive Branch and the Executive Branch just decides, it doesn’t cut any money. But people just live and die on this to punish the people who won’t vote, who will vote for earmarks. But to me the way I handle that is I vote for the principle that Congress should earmark and take the responsibility of where this money goes whether it’s foreign or domestic. But then when the bill is finally passed or it finally comes up for vote, vote against the bill because they shouldn’t be dealing with any of that money whatsoever and they’ve overstepped their bounds. But that will surely not stop the expansion of the power of the presidency.

But this presidency and this Executive Branch of government these past eight years I consider it an absolute disaster. I mean when it comes to signing statements. I mean this is just flaunting it, flaunting it right in our faces and saying I’m going to look at this and one-half of this I don’t like and I have no intention of following it. I mean why do they even do that other than to establish the fact that they are king? I mean they could just ignore it anyway, they do that all the time or they interpret it any way they want but they sign these statements and they say we’re not even going to pay any attention to this. And then they come up with executive orders. Some executive orders in my opinion are proper, proper to execute the proper role of government. I mean if Congress declares war and you’re in a war the President would certainly have the authority to have an executive order but it would be very, very limited, not to do the kind of things that they’ve done. I mean Roosevelt on an executive order decided to call in the gold and steal the gold from the people, and it was rubberstamped by the Congress but there is some very outrageous things by executive order so a truly constitutional President would be very, very rarely using an executive order and other than maybe a clarification, a signing statement to say this is a little bit confusing and I don’t know what you mean by this. But these things we do hear a little bit of talk about the executive orders and the signing statements and Conservatives and Libertarians have made comments about this. But nobody really talks seriously about the whole principle of the Executive Branch of government when it comes to the agencies, when it comes to the administrative courts. From my viewpoint they’re all unconstitutional. The laws of the land should be written by the Congress not by the Executive Branch, and then Congress writes a law, it goes into the Executive Branch, there might be a little bit of a squabble, and then there’s a court ruling, and all of a sudden you have these wetland type bills. I know that’s an example of where it got to the courts and it’s magnified tenfold over what the original intent of the Congress was. The Congress shouldn’t have done it in the first place but then they do it and they say there’s a little bit of regulation. And then it gets into the Executive Branch and rubberstamped by the courts and it’s the law of the land. So there seems to be no slowing up whatsoever and it looks like the people are asleep, the Congress is enjoying their way until maybe someday, maybe someday we’ll have a financial crisis come, and then they’ll say well maybe we’ve gone in the wrong direction, maybe we’re spending too much. Oh, yeah that’s true. About a year ago it was noticed that we were having some financial problems and these financial problems came from the government was too big, government was spending too much, the government was borrowing too much, the government was printing too much. Oh so what should we do? Well we should spend more, borrow more, print more money, and give the government more power. So it’s endless.

In spite of the pessimism that tends to exist for those of us who believe in true liberty and are associated with the government actually I’ve come away after this past year and a half or so as being a lot more optimistic because of groups like the Independent Institute. They’ve been around, they’re quiet but the get information out and they’re teaching, and this is what changes things. I think compared, David mentioned I had run for presidency twice and the conditions are, there were several variables compared to 1988 and now, 20 years later, but there is a difference with the people. I mean the people, especially the young people, they know what’s going on and they know they’re getting ripped off, they know this monetary system is a funny money system, and they know the burden is going to fall on them, and they are ripe for the pickings right now for people who will present the case for true liberty. I think what we need to do is present the truth and that is why what Ivan’s done has just been great because it will make the people question, they’re questioning the government and they need to question our history, and all of this stuff we get from our public school system has just so misled us so we really have an opportunity now for people who are opening their eyes.

One thing that has happened, it happened during the campaign, was that we did get support and enthusiasm from a lot of young people, and once that race ended which was in June we still had a lot of momentum and we are still doing things to try to keep that momentum going but a lot of young people well what are they going to do? And a lot of them guess where they went? They went and worked for Obama and they still see, believe me I see a lot of people and I see a lot of overlapping, and Obama is for change. Yeah I certainly was for a lot of change too but it means there is still a lot of confusion out there and a lot of people who are, young people who are with Obama with a little bit more education are going to understand what true liberty is all about but as far as assessment of what to come with the next administration it’s more of the same. It’s a little bit scary because some of the anti-war individuals coming from the democratic side and the liberal side have been neutralized and they think that Obama really wants change and he’s going to stand up and there will be a change in our foreign policy. Right now I don’t see it. I don’t see him arguing the case that he wants to be president because he wants to do less for us, that he wants you to have more control of your life and more control of your dollars and that we will back off on our intervention, on our empire around the world. What is coming though and why the work that we do and the work that the Independent Institute does is so critical right now is because we are in the midst of a major change in attitudes in this country. It’s been happening and I think because in the last 20 years we’ve made great progress. One of the individuals that influenced me a lot was Leonard Reed but he held the fort for a long time essentially by himself but there’s a lot of activity going on now. So there is room for, there is room for optimism but it’s very important that we keep this momentum going. If we do we can have some victories and we can once again reclaim our constitution and may be a few more members of Congress who will understand what taking the oath of office really means. Thank you. [Applause]

