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post #1 of 14 Old Feb 7th, 2008, 3:48 pm Thread Starter
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If it were only this way today.

Not Yours To Give
Col. David Crockett
US Representative from Tennessee

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Originally published in "The Life of Colonel David Crockett," by Edward Sylvester Ellis.


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One day in the House of Representatives a bill was taken up appropriating money for the benefit of a widow of a distinguished naval officer. Several beautiful speeches had been made in its support. The speaker was just about to put the question when Crockett arose:

"Mr. Speaker--I have as much respect for the memory of the deceased, and as much sympathy for the suffering of the living, if there be, as any man in this House, but we must not permit our respect for the dead or our sympathy for part of the living to lead us into an act of injustice to the balance of the living. I will not go into an argument to prove that Congress has not the power to appropriate this money as an act of charity. Every member on this floor knows it.

We have the right as individuals, to give away as much of our own money as we please in charity; but as members of Congress we have no right to appropriate a dollar of the public money. Some eloquent appeals have been made to us upon the ground that it is a debt due the deceased. Mr. Speaker, the deceased lived long after the close of the war; he was in office to the day of his death, and I ever heard that the government was in arrears to him.

"Every man in this House knows it is not a debt. We cannot without the grossest corruption, appropriate this money as the payment of a debt. We have not the semblance of authority to appropriate it as charity. Mr. Speaker, I have said we have the right to give as much money of our own as we please. I am the poorest man on this floor. I cannot vote for this bill, but I will give one week's pay to the object, and if every member of Congress will do the same, it will amount to more than the bill asks."

He took his seat. Nobody replied. The bill was put upon its passage, and, instead of passing unanimously, as was generally supposed, and as, no doubt, it would, but for that speech, it received but few votes, and, of course, was lost.

Later, when asked by a friend why he had opposed the appropriation, Crockett gave this explanation:

"Several years ago I was one evening standing on the steps of the Capitol with some members of Congress, when our attention was attracted by a great light over in Georgetown. It was evidently a large fire. We jumped into a hack and drove over as fast as we could. In spite of all that could be done, many houses were burned and many families made houseless, and besides, some of them had lost all but the clothes they had on. The weather was very cold, and when I saw so many children suffering, I felt that something ought to be done for them. The next morning a bill was introduced appropriating $20,000 for their relief. We put aside all other business and rushed it through as soon as it could be done.

"The next summer, when it began to be time to think about election, I concluded I would take a scout around among the boys of my district. I had no opposition there but, as the election was some time off, I did not know what might turn up. When riding one day in a part of my district in which I was more of a stranger than any other, I saw a man in a field plowing and coming toward the road. I gauged my gait so that we should meet as he came up, I spoke to the man. He replied politely, but as I thought, rather coldly.

"I began: 'Well friend, I am one of those unfortunate beings called candidates and---

"Yes I know you; you are Colonel Crockett. I have seen you once before, and voted for you the last time you were elected. I suppose you are out electioneering now, but you had better not waste your time or mine, I shall not vote for you again."

"This was a sockdolger...I begged him tell me what was the matter.

"Well Colonel, it is hardly worthwhile to waste time or words upon it. I do not see how it can be mended, but you gave a vote last winter which shows that either you have not capacity to understand the Constitution, or that you are wanting in the honesty and firmness to be guided by it. In either case you are not the man to represent me. But I beg your pardon for expressing it that way. I did not intend to avail myself of the privilege of the constituent to speak plainly to a candidate for the purpose of insulting you or wounding you.'

"I intend by it only to say that your understanding of the constitution is very different from mine; and I will say to you what but for my rudeness, I should not have said, that I believe you to be honest.

But an understanding of the constitution different from mine I cannot overlook, because the Constitution, to be worth anything, must be held sacred, and rigidly observed in all its provisions. The man who wields power and misinterprets it is the more dangerous the honest he is.'

" 'I admit the truth of all you say, but there must be some mistake. Though I live in the backwoods and seldom go from home, I take the papers from Washington and read very carefully all the proceedings of Congress. My papers say you voted for a bill to appropriate $20,000 to some sufferers by fire in Georgetown. Is that true?

