How Much is Freedom Worth?

Have you ever wondered how much freedom is worth?  I believe it is like they say on the television ad:  “It is priceless.”

Freedom typically is not valued until it is lost.  In other words, we in America take it for granted.  If you were to travel to countries where there is no freedom, you might place a different value on our freedom.

The earliest Americans settled here in order to practice their religions.  So, the freedom of religion is the bedrock or the Plymouth Rock that drew our ancestors to this land.  Americans declared our independence and our freedom to enjoy “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”

The First Amendment to our Constitution states:  “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

The Second Amendment provides:  “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”

It is interesting to note that when the first ten amendments were ratified in 1791, these were the first two amendments listed.  Some importance and priority may be mined from that fact.  Religion and worship of God were very important to our Founding Fathers and the early Freedom Fighters.  It was truly a “nation under God.”

After well over 200 years have passed, where are we today?  Even though freedom is still priceless, we haven’t had to fight for it recently, so it just doesn’t seem as important to Americans.  Certainly, our troops have fought in Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan, but these battles on foreign soil have not been embraced by the public as wars to protect our freedom at home.  The closest thing to an attack on our soil was on 9/11.  However, Americans have returned to their daily routines and the average Joe on the street thinks more about getting a promotion than losing his freedom.  It is just not a thought that we have in America.

Yet, we have been losing our freedoms, a little at a time, but losing them all the same.  Under the First Amendment, has the federal government prohibited the free exercise of religion and has it abridged our freedoms, including speech and press?  Of course it has.  And nobody says anything under penalty of being insensitive to atheists, agnostics, and others who disagree with Christianity.  America will lose her freedoms when average citizens choose to do nothing about protecting them.

I attended a corporate meeting many years ago with employees providing lengthy briefings on the best course for the company for its future.  When the Power Point slides were taken down and the lights came up, the president of the company looked around and asked, “Is there any way I can do nothing?”

If American citizens do nothing, they will lose all of their freedoms.  And once you have lost those freedoms, the government will not give them back without a revolution.  Unfortunately, many citizens are like the corporate president who wanted to do nothing.  They would rather stay under the radar… not make any waves… keep silent… all things which guarantee the loss of their freedoms.

I can remember when Americans were free to say, “Merry Christmas.”  Now, it is insensitive to other religions.  However, freedom of religion embraces all religions.  It does not single out Christianity.  In America, you have the freedom to practice any religion.  You even have the freedom to not practice a religion.  It’s called freedom for a reason.  And restricting Christians from honoring the birthday of Jesus would be like restricting the Muslims or Jews from one of their religious holidays.

The first part of the First Amendment that restricts Congress from establishing a religion should not be taken out of context.  The primary directive is to not prohibit the free exercise of a religion.  Let’s examine the current prohibition on mandatory school prayers.  Doesn’t this federal prohibition restrict the exercise of freedom of religion?  Of course it does.  The argument is that mandatory school prayers establish a religion, Christianity, and interfere with the free exercise of religious beliefs for those who do not believe in prayers.

Let’s get down to basics and common sense.  Quite frankly, any time the government acts to protect the free exercise of religion, Christianity or otherwise, it will be assisting in establishing that religion.  The framers of our Constitution and Amendments were very focused on freedom of religion and less focused on preventing establishment of a religion, so free exercise of religion should always be the bottom line.

It is true that Thomas Jefferson wanted the church to be walled off against the state in order to protect secular interests, but James Madison wanted to decentralize the federal government, allowing the religions in America to compete without interference by the government.

If we are truly talking about emphasizing freedom of religion in America, then the separation of church and state should mean that the government should stay out the business of religion altogether.  This would mean that the government should not restrict any religion, including Christianity.

What is wrong with saying “Merry Christmas”?  What is wrong with saying “Happy Hanukah”?  What is wrong with “Fast during Ramadan”?  All these religions are free to compete within America, no different than businesses.  The government should not promote monopolies of religions or businesses.  That should be the extent of governmental interference.  That should be the extent of our government’s concern about establishing one religion over another.

Let me make this clear.  The government does not restrict advertising by businesses just because that company has a bigger budget for marketing.  Monopoly busting is when a large company is too big, thus reducing the competition.  Monopoly prevention is when two companies are considering a merger and the result would have a substantial cooling effect on competition.  I know of no cases where the government has prevented a company from competing through advertising because it would have a bad effect on competition.

It should be no different for religions.  Government should not prevent religions from marketing, which includes letting others know about their religious days and practices.  This would be a very negative approach to preventing establishment of religions.  America is so diverse and independent, it is not likely that we will see religions forming monopolies.  Religions are known for just the opposite.  They splinter into many different associations, rather than coalescing.

The two provisions in the First Amendment can cancel each other out if you read them literally and out of context.  The federal government has removed many of our freedoms, including freedom of religion and right to bear arms, because it is too big and bureaucratic.

What is the solution?  Well, it is just common sense as Thomas Paine penned in 1776.  The Tenth Amendment of the Constitution provides:  “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.”