Mr. David Theroux
President, Independent Institute

Thank you very much Ron. Our third speaker is Richard Shenkman who as I mentioned is the founder and editor of George Mason University’s History News Network. He’s Associate Professor of History at George Mason. He’s a fellow of the Society of American Historians, and an Emmy award-winning investigative reporter. He’s been a producer and writer for numerous programs on the History Channel, Discovery Channel, and Learning Channel. He’s the author of six New York Times best-selling books in history. Educated at Vassar and Harvard University he has studied the American presidents for two decades including working on the “Papers of Andrew Jackson.” Rick? [Applause]


Assessing the Bush Presidency and the Obama Promises

Mr. Richard Shenkman
Founder and Editor, George Mason University’s History News Network

Following Ron Paul is not a good idea. It’s like following a dog show that really won over people. I’m going to take a slightly more academic approach here. The bad news is I’m going to risk boring you in the interest of trying to put the rating of presidents into historical context. The good news is I may fail and perhaps despite my best efforts you’ll actually find some of this interesting.

Among ourselves, we historians have always secretly been grateful to Warren Harding. While we often struggle to assess other presidencies you could always count on Harding being dead last. This was a great comfort. Now comes Ivan along to tell us that we cannot even have this sign of confidence. Harding on his list comes in sixth. Our president must have heard of Ivan’s new assessment. It accounts for his indifference to public discontent. If a Harding, that slob in Alice Roosevelt’s fine jab, can rise then most certainly there’s hope for himself. And Bush as far as we know never kept a mistress on the side.

What I want to focus on is talking about this business of rating the presidents as a parlor game. You hear that all the time. I want to take issue with that. In a parlor game there are rules. In cards you can count the joker or you can’t. In charades you cannot speak a work without incurring a penalty. In checkers and chess you must move the pieces in certain ways and not in others. Rating presidents is an altogether different type of game. There are no rules. Should we count what a president does in his private life or not? Do we give him credit as an orator if someone else writes his speeches or not? Do we penalize him if he happens to have siblings like Billy Carter who are always getting into trouble or not? Part of the fun of the presidential ratings game is that there are no rules. It is this astonishing freedom from the bounds of ordinary conventions, this freedom to say anything we want about the presidents, for example that Ronald Reagan is the greatest president in the United States’ history, Gallup Poll February 2001, that makes this game so irresistible. Furthermore it is relentlessly democratic. A perfect game for our times. One need know nothing; I mean this almost literally, in order to play the game. You do not have to be a historian to have an opinion about the presidents. As soon as you step forth in this world and cry out for your mama you are entitled in America to your opinion about the people who have run this country. This fact gives this game an aspect of ridiculousness that one does not associate with parlor games like chess or checkers. This is why I insist that rating presidents is not a parlor game. No self-respecting parlor game could survive for long under these circumstances, and in fact we treat checkers with more seriousness than we do presidential ratings. What does this say about us? I think that it suggests the unseriousness with which we often approach politics. This is not to say that rating presidents is unseriousness. It is just the way that we have done so.

Can we actually rate presidents? Let us ask that most fundamental of questions. Consider Ronald Reagan for example. Reagan is known of course as the president who helped reshape our country and the world by becoming a spokesman for the Free Enterprise System. No other president save possibly for Calvin Coolidge a Reagan hero incidentally exulted capitalism with this much gusto as a former official spokesman for General Electric, Ronald Reagan. But how shall we assess his contribution? I heard historian Vijay Prashad from Trinity College at a conference over this weekend, the American Historical Association meeting up in New York, traced the history of Islamic fundamentalism in Pakistan to the decision of the International Monetary Fund in the early 1980s to force the government there to abandon its expensive healthcare program for the poor. At the time the IMF’s decision was regarded by conservatives as a necessary reform for flabby socialistic countries. But what was the result in Pakistan and elsewhere in the region was that the demolition of healthcare programs left healthcare up to faith-based organizations like Hamas, Hezbollah, and the radical groups in Pakistan. This gave Islamists a striking opportunity and they have made, I’m sad to say, the most of it. Now no one would argue that radical Islamism is wholly the effect of Ronald Reagan’s Free Enterprise rhetoric that would be silly, but his rhetoric had unintended consequences as did his support of the Mujahidin in Afghanistan. Did Reagan understand this? Have we understood this? And once we do how do we factor it into our assessment of his presidency? Can we be sure he is still a great president? Are presidents responsible for the forces their own actions unleash? Are they to be held accountable for what comes afterward? Should we hold Calvin Coolidge responsible for the Great Depression, which began under his successor’s watch?

