An Open Letter To The Million-Dollar Abortive Mother

Dear Million-Dollar Abortive Mother,

I hesitate to call you a mother, since what you’re currently doing by threatening to abort your child unless pro-lifers send you a million dollars falls more in the vein of slave-traders, hijackers, and the Saw movies than motherhood.  But whether you choose to acknowledge it or not – and whether I think the title is deserved or not – you are, in fact, a mother.

You’re a mother because you have a 7-week old child growing inside of you – a fact you acknowledged in your essay by using the terms “baby”, “child” and “he or she”.  You didn’t even bother trying to pitch any lines about “choice”, “fetus”, or “clump of tissue” – aged propaganda mechanisms so insipid that even the pro-aborts at Salon advocate ditching them in favor of outright pro-killing language.

No, you came right out and said it: I’m pregnant, I have a baby, and I’m going to kill that baby to make a political point.

Your ultimatum itself explicitly assumes that the life of a child is on the line. I mean, nobody would give a million dollars for a lab sample of your hair or skin or a suspect-looking mole you had removed.  But that’s not what you’re selling, is it? You’re not holding a clump of cells ransom, you’re holding a child. Your child.

I’m sure you’re seeing exactly the kind of reaction you expected from such a challenge.  I’m sure you’re seeing praise and admiration from liberals to whom sexual license is the only remaining virtue. I’m sure you’re seeing shock and outrage from conservatives who see your actions as disturbing and self-interested. I’m sure you’re seeing the media eat it up, as headline after headline draws viewers to your essay.

But more important than all that is what you’re not seeing, Mom.

Right now, at this very moment, unaware of the cultural drama his or her little life is spawning,  your baby is developing hands and feet, and eyelids to cover eyes that are already gaining their color. Those hands and feet are your hands and feet.  Those eyes are your eyes.  A few short months from now, when your baby breathes his or her first breath, every fiber of that little being will recognize you as mother. You will be home to that child – the most important, most precious, and most loved being in their entire existence.

I know this, despite being a loathsome uterus-less patriarchal miscreant, because a little over two months ago, my wife and I had our first child.  We were both excited from the moment we found out about the pregnancy, but we could not have imagined how much joy our son has brought to our lives.

I was by my wife’s side when he was delivered, and watched as he reacted with fear and confusion to all the lights and noises and doctors and nurses – heck, he didn’t even want to see me.  There was only one person in the world who he knew, trusted, and loved: Mommy.

He’s getting big already – growing so quickly. He recognizes my voice when I come home from work, and has just recently learned to smile back at me when I play with him.  He coos and squeals and tries to talk to me, painting my expressions on his little face in an attempt to communicate with the strange non-mom human who grows hair on his face.

But when he gets tired, or gets hurt, or has an upset tummy, he doesn’t want to be around dad anymore.  He wants mom.  See, he and mom have been together for much longer than the 10 weeks that I’ve had the privilege of knowing him.  When the world is scary and mean, dad just doesn’t cut it. He wants to fall asleep in his mother’s arms, hearing the same voice he’s been hearing since the second trimester, feeling the security of the same steady heartbeat that has given life and nourishment to him since conception, and resting secure in the knowledge that she would literally die to protect him.

That’s the relationship your baby has with you right now, whether you know it or not. At this very moment, that little developing brain is slowly getting wired with your intelligence, your wit, and your emotions.

Look, Million-Dollar Abortive Mother (is it okay if I just call you MDAM?), since you’ve decided to make your baby’s life a matter for public negotiation, you’re going to be immersed in the cultural ripples of such a decision whether you succeed in your stated goal of remaining anonymous or not. You’re going to hear a lot of opinions, some you agree with, some you don’t agree with, and some you hate people for even expressing.  This letter might be one of those.  And that’s cool.  Hate me all you want. Hate me and my ignorant restrictive pro-life family, desperately clinging to our backward religious notions of the sanctity of human life. Hate conservatives, hate Republicans, and hate the Tea Party.

Just please don’t hate your baby. Please don’t hold this gun to the head of your beautiful son or daughter, who has a lifetime of hugs and giggles and accomplishments and joy and hurts and love to share with you.

I know this might sound crazy to you in an age where love is pretty much synonymous with sex, and where hashtags like #LoveWins get applied to movements that foster bigotry and discrimination against people of faith, but my wife and I love your baby. Not the concept of your baby, not the idea of winning an argument or proving a point.

We really, actually, love your baby.

Sight unseen, not knowing if he or she will survive the next few weeks, we love your baby.  We will be on our knees praying that you reconsider your decision to end your child’s life. We will rejoice if you choose to keep your baby, and we will mourn if you end that precious little life – as we do for each of the 58 million children who have been sacrificed on the altar of convenience in America since Roe v Wade.

But that’s not all we will do.

You see, as Christians, we are commanded to love not only in word, but in deed. For those who look to Christ as the ultimate example of love, it’s not enough to feel empathy or spin up warm feelings for the occasional act of kindness. I may love imperfectly, but I do have an idea what love is – something I think you might agree that our culture has largely lost sight of.

Do you consider yourself a loving person, Mom?  Have you asked yourself if this ultimatum is the loving thing to do, let alone the right thing?

The Bible talks a lot about love, but it never encourages following your heart, or doing what feels right.  In fact, it places a lot less emphasis on loving feelings than on loving actions.

I’m sure you’ve been to enough weddings in your life to have heard some version of I Corinthians 13 – which I’m pretty sure has been dubbed the official wedding chapter of the Bible.  It says a lot of important things about love, that I humbly ask you to consider with relation to your child.

It says love is patient and kind. Love is selfless – doesn’t seek its own interest. Love doesn’t rejoice in iniquity (doing whatever it wants), but rejoices in truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, and endures all things.

Lastly, love never fails.

Ever.

Love, in fact, always wins. It must always win, for when it stops winning, this world won’t be a place any of us care to live in any longer.

The challenge you have issued strikes right at the heart of what it means to be a Christian, what it means to be human, and what it means to love. This isn’t about scoring political points or making a statement anymore. This is about life and death, love and hate, truth and falsehood.

I know I’ve written a lot, but bear with me. I’m coming to the point.

The wisest man who ever lived once judged between two mothers fighting over a child they both claimed as their own. Not knowing who the real mother was (DNA tests weren’t quite as accessible 3,000 years ago), he commanded that the child be cut in half and one half given to each woman. One of the women smugly accepted the judgment, content that neither would get the child.  But the true mother cried out to spare the child’s life, even if it meant losing him to the pretender.

The moral of the story is simply this: life is precious.  It’s more precious than comfort or pleasure or convenience, and it’s more important than proving yourself right.

As a rule, I don’t negotiate with terrorists.  And make no mistake – that’s what you’re acting as when you threaten a child with dismemberment and death for the sake of money and politics.

The only difference between the statement you will make by aborting your child, and the statement that the Islamic State makes by beheading people, is that their actions garner universal condemnation, while yours will likely enjoy praise from your pro-choice friends and liberals nationwide.  They will celebrate, they will adore, and they will rally around you to tell you how courageous you are for choosing to have that life, that future, snuffed out in order to tell off your conservative foes. If you decide to come forward with your identity, your name will be everywhere.  You’ll make the talk shows, and you’ll be an icon in the pro-abortion movement, for a while.

And when the lights die down and the praise fades and your fifteen minutes are up, and the nation moves on to the next controversy, none of those friends, none of that fame, and none of those fans will be able to fill the hole of “what if” in your heart.  The day will come when you wake up from a dream about a beautiful little girl with your smile, only to realize that dream died the day you walked into the clinic. I pray that you don’t have to live with that. I pray that you will get to hold your baby in your arms, to feel that trust and that love, and to know within yourself that no other choice could ever be so powerful as the choice to protect life.

Now just to be candid, it’s hard to trust someone who puts up an anonymous online threat accompanied by a “donate” button, so forgive me if I – and likely many other passionate pro-lifers – are hesitant about dumping our money into a nameless website with no proof of the situation whatsoever. It’s a bit like me putting up a website saying that I’ve kidnapped the Sultan of Agrabah and will kill him if all American muslims do not pool their resources to buy me a magic carpet.

I also suspect your motives may be worse than a simple con job – by limiting the time you will receive these “donations” and setting the bar at an amount that few presidential candidates can even raise in 72 hours, it seems pretty obvious that you didn’t want to take any chances with being proven wrong by generous people of faith.  It’s a lot easier to just take the publicity, make your statement, kill the baby, and go on living your life with a chip on your shoulder, knowing that you proved all pro-lifers to be both gullible rubes and selfish hypocrites.

But here’s the thing, Mom: I really do love your baby, and I want your baby to live.  I want that more than I want to upgrade my beat-up old car.  I want it more than I want the Xbox One I’ve had my eye on for a while.  I want it more than I want convenience and comfort for my own family – whom I love desperately and would die for in an instant.

I can’t speak for the rest of the pro-life world. I can’t speak for all Christians. And I can’t give you a million dollars to stop you from murdering your baby.

But I can give what I have – all I have.  Get in touch with me – email me, message me, heck even tweet at me – and if you can prove you are serious, then my wife and I will empty our bank accounts tomorrow, with no hesitation and no regret. If you are sincere, and you can show the truth of your claim and the reality of your intent, then get in touch with me, and I will give every last dime I have to see that your child has a future.

We will stand, alone if necessary, to show that the love of Christ still moves people.  We will give, to show that life is more valuable than possessions. We will love our enemies and care for those we have never met, because that is what we were called to do, by a man who sacrificed himself for us when we hated him.

And whether you respond to my challenge or not, whether you go through with your intended course of action or not, whether or not you are even sincere in your situation, you will never be able to say that no one answered the call. You will never be able to say that those standing for life did not put their belief into action, or that they placed convenience over conscience.

Finally, Abortive Mom, I want to thank you.  Not thank you for something great you’ve done or are doing, of course – while I care about you and your child and hope that you are able to joyfully walk through life together, I find your actions and your challenge to be appalling, cowardly, and despicable.

I literally don’t think it gets any lower than holding your own child for ransom, and threatening to extinguish an innocent life just to make someone else look bad.  That’s the kind of malice that could probably get you elected leader of Boko Haram.

No, I have to thank you, not for the calloused and evil thing you are trying to do, but for what I believe God is going to do through you, and through others who have lately thrown down the gauntlet to people of faith.

Because of this challenge, my wife and I sat in our living room tonight and discussed exactly what a life is worth to us.  We recognized that sometimes issues are decided in wars of words and political landslides, but sometimes they must be decided by a handful of principled people who are willing to bleed for what is right.  We found that we could not live with the prospect of being Oskar Schindler’s character at the end of the movie “Schindler’s List” (a film you should definitely check out).  We refuse to look back at this period of atrocity in our nation’s history and wonder if we could have done more to end it.