This amendment has been abused and ignored, but it tells the federal government to keep out of our state, local, and personal business unless it has a specific power to so intervene.  And there are not that many powers specifically granted to the federal government.

The key is to return the government to the people.  Citizens should emphasize government at the local levels, where the elected officials actually have a vested interest in their communities.  Typically, mayors and council members will do the right thing for their cities because they live in that neighborhood.  They may protect their communities for selfish reasons, but this is better than federal politicians who distance themselves from what is going on at the local level.  Many don’t care about their constituents, only thinking instead about lining their pockets.

Congress needs to focus the power of the purse on local governments so that we can downsize the federal government and retake our freedoms that were stolen by the feds.  This, at least, is the peaceful solution to the current problem.  Our freedom is certainly worth doing this.

Should the Federal Government Be Turned Over to Local Governments?

America can still be saved by turning over much of the federal government to the state, city, and country governments.  The primary reason is because the federal government is broken and cannot be fixed.  There are three major problems.

One.  Morale among federal employees is at a record low.  The 2014 annual survey showed that only about half of the federal employees were satisfied with their jobs.  About 72% of the private sector employees were satisfied.  Younger federal employees are even less satisfied because they have to work for incompetent older employees and promotions are not based on merit.

Two.  Our federal government is not innovative and does not offer incentives for employees who are creative.  The Partnership for Public Service’s innovation index score is the lowest it has ever been.  Typically, old guard leadership in the federal government fears new approaches which could make them look incompetent.  These leaders do not have the confidence to welcome new ideas because they believe they will erode their power.

Three.  Customer satisfaction with federal services is at the lowest it has been since 2007.  The American Customer Satisfaction Index indicated that only 64.4 percent of the government’s customers were satisfied with the results.  Any business with this low customer satisfaction would not be able to stay in business.  Part of the problem is that federal employees don’t even know who their customer is.  When asked, they will tell you their customers are:  (1) supervisors, (2) department heads, (3) Senior Executive Service positions, (4) other federal agencies, (5) the executive branch, and (6) the citizens who request assistance.  They never say the American taxpayer is their client and yet that is who is paying them for their services.  The bottom line is that federal employees are generally motivated to satisfy their leaders in order to advance their careers.  “Careerism” is much more important than customer service.

The federal government is broken beyond repair because the system protects itself from repairs.  Even though the federal leadership is poor, the system is the problem.  The only way to remedy this defect is to minimize the damage it is doing to our country.  Transfer the powers and budget for the federal government to local governments.  They will do a better job because they will be more focused on local activities than the federal government would ever be.

Even though the local governments are not perfect, they will be better at addressing local issues.  The local politicians will be motivated to make their neighborhoods a better place to live.  This is called Politics in My Backyard, “PIMBY.”  Even when the local politicians are selfish, they generally will spend money to protect themselves and their families by making the community stronger.

It is important for Congress, with the power of the purse, to start sending more money to local communities and governments, cutting off the weak efforts of an incompetent federal government.  It is time to go local, freezing out the federal government.

Federal Executives Under Fire Should Be Fired

The “Federal Times” in a front page article on December 1, 2014, written by Andy Medici, indicated that the Senior Executive Service (SES) needed a major overhaul in the wake of recent scandals and criticism from lawmakers.

Former SES employees stated that things could be improved by increasing pay and incentives, by emphasizing positive achievements of SES’s rather than negative actions, and by encouraging movement between agencies.

Are you kidding me?  How will the SES’s be held accountable for mismanagement by giving them more money, bragging on them, and shuffling them around between agencies?  Well, just consider the source.

I was a fraud attorney for the Air Force, Navy, and Marines.  I proposed criminal prosecution against SES members who broke the laws.  None of them were ever prosecuted.  I worked for over four decades in the military and only rarely were there consequences for SES’s when they violated laws.  And there were few consequences for incompetent and inept SES’s.

My opinion for over four decades remains the same.  They need to be prosecuted for unlawful activities and fired for incompetence.  The average salary for these overpaid managers is about $166,000.  In 2016, over half of these SES’s will be eligible to retire.  This would be a good time to recruit competent supervisors from the private sector.  The system of promoting home grown federal employees into management positions has only advanced the best “suck up’s” and career advocates in the system, who were not competent enough to enter private practice.  Over the years, the federal government loses its best employees because they can make more money on the outside and they get tired of working for incompetent management.

There are outstanding retired supervisors from the private sector, who would jump at the chance to help improve the federal government.  Simply downsize the pool of SES employees through attrition.  Don’t hire replacements for those who retire.  The federal government will be better without them in the work force.  Then take that money and hire former managers from companies to run quality control surveys throughout the federal government.  These managers must have power to fire the remaining SES’s and any federal employees.  They should also be empowered to make changes that will improve our government.  They must be given the ability to recommend prosecution and terminations for cause.

Federal executives who are under fire for incompetence should be terminated.

Is Our Dollar Being Stretched Thin?

On October 25, 2013, Forbes examined the strength of the American dollar, which currently is the primary world reserve currency.  It included the following chart, showing the dollar in green with about 60% of the reserves with the euro in red running a distant second at about 20% and the British pound sterling in blue coming in third with about 3% and the Japanese yen in purple not far behind.  The Chinese yuan is listed as “other” right now, but is becoming more important.