One of the most striking things to me about the categories we use to evaluate presidents is how familiar they are, great, near great, not so great, good, bad. We could be rating baseball players except that we measure ballplayers with far more precision than we do presidents. When rating pitchers for example we base our tally on statistics that measure their performance precisely. We know how many balls, strikes, and errors they had and then add up the numbers to arrive at a judgment. With presidents we have no such precise measurements. This is no accident as it happens. We have a vital need to use a loose matrix because it is democratic. If we used a methodology that was more precise we would of course have to use a grammar and vocabulary that goes beyond the grasp of ordinary voters and this would defeat the purpose. What is the purpose? We do not usually ask ourselves this question. It seems self evident to use that we should establish a hierarchy among the presidents. We should rank them for the same reason we rank ballplayers. It just seems natural. I would submit that there is actually a very good reason for ranking presidents and it goes far beyond some ordinary human inclination to arrive at an order of things. It is to give us an idea of ourselves. The ranking of presidents is ultimately not about them, it is about us. It is about who we are and what values we cherish. In this we have a great stake. History unfortunately is an extraordinarily messy neighborhood. There are not just good folks and bad folks, people who live in the good part of town and people who live across the railroad tracks on the bad side of town. There are good people who do bad things and bad people who do good things, and there are many people who simply drift. How they all interact in the world they make is therefore very complicated. This is why making sense of the past is difficult. It is to rescue us from this confusion that we rank presidents. Here at our fingertips is a way of making sense of the past and ourselves and with very little effort it would seem. It is of course a delusion. History is not so neat and simple. It is not filled with good guys and bad guys. Presidents do not ride into town on a white horse and clean things up. Ronald Reagan did not win the Cold War any more than FDR won World War II. Presidents do not shape history so much as be shaped by it. As Abraham Lincoln admitted in 1864 at the height of his near dictatorial powers “I claim not to have controlled events but confess plainly that events have controlled me.”

At the heart of presidential rankings therefore is an assumption that is at the very least highly debatable. It is this; it is the belief that we truly learn something about ourselves by forcing presidents into the little boxes on our flow charts of history. Take Reagan again; when we talk about his legacy we consider a rather narrow spectrum of events, traded arms for hostages, check, bolstered the military, check, lowered taxes, check, increased the deficit, check. But did he win the Cold War? And what if he did? How do we assess his presidency if one of the unintended consequences of his presidency was to bolster the very forces that led to the rise of Islamist radicalism? What is victory? Is it victory when the seeds of an ensuing disaster, 9/11, say are sewn in a previous victory? How inadequate our little checked boxes seem when we confront these rather large questions.

This brings me back to Ivan’s book. One of the main reasons I like Ivan Eland’s book and wanted to be on this panel is that it demonstrates in its fiercely consistent and courageous way how limited our system of categorizing presidents actually is. Ivan forces us even as he employs a system of measurement to beware of such measurement systems. The very strangeness of many of his results, which he himself admits, John Tyler coming in first, Warren Harding coming in sixth suggests that the outcome of any rating system is determined by the means of measurement. This is no simple parlor game after all it turns out. Upon reflection measuring presidents raises questions rather than answering them. It is this that makes me most grateful to Ivan. I submit that we cannot resist playing the ratings game. I love to do it just as much as anybody but after Ivan we will never play the game the same way we have in the past. I know that I won’t. For what Ivan has done is to help us see through the pretentions of rating systems, in particular it breaks the grip the Schlesinger [phonetic] system has had over our imagination. An axe had to be taken to that old system. Ivan has wielded it expertly. No longer will anyone be able to pretend that historians sitting in judgment on Mt. Olympus are able to decide who deserves go into which category. Much as we would like to stand outside history we cannot do so. You see it is not only presidents who are human but even we historians they are not gods and neither are we. It would make life easier if we were then we could settle once and for all the question of presidential rankings and rest in the knowledge that we had made sense of an untidy world. Alas the world remains untidy. We simply have to learn to live with that.