I’m thankful because I believe that your challenge may end up doing more for the pro-life cause than a million dollars’ worth of ad buys could have done. I think your essay – whether real or a hoax, mind you – exposed the true nature of the pro-abortion crowd: you admit that you’re ending a child’s life, and you don’t care.  As long as it makes the other side look bad, no action is too base, no threat too demeaning.

And finally, I’m thankful for your challenge, because it reminds me that no matter how dark and twisted this world gets, in the end, love always wins. It doesn’t win because of the immediate results, but because of the eternal ones. It wins because it is unmoving, unchangeable, and unquenchable.  It wins because it is not bound by time or space or relationship or finances or political affiliation.  And ultimately history ends up on the right side of it, because history just isn’t strong enough to bend it.

The pro-life movement isn’t dying in America, MDAM.  We’re fighting, we’re winning, and the youth of America (who, by the way, are increasingly pro-life) will one day look back and thank God that we finally ended the hideous and barbaric practice of abortion in America.

And I hope and pray, with all of my heart and all of my finances, that your child is among them.

 

Why Do TPA Opponents Trust Obama?

Most of the recent discussion surrounding Trade Promotion Authority (TPA) has focused on the overwhelming distrust of the President from, well, pretty much everyone. Many fear that the President plans to use trade agreement back-doors to compromise US sovereignty and ram through environmental and immigration policies that would not have a chance of making it through the GOP-controlled congress. The most consistent critique of those who support TPA (other than the criticisms mistakenly applied to TPA, that were intended for the TPP… read this to clear up that confusion) is that we should not trust this President with more power given his track record of abusing authority and circumventing Congress.

The funny thing is that we completely agree.

And that’s why we support the TPA.

Those who treat TPA as an unprecedented empowerment of the President do so without the support of history – and there is a lot of history to contend with. The narrative goes that according to Article 1 Section 8 of the US Constitution, the President has no right to negotiate trade deals, his Article II powers of treaty negotiation notwithstanding.

This interpretation is not changing due to this week’s TPA vote – it changed 125 years ago with the McKinley Tariff Act, which empowered the President to unilaterally set tariffs with Congressional authority at his back. This delegation of authority was challenged and ruled Constitutional by the Supreme Court in 1892. From that time on, Presidents gained more and more unilateral trade negotiation and tariff imposition power, taking a giant leap forward under FDR with the Reciprocal Trade Agreement Act of 1934. The idea behind the centralization of negotiating power was similar to that of the Founders with treaty negotiation – it’s almost impossible to negotiate with a foreign nation when subjecting the final agreement to the knuckle-dragging and self-interested amendments of 535 warring legislators. No nation (or individual, for that matter) wants to sign an agreement, only to have a bunch of amendments tacked on post-ratification.

For almost a century, the President had vast authority to negotiate with foreign powers, and little accountability to Congress at all.

That all changed in 1974, when the Democratic congressional majority decided to push back against Republican President Richard Nixon by establishing their own priorities and terms for trade negotiation with the Trade Act of 1974 – the progenitor of and template for the modern TPA.

The Trade Act laid out Congressional trade priorities, and bound the President to abide by them during negotiations. It also set strict reporting requirements on the executive, and placed both houses of Congress in direct oversight before, during, and after trade negotiations. In return, Congress agreed to allow a vote on any negotiated agreements without amendment or filibuster – an insignificant concession given the fact that The Congress hadn’t used its constitutional authority on any trade or tariff negotiation for decades. The guarantee of an up/down vote from Congress gave the President the negotiating leverage by assuring foreign partners that a given agreement would last beyond the end of an administration – the single luxury that Presidents did not have prior to the passage of the ’74 Act.

Many of those discussing the 2015 TPA assume that in its absence, trade deals and foreign negotiations would revert back to the jurisdiction of Congress, and the President would be bound to futility for the duration of his term. But without overturning over a century of trade law and court precedent, that’s not going to happen. The President still has enormous legal authority for the negotiation of trade and tariff agreements, requiring zero Congressional oversight or approval. Whether this should be the case or not is irrelevant – the fact is that there is a strong legal background for such authority, and the courts have upheld challenges against it for over a hundred years. If TPA fails, trade agreements default back to the President – who has already shown that he will not hesitate to act unilaterally.

Consider the irony of Conservatives working to prevent the TPA and thereby returning unchecked negotiating power to a President who is already in the middle of negotiating a deal with Iran in total defiance of both houses of congress.

Who’s the trusting one?

The whole discussion reminds me of a long-forgotten scene from a long-forgotten movie whose franchise got a reboot this very weekend. In the critically-disdained Jurassic Park III, Dr. Grant’s young sidekick has stolen some raptor eggs, hoping that they will help fund a flailing research endeavor back in the states. Knowing the bereft raptors would soon come looking for the eggs, Dr. Grant seems ready to throw the eggs away, before reconsidering . Another character insists he get rid of the eggs, urgently asking “What if they catch us with them?” Dr. Grant, without missing a beat, turns and responds, “What if they catch us without them?”

 

This is the defining dilemma of the TPA. While there is of course a risk that a lawless executive will disregard some of the limitations set forth, without the limitations and congressional priorities defined in the TPA, President Obama is free to negotiate and sign the United States on to any trade agreement or tariff hike he sees as beneficial. This dangerous lack of congressional oversight is exactly what can breathe life into the corporate global Frankenstein that both conservatives and liberals currently fear.

While shockingly few of the internet warriors I’ve encountered have actually read the easily-available text of the TPA, there are a lot of important provisions that they would see if they did. Here are just a few of them.

  1. The TPA contains an extensive list of Congressional objectives that the President must pursue and deliver in order to retain trade promotion authority. Among the priorities listed in the current TPA are: protection of intellectual property, ending unfair currency manipulation among member nations, open US markets in other nations by ending access limitations imposed upon US businesses by other governments, and protect Israel against coordinated foreign boycotts.
  2. According to the terms of TPA, the promotion of any environmental policies through a trade agreement is limited to partner nations – exempting the US from any such imposition.
  3. The President must submit an annual report to Congress on the progress of any trade agreement toward the objective set forth in the TPA – failure to meet Congressional objectives is grounds for revocation of TPA.
  4. Any implementing law changes from any trade agreement must go through the normal legislative process.
  5. Requires that one member of each house of congress (chosen by that house) be credentialed as a member of the US trade delegation, providing a window for constant oversight by both houses of congress as negotiations progress.
  6. Establishes a new transparency officer to assist US Trade Representative in disseminating information about all proposed trade deals to the public. Specifically calls for soliciting public input on proposed trade deals.
  7. Requires that the President notify Congress of any new trade agreements he intends to negotiate at least 90 days before initiating talks.
  8. The President must submit a complete implementation plan to Congress when he submits the finalized agreement for consideration. Must contain budget, personnel, and all other implementation requirements, upfront.
  9. All finalized agreements must be publicly available online at least 60 days prior to a vote of Congress on the agreement.
  10. Any agreements which do not follow the terms of the TPA are null.
  11. Congress may withdraw TPA at any time if the President fails to follow all terms set forth in TPA – including reporting to Congress at the discretion of at least three different congressional committees.
  12. Dispute settlement panel rulings apply only to the terms of the trade agreement in question, and are explicitly stated to be non-binding to the United States. We comply with them if we feel like it.
  13. Finally, Section 8 of the TPA, titled “Sovereignty” ensures that no trade agreement trumps standing US law. The opening paragraph reads as follows:

     

    United States law To prevail in event of conflict. — No provision of any trade agreement entered into under section 3(b), nor the application of any such provision to any person or circumstance, that is inconsistent with any law of the United States, any State of the United States, or any locality of the United States shall have effect.”

Given the restrictive nature of the TPA and its binding effect upon the Executive Branch, one would think that passing the terms would be a no-brainer from a conservative standpoint – particularly when some of the most ardent adversaries of TPA are notorious right-wingers Nancy Pelosi, Harry Reid, and Elizabeth Warren. But unfortunately many conservatives have joined with the far-left to torpedo the TPA, thereby exposing America to the unbounded lawlessness of the Obama administration.

Unwilling to trust President Obama on gun rights, immigration, religious liberty, and in negotiating a deal with Iran, conservatives have insisted that their representatives in Congress bring him back within the bounds of the law and Congressional accountability.

It’s too bad that they trust him to negotiate international trade without those bounds.

4 Things You Didn’t Know About the TPP… Or is it the TPA?

The Far Left and the Far Right finally have something to agree on: opposition to the package of legislative endeavors leading up to what has been dubbed “Obamatrade”. The issue has given rise to the most bizarre coalitions, with Sens. Rand Paul and Mike Lee joining Harry Reid and Elizabeth Warren in opposing the deal, and Sen. Ted Cruz and Rep. Rod Blum siding with President Obama and John Boehner to support it. Broad criticisms have been matched against vague praise, and nobody really seems to know what’s going on.

Meanwhile, social media has gone become a political Chernobyl – a radioactive chaos of arguments on an issue where the typical battle lines have become irrelevant. At least half of the conservative internet has simply decided to give a confused shrug and side with their presidential candidate of choice, using the rare alliances to leverage guilt by association.

The fact of the matter is that there is no conservative – or liberal – consensus on trade promotion authority or the Trans-Pacific Partnership. Good people are on all sides, with libertarians and conservatives split just as much as progressives. But despite a lot of intelligent people on both sides, there is a tremendous amount of confusion surrounding the whole thing, and the confusion is quickly turning to suspicion and animosity. International trade is a critically important issue, and so is national sovereignty – there’s no reason to give up on either of them by taking a side in this debate.

So before we line up our ships and broadside each other, let’s step back from this whole thing and make sure we have our facts straight. To that end, here are some lesser-known facts that have been trampled in the stampede of hyperbole blazing a trail across the conservative blogosphere.


