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citizenship america moral capital

August 17, 2011

Dear Representative Tim Walberg,

One of my heroes, Michigander Russell Kirk, once noted that the professor plays the fool when he enters into politics. This might very well be the case with this letter.  I teach history (American Revolution through American Civil War) at a small liberal arts college in your district. I’ve been teaching here for a little over twelve years. I was, however, raised next to wheat fields in Kansas, and, so, I admit I don’t know this district as well as you most likely do.

But, I do know American history, and I know integrity (and its opposite) when I see it.

Such a letter as this pains me, frankly, as I not only voted for you in 2010, but I’ve also been assured by many fine persons who know you that you are a man of excellence and high character.

Another close friend of mine, however, a Texan who served in the Reagan White House, makes an important point when she claims that a representative or Senator heads to Washington, D.C., with only a set amount of moral capital. For some, such as Representative Ron Paul, this capital has yet to be spent fully. For others, such as Representative Richard Nixon, the capital was used up quickly, though few noticed until it was too late. His immorality and poor choices left us as a republic much poorer than we were, and an understandable but deeply unfortunate cynicism crept quickly into our political culture.

As I look over your website, I see that you and I view the world in very similar ways. In particular, we both share what is THE marker of humanity and a humane society—we each value the protection of human life in its most innocent form.

When I look at your votes, however, I have to scratch my head in wonder.

First, you are a representative in the greatest republic in the history of the world. Granted, you’re only one of 435, but I ask you to consider your place in history. Please, do what you can in your position to make a mark, to defend the legacy of this republic, to make the House and country a better place.

Second, considering the first, I ask you to remember that you represent not just this district at any one specific time but that you represent this district past, present, and future. How you vote reflects not only those who came before you, but also those who are to come—specifically our children and grand children and great grand children.

In light of this, I must ask—why did you vote for the Boehner Compromise bill on the budget? There was no real compromise in this, only a deferment of the problem. Your vote, along with the vast majority of the members of the House, voted to postpone and, frankly, pass the buck (so to write) to another Congress.  While it’s possible you’ll be a member of that future Congress, it’s also possible you won’t. In what way can you keep those in the future accountable? Promises of and for a Congress that doesn’t even exist yet are no promises at all. Indeed, if anything, your vote has contributed to a horrible precedent—Congress might very well just continue to postpone and defer and. . . .  Where will it end?

And, as you know very well, this Compromise solved absolutely nothing. Indeed, it only exacerbated our current debt and budget follies. The failure of Washington to reign in the federal government led directly to the S&P downgrade.

From what I can see in the press, you’re now blaming President Obama for our budget and debt and downgrade woes. I will fully admit, I’ve never once thought much of our current executive, and I’m sure I never will.  I don’t in any way understand how anyone could ever have supported him. But, president he is.

Your blame of the president for the current economic crisis, however, is as false as false can be. You voted for the Compromise, and you’re as responsible as every other member of Congress who voted in favor of this compromise that the president unwisely desired. Historians will not forget this, Representative Walberg.

Third, I ask you to be far more open in your voting and your decisions. From what I can see of your Facebook page, for example, you consider yourself an ambassador to Washington, D.C., representing the people from this district who happen to be traveling to the District of Columbia.

Additionally, I can easily see what you believe on your personal, rather static, webpage, but I’ve had a very difficult time tracking down your votes.  I would like to suggest as an exemplar of openness, your colleague from Grand Rapids, Justin Amash. Representative Amash clearly explains every vote he takes and the reasons for every decision leading up to that vote. If every member of Congress offered as much openness as Amash does,we might very well have a much more just republic.

So, I take us back to the beginning of this letter. Representative Walberg, do you still have moral capital to expend in Washington? After your vote for the Boehner Compromise and now your blame of the current president for the very situation you contributed to, I question your ability to govern properly.

From what I know of you, as I stated before, you’re a man of integrity. A man of integrity knows when to step down. Please choose wisely as we enter the 2012 election cycle. The future of this republic might well depend upon it.

Yours, sincerely,

Bradley J. Birzer

Hillsdale

Books on or by Dr. Kirk may be found in The Imaginative Conservative Bookstore. Essays on or by Dr. Kirk may be found here

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14 replies to this post
  1. Brad, you make a number of important points in this letter. I would like to consider your letter in light of the following concerns.

    Can Rep. Walberg and other Republicans make the argument that since they only control the house in opposition to the Senate and the White House that they are at best performing a holding action until after the next elections? Realistically with divided government, something the Founders I believe expected, any reform (good or bad) is most likely to take more than one election cycle. Should the debt ceiling have been raised? Would there have been substantial damage to an already wounded economy if it hadn't? The psychology of the financial markets is a dangerous thing to play with. Slow steady reform is better when trying to achieve significant change in the direction of a very big ship of state. Or is it?

    It would seem that Republicans who say Obama is the root of the problem reveal the depth of their partisan and self serving cowardice. We had a surplus when George W. Bush came into office. Rapid increases in spending (foreign & domestic) are the root of the problem and both Republicans and Democrats bear responsibility as they strive to lavish borrowed money on their favorite programs. Defense for Republicans, social spending for Democrats, and goodies for corporations from both. Both parties have ill-served the American Republican for decades and only a broken economy may slightly slow down their irresponsibility. If Americans truly want high spending then the only responsible thing to do is to raise the taxes to pay for them. Now, not on our children and grandchildren. It is immoral to have a low tax, high spend, borrow from foreigners policy. It lacks any virtue. Both parties are to be blamed for our current state and the sooner conservative Republicans admit it the better. It is not leadership to blame the other party when both parties have committed fiscal treason. Tell the truth and lead. This is what conservatives must demand. Or the Republic is doomed.