Questions and Answers

Audience Member

Council and foreign relations members never investigated, uncovered spies for that and the tyrants in Cuba have just celebrated their 50th anniversary so if you are a freshman in Congress what would you do to investigate Putin and what would you do about the Castro brothers which Roosevelt I know he had a Monroe Doctrine corollary. So what would you do?

Dr. Ivan Eland
Senior Fellow and Director, Center on Peace and Liberty, Independent Institute

Well I’m not much into conspiracy theories I guess but I think overall we need to take, we’ve had these threats around for a long time, so-called threats, and I think we need to process how we think about foreign countries. We think automatically overseas when something happens we think that somebody did something to us or somebody could do something to us and we never really examine our own behavior because there is a history of U.S. actions that may have contributed. I’m certainly not blaming 9/11 on U.S. people but Osama bin Laden’s main gripe with the United States is that we were occupying Saudi Arabia and other Muslim lands with non-Muslim forces. This is a problem throughout the world and it’s the problem in Palestine, it’s the problem in Chechnya, it’s the problem when the Soviets were in Afghanistan and so we need to examine ourselves before we examine other countries and I think we would find that the situations are much more complex than our politicians tell us, and so I don’t think we should look for imaginary threats overseas and I don’t think we should magnify the threats that we see. We’re a very intrinsically secure country. We have two huge moats and we have weak and friendly neighbors, and since 1945 we have the biggest atomic arsenal ever assembled and there is nobody that’s going to attack us conventionally. The only thing we have to fear is terrorism. Well we’re ginning a lot of this stuff up by stirring the hornet’s nest so we’re creating our own threat there. So I don’ t think we should go trooping around like Don Quixote and I think a lot of this Iraq, in the case of Iraq what if Saddam, nobody ever asked this questions in the debate for the war, what if Saddam Hussein had a nuclear weapon? Would that necessarily be a threat to the United States? Well of course, oh this was a threat to the United States but North Korea now has several nuclear weapons and we haven’t invaded that country. Iran is close, are we going to invade them? Other countries we’ve deterred in the past. We deterred Mao when he had a nuclear weapon and he actually indirectly threatened to nuke the United States. I think he was worse than probably the Iranians, the North Koreans. He was very radical when he first took over and so we cant get involved in imaginary threats or magnifying threats because this is really what drives big government and I think conservatives really need to realize that the warfare state preceded the welfare state and it’s no secret that LBJ, Nixon, Reagan, and George Bush are the biggest spending presidents that we’ve had. LBJ and Nixon had a long war, Vietnam, and Bush has got the long war on terror, and Reagan increased defense spending because he imagined that the Soviet threat was somehow increasing when it was actually decreasing. I don’t think we should get involved in conspiracy theories or that sort of thing.

Audience Member

I have two questions for the panel, for whoever wants to answer. We have been told that the intelligence justifying the attack on Iraq was invented but what is usually told to the public by our press is that we got this intelligence that men of science working for Saddam Hussein wanted to get his favors. So they exaggerated what they were having and they were telling him that they were about to get the atomic bomb and other weapons of mass destruction, and that’s the intelligence we gathered. But we didn’t, we were not able to see is that the scientists in Iraq were deceiving Saddam Hussein.

Now the second question is this; in Afghanistan ladies, women were nothing. They were not even able to study. Now they are massively going to education, massively in Afghanistan, and there is under the circumstances in a way a kind of democracy in Afghanistan. In Iraq we have hundreds if not thousands of newspapers, radio stations, free press absolutely, and we have been trying to reconsolidate to put together the Shiites and the Sunnis. Can we understand that as progress?

Audience Member

Oh certainly.

Mr. David Theroux
President, Independent Institute

Who wants to take that? Ron, do you want to take that?

Congressman Ron Paul
U.S. Congressman, House Financial Services Committee, International Relations Committee, Joint Economic Committee, U.S. Federal Government

Well I can try to address that but on-

Audience Member

[Inaudible]

Congressman Ron Paul
U.S. Congressman, House Financial Services Committee, International Relations Committee, Joint Economic Committee, U.S. Federal Government

Is this on?

Mr. David Theroux
President, Independent Institute

Yeah it’s on. It’s on.