  1. The TPA is not the TPP.
    No really, they’re not interchangeable, and the differences are important. The bogeyman in this whole affair is the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), an agreement between a total of 12 nations that together constitute over a third of Global GDP. The deal purports to strengthen free trade, address the growing intellectual property problems that US companies are encountering, establish labor and environmental standards in partner nations, and (unofficially) provide an economic counterbalance to China. While negotiations on the TPP have not yet been completed, concerns already abound that the administration could use the agreement to override US law on a wide array of issues – from corporate arbitration to gun rights. Trade Promotion Authority (TPA) or so-called “fast-track” status, establishes standards for the negotiation, review, and passage of the TPP, but is not part of the TPP itself. Different versions of the TPA have been passed many times under several different administrations since the Trade Act of 1974, which actually limited Presidential Authority in trade deals, and brought congress back into the equation. The terms set forth in the TPA are intended to increase foreign confidence in any finalized deal by foregoing the amendment process in final passage, as well as allowing Congress to set the negotiating terms for the President, and leaving final passage entirely in the hands of Congress by way of an up-or-down vote.
  2. The TPP is not a treaty. Article II of the US Constitution clearly spells out that treaties with foreign nations can only be negotiated by the President, and require “advice and consent” from 2/3 of the Senate for ratification. The TPP will not be subject to such a vote, and therefore is not, and cannot be, a treaty. Rather, the TPP is a Congressional-Executive Agreement – recognized to be separate and distinct from treaties since at least 1890, when Congress delegated authority to the President to negotiate tariffs without congressional approval. This delegation of Congressional authority was challenged in 1892 before the Supreme Court in Field v. Clark, and was upheld (NOTE: this was not a case of judicial supremacy, since all three branches agreed upon the intent and application of the action). Since the TPP is not a treaty, it does not supersede other US Laws. It can’t destroy gun rights or parental rights or replace current immigration law. It’s an international handshake.
  3. No, we don’t have to pass the TPP to find out what’s in it. For some time now this snide comment has been applied to the TPP, since the deal has been kept confidential by the administration while under negotiation. While the image of a heavily-guarded document in a secret Washington bunker a la National Treasure is provocative, it’s hardly the truth. Tons of information on the TPP is available through the office of the United States Trade Representative. It’s important to note that the TPP currently being discussed is still a draft – until it is brought up for Congressional review, the deal is still under negotiation. This means that the deal available now, will probably not be the deal voted on by Congress in a few months. Ironically, a recent article intending to highlight the secretive nature of the TPP ended up debunking the myth of inaccessibility. In a Breitbart exclusive, Sen. Rand Paul discussed his trip to the Chamber of Secrets to read the text of the TPP agreement, and detailed the harrowing measures necessary to access it. He and his staff were required to submit DNA samples at the door and accompanied at all times by a full detachment of armed marines.

    Just kidding.

    Actually, he and his legal staff waltzed right in – without so much as signing a non-disclosure agreement. They managed, according to Paul, to read through all 800 pages in 45 minutes. Call me crazy, but that doesn’t exactly scream “global conspiracy” to me. Paul came away saying he had more questions for the office of the Trade Representative, but mentioned no major concerns with what he found. In fact, his biggest criticism of the confidential nature of the TPP was that it hurt proponents of the trade bill by making it seem unnecessarily shushed. The text is accessible to all of Congress already. Additionally, (pending passage of the TPA), the President must post the finalized text of the TPP publicly for a review period of at least 60 days, prior to Congressional vote on the agreement – which leads to the final point…

  4. The TPA is a tool of accountability, not an expansion of executive power. Outside the readily-available terms of the TPA, the President has the ability to negotiate sole-executive agreements that need no congressional approval whatsoever. This is the same approach that the Administration has already taken with Iran – sparking a massive bipartisan backlash in congress. Sole executive agreements, while certainly not explicitly Constitutional, have nearly a century of legal precedent, multiple Congressional initiatives to limit them having failed since the 1950s, and are virtually immune to legal challenge. Translation: If the TPA is not passed, the President can enter the TPP without Congressional consent anyway. The Trade Act of 1974, the predecessor to the modern TPA, was passed with the intent of bringing Congress back into an international discussion that had long been dominated by the Executive Branch. Under the Trade Act, the President was required to present the negotiated agreement for approval by both houses of Congress (as opposed to a treaty, which requires only Senate approval), as well as follow strict Congressional priorities and guidelines during negotiation. In return, Congress agreed to limit debate and amendment before the final vote, in order to allow timely passage of deals brokered with often-skittish and frequently-replaced foreign governments. The 2015 TPA is cast in the mold of its predecessor, requiring that the President make the final agreement text public a minimum of 60 days before it comes up for a vote in Congress, and maintaining a high level of Congressional input on the priorities and parameters of the agreement. In fact, the majority of the TPA text is about what the President must do, not what the President may do. For instance, the President must present any changes to the negotiated agreement before the Ways and Means Committee for at least 60 days so that they can review and consult with the President on any changes. This prohibits last-minute tweaks from being snuck through Congress. The rest of the text is equally limiting to the executive, placing extensive restrictions on the powers of the President in the trade negotiation and specifically calling out the right of Congress to revoke trade promotion authority at their discretion. Take this section:

    “Section 6(b)(3) and (4) creates a new Consultation and Compliance Resolution process for the Senate and House, respectively. The Consultation and Compliance Resolution is an additional mechanism to withdraw trade authorities procedures for legislation implementing a trade agreement when it does not comply with TPA, in particular because the President fails or refuses to consult, or the agreement fails to make progress in achieving the purposes, policies, priorities and objectives of the bill.”

    The above is just a single example of dozens of provisions legally binding the Executive to the terms laid out by the legislature. Dozens of other terms exist in the text. Those trashing the TPA should take the time to read it, and draw specific objections based on what is actually there, not what they think might be there.

There are valid reasons to support both the TPA and the TPP, and there are valid objections to both. But standing between the nation and honest debate on both of these measures, is a toxic atmosphere of bipartisan paranoia – counterproductive even if well-deserved. It’s understandable to distrust a President who has routinely exceeded his authority while in office. It is equally understandable to distrust the motives of anti-Capitalist progressives in the Senate who have routinely demonized and hampered American businesses. But when it comes to important decisions affecting millions of American workers and a third of the world’s economy, suspicions and doubts aren’t enough. Read, research, discuss, debate. The TPP could be a great trade bill, necessary for the advancement of American Industry in the wake of an increasingly unfair global market. Or it could be a terrible agreement packed with poison pills from a liberal president looking for help to push his domestic agenda past a hostile Congressional majority. Either way, we owe it to ourselves to get informed about the text of the TPA and the TPP, and make our decision based on facts, not fear.

I’m a libertarian, and I’m supporting Ted Cruz

The other night as my wife Kelsey and I were getting ready for bed, we were talking about the 2016 presidential race and discussing how things would shape up for the first-in-the-nation caucus state – our home state – of Iowa.  We had both heard that Ted Cruz was set to announce his candidacy at midnight, and were keeping a finger on the pulse of the reaction within our liberty-heavy political circles.

My wife’s phone buzzed, and then I heard her groan. Another of our friends had asked her who we would be supporting for president in the state where politicos never sleep. Both of us knew that we were leaning toward supporting Sen. Ted Cruz, but both of us also knew that we didn’t want to have “the talk” with another of our Randian friends at 11 o’clock on a Sunday night. I had to chuckle as she tried to think of ways to defer the familiar question one more time.  Despite the fact that no candidates had yet announced, the Iowa scene had been buzzing with presidential hopefuls and their staff for months already, and battle lines had been getting drawn since before the polls closed last November.  No candidate had been more active than Sen. Rand Paul, whose candidacy banks heavily on the vibrant and growing Liberty Movement. Senator Paul has a natural base of support in Iowa, thanks to the prior presidential runs of his father, Rep. Ron Paul – and it’s a base that we have personally helped grow.

Let’s rewind to the summer of 2011.  GOP candidates were gearing up for the Iowa Straw Poll, I was a homebuilder who had neither time nor patience enough for politics, despite growing up steeped in the founding principles and the Constitution. I heard about an event in Des Moines with Rep. Ron Paul, and decided to go check it out.  I had watched Ron online and knew his message clicked with my constitutional worldview, but hadn’t ever really invested in his campaign or organization.  That day I got to meet him, ask him questions about how he would get the federal regulatory burden off the back of small businesses, and hear him lay out his vision of liberty.  Immediately, a brushfire was lit in my mind, and I knew I had found something worth fighting for politically.  I set to work volunteering and evangelizing for Ron and brought a slew of people with me to the straw poll, helping push Dr. Paul to a close 2nd place finish in that contest.

A few weeks passed, and I heard nothing from the campaign.  Due to staff shake-ups, my contacts had been shuffled out of state, and after some digging I managed to find a new guy who had just recently taken over my area for the campaign.  That guy was Adil Khan, now Executive Director of Liberty Iowa and a close friend. I volunteered for hundreds of hours leading up to the caucuses, becoming a volunteer district director in the Des Moines area. When I lost my job in November, I took the entire month of December to focus on volunteering for Ron, suffering real personal and financial hardship in order to help carry him over the finish line.  The night of the caucuses, I donned the only dress clothes I owned, practiced my speech ten times in front of a camera, and went to my local caucus, where I was responsible for the only precinct win for Ron Paul in a wealthy suburban area I often referred to as “Romney Central”.

Ron came in a strong third place, and over the next few days, the campaign began to disassemble and head to other states.  As I showed up to help pack phones and move boxes, a campaign official pulled me aside and offered me a job with the campaign. I was surprised but readily agreed.  It seemed that our work in Iowa was not done yet.  Over the next few months, we organized the liberty movement across the state to show up throughout the Iowa convention process and accomplish the twin goals of electing delegates to the Republican National Convention that would support Ron Paul for president, and overthrowing the establishment-dominated Iowa GOP to install leadership friendly to the conservatarian grassroots.  The Paul campaign began to wind down in the middle of the convention process, and it became apparent that Iowa needed a new vehicle to harness the power and energy of the Liberty Movement, and turn it into political clout.  About this time, Adil and another Iowa staffer, Morgan Pearson, came up with the idea for a new state organization that would accomplish this goal.  We all talked about it, and I signed on enthusiastically. We spent hours planning and strategizing, and ended up launching Liberty Iowa on April 15th, 2012.  I was dubbed Outreach Director, and worked hard to expand Liberty Iowa to new audiences through press and communications, direct outreach, and building coalitions with Tea Party and Evangelical conservative networks around the state. Part of my emphasis during this time was growing and maturing the movement, moving away from a single identity surrounding the person of Ron Paul, and toward an issue-based identity that would help us reach out to disillusioned Americans who had grown tired of the false choice offered by the two party system.

