Ron Paul interviews Ivan Eland on Recarving Rushmore

Show: After Words
Channel: C-SPAN2
Book: Recarving Rushmore
Event date: 2/3/2009
Latest airing: 4/4/2009
Next airing: 4/12/2009 12:00 PM


Ron Paul: Hi there, Ivan. Nice to be with you here today.

Ivan Eland: Nice to be with you too.

Ron Paul: Good. I understand you have a new block “Recarving Rushmore
“. Sounds like it might not be politically correct. I mean, what does this title mean? And where did you come up with this? Does this mean that you do not like the artist and the sculpturists who did this work and you want to climb up there and redo it? Or, there is something else to this title?

Ivan Eland: Well, there is something else to it. I had one person that asked me if I really was advocating, you know, ruining the sculpture. And I said, no. It’s a work of art, it’s cherished by a lot of people, but I did think it’s sort of a metaphor for maybe we should redo our thinking on this, on whether this is a pantheon of American presidential heroes, and some of these people up there are legitimate American heroes. But whether they were good presidents is another question. That’s what my book addresses and in 3 out of the 4 cases of the people up there, I think we should reconsider them.

It doesn’t mean that we need to be unpatriotic or whatever, because some of these people had the best of intentions and some of them had great accomplishments outside of being president. But I think we get a little too much into hero worship. We don’t do enough analysis on what some of the people did in office.

Ron Paul: But we’ve already been taught, we’ve been through school and many of us went through public school and we know who the five greatest presidents are, you know, and they’re up there, some of them up on Mount Rushmore for years. So, you’re saying then that maybe the conventional wisdom of our public school system may not be exactly correct, from your viewpoint?

Ivan Eland: Yeah, well I think you are referring to the people up there, Washington, Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt, Lincoln plus the fifth one, F.D.R. who came along and wasn’t in time for the monument. But you’re right, I think those are probably the five presidents you are referring to when you say that. But I think, yes, a lot of the things in history books are for high school. In college history books they sort of paint a broad brush approach and they don’t get into some of the specifics and they also don’t ask the questions “could they have adopted other policies that would have been better to get to their goal?”.

I think historians make several mistakes or have biases and the first one is that they kind of tend to pay too much attention to charisma. Teddy Roosevelt is an example of why I think he has been overrated. His predecessor, William McKinley, was a much more important president, but he was kind of bland. Of course, Theodore Roosevelt was a big game hunter, he was an actual cowboy, he was a war hero. You know, he was a macho character and people loved him at the time.

And the second bias that I think historians have is that they favor activism in presidents, they like bold leaders. The problem is that over the course of our country’s history, the presidency has become way more powerful than the founders had intended it, as you probably aware as you’re in Congress. Article 1 of the constitution is the Congress and they’re given many more detailed powers and the executive was originally conceived for executing the Congress’s will, executing the laws as they were passed.

But we have this activist mentality, and of course, our presidency has gone from an imperial presidency to maybe even a hyper imperial presidency now. I think the third bias that historians have is that they tend to overrate presidents that have served in times of crises or war. Even if they contributed to the crisis, they didn’t prevent it, they made it worse or they just completely… just because they were presidents during that time.

Ron Paul: And I think one other president usually put it in that category through our conventional educational system as being one of the greatest if not the greatest was Woodrow Wilson. I think he fits that category. He was a war time president and a lot more power was accumulated in the executive branch during that time. You mentioned what the criteria have been in the past for picking great presidents. But what exactly did you use? Did you pick out several criteria that you used in your evaluation of each president? What are those characteristics that you used?

Ivan Eland: Well, I don’t believe we can maintain a value neutral positions. Policies do matter. Some policies are better than others. Historians sometimes tend to measure effectiveness. That is, how effective was the president in getting what he wanted done, done, right? And you could say that James Polk or George Bush of Lyndon Johnson were all very effective presidents. But were they successful? I rate presidents on policies and all three of those presidents, I think, had problems with the policies that they enacted or promulgated.

So, I rate the presidents on whether their policies promoted peace, prosperity and liberty, which I think liberals, conservatives, moderates, libertarians, greens, whoever, would say that those are laudable goals. We can all probably agree on those. All those types of people would disagree about how to get there, but those are the goals we would like to see, right? And I also rated on the basis of whether the presidents upheld the original founders’ intent of the constitution, meaning a limited role for the executive or restraining themselves, not expanding the presidency too much and staying within the constitution as the founders had originally intended it to be which was limited government, a restrained executive and a restrained foreign policy.