Congressman Ron Paul
U.S. Congressman, House Financial Services Committee, International Relations Committee, Joint Economic Committee, U.S. Federal Government

Okay. On the issue of how Saddam Hussein was deceived I think it relates back to something that Ivan just got done saying, what if we knew they did have a weapon? Their deception is their problem but I had to decide a vote on this and some people came up to me and they said boy you were pretty smart in not believing our government and all this propaganda that we heard. Well I didn’t believe it. I didn’t think they had a weapon but that wasn’t the reason I voted against it. It was the fact that Saddam Hussein was not a threat. He didn’t have an army, he didn’t have an air force, he didn’t have a navy, and if he had a single little bomb it still wasn’t a threat so to me it was almost irrelevant. I generally can’t say that but that is the truth because they weren’t a direct threat to us, and what was the second part just briefly?

Audience Member

The second question is the achievements they got in Afghanistan for example.

Congressman Ron Paul
U.S. Congressman, House Financial Services Committee, International Relations Committee, Joint Economic Committee, U.S. Federal Government

Oh yeah okay.

Audience Member

Have the achievements in Iraq come due to the thousands of newspapers, radio stations?

Congressman Ron Paul
U.S. Congressman, House Financial Services Committee, International Relations Committee, Joint Economic Committee, U.S. Federal Government

Yeah well I have a hard time looking at anything positive coming out of Afghanistan or Iraq because what I was thinking about when you were mentioning that but yeah but at what cost? And I’ve seen some Afghan women interviewed on this and they’re not nearly as hysterical about what they used to have compared to what they have now. But there’s a tremendous cost. First, we shouldn’t do it; it’s none of our business. Second, we didn’t have the money, and it cost a lot of money. It cost a lot of lives and besides these wars are just beginning. I mean we’re in amidst of them. We’re going to be brought to our knees. Osama bin Laden is delighted with us there. There was talk about no terrorist attacks since 9/11 well I think there have been plenty of attacks against us and Obama made, bin Laden made the statement that you will be now on our sand and we’ll be over there. We’re already in their face. I mean there’s less of an incentive to come over here because they’re there and they’re undermining us and they wanted to financially bring us to our ruin. So even if you can find a little bit here you might say well maybe if we had done nothing, maybe if we had never interfered there would have been a coup and Saddam Hussein had been killed and maybe the conditions would be ten times better. So if you can come up with a couple token little improvements that to me doesn’t, that does not even make me think for the slightest justification for our interventions.

Mr. Richard Shenkman
Founder and Editor, George Mason University’s History News Network

Yeah I just wanted to, that reminded me of something, this idea that we’ve made progress in Afghanistan and Iraq, and I would compare it to the South during reconstruction. There’s a general, General Bunting, who wrote a book. I know the guy and he wrote a book on Grant so he’s an expert on reconstruction and he compares the northern military occupation of the South to the Vietnam War, and he basically says well the North won the war and the South won the peace. So what happened was after the Civil War they went down there with armies and they made the South even madder than they were of having lost the war and having undergone Sherman’s Scorched Earth tactics which were really war crimes and that sort of thing. But what happened was as long as the Union forces were there there was progress. When the Union forces left, and of course the North got tired, there was a panic of 1873, which is what they called deep recessions back then, and of course nobody in the North, everybody got tired of the reconstruction. It’s just like Vietnam the U.S. went in, we do what we do, and then we got tired and we went home. Well the North there was no stomach in the North for continuing this, and of course what happened was, and there’s a new book out that details this, it’s called the “Re-enslavement of Blacks after the Civil War” because they had Black codes. They forced the former slaves to work on the same ground for a pittance. They arrested African Americans and they fined them heavily and then they made them work off the fine. And then of course we had the Jim Crow law. So you can say really that the Civil War probably didn’t end or the reconstruction well I should say the second-class citizens of Blacks certainly didn’t end until the 1960s. So the same thing is true in Afghanistan and Iraq. You’re going to see what looks like progress but we’re holding our finger in the dike and as soon as we pull the finger out all of that progress is going to evaporate probably and we’re going to go back to if, and if it’s anything like Somalia U.S. meddling has increased the radicalism in the Islamist community so Somalia when the Ethiopians leave is probably going to descend into a worse nightmare because the U.S. has been meddling in there. And I think you have to watch it in these countries that you may get something worse than you had. The progress is very elusory in many of these places.

Audience Member

Yes this is for Dr. Eland. I believe that you said that your number one rated president was John Tyler although he was never really elected I believe but I think Grover Cleveland was in your top five maybe?