It was in the middle of this ramp-up that I was approached about running for a seat on the Republican State Central Committee (SCC) in my state.  I had never considered it, and since I was still looking for work as the campaign wrapped up, I didn’t think I was the best candidate for the spot. I politely declined, leaving open the contingency that if they could find no one else, I would reconsider running. To make a long story short, they didn’t find anyone else. I agreed to run for the seat, and was elected to the SCC, serving the next two years alongside embattled RPI Chairman AJ Spiker – whose principled stands for conservative ideals put him at odds with the powerful Iowa political establishment. During our tenure I worked with Chairman Spiker, RPI co-chair David Fischer, and Finance Chair Drew Ivers – all icons in the Iowa Liberty Movement – as well as other liberty-friendly members of the SCC to support the platform and grow the party with the message of liberty.  Numerous times I was smeared in the establishment blogs and radio shows for my affiliation to the “Paulistas”, but found ways to fight back, and helped others find those ways as well. During this time, Adil and I also worked with some folks across our northern border to launch sister organization Liberty Minnesota, which I’m proud to say is thriving alongside Liberty Iowa and Liberty North Dakota to this day.

Of course, living in Iowa, one doesn’t go a day after an election without thinking of the next one.  No sooner had Mitt Romney gotten off the phone with President Obama, than the 2016 whispering began. In my circles, of course, the whispers centered around Sen. Rand Paul.  Though many of us were still smarting from his endorsement of Mitt over his father, we were also excited for the possibility of a Rand Paul run at the presidency.

And then came the year of the filibuster.

In March of 2013, Rand Paul’s filibuster of President Obama’s appointment for CIA chief had the liberty movement – nay, the broader conservative GOP –  on their feet and cheering, and tweeting #StandWithRand all over the internet. I watched most of the filibuster and was impressed, not only by Rand Paul, but by the two outspoken allies on the Senate floor during his speech; two gentlemen I was only marginally familiar with.  One was Sen. Mike Lee of Utah, and the other was Texas Senator Ted Cruz.  The only thing I knew about Cruz at this point was that some of my friends from the Ron Paul campaign were very excited about him and had helped him win his longshot Senate race alongside Ron Paul, Rand Paul, The RLC, LPAC, and other organizations within the alphabet soup of American political culture.

Though at the time my attention was much more focused on Rand, I was impressed with Cruz’s loyalty and conviction, as well as his superb intellectual and linguistic command.  The “whacko bird” triumvirate kept passing the ball around until the filibuster came to an end, with the Obama administration finally conceding that it would indeed be unconstitutional for them to kill a noncombatant American on US soil.  Only later would I learn that that concession had already been extracted from none other than Attorney General Eric Holder himself, hours before the filibuster began – by Cruz.  I kept an eye on Ted in the weeks and months that followed, and my ears perked up when I heard his name come up later in 2013, as the storm clouds were gathering for the fight over Obamacare funding. When Cruz promised another filibuster in opposition to Obamacare, I popped the popcorn, brought a blanket to the couch, and settled in for a long night. Cruz’s epic 21-hour speech on the Senate floor resonated with me, as well as with virtually all of my still-awake liberty friends, who were busy lighting up cyberspace with the globally-trending hashtag #makeDClisten.  Most of us, at that point, were waiting to see a re-enactment of the earlier filibuster, and expected Rand to suit up and take the handoff from Cruz and Lee to force Reid, or at least the Republican leadership, back to the table.  But as the hours dragged on, it became apparent that Rand wasn’t going to be a significant presence in this fight.  It appeared that, having stood with Rand, Ted Cruz was now willing also to stand without him. By the time I finally clicked off the TV and dragged myself to bed, one thought lingered in my mind:  Wow. This Cruz guy is for real.

That thought was only reinforced over the next couple weeks, when details of the collusion between then-Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell and Harry Reid started to emerge, and Cruz became a one-man wrecking ball in Washington. The government shutdown and the closure of the national monuments in DC by the Obama administration was the final straw for me, and I decided to get engaged in the fight.  On a weekend that I will never forget, a handful of brave Iowans – including a beautiful liberty activist who would later become my wife – accompanied me to Washington DC to take part in the Free DC Project, where we stormed the barricades of the Lincoln Memorial and experienced true liberty in a moment that I can only describe as life-changing.

From that time forward, the courage of Ted Cruz became increasingly evident as he faced off, time and time again, against the leadership of both parties on behalf of the American people. His record in the Senate grew more impressive, as he stood against Obama’s push to war in Syria, battled the IRS, pushed Audit the Fed forward, and carved out a name for himself as a defender of internet freedom by opposing Net Neutrality. Best of all, he showcased a responsiveness to the American people that became evident to me from the first time I saw him here in Iowa.

Often accused of being a hard-headed grandstander for his contentious style in the Senate, Cruz’s real-life persona simply could not be further from it.  During my time as an Iowa GOP official, we invited Ted to speak at our Reagan Dinner shortly after the shutdown. Having lived in Iowa my entire adult life, I was familiar with being around high-profile national politicians, and was familiar with the fanfare and press crush that followed them as well.  After the Dinner, I was tasked with making sure that Sen. Cruz could escape the crowd, and escorting him to a small antechamber in which the press awaited him. Both were much more difficult tasks than I imagined. Ted gave personal attention to each and every person who pressed forward to talk to him, making dignitaries and state officials wait until the grandmotherly lady before him had finished patting his hand and telling him how thankful she was for his stand in Washington. I kept reminding his staff that the press was now waiting for him, but Ted didn’t want to go.  I was looking at a man who thrived on the encouragement of the grassroots.  This is where he gathered the courage to stand against Reid, McConnell, and the rest.  Right here among a crowd of average, everyday Americans: hearing their stories, and sharing his own.  When the crowd thinned and we finally managed to extricate Sen. Cruz, we walked to the back of the main event hall and toward the media room.  As I led the way, I heard the Senator’s voice pipe up behind me. I turned to realize that we had lost him again.  As we tried to rush him along to where all the lights and cameras were waiting, he was stopping to personally thank the busboys, servers, and event staff who were busy cleaning the tables as the crowd headed outside. As I watched him shake their hands and thank them for their work, a bible verse from my youth shot through my mind, “Let the greatest among you become as the youngest, and the leader as one who serves.” This wasn’t what I had come to expect from suited national figures, and it earned a kind of respect from me that no policy initiative or fiery speech ever could.

As Cruz began to test the waters for a presidential run here in Iowa, I got to sit across from him in several informal roundtables – including one with my traditionally-skeptical libertarian posse.  Most candidates for the highest office in the land run a tight schedule, and if you’re lucky enough to get a few minutes with one, they do most of the talking. Ted came to listen, and said as much at the outset of the meeting. Even more surprising was the fact that, facing a skeptical crowd outside his core constituency, Cruz challenged us all to drop the “softball questions” and get to the point. What followed was two hours of honest and productive discourse on Iran, marijuana laws, the military-industrial complex, executive overreach, and the CFR.  There were areas of agreement and areas of disagreement, but all of us came away with a greater respect for the courage and realism of Ted Cruz. Agree or disagree, you knew where he stood – a quality reminiscent of the principled Dr. Ron Paul. Ron wasn’t interested in winning favor from party leadership, in bumping his poll numbers, or in mixing his message to appeal to all sides of an issue.  He understood, as Ted does, that both parties are to blame for the mess we find ourselves in, and that the biggest disconnect in American politics today is not between Democrats and Republicans, but between career politicians in both parties, and the American people.

As Kelsey and I weighed the candidates, this genuine fearlessness and conviction played a big part in our decision to support Ted Cruz for president.  Is he as ideologically libertarian as we are?  Maybe, maybe not. I am the sort of far-right fringe libertarian who has a moral problem with traditionally-accepted government functions like property taxes, building codes, and drug prohibition.  I’m offended by the very existence of the Federal Reserve, and I have no use for a foreign policy that excuses perpetual wartime spending on the backs of my children. As we looked at the candidates likely to emerge in the Republican field, only two seemed to have an understanding of the principles of liberty, and while neither has chosen to discuss those principles in the way that Ron Paul did, they have both used their strengths to advance the message, and that’s something I can respect.  But since their records are “very, very similar”, the main distinction has become one of style and priority – not of policy.

We believe that Ted Cruz can reunite the conservative and libertarian base of the GOP, and can reignite the passion of the Reagan revolution – the only real presidential victory that the Right has had in my lifetime. Ted’s willingness to break from the Washington power-brokers and take his appeals to We, the American People, has inspired a grassroots movement that we haven’t seen since, well, Ron Paul 2012. Those who want to see constitutional liberty have an honest hearing in the American public again, should be ecstatic about Cruz’s candidacy – whether they intend to support him or not.  What could brighten a weeknight more than watching Rand Paul and Ted Cruz take turns hammering Jeb Bush on the debate stage?

Sadly, not everyone within the Liberty Movement views the complimentary messages of Rand and Ted as a combined positive.  Since the announcement that Kelsey and I would be joining Cruz’s team in Iowa, the pressure from many of our libertarian friends has been intense. We’ve been called traitors, frauds, and of course, neocons. But others have come alongside us, and have expressed their thanks for stepping forward in support of Cruz – it has given them the courage to join as well, and more are adding their names every day. Together, Cruz libertarians are becoming the first few drops of what is sure to be a steady downpour of constitutionalists working together with evangelicals and tea party conservatives to make DC listen this election cycle.

Because that’s what this whole thing is about.  It’s not about personalities, it’s not about who looks good on camera or who the media deems most electable.  It’s not about identity politics or tribal warfare between clans of libertarian facebook snipers. It’s about spreading the message of liberty, lighting brushfires of freedom, and restoring a mindset of independence to Americans who have had their spirits broken by a corrupt and overbearing federal government. And liberty, as one great man often reminded us, brings people together.

Ted is the one candidate in the race who has shown himself willing to stand for the things we believe in, and who has refused to play the Washington political game in order to score points and win favor and donations. He is unquestionably the candidate who is most feared and hated by the Left, and the one who inspires genuine hope within the demoralized conservative base of the GOP – that overlooked constituency without which a Republican victory is impossible.

I’m not into hero worship, so I don’t mind saying that there are a couple points on which Ted and I disagree, and should we ever find ourselves stuck in the same TSA line at the airport, I would not hesitate to try to win him over on those points. But for my money, there is no one I trust more to forge a lasting alliance within the conservative base, to fearlessly and honestly champion the principles of liberty on the campaign trail, and to destroy the One Ring of executive power while executing his constitutional duties faithfully and shrinking the federal government back within the limits envisioned by the founders.  The Ron Paul revolution has gained a hearing from the American people, but for a revolution to succeed, the status quo must be challenged.  Cruz has been the disruptive app we need, and no one in American politics today has been willing to throw down against the status quo of both parties the way he has.

I’m a libertarian, and I’m supporting Ted Cruz for president, and here’s why:

I’m supporting him because I believe that the NSA has no business collecting my phone data.