Just a few decades ago, the British pound sterling was the primary world currency and held that honor for about 200 years before it had a runaway deficit budget with the Labour party pushing high budget spending.  Unfortunately, this sounds a lot like what is going on the United States today.  

China is one of the countries looking for our dollar to be replaced as the world reserve currency. Liu Chang with China’s official news agency wrote: “. . . it is perhaps a good time for the befuddled world to start considering building a de-Americanized world.”

America’s budget and debt ceiling crises and the 2011 credit rating downgrade have created doubts about the strength of the dollar.  The quantitative easing of printing more dollars to pay our debts is disconcerting to the international community.  The current political environment is not conducive to making substantial cuts in our budget or to reducing our debt.  Let’s just “kick the can down the road” until it drops over the cliff.  The cliff is inevitable.  It’s just a matter of when we will run out of road.

What is a reserve currency?  The reserve currency consists of primary contributing monetary systems that are designed to provide stability for markets and currency throughout the world.  For example if a country were in financial difficulty, international speculators could sell their holdings of that country’s currency, thus depressing the value of that currency.  The country could allow the exchange rate for the currency to fall, but this would not be its first choice because it would make imports more expensive for that country.  However if that country had stable foreign currency reserves, speculators would not be interested.  In 1997-1998, a financial disaster was avoided since many countries had reserves of foreign currencies.  Most countries today protect themselves with extensive foreign exchange reserves.

The American dollar is still on top, but this may be changing much like a mud slide as water saturates the foundation of the soil until the weight carries the earth downhill.  One of the strengths of the dollar was “liquidity” in being able to be sold quickly.  As America’s financial structure shows weaknesses, the liquidity is more in question.  Also, the dollar is starting to lose its value because of the qualitative easing.  Printing more money is bound to devalue the existing dollars.  Other countries may start to obtain their reserves in other assets.  There are already agreements between China and South Korea to utilize their own currencies.  There even could be some ideological and political reasons why countries like Russia would want to convert to a different currency standard.

China’s renminbi could make significant strides toward obtaining a higher percentage of the world reserves, due partly to China’s huge economy.  The extensive foreign exchange controls by the government may make this currency look more dependable and stable than America’s dollar mismanaged by a “do nothing” Congress.

Countries have been increasing their total reserves at a strong pace. In the past decade, world reserves have quadrupled. With that growth rate, countries could greatly increase non-dollar reserves without having to sell any greenbacks.

About 30% of America’s debt is owned by foreign countries included in their currency reserves.  Our interest rates remain low because other countries are purchasing treasury bonds.  However, we are noting financial cracks that are exposing inflationary pressures within our country.  Of course, the way to offset the inflation is to increase interest rates.  Our countries may also increase prices for their imports.  Since our imports far exceed our exports, we would get hammered with this inflationary trend with an even larger trade deficit.  The current political response of printing more money will simply exacerbate the inflationary problem by increasing our money supply.  The dollar will be in the same position that the British pound was in years ago.  But who will bail us out? 

There are many distractions that have nothing to do with this issue.  For example, oil being priced in dollars is irrelevant because you can purchase oil in any currency.  Traders accept any currency at the appropriate exchange rate or you can have your bank covert to any currency.

It is very important that we focus on the real issues and avoid the distractions thrown up by politicians and the media, who do not have your best interests at heart.  There probably is a tipping point on the printing of money and running up a deficit, where we will have gone too far with no way to survive the impending disaster.  But it is incumbent on Americans to push their Congressmen to do the right thing by protecting the stability of our dollar by stopping the quantitative easing and by living within our budget.  If your Congressman cannot do this, then do not vote for them.

Business in My Backyard (BIMBY)

Businesses in America have gotten big and bureaucratic just like the federal government.  In fact, there not only are many similarities between these two, but there are also alliances between them that enable each other to get even bigger.  They feed off each other, creating a monster that is destroying the capitalistic system by consuming the middle class and small businesses.

We must return to the Progressive policies of the early 20th century that can eliminate the corruption of big government and big business.  This can be accomplished with a focus on Business in My Backyard (BIMBY).  Local businesses will be more responsive to providing good customer service in order to get repeat business, while large corporations only look at the bottom line.  The big businesses are not as interested in the needs of local citizens since it is examining the profit line across America.

Back at the turn of the 20th century, businesses were out of control as the greed of industrial captains went unchecked and monopolies drove out the competition.  It wasn’t until Progressive politicians came onto the scene that these corporations, like Standard Oil, were broken up into smaller companies.

Competition, not government regulation, is the key to controlling corporate greed and control.  This competition can occur not only from other companies, but also from other commodities.  For example, oil prices can be moderated through competition by other energy sources, including batteries, oil shale, natural gas, wind, and solar. 

When Walmart spread throughout America, it destroyed many mom & pop stores in small towns.  Competition can be resurrected with favorable treatment provided to small businesses by government.  Tax incentives and lower costs can revive this market.  Local governments should work closely with local businesses to make them stronger and more robust in communities.  Both local government and businesses will be more responsive to their communities and their development. 