    But, in the end, it is the duty of citizens of the American Republic to hold their elected leaders accountable. Until we elect leaders who are committed to drastically shrinking the scale and scope of the national government (both in domestic & foreign affairs) we are stuck with a government of cowards elected by irresponsible debtors. Are we getting what we deserve? Have we reached a state where so little character remains in our citizens that only collapse will bring us to do our duty? Perhaps it is too late. But, maybe the 2010 elections showed that true patriots remain. We should pray for God's mercy on our Republic. I don't think we could bear the heat of his justice. The Republic is stained with too much sin. We must repent and reform our ways. Or we shall be an example for future generations of how to lose liberty and virtue and destroy a Republic.

  2. Dear Winston, John, Dr. K, and Jeff, thanks much for the responses. Jeff, sadly, we've never met, but I've been in Hillsdale for 12 years now. I hope we get a chance to meet soon. Dr. K, thanks much for your thoughts. Some responses. First, I don't think this was in any kind of way an ordinary vote. It was an extraordinary vote, and it speaks volumes about the state of the republic. The Republicans, for the most part, treated it as big deal, but they made a big show of treating it as a big deal. In the end, they caved. Second, I don't think any of those representatives who voted against the compromise saw themselves as allowing default, they saw their duty to stop a heinous thing and made a stand before it grew. Third, what you see as ideology, I see as the virtue of fortitude. I hope you're doing well–did you see my FB post regarding Nathaniel and his reading habits

  3. The "debt crisis" was a manufactured thing, meaning nothing in the larger context of the republic. It wouldn't have mattered if we "defaulted," which isn't going to happen, or if we came up with manufactured compromise, which only means business as usual. The point I would like to make, however, is that The Imaginative Conservative should not waste one minute of time on such things. Politics follows culture, and our national obsession with politics is the surest sign that we are increasingly decadent. We must talk about things that matter, and Tim Walberg's votes don't.

  4. Not at all, John. Rant we must. But all in all, and I think that St. Russell would agree in a heartbeat, it matters more that one child has not been taught a poem today than how Tim Walberg votes on anything. One of the things that bothers me about our Straussian friends is that politics is their whole world. Everything else is secondary. I hope we avoid that trap as much as we can. My brother-in-law used to say, "Don't vote, it only encourages them!" I may not go that far, but I'm getting close.

  5. Boehner was at an impasse in that, if he didn't compromise, Obama and his liberal associates would say that the republicans made us default which may have turned the next election. Obama is playing a dangerous game of brinksmanship and he is a very shrewd politician. He likes to get his opposition in a corner where wedge issues like this divide the body politic and would hurt the republican party. I believe Tim Walberg is aware of this an the reason he probably voted as he did. Not saying its right. But when you get in hand to hand combat with the opposing side, they play dirty.

  6. I'll be the first to point out that I rant on the debt too much, if only out of sheer frustration that so many folks are oblivious to its reality and consequences.

    Politics follows culture. This is, perhaps, the greatest lesson I took away from Hillsdale (even if it didn't crystallize until later). So many of our friends in the movement today miss that fundamental point, and the 'free-market' or 'conservative' policy world is dominated by people who think salvation lay in passing the right laws and building the right 'system.'

    So I couldn't help but laugh when the 'Overton Window of Political Possibilities' became all the rage in the policy world. Put simply,

    "Joseph Overton observed that in a given public policy area, such as education, only a relatively narrow range of potential policies will be considered politically acceptable. This 'window' of politically acceptable options is primarily defined not by what politicians prefer, but rather by what they believe they can support and still win re-election. In general, then, the window shifts to include different policy options not when ideas change among politicians, but when ideas change in the society that elects them."

    This just in: Politics follows culture. It's as if the free-market policy world couldn't comprehend that idea until it was officially branded, packed into a theory, and marketed. The more skeptical among them might not be convinced yet, so maybe further polling and focus group testing is necessary.

    This sort of 'conservatism' (or as Mark Shea puts it so well, The Thing That Used To Be Conservatism) is the predominant voice of the right currently, and that is deeply troubling.

  7. Go Quickly, thanks for the encouragement. I doubt if Walberg will give it any notice at all. I'm not sure how courageous he is. every time I post a question (respectfully) on his FB page, he deletes it. I think he does what he can to avoid any conflict with the opposition, friendly or otherwise. Cranky Old Man (aka John Willson), when do you suggest we get involved in actual politics. Sadly, Walberg's vote DOES matter. And, please remember that Kirk got involved in practical politics–local and state and national–quite often. Yours, Goofy Middle-Aged Guy.

  8. Yes, sadly his vote matters. Yet Dr. Birzer's reaction to this disappointing vote amounts to throwing out the baby with the bath water. Walberg is flawed, but no worse, I believe, than any of his primary opponents from 2010. Lots of congressmen voted for this bill. We lost. Does this mean we just resolve to throw out all the bums? A tempting thought, but the reality of politics as the art of the possible and the art of compromise suggests it is time to lick our wounds and figure out how we can do better when the next challenge comes our way (with Obama we can depend on that coming soon). The Republicans got rolled this time around, as they so often have. To suggest Walberg ought to step down leaves unanswered the question of who would replace him. Better, I think, to lobby him to live up to his self-professed ideals and implant the recognition that a failure to do so will result in a primary challenge.

  9. Michigander, thanks. This is as reasonable as it probably is true. This vote seems like an extraordinary one, and, unlike most votes, It will probably go down in history as an absolute disaster. Perhaps it will be remembered as the Hawley-Smoot Act of our Age. But, yes, let's lick our wounds and work for the future. Thank you for this.

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