I’m supporting him because I believe that America needs to return to a common-sense foreign policy in which we are trusted by our allies and feared by our enemies, and do not engage in senseless undeclared and unconstitutional wars and nation-building halfway around the world.

I’m supporting him because he championed and co-sponsored Audit the Fed, making it a central point in his plan for the new GOP Senate majority.

I’m supporting him because he opposes the Patriot Act and opposed the indefinite detention provisions of the NDAA, and authored an amendment to it requiring a DoD audit of bases, to identify waste and prioritize base expenditures in an effort to “reduce our overseas footprint”.

I’m supporting him because I believe that the internet should be free and open, and out from under the jurisdiction of a corrupt and inefficient federal government.

I’m supporting him because I believe that my family’s health care choices should be between us and our doctor.

I’m supporting him because no one has fought harder to stop the debt ceiling hikes that continue to jeopardize our future.

I’m supporting him because I oppose the abuses of the TSA.

I’m supporting him because he’s the courageous conservatarian voice that we need, and his courage has the power to inspire a transformational change in American grassroots politics.

I’m supporting him because it’s time that libertarianism rose up and reclaimed its position within the three-legged stool of American conservatism.

I’m supporting him because it’s time for America to have a president who honors the constitution, and one humble enough to willingly limit his own authority and use his office to return the primacy of power to our representatives in Congress.

I’m a libertarian, and I’m supporting Ted Cruz for president. I hope you will join me, and add your name to the list of those willing to fight alongside Ted to make DC listen.  But most of all, I hope that you will continue to see this presidential cycle as a means to an end that we’re all fighting for – restoring individual liberty and reigniting the miracle of America.

DIY Christianity: Everything you need to build your own personal faith experience!

I wish I could say that I was surprised by the Rob Bell controversy from last week, but it is really just the latest installment of our cultural surrender to subjectivism.

To those who have erased all the lines in their endless search for equality, the difference between the holy and the profane is really just a figment of our collective imagination, either the result of one’s upbringing or of their reliance upon obsolete religious texts written two thousand years ago.

The definitions are disappearing, and while the church tries to fight the wars without, we forget about the wolves within. Maybe it’s time for a refresher.

There is a sense in which the only power God gave mankind is what he gave to Adam in the Garden: the power to name. Think about it. The ability to classify, define, and communicate was the first power and responsibility granted to mankind, and has become the basis of literally every single thing we comprehend as human beings: beauty, strength, virtue, mathematics, philosophy, science, art, government – even language itself.

The power to define is the power to know, in every conceivable way. Too often we get lost in Christian terminology and don’t realize that God’s consistent call to holiness in scripture is the single most empowering call in the history of the world. To say that God is holy is true because he is not like us. To say that believers constitute a “chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation” is true because we are called to be separate from the world at large, in our thoughts, our words, and our behavior. To be holy is to be more than just human, and can distinguish a person in a way that no physical trait or personality attribute ever could. This is the call of the Bible.

A confused form of make-it-up-as-you-go relativism has been at work in the church for some time, but is just now hitting its stride within a millennial culture that is experiencing a rebirth of spiritualism that stands in direct rebellion against the militant secularism popularized by the “God is dead” generation. Many younger Americans who do not directly identify with any organized religion still claim to believe in God and tend to accept spirituality. The combination of religious decline with an increase in spiritual awareness creates a perfect environment for moral and ethical relativism. Far from the overt bleakness of secular humanism, the do-it-yourself faith concept allows each person to dictate their own belief, their own virtues, their own sins, their own heaven and hell, and their own god.

The discomfort of distinction is nothing compared to the hopelessness of worshipping gods made in our image: if God can be anything, then God is nothing. If scripture is broad enough to reconcile the teachings of St. Augustine, Martin Luther, and Dwight Moody, with those of Rob Bell, Joel Osteen, and Fred Phelps, then scripture itself is meaningless. If being a Christian means whatever we want it to mean, then it means nothing at all, and Christianity really is everything the secularists claim – a crutch for the weak and the fearful, an attempt by the ignorant to make sense of the unexplained.

But for those seeking an unbounded means of spiritual expression, or just something a little more flexible than the whole “holiness” thing, here are a few tips to building your own personalized spiritual encounter.

The DIY Faith Kit: Build Your Own Faith in Six Easy Steps

 

  1. Have a really, really emotional experience. Why should the power of emotion in faith be limited to Pentecostal churches? Often the best way to get your emotional groove on is to get a visit from an angel or prophet. If you haven’t seen either of those around lately, a combination of mind-altering substances, meditation, and near-death experiences can often be a useful substitute. Rock concerts, college campuses, and Las Vegas are great places to find all of those things together. A strong emotional experience is often a catalyst for spiritual awareness, and if you’re finding it hard to jump-start your spiritual senses, emotion is a great way to do it. Emotion also plays an important part in deciding which religious truth fits your lifestyle, and which might be better left to those bigots who embrace traditional morality.
  2. It’s important that you find a connection to something beyond yourself, even if that something is just your imagination. If you like the idea of a god (or gods), that’s cool – you can choose from a wide variety of deities including, but not limited to, Jehovah, Allah, Odin, Zeus, Buddha, Krishna or John Lennon. If “god” is not your thing, concepts like collective consciousness, self-actualization, material paganism, or societal advancement can come in handy. The best part is that any and all of these may be grouped together, since we all worship the same god anyway.
  3. Once your supreme truthgiver is firmly in place, proceed to try to imagine what they want from you and structure your life accordingly. Every religion needs some sort of standardization, but with the DIY faith kit, that standardization can be customized to fit your individual needs. Just make sure that any rules you lay down are always dependent upon circumstance, and always remember that you have veto power in all moral decisions. Simply close your eyes, decide what makes you happy, and remember that your god of choice would never want you to be unhappy! It is not recommended that you refer to existing religious texts for your DIY faith. These inflexible passages tend to promote unhappiness and lay out truth claims that are uncomfortably exclusive. That kind of rigid dogma is also notoriously difficult to defend when speaking to others who may choose a different faith route. Your DIY faith, on the other hand, can easily be discussed with anyone, completely absent conflict! Just remind them that you have a right to believe whatever you want, and that your god is just as real to you as theirs is to them.*

    *may not apply to Radical Islamists

  4. Choose a lifestyle to fit with your personal religion. Part of the fun of starting up your own faith is that you can then build a lifestyle to match, completely free of guilt or fear. Want to love your enemies? Great! Want to behead your enemies? Great! Just remember that the worst sin of all is judgment, so everyone’s personal priorities are equally valid!
  5. Every faith needs a motivator, and with your DIY faith kit, you can customize heaven and hell to fit your individual spiritual needs. Think of the absolute best thing you’ve ever experienced: Christmas with the family, your first time trying Oxycontin, that first night with your significant other, or that nature trip you took a few years ago. Any of those experiences can become your own personal heaven, to be sought after by following your prescribed faith path. Best of all, since you choose your own moral pathway, you never have to worry about being selfish or feeling guilty for pursuing things that make you happy. Because in the end, happiness is heaven for us all. The hell package is optional, but can serve as a useful attachment for those who might find they have a harder time refraining from self-destructive behaviors, or to those who simply need something awful to wish on that person who just cut them off on the freeway.
  6. Evangelize! Once your faith is custom-built to suit your needs, it’s time to help others find their way as well. You will find that showing others how easy it is to explore their spirituality, without actually knowing what spirituality is, can be incredibly rewarding. Too many people still ascribe to outdated notions of sin and repentance, believing in a God who holds mankind accountable for their actions, and whose standards are completely inflexible. Many of these poor folks refuse to seek out their own fulfillment, content to live by rules written centuries ago by a bunch of racist, sexist, homophobic bigots who had little understanding of the complex nature of human happiness. But the DIY faith kit has something for everyone, and even Christians will find that they can have a completely satisfying faith experience completely divorced from the teachings of scripture. Several leading pastors have already adopted our simple process, and have had great success in leading people out of the past, and into a future of personal spiritual fulfillment.

     

Stop making excuses! Get out of those musty old manuscripts, and step into a bright new future, with the DIY faith kit!

Rand Returns to His Roots

Nobody thought that former US Representative Ron Paul would show up in Iowa this week to stump with his son, Kentucky Senator and likely 2016 presidential candidate Rand Paul; but when Rand took the stage to deliver the keynote at an “Audit the Fed” rally hosted by Liberty Iowa, there was a whole lot of Ron in the room.

Ron Paul shirts, Ron Paul hats, and Ron Paul stickers adorned many of the roughly 120 people that gathered in Des Moines to hear the younger Paul speak. Even the speech itself sounded a lot more like the fiery Texas Congressman of yore than the polished, diplomatic tenor that Rand has worked to fine-tune over the course of his fairly recent emergence on the national stage.

While at times Sen. Paul has shied away from his libertarian heritage, he seemed to embrace it fully on Friday night – to the applause of an energetic crowd of Liberty activists from around Iowa. “Anybody here want to audit the fed?” Paul bellowed to the cheering audience as he took the stage. His opening line was a shot over the bow of the Federal Reserve, and an indicator that recent competition from the rest of the 2016 field may have pushed him back into consolidating the liberty vote, before expanding his appeal to other groups in the often-cliquish Iowa GOP.

Throughout his nearly 20-minute speech, he threw out plenty of libertarian red meat to his audience, hitting on executive overreach, prison sentencing reform, and foreign non-interventionism. After tearing into the lack of transparency and accountability demonstrated by the Federal Reserve, Paul discussed the more specific problem of backing currency with undisclosed federal “assets”, which according to him constitute taxpayer liabilities. “Once upon a time, your dollar was as good as gold. Then for many decades they said your dollar was backed by the full faith and credit of government. You know what it’s backed by now?” Paul quizzed. “Used car loans, bad home loans, distressed assets, and derivatives.”

Claiming that the practices of the Fed were also connected to the problem of income inequality, he took the opportunity to zing the Obama administration on the issue. “Yeah, I think there is (income inequality). It seems to be worse in cities run by Democrat mayors, states run by Democrat governors, and countries run by Democrat presidents,” Paul challenged, drawing laughter and applause from the audience.

He then pivoted to criminal justice reform, where he touted his willingness to work with the Obama administration and former Attorney General Eric Holder. Holder, shortly before his departure from the AG office, effectively barred civil forfeiture – a practice in which suspects could have assets seized by government agents without any formal charge or complaint filed against them. Paul praised the decision to end the practice, but took a shot at President Obama’s current nominee for Attorney General, Loretta Lynch, for openly supporting the continuation of civil forfeiture. “She confiscated 100 million dollars from people who were never charged, she’s ignored the reforms, she’s not filed the paperwork, she’s not trying to prove anybody guilty – she just takes their stuff,” Paul fumed. “That is turning justice on its head, and we should defeat her.”