Ron Paul: So, if a president has certain beliefs and goals, and they are successful, then being successful does not do as much good. It’s a detriment to us if their goal is to promote war and expand the government and have more programs, that obviously could be a surprise to us about the outcome.

Ivan Eland: And if you take the historians, the historians’ effectiveness criterion seem to be a good way to evaluate presidents on its face. If you delve down and you go to the extreme, if Lenin and Mao were presidents of the United States, they were very effective presidents, but not too many people would say that they were successful leaders since they slaughtered a lot of their people and enslaved millions of people. That is the extreme case but I’m just saying we have to be careful if a president can be effective without being successful.

Ron Paul: I sure that before you started the research for this, you had your suspicions about, well, you know how this might come out. Who might not have been as great as you would have thought he had been. But what was your biggest surprise in this whole research that you have done as far as somebody being much greater or a lot less great than you had anticipated. Is there one particular surprise that you consider the greatest surprise you’ve got?

Ivan Eland: Well, I think Thomas Jefferson was, and the reason for that is he was a great American. Clearly, he was for liberty and the Declaration of Independence is a timeless piece of work which has inspired people in other countries to shake off tyranny. He also wrote a lot on religious freedom and that sort of thing. He is a towering intellect. But, I think when he got to be president, one of the drawbacks of Thomas Jefferson was that he was sometimes a little hypocritical on things that he did and his draconian embargo in the second term of cutting off all trade and if that wasn’t bad enough, we came to a near state of martial law to impose this embargo. And he actually prosecuted more people for sedition than John Adams did under the Alien and Sedition Act which, of course, Thomas Jefferson didn’t like.

There are other policies that Jefferson propagated. Now, he was fiscally responsible, and I would give him credit for that, but I think that was a big surprise because rhetorically he was probably the greatest champion of liberty in American history. I think he should definitely be in the great Americans category, but I think he fell down a little bit on the presidential slates simply because he made the presidency much more powerful than the constitutional framers would have liked. And also I think he usurped some of the power that should have been in Congress […].

Ron Paul: And you know a lot us who think along the lines of a strict interpretation of the constitution and less intervention overseas militarily, of course, Jefferson has been held high because of the writing of the Declaration of Independence and being a great founding father. How did you rate what he did when it came to what happened in the Mediterranean with the Barbary pirates. To me, what is amazing about that is not only the question of was it was the proper thing for us to do, but don’t you think that it was pretty amazing that even back then a new country picked up a navy and went that far. This to me is a pretty amazing geographic thing to do. But how did you rate that particular policy of him being involved, was the protection of the high seas really the whole issue there, or was that a negative for him?

Ivan Eland: Well, I think it has it has pluses and minuses, I mean, compared to modern presidents he was a saint as far as taking defensive action only until he got a declaration of war and then moving into an offensive mode. So at least he followed that to a great extent. Most modern presidents haven’t gotten the declaration of war and I think that’s important. Of course, about the Barbary pirates he seemed to be more… this had been happening for a long time and so one can question whether it really needed to be done or not.

He was defending commerce, taking defensive action, but in all these things one wonders if the businessmen shouldn’t assume more of the risk overseas for international trade. But as far as interventions in American history, it was somewhat restrained compared to what modern presidents do. They just send their forces oversees, especially in a small thing like that, without getting a congressional declaration of war or any sort of congressional approval at all. And they think they have a right to do that under the constitution. I think the founders would absolutely pass out at something like that.

Ron Paul: I think that is true. As I recall, Jefferson went frequently to the Congress. It wasn’t like once or twice. It was on numerous times. Anytime he took an action, either he got the permission or explained it to the Congress. He really recognized that Congress was in charge, and so often in our constitution is interpreted that it is the president who is in charge of foreign policy. It doesn’t say that. There are no words ‘foreign policy’ in there. So much of this responsibility is with the Congress. I think Jefferson did recognize that even though there is some debate on whether we actually should have gone so far.

