Frenchman foresaw today's debt limit crisis

Alexis de Tocqueville was a Frenchman who spent two years in America 180 years ago, then went home and wrote a book so insightful that Americans have been quoting it ever since.

Although de Tocqueville was a "classical liberal," the word had a far different meaning in his era. Today he might have admired the anti-tax, small-government tea party movement.

His observations about American society and democracy are remarkably prescient, especially for a man who was ostensibly here on government assignment to examine U.S. prisons.

That subject must not have interested him much because he wrote a quick prison report and then spent the next three years working on his two-volume De la Démocratie en Amerique.

In the midst of the national train wreck now developing in Washington, some of his observations seem as if they could have been written today.

"The American Republic will endure until the day Congress discovers that it can bribe the public with the public's money," he wrote.

Even de Tocqueville probably didn't envision that we would borrow the money to do the bribing, nor that tens of millions of Americans would depend upon that borrowed money for everything from health care to old-age pensions.

But de Tocqueville didn't entirely blame politicians.

Democracy "can only exist until the voters discover that they can vote themselves largess from the public treasury. From that moment on, the majority always votes for the candidates promising the most benefits from the public treasury with the result that a democracy always collapses over loose fiscal policy."

While we're not ready to throw in the towel on the American experiment, politicians have always found it easy to bestow new benefits on the people electing them, partly accounting for our current predicament.

de Tocqueville was silent on how the looting of the public treasury would occur. There are, of course, the billions paid to Americans in forms ranging from food stamps to black lung compensation to farm subsidies.

But he might not have anticipated the incestuous relationship between politicians and corporate lobbyists seeking tax loopholes and favorable treatment from Congress.

Millions are made on seemingly tiny changes to obscure federal tax laws.

de Tocqueville was wise about other matters as well: "There are two things which a democratic people will always find very difficult — to begin a war and to end it."

Half right there. We seem to have no trouble getting into wars, it's the clean departure we haven't mastered.

Finally, de Tocqueville was as unimpressed with the politicians of his day as Americans are today.

A July 19 Gallup Poll showed President Barack Obama with a 45 percent overall job performance rating, while Democrats in Congress scored 33 percent and congressional Republicans 28.

Even those numbers will drop fast if the U.S. Treasury goes into default and the stock market sheds a few hundred points.

"I do not know if the people of the United States would vote for superior men if they ran for office, but there can be no doubt that such men do not run."

Unfortunately, the idea that women might run escaped the great man entirely. But who could have seen that coming?

The opinions expressed in this column reflect the views of the ownership and editorial board.

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 's picture

Nice Rex

So, Rex are you the same editor who had told me on face book that Webster had not contributed the names of redacted voters to the Sun Journal? All the while it was listed in the paper? Yeah, you can use "classic liberal" as a dirty word or even use it to attack a dead man but nothing is as bad as being a liar is it Rex?


Some things do change

The Republican party at the national level has demonstrated in the last 2 years that it is unable to govern. This is not the Republican party of Dwight Eisenhower, or Ronald Reagan or Gerald Ford. This is a party riddled with Separatists who want to redo the Civil War or who are owned by gas and oil corporations that do not want to answer to the U. S Government. Add to this the libertarians Norquist and Rand Paul who want no government at all and a few anarchists to boot. Any Republican who considers themselves fiscal conservatives should wake up to the fact that you have been thrown under the bus by this rabid group of fanatics. They are not trying to create jobs, or save the taxpayer money. They are intent on winning the next presidential election and saving taxes for the very wealthy. If you are not earning over $250,000 they are not your friend. Incredibly in the last 2 weeks they have even failed at the art of politics.

Bernice Fraser's picture

political labels cannot legistlate the poor into prosperity by legistlating the wealth out of prosperity.
2.what one person receives without working fo, another must work without receiving.
3.the government cannot give anybody anything that the government does not first take away from somebody else.
4. you cannot multiply wealth by dividing it.
5.when half of the people get the idea that they do not have to work, because the other half will take care of their needs. And the other half gets the idea that it does not do any good to work, because somebody else will get what THEYhave worked for, that is when the beggining of the end of a nation.

Social security was set up to help those who had put money into it by working, not illeagles or those who never wanted to work. same for medicare, it is money taken out of our paycheck. Money that the government wasted for their own little pet projects. Medicare and WIc would not be needed if families took care of one another,as it should be, and always was until Roosevelt was president."Make it easy for people to be poor and they will take advantage of it" Benjamin Franklin.
because of my age I never did have a say about social security or medicare, should I had, I would had voted it down and kept the money and invested it for myself and be sure to have it when in need. When you become on government for your livelyhood you are no better than a slave.

Jim Cyr's picture


Nice write up Ms. Fraser, It's just amazing how some "Pinkos" that profess to be "Constitutional" experts find your amazing " Founders" logic to be "Propaganda".

Bernice Fraser's picture


Yes, the spelling was bad, I was having eye problems that day. But propaganda? The following quote from Mother Teresa is what I try to live by.
"People are often unreasonable, illogical and self centered; Forgive them anyway. If you are kind, people may accuse you of selfish ulterior motives; Be kind anyways. If you are successful, you will win some false friends and some true enemies; succeed anyway. If you are honest and frank, people may cheat you; Be honest and frank anyways. What you spend years building, someone could destroy overnight; Build anyways. If you find serenity and happiness, they may be jealous; Be happy anyways.
The good you do today, people will often forget tomorrow; Do good anyways. Give the world the best you've have and it may never be enough; Give the world your best anyways. You see, in the final analysis it is between you and God; It was never between you and them anyway."
Life is too short for bitterness, so I just shrug them off. Thank you for your kind words.

RONALD RIML's picture


If you had been educated well enough to write without the spelling and grammatical errors you've composed in your post, perhaps you might also have seen past the propaganda which you are now spouting.

 's picture

A beacon of common sense,

A beacon of common sense, Bernice

 's picture

Great Commentary Rex. It

Great Commentary Rex. It appears we are the "sandwhich generation". Caught between the very large corporations and those who pay nothing, both have their hands in our pockets. And the politicians who pander to both, while enriching themselves. I think we need a balnced budget amendment, but I also think we need an amendment that of this day the U.S Government is not allowed to borrow money, and, all the debt must be gone in "X" amount of years. If this occurred we'd be able to take care of our elderly, and the people who really can't work, and make them very comfortable. Either way, this is serious, and it s going to be tough.


political labels have evolved

In de Tocqueville's era a liberal might well believe as he did. It was a time with a sparse population and vast unpopulated tracts where the poorest might carve out a living. People commonly die without ever getting old enough to retire, doctors and hospitals didn't charge obscene prices to treat patients - so there was no need for a social safety net. Conservatives believed that humans could own other humans - no need to go on from there.

Liberal and conservative mean entirely different things today. Actually both have changed markedly in my lifetime. Barry Goldwater would be horrified by the unpatriotic actions of today's Tea Party. John Kennedy would roll over in his grave at the excesses of liberals who would control the use of words.

So de Tocqueville may have been prescient if you hate the idea of Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and WIC, if you think that money spent to prevent the Koch boys from raping and pillaging our land is wasted - in other words, if you are a Tea Partier. Somehow I think M. de Tocqueville was smarter than that.

Bernice Fraser's picture

history always repeats it's self

Thank you, it is refreshing to see that some one on this paper reads and knows their history, there maybe hope for this country after all. Or else we will all be doom.

AL PELLETIER's picture

Hey, Parot

This just proves that we're not all dumb Frenchman!


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