Paul also delved into the separation of powers within the federal government, quoting Montesquieu and condemning the executive branch for assuming legislative powers through federal regulatory agencies that he claimed were never permitted by the Constitution. “Congress writes the laws, the President executes them,” said Paul. “But the President does not write law, and we need to stop him.”

He then proceeded directly to the holy grail of the Liberty Movement – and possibly its most distinguishing feature in a Republican Party that almost universally pays lip-service to limited government ideals: foreign non-interventionism. While calling for a robust debate about sending troops anywhere to defend vital American interests, Paul said that the decision to go to war belongs to Congress alone, and called it “the most important vote that any legislator will ever take.” Taking a swipe at the more hawkish national defense wing of the GOP, Paul pledged that whether as a Senator or a presidential candidate, he would continue to promote a return to a constitutional foreign policy. “There will be one loud voice in our party saying, ‘think of the unintended consequences…think about what we want to accomplish and whether it will work before we go to war,'” he promised.

His willingness to speak candidly on issues of great importance to the Liberty Movement was refreshing for some in the audience. James Schneider, of Cedar Falls, who showed up in a Ron Paul tee shirt, said he’s very concerned about the Federal Reserve. “The four-trillion-dollar debt that Rand just talked about tonight, I want to know who’s buying that up, and what that’s all about, and why we’re accepting this.” Schneider, who has a favorable view of Liberty Iowa, was impressed with Rand’s speech but is open to hearing from other potential 2016 candidates as well. “I’d be very interested in hearing Ted Cruz speak, if he were to come through and do something like this as well,” said Schneider. “I’d probably listen to Scott Walker as well, but Ted kind of stands out there a little more.”

Others in the audience are sure that they have found their man for 2016. Taylor Egly, a 2012 Ron Paul supporter and 2014 candidate for the Iowa House, acknowledged that his mind is made up. “I like Rand’s track record, I like the bridges he’s built; I think that’s very helpful to build those coalitions,” said Egly. “I’m pretty much on board with Rand 100% at this point.”

Paul’s natural appeal to the Liberty audience could prove to be a critical factor in what is sure to be a crowded 2016 field. In Iowa, the strident Liberty Movement seems willing to give him a look for the presidency, and at least for now, Rand Paul may find that the best way to grow his appeal, is to return to his roots.

Cruz to Liberty Movement: No Softballs

Nearly two weeks ago, just prior to his appearance at Steve King’s Iowa Freedom Summit, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz carved out some time to meet with leading liberty activists from around Iowa. The low-key meeting, held in Des Moines, was many activists’ first time to meet the libertarian-leaning Tea Party firebrand. It was also Cruz’s first time fielding questions from a crowd comprised almost exclusively of members of the thriving Iowa Liberty Movement. Cruz opened with high praise for former Rep. Ron Paul’s rapidly-maturing political army. “The power, the energy of the Liberty Movement is inspirational,” said Cruz. “I think it is starting to change the almost inevitable currents of Washington.” He went on to discuss his appreciation for libertarian thinkers like Hayek, Bastiat, and von Mises, keying on areas of agreement with his audience.

Cruz, who recently challenged Republicans to “lighten up a little”, also threw in some of his characteristically disarming humor. Admitting himself to be a “geek” while discussing his high school pursuits, the 44-year-old Senator related an instance in which he recently dropped a Star Trek reference to his younger policy staff in Washington. As the story goes, the Senator sat at a desk, picked up a computer mouse inquisitively, and proceeded to speak into the mouse with his best Scottish brogue, “Computer! Computer!” as though expecting the computer to respond to his voice. When his staff greeted him with bewildered stares, Cruz had to explain that he had been imitating the Enterprise’s affable engineer, Scotty, in a comedic scene from Star Trek IV. “It made me feel both old, and really geeky,” Cruz confessed, spurring laughter throughout the room.

The questions started rolling, and Cruz fielded broad queries about executive overreach, shutting down government agencies, and changing the culture of Washington. But after the first couple questions, the Senator paused and threw down the gauntlet. “Let me make a brief request, which is just in general: no softballs,” he challenged, “Ask the hard questions. I suspect not everyone here is right now inclined to support me, so ask the hardest questions you have and let’s have a conversation.” Emphasizing the importance of forthrightness, he added a promise on his end. “I’m not gonna blow smoke at you. Where there are areas we agree I’ll tell you, where there (are areas) where we disagree I’ll tell you… And I hope you will come to conclude that where we are on the same page you can trust me to say it.”

Though several faces in the room full of notoriously-combative libertarians registered surprise, they certainly took up the challenge.

The next hour saw a blitz of questions about a wide range of issues, from Cruz’s own eligibility for the Presidency (a challenge Cruz insisted had no legal or constitutional merit), to states’ rights and marijuana legalization, to the Patriot Act and the NSA’s domestic spying scandal. There was even a question regarding Cruz’s rumored relationship to the Council on Foreign Relations – a group generally despised by the Liberty Movement.

Though the Senator managed to navigate two hours of pointed questions without much disagreement, several activists did take issue with what they saw as an ambiguous answer regarding his criticism of the Obama administration for failing to enforce federal drug laws, as well as his assertion that the greatest threat to US national security was a nuclear Iran. “Greater than the national debt?” Quizzed one activist. “Yes,” Cruz responded, “And I am very concerned about the national debt, but the national debt is not going to drop nuclear weapons on us.”

Throughout his responses, Cruz maintained a theme of action over talk. “All of us are cynical on politics and distrust politicians. And you know what? I agree with you – Do not trust any one of us,” said Cruz. “Every one of us should ask any politician, ‘you say you believe these principles? Show me. When have you stood up and fought for them?’ Don’t even ask people what they believe – they can pander. Just ask a real simple question: ‘what have you done on this issue?'”

Inevitably, the conversation turned to 2016 and the prospects of the dueling candidacies of Cruz and fellow “Whacko Bird” Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky. Likening the Republican Primary to the NCAA basketball tournament, Cruz admitted that Rand was strong in the libertarian “bracket”, but made it clear that should he run, he would fight for the liberty vote as well. “I intend to vigorously contest (for support from the Liberty Movement), and I think it’s entirely consistent to fight for liberty… and to fight for conservative principles as well,” said Cruz. He also noted that he was the only candidate in the country in 2012 to be endorsed by both Ron Paul and Rick Santorum in his Texas Senate race. “Now, those are two worlds that are not normally arm-in-arm,” Cruz explained in an understatement that drew laughter from the room.

He highlighted his support for the USA Freedom Act, legislation that Paul did not support alongside Cruz and Mike Lee (the third Senator in the Tea Party Triumvirate). Paul was the deciding vote against the bill, which Cruz described as the single best opportunity to protect civil liberties. “Had Rand voted yes,” he added, “we could have taken it up.”

He also managed to indirectly implicate Rand for failing to stand with him and Lee against moderate party leadership and then-minority leader Mitch McConnell during the debt ceiling fight – reminding the room of a relationship that has consistently engendered distrust for Rand within the Liberty Movement.

Sen. Cruz also took time to tout his co-sponsorship of the Smarter Sentencing Act and Audit the Fed – two touchstone issues within the libertarian wing of the GOP. He also tapped into the non-interventionist tendencies of the Liberty Movement during a discussion of foreign policy, holding up an amendment that he successfully added to the 2014 National Defense Authorization Act which required the Defense Department to conduct a review of overseas bases in an attempt to “reduce our overseas footprint”.

Cruz concluded by painting himself as the most consistently principled candidate in a soon-to-be-crowded Republican primary, and challenging his hearers to look beyond rhetoric and judge the records of those who would ask for their support. “Y’all are looking for people who are willing to stand up to the Washington corruption, who are looking to stand up to both parties, what I would suggest is look to the field and ask ‘who’s actually doing that?’ Look at the dozen biggest fights of the last two years…and ask ‘who has stood up to fight on those, and who has been willing to stand up against the establishment of both parties?'”

After the meeting ended, Cruz – already running late for his next engagement – stuck around to shake hands and take pictures with the activists, even fielding a few pop-quiz-style yes or no questions as his staff worked to get him to the car.

While noncommittal in terms of support, several of the activists in the room said that they were impressed with Cruz – particularly with his willingness to meet and address issues relating to the Liberty Movement in a candid Q and A format.

Attendee Gabe Lanz of Des Moines said he came away with a better feeling toward Cruz overall. “He was frank, didn’t run from the tough or uncomfortable questions, and gave further insight to his past that displays a record of championing and fighting to preserve conservative principles,” said Lanz.

Dr. John Bowery, Page County GOP chair and longtime Republican activist, says that Cruz carried himself well and answered questions frankly, and will be keeping an eye on Cruz’s impending candidacy. “A candidate doesn’t have to agree with me on every point to win my support, but he does need to show that he can learn and listen as well as communicate. I am looking forward to see if Senator Cruz passes that test.”

Others look forward to hearing Cruz elaborate further on issues of concern – most notably states’ rights and US-Iranian foreign policy. But one thing is certain – Cruz is serious about coming after the liberty vote, and some members of the Liberty Movement are willing to hear him out.

CRUZ ON THE ISSUES

On executive overreach: “One of the most troubling aspects of Washington is the explosion of the federal regulatory state. It’s a fourth branch of government with unelected bureaucrats that frankly are accountable to no one, and they view elected officials  like a mild annoyance that will come and go… One of the things we have never seen a president do, is use the full, Article II authority of the presidency to go directly after the regulatory and administrative state, to start dismantling this regulatory morass.”
On shrinking government: Would shut down the Department of Commerce and the Department of Education, as well as the IRS.  Wants to implement a flat tax so simple that Americans can file their taxes on a postcard, which would lay the groundwork for a transition to a Fair Tax system.

On how to change the culture of Washington: “At its core, what I have been trying to do in the Senate is bring a ‘disruptive app’ to Washington to change the means of decision-making, and to move the power out of Washington, to the American people – to the grassroots,” said Cruz. “What we have to do is to make it politically more risky to do the wrong thing, than it is to do the right thing – change the calculus. And that’s a lesson the Liberty Movement understands.”

On the Patriot Act and domestic spying: “I would not vote for a straight-up reauthorization of the Patriot Act.” Supported USA Freedom Act that would have ended bulk data collection by the US government.