Dr. Ivan Eland
Senior Fellow and Director, Center on Peace and Liberty, Independent Institute

He’s number two.

Audience Member

He’s number two, okay and he was elected twice in eight years. Today where we see Senator, I mean President Elect Obama being compared to FDR and Abraham Lincoln what do you think that our next president could learn from a Grover Cleveland? What makes him being ranked number two in your list?

Dr. Ivan Eland
Senior Fellow and Director, Center on Peace and Liberty, Independent Institute

That’s a good question. I mean Grover Cleveland may have been our most honest president but that’s not why I rated him number two because personal honesty is good but I stuck to policy and Grover Cleveland believed in limited government and the democratic party up until Woodrow Wilson believed in small government and he was a true democrat in that sense. He made some mistakes. He wasn’t perfect, but I think he returned us to the gold standard, tight monetary policy, he was very fiscally conservative. He believed, he would get requests to get behind a legislative bill and he said I didn’t come here to legislate. And there were some very important things like related to the currency whether we should go use silver coins which actively increase the monetary supply versus just sticking with the gold, and he was very passionate about that but he refused as a larger principle to get involved in legislation. Now how many presidents, how long has it been since we saw that? I mean now the president is expected to present a budget, is expected to present legislation and actively lobby for it to get it passed but he believed that the president should do exactly what the constitution and have a limited role, and he was the last of a dying breed because the next president was William McKinley and that started on the road to, William McKinley was a very important president and you hear almost nothing about him but if you go down to the potbelly sandwich store they have a big picture of him but I don’t think it’s because they admire him it’s because they’re trying to get the turn of the century flare. But that’s the only picture I’ve ever seen of William McKinley but he’s a very important president because Grover Cleveland was the last of what I would call the restrained presidents. Now even Harding and Coolidge were restrained but they never went back to the Grover Cleveland model and Harding and Coolidge in my view were pretty good presidents but Cleveland stuck with a limited executive. He believed in a limited federal government and he believed in tight money policy.

Congressman Ron Paul
U.S. Congressman, House Financial Services Committee, International Relations Committee, Joint Economic Committee, U.S. Federal Government

You might add one thing to that Ivan. He also was an anti-imperialist.

Dr. Ivan Eland
Senior Fellow and Director, Center on Peace and Liberty, Independent Institute

Right, right, the Hawaii, yeah. He refused to annex Hawaii because the U.S. sponsored a coup there and he realized that the Hawaiians didn’t really want to be part of the United States at that time and so declined to, well Benjamin Harrison had already submitted the treaty and he withdrew it when he came in.

Congressman Ron Paul
U.S. Congressman, House Financial Services Committee, International Relations Committee, Joint Economic Committee, U.S. Federal Government

It’s commonplace in Congress to have pictures on your walls when you’re meeting with and shaking hands with the presidents that they have met. I have a picture of only one president in my office and it happens to be Grover Cleveland and underneath it says, “What is it worth if you get elected or re-elected if you don’t stand for anything?”

Audience Member

I have a comment about reconstruction and a question for Representative Paul. About reconstruction I think it’s vastly overstated the military aspect of reconstruction, less than two years after—- the entire U.S. army was less than 40,000 men, and most of that was in the west. Within two years of—.

For Representative Paul a question; given your opposition to the Fed as unconstitutional what do you think of the Founding Fathers where many of them having set up the Bank of the United States which was involved in commercial banking even more big, bigger than the Fed and was written and was set up by Alexander Hamilton and signed into law by George Washington? So how could the Fed then be unconstitutional?

Congressman Ron Paul
U.S. Congressman, House Financial Services Committee, International Relations Committee, Joint Economic Committee, U.S. Federal Government

Yeah I would have been on Jefferson’s side because he objected to it and-

Audience Member

[Off mic] He didn’t write the, he wasn’t involved with the writing of the constitution. George Washington [inaudible].

Congressman Ron Paul
U.S. Congressman, House Financial Services Committee, International Relations Committee, Joint Economic Committee, U.S. Federal Government

Yeah but I mean that’s my position that, oh you’re arguing the case that they wrote the constitution and they believed they could have it.