"Well my friend; I may as well own up. You have got me there. But certainly nobody will complain that a great and rich country like ours should give the insignificant sum of $20,000 to relieve its suffering women and children, particularly with a full and overflowing treasury, and I am sure, if you had been there, you would have done just the same as I did.'

"It is not the amount, Colonel, that I complain of; it is the principle. In the first place, the government ought to have in the Treasury no more than enough for its legitimate purposes. But that has nothing with the question. The power of collecting and disbursing money at pleasure is the most dangerous power that can be entrusted to man, particularly under our system of collecting revenue by a tariff, which reaches every man in the country, no matter how poor he may be, and the poorer he is the more he pays in proportion to his means.

What is worse, it presses upon him without his knowledge where the weight centers, for there is not a man in the United States who can ever guess how much he pays to the government. So you see, that while you are contributing to relieve one, you are drawing it from thousands who are even worse off than he.

If you had the right to give anything, the amount was simply a matter of discretion with you, and you had as much right to give $20,000,000 as $20,000. If you have the right to give at all; and as the Constitution neither defines charity nor stipulates the amount, you are at liberty to give to any and everything which you may believe, or profess to believe, is a charity and to any amount you may think proper. You will very easily perceive what a wide door this would open for fraud and corruption and favoritism, on the one hand, and for robbing the people on the other. 'No, Colonel, Congress has no right to give charity.'

"'Individual members may give as much of their own money as they please, but they have no right to touch a dollar of the public money for that purpose. If twice as many houses had been burned in this country as in Georgetown, neither you nor any other member of Congress would have Thought of appropriating a dollar for our relief. There are about two hundred and forty members of Congress. If they had shown their sympathy for the sufferers by contributing each one week's pay, it would have made over $13,000. There are plenty of wealthy men around Washington who could have given $20,000 without depriving themselves of even a luxury of life.'

"The congressmen chose to keep their own money, which, if reports be true, some of them spend not very creditably; and the people about Washington, no doubt, applauded you for relieving them from necessity of giving what was not yours to give. The people have delegated to Congress, by the Constitution, the power to do certain things. To do these, it is authorized to collect and pay moneys, and for nothing else. Everything beyond this is usurpation, and a violation of the Constitution.'

"'So you see, Colonel, you have violated the Constitution in what I consider a vital point. It is a precedent fraught with danger to the country, for when Congress once begins to stretch its power beyond the limits of the Constitution, there is no limit to it, and no security for the people. I have no doubt you acted honestly, but that does not make it any better, except as far as you are personally concerned, and you see that I cannot vote for you.'

"I tell you I felt streaked. I saw if I should have opposition, and this man should go to talking and in that district I was a gone fawn-skin. I could not answer him, and the fact is, I was so fully convinced that he was right, I did not want to. But I must satisfy him, and I said to him:

"Well, my friend, you hit the nail upon the head when you said I had not sense enough to understand the Constitution. I intended to be guided by it, and thought I had studied it fully. I have heard many speeches in Congress about the powers of Congress, but what you have said here at your plow has got more hard, sound sense in it than all the fine speeches I ever heard. If I had ever taken the view of it that you have, I would have put my head into the fire before I would have given that vote; and if you will forgive me and vote for me again, if I ever vote for another unconstitutional law I wish I may be shot.'

"He laughingly replied; 'Yes, Colonel, you have sworn to that once before, but I will trust you again upon one condition. You are convinced that your vote was wrong. Your acknowledgment of it will do more good than beating you for it. If, as you go around the district, you will tell people about this vote, and that you are satisfied it was wrong, I will not only vote for you, but will do what I can to keep down opposition, and perhaps, I may exert some little influence in that way.'

"If I don't, said I, 'I wish I may be shot; and to convince you that I am in earnest in what I say I will come back this way in a week or ten days, and if you will get up a gathering of people, I will make a speech to them. Get up a barbecue, and I will pay for it.'

