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Putin, Roosevelt, and Conservatives

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In its weekend edition, the Wall Street Journal carried an editorial criticizing Russian President Putin’s attempt to extend his power in Russia. Putin has rigged things so that one of his younger lackies will replace Putin as president, while Putin will assume the post of prime minister. However, to ensure that the real power remains with Putin, many of the powers that the office of the president now has are being transferred to the office of the prime minister.

Of course, the Journal’s criticism is well-taken. But let’s not forget that Putin isn’t really doing anything different than Franklin Roosevelt did. You’ll recall that he’s the one who served some 15 years as president. He’s also the president that both conservatives and liberals extol to this day for his centralization of power.

After all, it was Roosevelt who revolutionized America’s economic system, effecting the transformation of America from a free-market, limited-government republic to a socialist welfare state and a fascist regulated economy — and without even the semblance of a constitutional amendment.

Does anyone need to be reminded that it was Roosevelt who came up with such revolutionary socialist and interventionist programs as Social Security, the National Recovery Act (NRA), the Blue Eagle, FDIC, SEC, and the TVA? Does anyone really need an explanation as to how these programs centralized power?

Surely everyone remembers what Roosevelt did when the U.S. Supreme Court declared some of his socialist and fascist programs unconstitutional. He came up with a plan to pack the Court with cronies who would do his bidding. While the plan failed in the short term, the Supreme Court did do Roosevelt’s bidding over the long term, ensuring that Roosevelt’s (and his successors’) socialist and interventionist programs would never again be declared in violation of the Constitution.

In more modern times, let’s not forget the restrictions that both Democrats and Republicans have placed on democracy with the intent of consolidating power.

Consider, for example, the ridiculous petitioning requirements that are designed to prevent independents and third parties from competing against the two major parties. In Virginia, for example, a candidate for statewide office must secure 10,000 valid signatures from registered voters, which means that a candidate must actually get around 16,000 signatures to ensure 10,000 valid ones.

Even worse, he must secure at least 800 valid signatures from each congressional district all across the state. That means he needs about 1,600 signatures from each district to be safe. Ask yourself: If a person has 10,000 people who are willing to sign his petition, why should it make any difference that the people are geographically spread across the state? We don’t run our elections that way, do we?

Assume, for example, that a financially poor inner-city African American from Richmond wants to run for U.S. Senate. Assume that he wants to run on an anti-establishment campaign platform that condemns Social Security (on the grounds that it’s a transfer program from whites to blacks) and the 30-year-war on drugs, which is racist to the core. Assume that he also has thousands of African-American supporters from Richmond ready to help him out and vote for him but that they also lack much money.

What are the chances that such a person will be able to make the race? Not good. For one thing, he and his supporters have to travel all over the state, staying in hotel rooms, and finding places to petition. Remember: They can’t just get their 10,000 valid signatures in Richmond. They have to get them all over the state, including in many of the predominantly white areas.

Keep in mind, however, that the candidate and his supporters lack money.

Keep in mind, also, that it is extremely difficult to find places that will permit petitioning because most stores don’t like their customers being harangued by petitioners.

Keep in mind also that while the petitioning process simply permits a person to run for office, many voters refuse to sign such a petition when they disagree with the views of the candidate. How many white voters are going to sign a petition being offered to them by a group of impoverished African-Americans, who possibly aren’t dressed extremely well, who wish to run an anti-establishment African-American candidate who is going to take away white people’s Social Security and repeal one of the most beloved programs to whites in U.S. history—the war on drugs, a war whose adverse consequences fall disproportionately on blacks?

Combine the petitioning process with the campaign-finance laws, which limit contributions to a candidate to $2,300 per donor. In the absence of such laws, an impoverished African-American might find a few very wealthy individuals who would be willing to bankroll his entire campaign, for example with several donations of hundreds of thousands of dollars. With the $2,300 maximum donation restriction, it is much more difficult for the African-American candidate to raise the necessary funds to compete against the establishment candidates, given that he lacks an enormous base of $2,300 donors and given that wealthy people who share his political philosophy are limited to giving only $2,300 each.

The point of all this is not to take the Wall Street Journal to task for criticizing Putin and his attempts to retain his grasp on power. It’s just to observe that when U.S. conservatives (and liberals) point a finger at Putin for trying to retain his grasp on power, they should remember that they have three fingers pointing back at themselves.

This post was written by:

Jacob G. Hornberger is founder and president of The Future of Freedom Foundation. He was born and raised in Laredo, Texas, and received his B.A. in economics from Virginia Military Institute and his law degree from the University of Texas. He was a trial attorney for twelve years in Texas. He also was an adjunct professor at the University of Dallas, where he taught law and economics. In 1987, Mr. Hornberger left the practice of law to become director of programs at the Foundation for Economic Education. He has advanced freedom and free markets on talk-radio stations all across the country as well as on Fox News’ Neil Cavuto and Greta van Susteren shows and he appeared as a regular commentator on Judge Andrew Napolitano’s show Freedom Watch. View these interviews at LewRockwell.com and from Full Context. Send him email.