Large government and businesses are not only extreme in their sizes, but they also become extreme in their direction and focus.  These extremes carve America into the “have’s” and the “have not’s.”  The middle class disappears as the extremes polarize the country into a small class of wealthy government employees and business tycoons and a huge class of poor people.  This is not what America is about.  In fact, there is no America without the middle class.

The two extremes are:  (1) over regulation by big government and (2) unbridled greed and control by big businesses.  Either of these extremes can destroy the middle class and our American way of life.  We can avoid these two extremes through Politics in My Backyard (PIMBY) and Business in My Backyard (BIMBY). 

PIMBY focuses on local politicians who, as a general rule, are more interested in supporting the community where they live.  Even if they selfishly spend money on themselves, they typically will be improving their neighborhoods.  PIMBY will also reduce spending of taxpayer dollars by eliminating the excesses and duplicated efforts of state and federal governments.  

BIMBY, on the other hand, is local businesses leading the charge to not only keep prices down through competition, but also to do the right thing for their communities.  Local businesses, just like local politicians, will have a vested interest in supporting the communities because a robust community will provide more business and will buy more commodities.  Large businesses do not want competition and keep their prices lower by buying overseas, thus further destroying our middle class.

Only by thinking differently and employing both PIMBY and BIMBY can America remain strong, allowing the middle class to survive.  A synergy develops when these two are working together.  Local politicians and businesses should form coalitions throughout America that reduce the size of non-local government and businesses.

Americans should vote out all the incumbents in Congress and find representatives who will give taxpayer dollars to the local governments, substituting them for the federal and state governments.     


Politics in My Backyard (PIMBY)

I have a theory that many local politicians have a vested interest in making life better in their neighborhoods.  I call it Politics in My Backyard (PIMBY).  This, of course, is not always true, but PIMBY is more likely to be found in local over either state or federal governments.

Generally, federal and state politicians get bogged down in self-serving, partisan voting.  This has caused the dysfunctional gridlock in DC.  I don’t see that much gridlock in city government, perhaps because many cities have managerial mayors and city managers, who treat city government more like running a business.

I suspect that even commissioners are less interested in partisan voting, but are more interested in what is best for themselves and hopefully the city.  But even if they vote for what is best for themselves, part of that is what is best for their backyard and community.  Some of them certainly must think about what is best for their children and grandchildren.

An undercurrent in all this is the nexus between city government and businesses and the local economy.  I believe this is different from the federal and state government where politicians work closely with special interest groups to obtain contributions to their campaigns.  Even though city politicians are enticed by businessmen and local power brokers to vote for specific actions, I see this as generally being beneficial to the community.  At the national and state levels, the special interest groups generally are not doing things that are especially helpful to citizens in local communities; while the actions by the city government, even if done for the personal gain of politicians, many times have a local benefit of some kind.

Congressmen have attempted to do things for their states in the past.  The term “pork barrel politics” usually refers to the type of spending which is intended to benefit supporters of a politician in return for their political support, either in the form of campaign contributions or votes.  “Pork” is a derogatory term since the expenditures generally are more focused on a special interest group within the state, rather than on the citizens of that state.

We need to think differently in order to turn our country around before it goes over the cliff, joining the other civilizations that have fallen.  Because of PIMBY, it makes sense to downsize the federal and state governments, providing more taxes and revenue to the local governments.  The local governments are closer to the issues that need attention and that actually will benefit the public.  Substituting the  local government for federal and state governments will avoid duplication of expenses at the higher levels and will allow the city government to focus on local issues, which they do better than anybody else.

Fed Flight

In the Federal Times, dated April 15, 2013, Andy Medici reported on the latest government-wide employee satisfaction survey, and it showed that many federal employees would rather call it the “employee dissatisfaction survey.” 

Medici wrote:  “More than half of employees at the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of the Secretary were considering leaving their jobs within a year….  One employee there, who asked not to be named, said he used to love his job as a program manager but wants out as soon as possible because of incompetent management and poor leadership.  Mediocrity and bureaucracy seem to be the name of the game…”

The continuing pay freeze and planned furloughs are sending waves of panic through the federal government so that a high percentage of employees are talking about jumping the ship.  There may be a federal flight as the more employable employees or considering early retirement or moving to the private sector. 

Even though downsizing of the federal government could be a good thing, the loss of the better qualified employees is not the smartest way to get this done.  The “Fed Flight” will leave the poorer quality workers behind, making the federal government system worse than ever.  The entrenched Senior Executive Service who are to blame for much of the bad work environment will stay behind, confident that they can continue with their incompetent styles without any consequences.  Those employees who remain behind will be the basis for a government that is even worse.

And yet, healthcare, military, Social Security, our budget & monetary system, and regulation of American businesses will be under this new federal government, which will become more incompetent and bureaucratic as the better federal employees leave the work force.  Almost 690,000 employees from 292 agencies completed the 2012 employee survey, and more than 30% of those polled said they were considering leaving their jobs within a year.  The private sector is very volatile right now, so only the best qualified in the government will be able to find jobs on the outside.  That translates into a simple mathematical calculation of subtraction, leaving those federal employees who are not marketable.  