"No, Colonel, we are not rich people in this section but we have plenty of provisions to contribute for a barbecue, and some to spare for those who have none. The push of crops will be over in a few days, and we can then afford a day for a barbecue. 'This Thursday; I will see to getting it up on Saturday week. Come to my house on Friday, and we will go together, and I promise you a very respectable crowd to see and hear you.

"'Well I will be here. But one thing more before I say good-bye. I must know your name."

"'My name is Bunce.'

"'Not Horatio Bunce?'

"'Yes

"'Well, Mr. Bunce, I never saw you before, though you say you have seen me, but I know you very well. I am glad I have met you, and very proud that I may hope to have you for my friend.'

"It was one of the luckiest hits of my life that I met him. He mingled but little with the public, but was widely known for his remarkable intelligence, and for a heart brim-full and running over with kindness and benevolence, which showed themselves not only in words but in acts. He was the oracle of the whole country around him, and his fame had extended far beyond the circle of his immediate acquaintance. Though I had never met him, before, I had heard much of him, and but for this meeting it is very likely I should have had opposition, and had been beaten. One thing is very certain, no man could now stand up in that district under such a vote.

"At the appointed time I was at his house, having told our conversation to every crowd I had met, and to every man I stayed all night with, and I found that it gave the people an interest and confidence in me stronger than I had ever seen manifested before.

"Though I was considerably fatigued when I reached his house, and, under ordinary circumstances, should have gone early to bed, I kept him up until midnight talking about the principles and affairs of government, and got more real, true knowledge of them than I had got all my life before."

"I have known and seen much of him since, for I respect him - no, that is not the word - I reverence and love him more than any living man, and I go to see him two or three times every year; and I will tell you, sir, if every one who professes to be a Christian lived and acted and enjoyed it as he does, the religion of Christ would take the world by storm.

"But to return to my story. The next morning we went to the barbecue and, to my surprise, found about a thousand men there. I met a good many whom I had not known before, and they and my friend introduced me around until I had got pretty well acquainted - at least, they all knew me.

"In due time notice was given that I would speak to them. They gathered up around a stand that had been erected. I opened my speech by saying:

"Fellow-citizens - I present myself before you today feeling like a new man. My eyes have lately been opened to truths which ignorance or prejudice or both, had heretofore hidden from my view. I feel that I can today offer you the ability to render you more valuable service than I have ever been able to render before. I am here today more for the purpose of acknowledging my error than to seek your votes. That I should make this acknowledgment is due to myself as well as to you. Whether you will vote for me is a matter for your consideration only."

"I went on to tell them about the fire and my vote for the appropriation and then told them why I was satisfied it was wrong. I closed by saying:

"And now, fellow-citizens, it remains only for me to tell you that the most of the speech you have listened to with so much interest was simply a repetition of the arguments by which your neighbor, Mr. Bunce, convinced me of my error.

"It is the best speech I ever made in my life, but he is entitled to the credit for it. And now I hope he is satisfied with his convert and that he will get up here and tell you so.'

"He came up to the stand and said:

"Fellow-citizens - it affords me great pleasure to comply with the request of Colonel Crockett. I have always considered him a thoroughly honest man, and I am satisfied that he will faithfully perform all that he has promised you today.'

"He went down, and there went up from that crowd such a shout for Davy Crockett as his name never called forth before.'

"I am not much given to tears, but I was taken with a choking then and felt some big drops rolling down my cheeks. And I tell you now that the remembrance of those few words spoken by such a man, and the honest, hearty shout they produced, is worth more to me than all the honors I have received and all the reputation I have ever made, or ever shall make, as a member of Congress.'

"Now, sir," concluded Crockett, "you know why I made that speech yesterday. "There is one thing which I will call your attention, "you remember that I proposed to give a week's pay. There are in that House many very wealthy men - men who think nothing of spending a week's pay, or a dozen of them, for a dinner or a wine party when they have something to accomplish by it. Some of those same men made beautiful speeches upon the great debt of gratitude which the country owed the deceased--a debt which could not be paid by money--and the insignificance and worthlessness of money, particularly so insignificant a sum as $20,000 when weighed against the honor of the nation. Yet not one of them responded to my proposition. Money with them is nothing but trash when it is to come out of the people. But it is the one great thing for which most of them are striving, and many of them sacrifice honor, integrity, and justice to obtain it."

