Sunday, February 21, 2010

First, Mr. President, Do No Harm

Calvin Coolidge spent the majority of his life in politics. He was unrepentant in his commitment to individual liberty as espoused by the Constitution. Which meant he understood the value of government getting out of the way of private enterprise. Of allowing individuals to pursue their dreams without undue interference from the government. Coolidge understood that business and, therefore, America prospered when citizens knew what to expect from government. So his first determination was the politicians version of the Hippocratic oath to "do no harm," to keep government from meddling with the private sector. His second was, when things were going well, to" change less."

Coolidge would have been a stellar case study for Jim Collins, author of Good to Great, Why Some Companies Make the Leap...and Others Don't. Good to Great, published in 2001, is the finest business book I've read. Collins didn't chase the latest business or management fad when he conducted the research that lead to writing the book. He followed the facts. Much of what he discovered was counter-intuitive to the prevailing wisdom. For example: "Larger-than-life, celebrity leaders who ride in from the outside are negatively correlated with taking a company from good to great. (10) Or: "The good-to-great companies did not focus principally on what to do to become great; they focused equally on what not to do and what to stop doing." (11) Finally: "The good-to-great companies paid scant attention to managing change..."

Enter the current Administration. Personality-driven, striving to do something, anything (read: Health Care "Reform") in order to be perceived as great. Change for change sake, Change. Change. Change. Oh yes we can! Constitution be damned. Well, of course they have said those words, not overtly. The Administration, the Congress has quietly declared war on the Constitution and therefore, every American, through a kind of clandestine guerrilla warfare. In the dead of night, on Christmas Eve, while Americans are struggling through a severe economic downturn, serious unemployment, just trying to put food on the table push the legislation through, quickly!

It doesn't take much imagination to see where the blueprint for this kind of, well, audacity comes from. Take a moment to read the words of FDR's second inaugural address. If you are like me, they will take your breath away. Critical readers will challenge the assumptions made as a matter of fact, those who understand liberty and the intention of our founders will challenge each conclusion as fantastic in the original sense of the word.

"Government is competent when all who compose it work as trustees for the whole people. It can make constant progress when it keeps abreast of all the facts. It can obtain justified support and legitimate criticism when the people receive true information of all that government does.

Nearly all of us recognize that as intricacies of human relationships increase, so power to govern them also must increase—power to stop evil; power to do good. The essential democracy of our Nation and the safety of our people depend not upon the absence of power, but upon lodging it with those whom the people can change or continue at stated intervals through an honest and free system of elections. The Constitution of 1787 did not make our democracy impotent.

In fact, in these last four years, we have made the exercise of all power more democratic; for we have begun to bring private autocratic powers into their proper subordination to the public's government. The legend that they were invincible—above and beyond the processes of a democracy—has been shattered. They have been challenged and beaten.

...and in so doing we are fashioning an instrument of unimagined power for the establishment of a morally better world. (emphasis mine.)

I imagine we will pull out of this mess, eventually, no matter what this Administration imposes. But the remedy is clear--get government out of the way, free up business to do business, to hire, to grow and Mr. President, please stop doing harm.

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