Trust Me

Trust Me was a television series that began airing on TNT on January 26, 2009, which was not renewed for the second season.  “Trust me,” is a famous one-liner used by many individuals and groups, but my favorite is:  “Trust me, I’m with the federal government, and I’m here to help you.”  Americans have not renewed their trust in their government just like the producers of the show.

Over the last few decades, trust of the federal government and politicians has deteriorated to a very low point.  I doubt if “trust me” is very effective anymore.  Some people even worry about anybody who says, “trust me,” since it may be evidence that if there were no reason to distrust them, they wouldn’t have said it.

The sequester, which leads to automatic budget cuts, was a failure by both Congress and the White House, much of which occurred because they don’t trust each other either.  Trust is lacking pretty much across the board.  More than half the federal workforce could be furloughed over the next six months, according to Federal Times.  The strategies to handle the furloughs vary from agency to agency.  The Department of Defense plans to furlough primarily civilians, while other agencies are targeting furloughs to retain critical activities and offices.  This probably could have been avoided if the legislature trusted the executive branch and vice versa.  And the automatic requirements in the sequester might have been modified if the drafters trusted the government to monitor itself.

The sequester will apply cuts across the board:  about 8% for defense and about 5% for other programs.  This is expected to cut $85 billion from the federal budget, but even though it is a fraction of our debt and the entire budget, it is a start in the right direction.  It is past time to turn down the spigot, running up about a trillion more in debt each year.  Even if the forced cuts are painful, they have to be made.  Perhaps, trust can return within and outside our government if we start reducing the annual increase to our federal deficit.  If we turn the corner away from excessive spending, the taxpayers may be more receptive to increasing taxes.  The sequester may be a start to bringing trust back into the federal government.

Only time will tell whether “trust me, I’m with the federal government” is accepted by American citizens like it was decades ago.  The government culture has to change along with decreased spending.  Federal employees must consider taxpayers as their customers and start focusing on providing good customer service.

Where Is the Social Security Trust Fund?

Do you know where your Social Security Trust Fund is located?  Where is the $2.6 trillion trust fund that has been collecting Social Security taxes for decades and is considered to be “untouchable” by Congress?  This question might be similar to the questions about where the Loch Ness Monster is hiding or where the Yeti is living?  Did the federal government place this trust fund in Area 51?  Where is it?

Well, it doesn’t exist or at least not in the typical way we expect to see trust funds invested.  If you and I were to start a savings or trust account, we would have cash and securities or something physical funding the account that we could touch and withdraw if we needed the savings.

The Social Security Trust Fund has no cash or securities.  This trust fund receives I.O.U.s from the federal Treasury, which takes the daily Social Security taxes and includes them in its general fund.  The “untouchable” Trust Fund is funded with “special-issue securities” from the Treasury, which are loans that the Treasury must repay.

In effect, the Social Security Trust Fund is a “fairy tale” account that not only is a fiction, but the $2.6 trillion dollar fund promised to the public was spent many years ago.  There is nothing left of this fund, but “smoke and mirrors” of the federal government.  Each year, Social Security has to obtain money from the Treasury in order to fund its cash-flow deficit.  If the Treasury does not provide the cash, there is no fund to cover this amount.

This makes a very interesting lie that the government has foisted on the public.  The government has told us for decades that the Social Security has a dedicated revenue stream and a separate “untouchable” trust account that should not be considered as part of our budget deficit.  The truth is that the Social Security funding should be part of the federal budget deceit and deficit.  It should be included in our federal budget deficit because it comes directly from the Treasury each year just like any other federal payments.  It is no different than any other non-funded Treasury expense.

America’s Two-Party System

The Founding Fathers had two opposite magnetic poles that attracted American citizens.  One was a group led by Alexander Hamilton, George Washington’s secretary of the treasury, who believed that the common man should not control the government.  Hamilton argued that a president for life would be the best course of action, similar to the crown in England.  He thought that mob rule would take over if left to the common man.  The followers of Hamilton were called Federalists (federal rights).

Thomas Jefferson, George Washington’s secretary of state, led the other side, which believed that the people could rule themselves and that the Federalists would promote a dictatorship by taking away powers from the people and the states, giving them to the federal government.  Jefferson wanted a nation of farmers who needed few laws governing them.  The followers of Jefferson were called Republicans (citizens’ and states’ rights).

But these two parties agreed on two important items:  (1) they wanted to do the right thing and (2) they wanted to serve the public.  They just disagreed on how best to do that.  Interestingly, the presidents during this “Founding Fathers” period of time were very independent, and did not follow their party line in all cases.  They did what they believed was best for their country even if they didn’t get reelected.

The evolution of the two-party system has swapped names around so that it is a bit confusing.  The Hamilton Federalists later became Republicans, and the Jefferson Republicans later became Democrats.  However, today the old Republicans are the new Democrats, and the old Democrats are now new Republicans.  It will make it easier if I differentiate the parties with a reference to their ideology at that particular time.  For example, the Hamilton Federalists would be designated by (federal rights) while the Jefferson Republicans would be categorized as (citizens’ and states’ rights).