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post #2 of 14 Old Feb 9th, 2008, 11:49 pm
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I'll bite

Horatio Bunce was not a very good Constitutional scholar. His argument against the $20,000 appropriation boils down to "Congress has no right to give charity."

Quite the opposite, the Constitution obliges Congress to act as they did.

Article 1, Section 8 enumerates the powers of Congress. Among them is:

"To exercise exclusive Legislation in all Cases whatsoever, over such District (not exceeding ten Miles square) as may, by Cession of particular States, and the acceptance of Congress, become the Seat of the Government of the United States, and to exercise like Authority over all Places purchased by the Consent of the Legislature of the State in which the Same shall be, for the Erection of Forts, Magazines, Arsenals, dock-Yards, and other needful Buildings."

Presumably, events recounted here occurred in the late 1820's. At the time, Georgetown was one of four municipalities in the District of Columbia.

Our young country had already suffered its first modern, industrial economy recession in 1819-1824. It was quickly followed by its first modern, industrial economy depression in 1829-1830. During these downturns, as well as earlier economic crisis, local governments took a number of measures to keep people from starving or dying of exposure. These initiatives often took the form of soup kitchens, work projects, and helping to fund similar programs run by churches and private groups when, inevitably, private funds were not enough to meet the need. So the US, and the colonies before that, had a well established tradition of some government assistance in response to events like this.

That Congress appropriated $20,000 in this tale suggests the fire caused significant devastation. To put this figure in context, it is about $350,000 in today's money. Imagine if a few city blocks suffered some sort of disaster today, and the local government opened their sports arena or armory to the displaced for a few nights. How quickly would the utility bills run up? How much would it cost the local government to clear the streets and repair the infrastructure necessary for people to rebuild?

At the time, private charities arose to deal with a specific issue, and then faded away when the issue was resolved. In 1808, for example, charities sprung up all along the eastern seaboard to deal with the unemployment and starvation that resulted from the 1807 embargo imposed by the federal government. When the US fleets were allowed to return to the sea in 1809, the charities closed down. There were no standing charities like the Red Cross or Salvation Army ready to respond to a wide range of disasters. Only the local government could respond quickly and with the necessary resources. And in this case, Congress was the local government.

While the "Not Yours to Give" story makes a nice morality tale, it fails to hold up under scrutiny.

Recently, Ron Paul's presidential campaign has chosen to popularize this tale to help illustrate his philosophy of a very limited federal government. Perhaps they should find a better way to get his message out, lest some of his followers exercise some critical judgement and learn what this story really says.

Full disclosure: last summer I shared office space with Ron Paul's national headquarters and spoke daily (usually by the coffee pot) with his campaign manager. I admire everyone I met there, even if their political philosophy is very different from my own.
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post #3 of 14 Old Feb 10th, 2008, 1:41 pm
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LTPenquin,,,

Your reply did not rebut Mr. Bunce's correct reading of the constitution....
It just provides a very insightful look at how congress has distorted the document for personal gain.........

Your reference is also off the mark...........Pete

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post #4 of 14 Old Feb 10th, 2008, 2:30 pm
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Originally Posted by petepeterson
LTPenquin,,,

Your reply did not rebut Mr. Bunce's correct reading of the constitution....
It just provides a very insightful look at how congress has distorted the document for personal gain.........

Your reference is also off the mark...........Pete
I have to whole heartedly agree. LTPenguin addressed the fact that the Constitution gives Congress authority over the District of Colombia. The original argument was that charity, regardless of where it is directed, is not one of the legitimate Congressional powers set forth in the constitution. In my mind, the whole Health and Welfare provision of the Constitution has been greatly misused.

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post #5 of 14 Old Feb 10th, 2008, 3:11 pm
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The constitution is not a perfect document. Some things should've been written more clearly to prevent their abuse, but it is a good start at trying to limit the powers of government.