Audience Member

[Off mic] They said beyond the constitution that the Founding Fathers who wrote the constitution said [inaudible]

Congressman Ron Paul
U.S. Congressman, House Financial Services Committee, International Relations Committee, Joint Economic Committee, U.S. Federal Government

Yeah and some of the Founding Fathers were good in the theoretical sense and when they became president I mean Jefferson did great thinking and theoretical thinking but they weren’t, he wasn’t high on the list in Ivan’s rating. So they go about and do different things but no I think you have to believe in Article I section 8. If it’s not there you can’t do it, and I think the courts certainly heard us on that. McCullough versus Maryland set the stage for all of this and it said implied powers? Oh yeah it’s implied and necessary and proper? I mean that drives me nuts. Well you can write a law, anything is necessary and proper not for the authorities that are explicitly given to the Congress but they still use this, they have a rule at House that every time you write something you’re supposed to write down what part of the constitution you got this authority. And they go oh the necessary and proper, this is necessary we do A, B, and C. And had no relationship whatsoever to the explicit powers granted but they immediately go off on a tangent I think and that’s why you get these mixed positions.

Mr. David Theroux
President, Independent Institute

Just as a follow up to what Ron was just saying and getting back to Thomas Jefferson. Here is the main author of the Declaration of the Independence and many other writings that deal with liberty and yet as Ivan discusses in his book he shows that when Jefferson was in office he did a whole number of things that were completely contrary to the principles he discussed. One of the exceptions was that he did abolish the first U.S. banks so that was in keeping with Jefferson’s, I think Ron would agree, view that the constitution didn’t authorize that. Question in the back?

Mr. R.J. Smith

R.J. Smith, the National Center for Public Policy Research. I’m a property rights private property right advocate and I’d like to thank Dr. Paul for bringing up the issue of wetlands and property rights whereby Congressman Oberstar and Senator Feingold are trying to take the Clean Water Act which prohibited pollution of the navigable waters which means that boats can go up and down it, to regulating everybody’s land in the United States because rainwater might carry something on your land often to a creek which would flow into a little river, go into a bigger river, and eventually end up into a navigable water. And when it comes to private property rights I would like to state that I think that George W. Bush was the second worst president of the United States, second only to Teddy Roosevelt. Teddy Roosevelt nationalized two-thirds of all the land in the western 13 states west of the 100th meridian and turned them over to the Federal government. The fortunate thing was nobody lived on those lands but it did lock up all of those resources from the Federal government. Now what George W. Bush has done and his henchmen in the Department of Interior is to come up with a lot of scams with nice-sounding names like perpetual conservation easements, and cooperative conservation programs which distinguish the line between private ownership and government ownership. Thank you.

Mr. David Theroux
President, Independent Institute

Okay the gentleman right here in front.

Audience Member

Okay my question is for Richard Shenkman. During the post-convention campaign illegal immigration was scarcely discussed to a large part thanks to the connivance of the debate moderators and my question is this; if you have the meltdown and what have you do you think that illegal immigration will return as a reemergence as a major issue and if so how soon?

Mr. Richard Shenkman
Founder and Editor, George Mason University’s History News Network

Well that’s interesting. Some people are arguing that the immigration problem will almost take care of itself now because there aren’t going to be that many Mexicans who are eager to come to the United States and stand on the unemployment lines or stand around and be unemployed just like everybody else. So I know that already they’re noticing a tremendous drop in the traffic coming across the border for both legal and illegal. So it may just be a problem that doesn’t materialize until we have prosperous times again and then we’ll have to revisit it.

Mr. David Theroux
President, Independent Institute

One more question. How about the gentleman right here?

Audience Member

This is for Congressman Ron Paul. Who in the Congress are you going to be able to be able to work most closely with to help solve our problems regarding the economy and our foreign policy?

Congressman Ron Paul
U.S. Congressman, House Financial Services Committee, International Relations Committee, Joint Economic Committee, U.S. Federal Government

I think I understood the question as who else in the Congress can I work with on solving our problems?

Audience Member

Yes.

Congressman Ron Paul
U.S. Congressman, House Financial Services Committee, International Relations Committee, Joint Economic Committee, U.S. Federal Government