But because of the maverick spirit of the early presidents, it was never crystal clear about party alignments.  George Washington, the first president, was a very successful independent president by setting a middle course for our young country and never affiliating with any party.  John Adams, the second president of the United States was a Federalist (federal rights), but he lost favor with that party when he went with his conscience and not the edicts of the party.  He was successful though because he avoided a war with France that could have destroyed our young, fragile nation.  Even though Thomas Jefferson, the third president, represented the Republicans, he still followed his conscience.  He was also successful by purchasing the Louisiana Territory.  James Madison, the fourth president, also a Republican, did what he thought was right during his two terms, but he got wrapped up in the War of 1812, which drove the federal debt up for the first time since the Revolutionary War.  He still was a success by winning the war.  James Monroe, the fifth president, also a Republican, created the “Era of Good Feeling” with his expansion of territory and decrease in spending.  Washington, Jefferson, Madison, and Monroe all only ran for two terms, believing that it was improper in our democracy for them to stay any longer.  The first five presidents were both independent and successful.

John Quincy Adams, the sixth president, was independent like his father.  Even though he was elected also as a Federalist (federal rights), he voted for what he believed to be right and not what the party wanted.  This guaranteed one term for both men.  But John Quincy Adams was not as successful as his father.  He was a cold and distant person and had no abilities to compromise.

Andrew Jackson, the seventh president, was elected as a Democratic Republican (citizens’ and states’ rights) over the new National Republican party (federal rights).  Jackson’s party eventually became just the Democratic party, while the Republican party became the Whig party.  Even though Jackson believed in states’ rights, he drew the line with South Carolina declaring that it would not comply with a federal tariff.  Jackson was ready to send in federal troops to enforce the federal law.  It was interesting that many of the early presidents were independent enough to ignore the ideologies of their party lines and stand up for what they thought was right.  Jackson certainly fit this mold.  He vetoed more bills from Congress than any president up to his time, but Jackson was very successful.  The federal debt “flat lined” through Jackson’s administration and over the next thirty years.  It wasn’t until 1860 that the federal debt started climbing, building up to the Civil War.

Martin Van Buren, the eighth president, a Democrat, tried to do the right thing, but he was blindsided by a deep depression caused by land speculation and liberal borrowing of money.  Van Buren was unsuccessful as a president, but it wasn’t really his fault.  American citizens couldn’t blame themselves, so they blamed Van Buren.  William Henry Harrison, the ninth president, was elected as a Whig (federal rights), but he lived only for a few months and obtained no success during that short period.  His vice-president, John Tyler, also a Whig, assumed the presidency.  Tyler stood his ground and supported states’ rights even though his party did not.  Tyler also was a single term president because of his independent positions, but he was unsuccessful because both parties hated him.

James Polk was elected the eleventh president as a Democrat (citizens’ and states’ rights).  Even though he was involved in a war with Mexico, it was one of the few wars that did not dramatically increase the federal debt.  In the peace treaty, America obtained California, Nevada, and part of Utah, Arizona, and New Mexico.  Polk was a very successful president.

Millard Fillmore, the thirteen president, assumed this office as a Whig (federal rights) after his predecessor, Zachary Taylor, died suddenly after contracting an illness on July 4th, a year after he was elected on the Whig ticket.  Taylor wasn’t president long enough to be successful, but Fillmore was a success.  Even though Fillmore was from a party that supported a strong federal government and that was against slavery, he was independent and followed what he believed.  He was a big influence on the Compromise of 1850, which made California a free state and enacted the Fugitive Slave Act allowing slave owners to recapture slaves who escaped to free states.  Fillmore was the last Whig president as that party disintegrated after the compromise.  Fillmore also was the last successful independent president until Abraham Lincoln.

Franklin Pierce, a northerner, was elected as the fourteenth president, as a Democrat (citizens’ and states’ rights).  Pierce was one of the first presidents who followed his party line and not his conscience.  He started a string of presidents who followed a strict party policy.  Pierce followed his party and promoted the Kansas-Nebraska Act, which allowed the citizens in those territories to decide whether it wanted slavery or not.  This was the tinder box that set a fire that led to the Civil War because it allowed extremists to operate and take over in those territories.

James Buchanan, the fifteenth president, was also a Democrat (citizens’ and states’ rights).  He did not take a strong stand on much anything.  With two weak presidents in a row, the extremists within America took over and ran us headlong into war.  Buchanan did not want to make anybody angry, especially his party, so he avoided confrontation.  But the country needed a strong, independent leader to avoid the Civil War.