Unfortunately, it is now twisted and ignored on almost a daily basis. We use the rhetoric of the constitution to help us feel superior as US citizens. Politicians and soldiers take an oath to uphold it, but they don't. They ignore it as completely as almost everyone else. It's simply an emotional appeal today, and it's such a pity.

It's interesting to note that this story is from a biography about David Crockett. It's hard to be sure if it's completely accurate, but it is good to see such insights, the role of government versus the charity of people, are at least as old as the country.

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post #6 of 14 Old Feb 10th, 2008, 5:00 pm
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Bobnoxous
The constitution is not a perfect document. Some things should've been written more clearly to prevent their abuse, but it is a good start at trying to limit the powers of government.

Unfortunately, it is now twisted and ignored on almost a daily basis. We use the rhetoric of the constitution to help us feel superior as US citizens. Politicians and soldiers take an oath to uphold it, but they don't. They ignore it as completely as almost everyone else. It's simply an emotional appeal today, and it's such a pity.

It's interesting to note that this story is from a biography about David Crockett. It's hard to be sure if it's completely accurate, but it is good to see such insights, the role of government versus the charity of people, are at least as old as the country.
Whoa! Hold it.

Politicians, obviously, soldiers, very few and far in between.

Give our folks in camo and blue more credit than that.

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post #7 of 14 Old Feb 10th, 2008, 5:40 pm
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The first couple of posts are so "longwinded" that y'all actually sound like a couple of politicians.

I guess the point is congress doesn't have the right to give "our" money away for charity. (I agree)

I care very little for politics and even less for politicians but it's a fact that they have given our hard earned money "away" many times, they just used a different word for it.

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post #8 of 14 Old Feb 10th, 2008, 7:23 pm
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Originally Posted by gunny
Whoa! Hold it.

Politicians, obviously, soldiers, very few and far in between.

Give our folks in camo and blue more credit than that.
I thought that'd get a reaction.

I'm not saying our soldiers purposely ignore the constitution or act against it, but they don't act to defend it from all enemies, foreign and domestic. If that were the case, they'd take action against unconstitutional acts by congress and the presidency. It sounds scary, but that's what the oath says.

My oldest brother, who was in the military, and I were talking about politics one time and this oath came up. He took real pride in this oath. I asked him if he had ever read the constitution. He thought, and admitted he hadn't. I told him it's kind of silly to agree to a contract you haven't read. In Wisconsin (where we got our indoctrination education), they don't even teach the constitution in the government schools. I've heard some other states do, but it's kind of scary that government schools don't give any effort to teaching the basics of law, of which the constitution is a core part.

Soldiers follow orders and try to be good soldiers. They don't study the constitution (nor does anyone else who takes this oath) and try and live by it. It wouldn't be practical if they did. I stand by my statement that it's purely an emotional appeal. That's unfortunate. The "chaos" of living by those principles would be better than the out of control government we have with the republicrats.

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post #9 of 14 Old Feb 10th, 2008, 10:53 pm
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Quote:
Originally Posted by petepeterson
LTPenquin,,,

Your reply did not rebut Mr. Bunce's correct reading of the constitution....
It just provides a very insightful look at how congress has distorted the document for personal gain.........

Your reference is also off the mark...........Pete
Pete,

Congress does not get to interpret or distort the meaning of the Constitution. That power is the sole purview of the courts; see Article 3, Section 2. When discussing the "correct reading of the constitution [sic]," it helps to have actually read it.

I'm not sure what reference of mine you believe is off the mark, so let's go through them:

- Text of the Constitution from Ron Paul's web site. See Article 1, Section 8, Clause 17.

- Federalist Paper #43 by James Madison published in 1788. It leaves no doubt that the authors of the Constitution intended Congress to be the sole authority over the District of Columbia. See the 2nd & 3rd paragraphs.

- District of Columbia had no local government except Congress as documented in a commentary published in 1833. See paragraph #1218 (the 8th one from the top). This is just a few years after the speech by David Crockett noted at the start of this thread. This commentary also summarizes early court rulings on Congress' jurisdiction over the District.