You know, we talked a little bit about those presidents that were considered the great presidents and had more power in office during war time. But what about a minor president? In your book you mentioned some names that may not even be recognized by a lot of people. People would say, “Oh, we don’t even know about him”. But you actually rated them pretty high. Explain that, along with your criteria why somebody that is not well known… maybe we should reconsider. Maybe that is the kind of president we need. Maybe they really were great presidents.

Ivan Eland: Well, I rate my top five as follows… just to go over them: John Tyler, Grover Cleveland, Martin Van Buren, Rutherford B. Hayes and Chester Arthur. Now some of them are Democrats and some are Republicans and some are Whigs. So, I don’t think great presidents can really be identified by parties. We’ve had good presidents and bad presidents even on my criteria from both parties. The reason I rate these people highly is because they were for limited government, for a restrained executive branch and also for a restrained foreign policy. What I mean by “restrained foreign policy”… John Tyler avoided several wars that he could have gotten into. He ended the longest Indian war that the U.S. had ever had by compromising with the Indians. One of the few times in American history that that was done. Glover Cleveland, of course, was also for limited government. He believed that the president should be the executer of the laws passed by Congress. And they wanted him to propose legislation one time. And he said, “I’m not here to legislate, I’m here for being executive”. So I think Grover Cleveland was an example of that.

And I rated Martin van Buren down at number 3 because he had poor policies against native American. But he did put in the best banking system that the U.S. probably ever had. It was a free market oriented banking system. He should be given a lot of credit for his financial system. That’s an area of interest of yours. You probably know more about that than I do.

Also, when the recession came, he was more for letting the free market realign and re-equilibrate (if that’s a word) the market, bring it back to equilibrium rather than doing what Hoover and Roosevelt did, which was making a mundane recession into a great depression. So I think that’s why I rated those five… limited government, restrained executive, and very importantly, restrained foreign policy. Because I think many people, specially modern day conservatives, don’t realize, or they may realize but it just doesn’t seem to come home to many of them, not all of them of course, but many of them, that you need peace to have small government. Even domestic spending historically has risen during wartime and the government gets involved more into the economy during wartime.

Ron Paul: I was glad to see that Grover Cleveland did well because I have a picture of Glover Cleveland in my office, and I have very few pictures in my office. I do have a picture of Jefferson, but other than that that I have no presidents’ pictures in my office. There was a quote from Grover Cleveland that says, “of what value is it if you win an election or get reelected and you don’t stand for something”. So to me he has always been a great president. Now I am beginning to wonder I might have to go back and get a picture of Tyler and put Tyler in my office as well. But, Glover Cleveland was at the end of the 19th century and we were ushering in the 20th century and I think you picked that period of time as a significant change in our history and what has happened. Could you tell me what that transition is? Maybe from Glover Cleveland being one of the last presidents who had some concern about limited government, the constitution, sound money and that sort of representative, unfortunately, the past that we don’t need. and then what did you see being ushered in after the Grover Cleveland era?

Ivan Eland: Well, I think the Spanish-American war was a watershed in American history. It was a small war but it had great implications and U.S. Grant and Grover Cleveland and avoided a war with spain over Cuba. But, of course, William McKinley didn’t avoid that war and he capitalized on that. I think he was such a significant president more so than his successor, Teddy Roosevelt, was that he brought in a… he had this reputation of being a conservative Republican, but actually he would be the first modern president, I think. He concentrated power in the White House during the Spanish-American war, and of course, all this activism bled over into Roosevelt’s term, finishing up after McKinley had been assassinated and then getting his own term, and of course, from then on we have Wilson who got us into World War I and took over the entire economy. And World War I was probably the most important event of the 20th century and Wilson not only got us into that war, probably unnecessarily, but also really took over the economy the first time. Even during the civil war the economy wasn’t completely mobilized for wartime production, and so I think these wars, the Spanish-American war and World War I, which of course, happened right after Grover Cleveland, created a sea change of government activism. And so, this is an example where the warfare state leads to the welfare state.

And so I think McKenly and the Spanish-American war were critical, and as you mentioned before, Wilson and World War I were critical because then when the Great Depression happened, FDR brought back a lot of the agencies during wartime for peace time. And he even brought back some of the people and renamed them. So we saw the wartime World War I activism going into the Great Depression, and of course we got into World War II and again the World War I motto was used, we essentially nationalized the economy or coming close to that for the war.