 

 

On the military-industrial complex: “You want to talk about people with effective lobbies, that’s right at the top of the list. A weapons system will be built in ten different states because it is members of Congress trying to bring home the bacon.  When it comes to defense spending, I think the focus should be on ‘what are the national security needs of the country?’ not, ‘What brings jobs to my particular district?’

 

On gun rights: Referenced his now-famous exchange with Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) on the 2nd Amendment. Opposes any effort to scale back 2nd Amendment rights.

On foreign policy and ISIS: “I am a constitutionalist. I have been very outspoken that before military conflict, Congress needs to authorize it,” said Cruz. “We need to have a congressional debate about authorization.  What the President is doing is illegal and unconstitutional.”

 

On pain-capable right to life legislation: “I strongly support pain-capable legislation. As a matter of principle, we should not have exceptions.  But I will also take incremental gains.”

 

 

On state drug laws and his prior criticism of the Obama Administration for failing to enforce marijuana laws in states that have legalized pot: “What I was focusing on with respect to marijuana prosecution was not the Colorado and Washington state piece, but rather, Eric Holder has unilaterally instructed US attorneys not to prosecute for certain smaller amounts of marijuana possession,” said Cruz. “With respect to states that have affirmatively legalized pot, my view is a federalist view, which is (that) we should defer to the states on that.”

Cruz Courts Liberty Movement in Iowa

Tea Party champion and conservative firebrand Ted Cruz may be ready to embrace his libertarian side – and he may need to, if he hopes to find a path from Iowa to the White House.

As it turns out, the death of the Liberty Movement in Iowa may have been greatly exaggerated. While an establishment resurgence in 2014 spearheaded by Governor Terry Branstad succeeded in purging the Ron Paul element from the leadership of the Republican Party of Iowa, members of the state’s robust and often-boisterous Liberty Movement are turning their attention to greater things – namely, the 2016 presidential cycle.

Still reveling in the unexpected victory of libertarian-leaning Congressman Rod Blum in what had been a heavily Democratic eastern Iowa district, the Liberty contingent is starting to have conversations about how much effort and energy should be poured into a presidential race that – for the first time in a decade – will not feature Rep. Ron Paul.

Paul, who retired from Congress in 2013 but continues to make his presence on the political landscape felt through his new network, will presumably pass his organizational structure and much of his rabid base of support on to his son, Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky; but many folks in the first-in-the-nation caucus state of Iowa think it may be a tougher handoff than many would surmise.

Heather Stancil, Co-Chair of the Madison County GOP and a Ron Paul supporter in 2012, still has some reservations about a Rand Paul candidacy. “Rand seems too comfortable with those who compromise their principles,” said Stancil, echoing widespread concern over the younger Paul’s endorsement of politicians that some see as hostile to the conservative base. Kara Hadley, a central Iowa activist who identifies closely with the liberty wing of the party, is also concerned with some of Paul’s associations. “Rand supported Mitch McConnell, and I think that’s crazy,” said Hadley. “I think that Rand’s trying to play the game, and I know that a lot of people are just tired of the game.” She also feels that Rand is not working to lock down support from the conservatarian coalition that his father helped spawn within the Republican Party, but is “taking his father’s legacy for granted.”

With the apparent reluctance of many libertarian voters to “stand with Rand”, one would think that other 2016 hopefuls would be quick to court members of the Liberty Movement, 25,000 of whom helped propel Ron Paul to a close third-place finish in the 2012 Iowa Caucuses. But that, too, may be a tall order for many candidates.

For as much as figures like Sen. Rand Paul, Rep. Justin Amash of Michigan, and others have helped mainstream the Ron Paul revolution, there remains some simmering resentment between the frequently-warring factions of the Iowa GOP – much of which is still directed at young libertarians who turned the party structure upside-down in 2012. Potential 2016 contenders will have to weigh the benefit of wooing liberty voters, against the cost of an association that many prominent Iowa Republicans – including Governor Branstad and Rep. Steve King – find troublesome.

Compounding this risk is the fact that Ron Paul Republicans nationwide have earned a reputation as hard-line, skeptical, and often combative – though also intensely loyal to those they see as representing their ideals. Iowa Sen. Jason Schultz, a 2012 Ron Paul backer, acknowledges that, though it’s still too early for people to take sides, the Liberty Movement is paying attention to the rapidly-expanding 2016 field. “Liberty folks are better informed, better engaged, and more mature political activists, in my experience, and I think they’re watching”, said Schultz.

In other words, it’s a hard crowd to sell.

If recent actions are any indicator, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz – a Tea Party conservative with libertarian leanings – is out to prove that he’s up to the challenge. Cruz, whose Senate candidacy was endorsed by Ron Paul, has been working to make inroads with the largely-overlooked Liberty constituency in Iowa.

Last August, Cruz sat down with a handful of influential conservatarian activists in Ames to test the presidential waters. He fielded a wide variety of policy and strategy questions, but broke stride during a response on government spending to praise Paul and his followers, while taking a swipe at the suppression of Ron Paul delegates at the Republican National Convention in 2012. “Ron Paul is someone I admire and respect, I think he was a powerful voice for liberty – still is. And I think he energized an army of activists across this country,” said Cruz. “One of the stupidest things Republicans did in 2012, was try to kick the Ron Paul people in the teeth. It doesn’t make any sense if you want people to be energized and engaged, to go after them and treat them as the enemy.”

Cruz has also taken the time to campaign with liberty candidates in Iowa, and his Jobs, Growth, and Freedom Fund recently made a major contribution to conservatarian state PAC Liberty Iowa – tied, in fact, for the Fund’s largest contribution to any person or group nationwide. Cruz has also reached out to liberty leaders in the state to set up meetings later this month when he travels to Des Moines for the Iowa Freedom Summit.

These recent moves, along with his dedication to hard-right policies in Washington, have already started to catch the eye of some of Iowa’s liberty activists. Schultz, who calls Cruz a “rising star” in the party, started paying attention to the Texas Senator during Cruz’s controversial not-quite-a-filibuster in 2013. He was impressed with what he saw. “It gave hope and energy to the base, that somebody was speaking for them,” says Schultz of the 21-hour floor speech. Other liberty activists registered a connection with Cruz based upon his opposition to Obamacare, Common Core, and Net Neutrality legislation. They are also supportive of his habitual opposition to increasing the size and scope of government, campaigns for which Team Cruz often utilizes trendy hashtag #makeDClisten.

Adil Khan, Executive Director of Liberty Iowa, thinks that Cruz’s role in the government shutdown may actually help him woo liberty activists, whose penchant for controversy and fierce opposition to government growth are becoming fashionable among millennial conservatives. He believes there could be interest in a Cruz candidacy within the Liberty Movement, while acknowledging the fact that Cruz will not start out with the immediate advantages of his Senate counterpart, Rand Paul. “Cruz has an uphill battle because he doesn’t inherit Ron Paul’s base automatically, he has to fight for each and every member,” said Khan. “But I think there are a lot of principled stances he’s taken…that a lot of people admire. That’s what they used to see in Ron – taking those principled, hard stances and not just backing the establishment every time.”

Others are more impressed with Cruz’s personal qualities. Hadley recalls, “I’ve seen the little things that he’s done, where he’s spoken and then gone around and thanked the staff that waited on the tables, people like him just don’t go and do that. That’s a huge quality.”

Not everyone, though, is sold on the Texas firebrand’s style. Former GOP State Central Committee member Tony Krebsbach, who manned the Rand Paul table at last year’s Family Leadership Summit in Ames, thinks that Cruz might struggle to appeal to some libertarians because of his tendency to cater more to mainline conservatives with his rhetoric. With regard to policy, he sees Rand as being the last stop for the traditionally-purist Liberty Movement. “The reasons that a lot of Ron Paul people don’t support Rand, would be the same reasons I think they would have a hard time supporting Ted Cruz,” said Krebsbach. While acknowledging that Cruz would be his top candidate if Paul were not likely to run, Krebsbach finds Cruz’s style to be overly-abrasive, and questions whether such a style can appeal to Democrats and Independents who might otherwise be open to libertarian principles and policies.

Others have similar concerns, worrying that the government shutdown, while inspiring the conservative base, might not have been effective at expanding that base by enticing independent voters into the GOP – something they see as a very positive component of Rand Paul’s electoral strategy. Some activists are also concerned that Cruz’s junior status – he is still serving his first term in the Senate – could dampen his appeal to some liberty voters who prefer a longer track record with which to vet candidates.

But one thing is for sure, those searching for distinctions between the two conservatarian champions will have the opportunity to find out more, as Cruz and Paul are certain to be a frequent presence in Iowa between now and the time each decides on a presidential run. Those in Ron Paul’s Liberty Movement will, for the first time, face a choice with regard to the White House – and they plan to do their homework on Cruz.

“It will be interesting to find out what happens when Cruz comes to Iowa and some of the hard questions start coming out like, ‘how involved will government get in marriage?’ and ‘how many bases are we going to withdraw from overseas?’ Those are questions that contrast Rand from a lot of candidates, so to find out where Cruz will come out on these, I think that’s going to come out in 2016,” concludes Khan. “It will be interesting to hear the difference in rhetoric, but in the end, when it comes to principle, when it comes down to the core votes, I don’t think there’s that much difference between the two.”

America Isn’t Strong Enough For Torture

Torture. Just hearing that word is enough to give one pause. It’s a bit of a superlative for pain – a word reserved for those times when “hurt”, “suffering,” and “agony” just don’t cover it. The word carries with it images of gory slasher films and whispered stories from Soviet gulags. It’s a vestige of darker times, undeserving of any place in the greatest nation in the history of the world. It’s something that is at least as universally-condemned as child molestation and cold-blooded murder.

Or was, until a few weeks ago.

With the release of classified CIA documents detailing “enhanced interrogation techniques” used by American operatives in the so-called War on Terror, a new debate has been sparked. As with every other issue that hits the headlines these days, most folks formed an opinion within milliseconds and took to social media to express it faster than you can say “Guantanamo”.

As I read the reports and articles swirling around the netscape, I was tempted to do the same. After all, it was becoming clear where the lines were forming – on one side there were traditional national-defense conservatives, and on the other side was a coalition of bleeding-heart liberals, civil libertarians, and… Ted Cruz?

In response to a related question during an appearance at the Heritage Foundation, Sen. Cruz staked out an unambiguous moral stance against torture, and so doing, may have surprisingly set himself in opposition to many within the oft-referenced moral majority of the GOP. Cruz, in fact, was essentially the only potential 2016 heavyweight to make much noise on the issue at all.

But is the moral acceptability of torturing defenseless captives something that we can afford to be silent about? If this doesn’t qualify as a defining issue for the nation founded to be the Shining City on a Hill, what does?