- Commentary from 1899 noting that Congress still has supreme authority over the District. This document was published just after the biography of David Crockett that is the source of the "Not Yours To Give" story.

- Historical overview of court decisions regarding the scope of Federal Jurisdiction published in 1999.

It is worth noting that many of these documents are found at the Constitution Society, a Texas-based non-profit "founded in response to the growing concern that noncompliance with the Constitution for the United States of America and most state constitutions is creating a crisis of legitimacy that threatens freedom and civil rights. "

In short, at the time the fire occurred, Congress was the local government for Georgetown. It was customary at the time for local governments to provide some relief in such circumstances. Congress acted according to custom and what many people at that time would have viewed as a moral obligation. Congress was required by law to act as the local government, and so they did.

I am not attempting to justify other acts of charity that the federal government has engaged in over the centuries. I am saying that the story "Not Yours to Give" is a poor way to make a point against such charity. Anyone who bothers to think for themselves and reviews the historical evidence will likely come to the same conclusion.

If you think otherwise, I would love to see an explanation of why.
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post #10 of 14 Old Feb 11th, 2008, 9:32 am
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Aside from the legality of using Government funds for public charity, I personally believe our Government has an obligation to provide for our society in times of need, i.e. Hurricane Katrina. I also believe there is an obligation to provide a social net to help someone during difficult times such as a disability or temporary unemployment.
However, I have a real problem with our Government giving our money away to Russia, Israel, Korea, China etc. etc. etc. It's our society that should be provided for, not the rest of the world. It's appalling the way that Billions of dollars every year are just given away as if it's our obligation to do so. And this is without getting into the argument (s) of the harm our money does to other people, who are not being propped up by our financial support a la the Israeli / Palestinian debacle.
It's especially bothersome that it's done while so many of our own people are either living in poverty, or just as bad, being held under a glass ceiling because they have to work instead of being able to attend or afford college to further themselves.
It's also terrifying to stop and think about things such as the "budget" that GWB just submitted this year. To think that we have a 3 TRILLION dollar budget, with a 400 BILLION dollar deficit and yet we continue to give money away?

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post #11 of 14 Old Feb 11th, 2008, 12:51 pm Thread Starter
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How Long Do We Have?

About the time our original thirteen states adopted their new constitution in 1787, Alexander Tyler, a Scottish history professor at the University of Edinburgh , had this to say about the fall of the Athenian Republic some 2,000 years earlier:

'A democracy is always temporary in nature; it simply cannot exist as a permanent form of government.'

'A democracy will continue to exist up until the time that voters discover they can vote themselves generous gifts from the public treasury.'

'From that moment on, the majority always vote for the candidates who promise the most benefits from the public treasury, with the result that every democracy will finally collapse due to loose fiscal policy, which is always followed by a dictatorship.'

'The average age of the world's greatest civilizations from the beginning of history, has been about 200 years'

'During those 200 years, those nations always progressed through the following sequence:

1. From bondage to spiritual faith;

2. From spiritual faith to great courage;

3. From courage to liberty;

4. From liberty to abundance;

5. From abundance to complacency;

6. From complacency to apathy;

7. From apathy to dependence ;

8. From dependence back into bondage'

-------------------------------------------------------

I have received this in many forms over the last couple of years and still find it interesting reading. I can see a logic to these statements along with the implied meaning of the 'Crockett' story. And no, I don't think Bush is responsible for our problems anymore than Clinton - the congress alone taxes us and spends our money - they (as a group - but never individually) are the problem.

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There you go again, confusing the issue with facts and verification.

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post #14 of 14 Old Feb 11th, 2008, 2:09 pm
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Originally Posted by meese
There you go again, confusing the issue with facts and verification.

But I'd say we're about a 6.6 on the Tytler scale.
Well to be fair, it's an awfully tough time to be a Republican. Bush's approval ratings have sunk an all-time low (even lower than Nixon) and the current front runner is unacceptable to the base.

So I guess it's understandable that distortions are needed to paint the world the desired rosey red.
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