Abraham Lincoln, the sixteenth president, was elected as a Republican (federal rights and anti-slavery).  Lincoln was a much more capable president than Pierce and Buchanan, but he did not have much experience, so he was polarized by his party into denouncing both states’ rights and slavery.  If he had been more experienced and followed his own beliefs, he would have selected only one issue – slavery.  Slavery was on its way out anyway and clearly was against America’s principle of a right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness for all.  If Lincoln had ignored the states’ rights issue, he, at a minimum, would have shortened the Civil War and may have avoided it altogether.  Lincoln also gave in to his party when they proposed military leaders like Erwin McDowell, who was a political staff officer who should never have led the Union soldiers in the First Battle of Manassas.  Other political appointments of officers led to the early years of losses to the Confederates on the battlefield.  After General Ulysses Grant, who was not political, was given command of the Union army, things turned around.  As Lincoln gained experience, he exercised his executive power more than other presidents had done in the past.  He finally recognized the legitimate reason for the Civil War and delivered the Emancipation Proclamation speech after the Battle of Gettysburg on September 22, 1862.  Lincoln had many good qualities that helped him get through a very difficult period for our country, but his inexperience hurt him in his early years of his presidency.  He became a successful independent president after September 22, 1862.  There was a hiatus in independent successful presidents until Theodore Roosevelt in 1901.

Of the first sixteen presidents, nine were successful independent presidents:  Washington, John Adams, Jefferson, Monroe, Madison, Jackson, Polk, Fillmore, and Lincoln.

The Reconstruction period paraded a series of Republican (federal rights and big business) presidents who were controlled by Congress.  Andrew Johnson and Rutherford Hays should be given credit during this period for attempting to do what they thought was right, but Congress and big business were just too powerful, and these presidents were not successful in their efforts.  Johnson, the seventeenth president, was impeached by Congress when he attempted to do what he thought was right.  Hayes, the nineteenth president, tried to clean up politics, but Congress and big businesses had too much power as America rolled into becoming an industrialized nation.  Ulysses Grant (eighteenth president), James Garfield (twentieth president), and Chester Arthur (the twenty-first president) were all weak presidents who conceded to their parties and Congress, leading to widespread corruption within the government.  The Republicans became more of a party supporting big business and drifted away from promoting federal rights.

Grover Cleveland, the twenty-second and twenty-fourth president, was elected as a Democrat (citizens’ and states’ rights), who was going to bring a change along with an honest government.  He also brought a change to the Democratic party, which became less focused on states’ rights and more centered on laborers and small businessmen.  Cleveland made his decisions based on what he thought was right and not what his party dictated or what was popular.  However, he wasn’t successful.  That’s why he lost to Benjamin Harrison, the twenty-third president, on the Republican (big business) ticket.  But Harrison, who supported high tariffs and big business, lost the following election to Cleveland as farmers, labor, and small businessmen voted for the Democrat (small business).  The pendulum continued to swing back and forth between the two parties as William McKinley, a Republican, was elected after Cleveland’s second term.  All these presidents, as a general rule, followed their party line.

It wasn’t until the colorful twenty-sixth president, Theodore Roosevelt, a Republican (big business), was vaulted into the presidency after McKinley was shot and killed, that successful independence returned to the presidency.  Roosevelt recognized a new division within America, not between federal and states’ rights, but between the rich and the poor.  Even though he was a Republican, he set out on his own to protect the small businesses and workers.  Roosevelt was the first president to successfully follow his own set of values since Millard Fillmore, about a 50-year hiatus.  Roosevelt busted up many of the big business trusts.  He also saved the natural resources in America by establishing national parks and forests.  This highly popular president easily won a second term.

William Taft, the twenty-seventh president, also a Republican, attempted to follow-up on many of Roosevelt’s programs, but he was not as aggressive as his predecessor.  Although competent, Roosevelt was a tough act to follow, and Taft looked weak by comparison.  He was a party man, too complacent to be labeled as an independent.

We continued the swing back and forth between parties as Woodrow Wilson, a Democrat (citizens’ and states’ rights), was elected as the twenty-eighth president.  Wilson championed the rights of the people, following the party position.  Wilson was in power during WWI when the federal debt escalated to about what it was during the Civil War.  After Wilson, Warren Harding, a Republican (big business), became the twenty-ninth president.  He was a loyal Republican who voted the party line.  He died in office and Calvin Coolidge, another Republican (big business), kept things going for big business.  Coolidge said, “And the business of government was to keep out of business.”  Herbert Hoover, a Republican (big business), was the thirty-first president.  Hoover inherited the Great Depression, but he still did not want to interfere with businesses through government regulation.

Franklin Roosevelt, the thirty-second president, a distant cousin to Teddy Roosevelt, was a Democrat (citizens’ and states’ rights).  Roosevelt really was an independent and kept to himself for the most part.  He was the architect for an expansive and expensive federal government.  The Democrat party suddenly looked a lot like the old Federalist, Whig, and Republican parties that championed federal rights.  He became the leader of a Democratic party that now represented the people through the federal government (big government).  He created new federal departments and spent money at a rate never seen before in our country.  He modified his party’s platform to use the full power of the federal government to champion the rights of Americans and small businesses.  He created a larger federal government to get America back on its feet.  The change was perhaps one of emphasis.  The emphasis was on a larger government.  He was elected for a fourth term, more terms than any other president, as a Democrat (big government) but he died in office.