National defense conservatives will be quick to note that many definitions of “torture” would not include some of the “enhanced interrogation techniques” employed against CIA-held prisoners. They will insist that water boarding, cold detention cells, and forced rectal feeding are not worthy of comparison to the fingernail-pulling, flesh-burning, bone-breaking horrors experienced by prisoners of war and political detainees in other countries at different times between the Spanish Inquisition and the Vietnam War. And they might be right, depending on one’s own definitions. That’s a worthwhile objection, or at least an argument worth having.

But that’s not the first argument on the table.

The question at the forefront of the American moral conversation is this: if we agree that a given act is torture, is it ever morally permissible?

To say that such discussions are even going on around dining room tables and facebook threads here in the Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave is an embarrassment to our Founding Fathers, who faced existential threats just as we do, but still managed to maintain their honor. George Washington, who would have faced a traitor’s death if captured by the British during the Revolutionary War, still admonished his troops to treat captives with decency, and considered abuse of prisoners a national disgrace. In a charge to the Northern Expeditionary Force in September of 1775, he wrote,

Should any American soldier be so base and infamous as to injure any [prisoner]. . . I do most earnestly enjoin you to bring him to such severe and exemplary punishment as the enormity of the crime may require. Should it extend to death itself, it will not be disproportional to its guilt at such a time and in such a cause… for by such conduct they bring shame, disgrace and ruin to themselves and their country.”

Washington was no fool. Having commanded troops in the brutal French and Indian War, he knew that torturing enemies could yield valuable strategic information that could save American lives. But he believed that the moral cost of such an action outweighed any potential benefit derived. Washington’s objection wasn’t based on some misguided chivalry, but on his absolute belief in the Laws of Nature and Nature’s God, which provide for violence in self-defense, but never for abuse of the helpless.

Since that time, America has been a beacon of hope, where justice and tolerance reigned supreme, and where persecuted immigrants could find respite from the abuse they had suffered at the hands of tormentors in darker parts of the world.

Years ago, I had the opportunity to hear from a former German POW from WWII – we’ll call him Eric – who had emigrated to the United States after the war. Now a kindly, grey-headed gentlemen in his sunset years, Eric recounted the story of his capture by American forces in North Africa during Operation Torch in 1942. He said that when he was brought to the American internment camp, he was absolutely terrified. Prior to his capture, his superior officers had warned him of the brutality of the Americans: he would do well, they insisted, to take his own life if cornered – it would be a much better fate than the torture he would surely suffer if taken alive.

Eric was led to a small cell with a clean bed, and then locked in for the night. He didn’t sleep, instead sitting awake wondering what torments awaited him at the hands of his captors. The next morning the door opened and a plate of food dropped in. Not rotten, maggot-ridden scraps, but a satisfying meal, complete with a piece of real chocolate. He didn’t take the food, convinced it was poison. The next day the process was repeated, and again the terrified prisoner refused to take any comfort, believing that his captors were just trying to “soften him up” before the torture began. It never came. After two weeks of fresh food and clean sheets and no abuse, Eric finally came to the realization that “Those sons of (expletive deleted) lied to me.” His Wehrmacht officers had lied to their soldiers about the brutality of the Americans to stave off any thoughts of surrender and encourage them to fight to the last man. It was then he realized that there was something different about America, something great. After the war he returned to Germany, found his family, and came to the United States to start a new life.

While there were certainly examples of prisoner abuse by the Western Allies as well, military directives against such behavior ensured that they were the exception, not the rule. Soldiers who engaged in torture could face court-martial if their actions were discovered. We considered ourselves the moral standard-bearers in the war, and to this day still publicize stories of the mistreatment of our soldiers – including Olympic athlete and war hero Louis Zamperini, subject of the best-selling book and recently-released major motion picture Unbroken – in order to distinguish ourselves from our enemies. Things like this separated us from them. We’re Americans, we don’t torture people.

The Greatest Generation, who endured every hardship the world could throw at them, knew that America’s strength lay in our goodness, and they dare not sacrifice that moral high ground for flimsy and unreliable bits of information. While we fought from the side of right, neither German Nazism, nor Japanese Imperialism, nor Soviet Communism could destroy us.

But America is not strong enough for torture. We can face any hardship with defiance, but we cannot face ourselves in the mirror if we become a people so desperate as to torture a pleading, unarmed captive.

We can defeat any nation that threatens our security, but we cannot defeat a national disposition so devoid of conscience that it would allow for deliberate and brutal abuse of prisoners.

We can endure any calamity, but we cannot long endure a society that calls for tormenting the helpless in the name of security.

For the cost of that security would not be measured in freedom, nor in lives, but in the very soul of the nation – without which both life and freedom perish as well.

As both a Christian and an American, I can say that if I and those I care about are incinerated by a bomb tomorrow because I refused to rip the fingernails off of a captive enemy, then so be it. I stand ready to pay that price, in order to spend what life I have left on this earth with a clear conscience. There must be lines that we are never willing to cross, believing that our actions will be judged by history and the God who writes it.

Sometimes doing the right thing will win us success, respect, and allies. But sometimes setting those boundaries will cost us. Sometimes the night will deepen and we will wish that we could act like our enemies as they close in around our Shining City on a Hill.

It is the risk that all men take, when called upon to overcome evil with good.

 

If You Believe In The Biblical Christmas Story, Don’t Read This

‘Tis the season to condemn your neighbor over Christmas terminology, and sure as sugarplums, Christians all over America have dug out the trenches in an attempt to “keep Christ in Christmas”, as secularists try to tug the knot over the Happy Holidays line on the ground. With the smell of fruitcake and litigation in the air, what better time to reexamine the meaning of the holiday and find out why people get so bent out of shape over which festive phrase is tossed across the cash register?

To start with, I want to limit my audience to only logical, critical thinkers. If you accept all that “Jesus is the reason for the season” jazz and you actually believe in the literal accuracy of the Biblical Christmas story – complete with angels, wise men, a star playing red-light-green-light, and the virgin birth, then, quite simply, I’m not talking to you.

I’m writing this to average, everyday Americans who know that the laws of science apply no matter what you believe. People who accept that there is no more proof of angels than there is of flying reindeer, and that if you’re going to believe that a Jewish baby born in a stable is going to return to earth someday and rule the world, you may as well believe in Santa Claus too.

Most of all, I’m writing to good, decent people who don’t need the threat of eternal torment or the promise of golden streets to know that things like peace, goodwill, the spirit of giving, and spending time with family and friends are important. After all, whether you’re celebrating Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, or Festivus (I’m looking at you, Rand Paul), what matters is the warmth and fellowship that comes from being with the ones you love, celebrating old traditions or creating new ones.

Or is it?

Let’s think about this. Why do we dust off all of our favorite virtues for the last few weeks of the year, but keep them on the shelf the rest of the time? Is there some sort of objective significance to these antiquated holidays, or do we just take out of them, what we put into them? Most importantly, should a Christmas devoid of historical veracity retain any value to a modern culture intent on moving past the “primitive” notions of religion and objective morality?

The way I see it, Christmas is an all-or-nothing affair. Either it is the single most important event in the history of mankind, or it is utterly insignificant. Worse than insignificant – an outright lie, and one that has spawned a great many conflicts between families and nations for centuries.

If the Son of God was not literally born as a human baby to a virgin in Bethlehem 2000 years ago, then there is nothing “nice” or “festive” or “spiritual” or “magical” about Christmas. Nothing. If there is no God, and no Jesus, no sin, no forgiveness, no cross, no redemption, no heaven or hell, then Christmas is at best a waste of time, and at worst a dangerous delusion.

Folks who embrace the holiday as a bit of fun or a nice tradition while not believing or accepting the supernatural element within the Christmas story, are actively denying their own ideology – an ideology that says man is his own god, and that individual happiness is the ultimate good. The logical conclusion of such a belief dictates that selflessness and sacrifice have no value of their own. Giving doesn’t make sense. Peace doesn’t make sense. Purity doesn’t make sense. Thankfulness doesn’t make sense. Humility doesn’t make sense. If the Christmas story is a lie, then all of the virtues wrapped up in Christmas are worthless. If it’s not true, then we are fools to celebrate year after year, pouring ourselves glasses of high-sounding ideals from the empty bottle of tradition – as though repetition and ritual can somehow open the cultural floodgate of peace and love while denying the very truths that makes those ideals valuable.

But if the Christmas story is true – really, absolutely, and completely true – then it represents the single most important event in history. If it is true, then it is the story of the God who created everything, seeking reconciliation with a creation that had forgotten Him. If it’s true, it represents a breach in the heavenly siege of Earth, and the end of the dominion of sin and death. If it’s true, then it is the only hope for a human race drowning in violence, pain, and despair.

If it’s true that God sent his son to this world to give gifts unto men, then we should give gifts as well. If it’s true that the Son of God emptied himself of his glory and was born as a servant, then we must serve each other as well. If Christmas is true, there is reason to love, reason to believe, reason to hope, reason to endure. And if it is true, then it means that the same Jesus Christ who was born as a baby in a manger, lived among men, died on a cross, and rose from the dead, will be coming back again one day to judge the world by his righteous standard.

And that’s where you come in. Christmas is not only the pivotal point in human history – what you believe about Christmas will also be the pivotal point in your heart and in your future. You see, that baby born in Bethlehem grew to be a man, and that man claimed to be the Son of God. As C.S. Lewis famously outlined, there are only three possibilities with respect to such a claim: Either Jesus was a liar, or a lunatic, or he was exactly who he claimed to be – the Lord. If he was a liar, then he has no moral authority and cannot be regarded as a great moral teacher. If he was a lunatic, none should heed him as a prophet. But if he is neither of those things, then one must conclude that he is who he says he is.

Likewise, if the Christmas story of the Bible is a fable, a myth passed down by superstitious cultures of old, then it has no value at all, and we would do well to discard it along with any other vestiges of religion and objective morality. After all, it is actively hindering the advancement of mankind by tying future generations to antiquated fantasies that serve only as a faulty foundation to a baseless system of ethics.

But if it’s true, then the world has forever changed, and your heart lies at the point of decision.

Don’t waste another Christmas celebrating niceties that aren’t consistent with your worldview. Life is too short to hold empty traditions. Choose you this day, whom you will serve: the confusion and contortion of the commercial culture, or the real, living, and personal Christ of Christmas.

It is my deepest hope that you will come to know that very Christ as your Savior and Lord, and that from now on you can celebrate Christmas in fullness – not only as a glorious window to miracles past, but also as a promise of his return and our redemption as sons and daughters of God.

A Merry, Merry Christmas to you, from the bottom of my heart.