Well in some ways it’s everybody and nobody because there’s nobody that fully has accepted the constitutional libertarian principle of personal liberty that is my interpretation. So there are disagreements but I work very closely with some very, very left-wing democrats and progressives and some of them are very, very principled on civil liberties and on the war issue and some of the conservatives, Jeff Flake probably votes with me the most on the economic issues but probably not on the civil liberties but I notice even on civil liberties he’s sort of shifting a little bit. And Walter Jones is a conservative and he sort of has shifted gears. He voted for the war but now he is adamantly opposed to this war. So there is a lot of shifting and I just try to work with anybody who will pay any attention and looking forward to a few new ones coming in but there is no one little group although I do have a group called the Liberty Caucus and we bring together and there might be 10 or 12 and there are some liberal moderate republicans most of the time they’re republicans, sometimes democrats show up, and then there’s mostly conservatives but they just come together on different issues. And even this week I had, we had somebody testifying from SEC dealing with the Madoff scandal and the scream now is for more regulation, more regulation like we had the SEC in the depression and it didn’t solve the problem, we had ENRON and so we had Sarbanes-Oxley and that didn’t solve the problem, and now we have another Madoff scandal and now we’re going to have more regulations and I tried to make this point really making points to the far left; why is it that you understand that we don’t want to regulate personal behavioral and teach people how to live and take care of their lives and we don’t get involved in religious matters and a lot of bad things happen from religion and philosophical reasons. We allow that to occur in the press what do we do with the press? We don’t have prior restraint and just think in the paper they libel us and slander us and they do all of these kinds of things but all of a sudden they throw their hands up and they say every single economic transaction has to be regulated trying to bring that together and I couldn’t have even made that argument 10 or 15 years ago. They probably would have shot me down quicker but now they’re paying a little bit more attention so there is no three or four or five that’s exactly but I really in a very serious way believe that the freedom philosophy is adaptable to everybody across the spectrum. It’s just that I’d like to get them more to think it’s worthwhile to be consistent. The constitution is far from perfect but I believe in the rule of law and we ought to do our best to follow. If we don’t like it we should change it, and fortunately I do believe that the constitution is fairly libertarian and freedom loving and if we would just interpret it that way, and I’m reassured and they all took their oath yesterday so we’re off and running. [Laughter]

Mr. David Theroux
President, Independent Institute

Rick yes?

Mr. Richard Shenkman
Founder and Editor, George Mason University’s History News Network

Yeah that small Liberty Caucus of yours of 10 or 12 people your problem is your timing. A century ago you would have had a lot more members in that Liberty Caucus but something happened and that was the 1930s and the Great Depression and liberty was redefined. Up until then liberty was defined in terms of natural liberty. Beginning in the early 1930s, it began being defined as what we now call, political scientists call, programmatic liberty. In other words programs to help people live better lives and that’s the welfare and social security and all of those other programs we associate with the new deal and one thing to keep in mind is that it was the Great Depression which changed that definition of liberty in American culture and we are now on the edge of another possible depression so if anything the pressure is going to be to make your caucus even smaller because the worst times, the worse things get the more people are going to demand government action.

Congressman Ron Paul
U.S. Congressman, House Financial Services Committee, International Relations Committee, Joint Economic Committee, U.S. Federal Government

Well in many ways I work with trying to be optimistic about it and-

Mr. Richard Shenkman
Founder and Editor, George Mason University’s History News Network

I’m not trying to just throw a wet blanket on you.

Congressman Ron Paul
U.S. Congressman, House Financial Services Committee, International Relations Committee, Joint Economic Committee, U.S. Federal Government

Yes in a way though you used fancier terms but I usually talk about a while back. I don’t always say the Depression but somewhere along the way 100 years ago or so we divided, we chopped the freedom into two pieces, economic liberty and personal liberty and of course my goal is to put it all back together. Believe me I talk a whole lot about that and the college kids understand this, they understand personal liberty and economic issues and liberty and when I talk to them I tell them look if you want your freedom and you mess up don’t come crawling to the government to bail us out or take care of you. The responsibility is on you. And they do understand that things aren’t going quite well and they know they can’t depend on the government anymore and the government they have given up on, social security is not going to be there for the college kids, and they know that but I think we’re talking about the same thing. Thank you.

Mr. David Theroux
President, Independent Institute

One thing I might just add also about this whole issue of recession and the huge bail outs and the Feds credit expansions and so on and so forth the Zeitgeist, the reigning view of an age has been that government is the solution to almost everything but the traditional Keynesian view of managing an economy through government spending and deficits and all the rest of it is one that a growing number of economists challenge. They challenge the orthodox view that the New Deal and of the Great Depression the view among many of these scholars is that these New Deal measures prolonged and deepened the Great Depression and it was the little guy who paid for it and that’s the issue that needs to come through is that people have to realize that political power is done in the name of interest groups for their own benefit and they seek to sort of spin a fog to delude people into believing that it’s in their interest.

I want to thank our three speakers. If you would, please join me with a round of applause. [Applause] Copies of Ivan’s book are available and I’m sure he would be happy to autograph copies. I want to thank again Congressman Paul. He has to bolt but thank you all for coming in with us and we hope that you’ll join us at our next event. Good night.

Audience Member

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