Harry Truman, also a Democrat (big government), became the thirty-third president with the shadow of Franklin Roosevelt over him.  Truman, like both Roosevelt’s, was his own man.  Even though Truman had some shady political ties in Missouri, he stepped up and made the tough decisions, such as dropping the first atomic bomb.  There was no passing the buck with Truman because as he said, “The buck stops here.”  He was from Independence, Missouri, and he was truly independent.  During the Korean War, he took on a very popular General McArthur, but Truman did not back away from making the difficult decisions, and he was generally right.  Even though Truman was able to decrease the rate of federal spending, he still incurred heavy expenses in WWII and the Korean War and our government continued to grow.

Dwight Eisenhower was elected the thirty-fourth president because he was a likeable war hero.  His slogan was, “I like Ike.”  He was a Republican, but his party’s philosophy didn’t look that much different from the Democrat (big government) beliefs.  He pretty much followed the party line and was not considered to be a strong president.  However, he was able to continue a decrease in federal spending even with continued growth in the government building interstate roads and other projects.

John Kennedy was the next independent president after Truman.  He also was a Democrat (big government) elected as the thirty-fifth president based on his personal charm and wealth.  He attracted smart independent advisors, and he was willing to go against the military, corporate, and political powers.  The Bay of Pigs and Cuban Missile Crisis were both headaches for his administration.  Kennedy was assassinated, but we still do not know why.

Lyndon Johnson, the thirty-sixth president, returned to the Democratic party (big government) mantra.  Johnson started a group of presidents, whether Democrat or Republican, who followed their party line of increasing the size of the federal government, carrying right up to the present.  The Democrats might argue for increased taxes, and the Republicans might decrease taxes, but otherwise the two parties contributed to a higher federal deficit.  Johnson, unlike Kennedy, embraced big government, big business, and big military.  Richard Nixon, the thirty-seventh president, was a Republican, but it was difficult distinguishing him from Johnson except that Nixon got caught.  After his resignation, a very honest president, Gerald Ford, took his place, but Ford ran into an inflationary recession and didn’t have time to make his mark on the presidency.  Jimmy Carter, the thirty-ninth president, was an inexperienced Democrat who struggled to find his identity and the Democrat party fared no better.  Nixon, Ford, and Carter were able to maintain a reasonable federal budget, but the next president, Ronald Reagan, started the elevator rising to the giant federal debt that we have today.  He didn’t initiate this with the growth of federal government as much as he did with tax decreases.  The reduced taxes increased the debt.

Ronald Reagan, the fortieth president, finally defined and designed the new Republican party.  Reagan was the pioneer leader of this Republican party (business/small government), modifying its big business role to embrace less federal government.  The Republicans became a party that wanted to make the government smaller, making businesses less regulated and less taxed.  Now, the lines were clearly drawn between Republicans (business/small government/less taxes) and Democrats (unions/large government/more taxes).  Since Reagan actually formulated the new Republican party, he did not deviate from what the party line.  He was independent in that he created what he believed in.  And because of his firm ideological beliefs, he was able to dismantle the Soviet Union.  However, the costs for the federal government were increasing under both parties now.

George H.W. Bush, the forty-first president, continued following the Republican ideological philosophy.  Bush was one of our best war presidents.  During the First Gulf War, he formed a coalition of nations to remove Hussein from Kuwait.  Bush announced the objective and turned over the strategy and tactics of war to the military and let them do their job.  It is a lost art called “delegation” that few presidents ever learned.  William Clinton became the forty-second president as a Democrat, still pursuing what was best for a larger government.  Clinton was lucky to see a decrease in the federal budget because of the boost in the economy, giving the government more tax revenue and better profits on its investments. George W. Bush was the forty-third president, following the Republican movement to minimize government and reduce regulations on businesses.  The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan sent our federal debt spiraling up into the stratosphere.  Bush understood neither the power of coalitions nor international law like his father did, so America lost some of its moral luster.

Barrack Obama, the forty-fourth president, was perhaps the biggest Democratic champion for a larger government.  We have seen our federal debt go over $16 trillion and watch as Standard & Poor’s downgraded our country’s credit rating from AAA to AA+.  With our debt increasing over $1 trillion each year, we are reaching a fiscal tipping point.

In summary, the first five presidents from George Washington to James Madison carried an aura of successful independence about them that may have carried over from being the “Founding Fathers.”  Jackson, Polk, Fillmore, and Lincoln were the next four successful independent presidents, but this combination wasn’t seen again until Teddy Roosevelt came crashing onto the scene.  Franklin Roosevelt, Truman, Kennedy, and Reagan were the last presidents who exercised successful independent spirits.  I believe that Lincoln fit in the category of independent successful presidents after September 22, 1862, when he issued the Emancipation Proclamation. Also in my opinion, Reagan did what he thought was right as another successful independent, which matched the new party line that he had created.

In effect, I argue that there were only 14 out of 44 presidents who were successful at doing the right thing for their country even at the risk of not getting reelected.  The most successful presidents were independent, but still knew how to build coalitions.  The least successful presidents were those who just simply followed the party line or who refused to compromise or work with anybody.  I think we could use another independent president, but if we have already reached the tipping point, I don’t know if they could be successful.