Ron Paul: And I think you rate Wilson at the bottom.

Ivan Eland: Dead last.

Ron Paul: I couldn’t agree more with that because I have always considered him to be the disaster, not only because of the polices you just suggested, but the long term consequences. When you think of World War I, what if it is true that those of us who believe that it was not necessary for us to go into World War I. Just think of the consequences of setting the stage of this power in the presidency and then Roosevelt using the same type of power. But what about the Versailles Treaty and all those consequences? Some people could argue, you know, it changed the whole 20th century and that not only did we have more war and killing, but a lot less freedom in this country.

Ivan Eland: Well, I think the problem with warfare is that people don’t realize that it perverts your republic at home by making the executive too powerful. The rule of law is kind of destroyed because, as we have seen recently, the president will say, ‘I don’t have to follow the congressionally passed laws during wartime’. There is […] executive power in a big way. I think Woodrow Wilson did several things…

At the Versailles treaty his main goal was to get the League of Nations, so what he did was he traded off to the British and French, who wanted heavy reparations against the Germans. He said, “Okay, I’ll give you those reparations, but I want this League of Nations”.

Of course, the Leagues of Nations ended up being a feckless organization that eventually went belly up. And of course, the British and French really put the screws to the Germans which aggravated their plight during the Great Depression. They had hyperinflation and all that sort of thing. Also, Wilson demanded the abdication of the Kaiser after the war, and that was very key, because Hitler would have never have gotten the top position if the king had still been in power in Germany.

So, I think you can say that Wilson at least contributed to the rise of Hitler in World War II by World War I. he also contributed to the Bolshevik revolution, and that’s not known by many people, but Wilson and the allies were desperate to keep the Russians in World War I, and the Russians had taken huge amounts of casualties, the war was very unpopular. The only party in Russia that was against the war was the Bolsheviks. So the fact that they kept Russian provisional government in the war led to the Bolsheviks’ rise, and then of course, Wilson aggravated this by invading Russia. Many people don’t remember that episode and, of course, not only did the Bolsheviks come to power, which was a disaster for Russia and eventually led to the cold war and everything else. Of course, the Bolvolsiks were in a bad mood towards the U.S. because we had belatedly tried to help the white Russian forces against the red Russian forces, and so, of course, that failed, because it was a sort of a half-hearted attempt.

So Wilson did all these things. After World War I his popularity was really in the tank, everyone didn’t like him. But this is an example where we see history through modern eyes, because Woodrow Wilson has been rehabilitated by many people nowadays, because the Wilsonian foreign policy has been adopted by many people in both parties.

Ron Paul: You know, when you look at all the presidents and you come up with these lists of the good and the bad presidents from this viewpoint that you have used, do you see the division then, that there were many better presidents in the 19th century and more poor presidents in the 20th century? Does it break down that easily? Or is it …

Ivan Eland: That’s a good generalization and I think there were exceptions. But you have to take a president when he was president. For instance, if Barack Obama had the inclination, which it doesn’t look like he does, to come in and say, “hey let us reduce the government”. He could say that, but you just can’t get rid of the government tomorrow, we can’t expect him to do that. I am sure you are aware of that.

Ron Paul: Conditions are much tougher.

Ivan Eland: Right. So, I think you have to take a president during his time period. And certainly you have a much bigger government than the founders intended, it’s almost a third of the economy. Well, the federal government was less than 5% up until even after the turn of the 20th century, about 1900 or so. So the government has expanded in huge amounts, so we have to take modern presidents. But even if you allow for the fact that the government is big and current presidents or modern presidents can only do so much about it, I think you can say that the 19th century presidents were better in general than the modern ones.

Ron Paul: And some may respond and say, “What are you talking about?”, because we have Ronald Reagan and he was for shrinking the size of the government. And according to these categories, he should be at the top of your list and, of course, we had another president. As a matter of fact, I think Reagan might have even mentioned his name on occasion: Calvin Coolidge. Now, there’s two presidents… how did they come out in this rating system? Does Reagan come out pretty well?

Ivan Eland: Well, Coolidge comes out fairly well because I think he wasn’t as good as Harding, because he was a kind of a mixture of… there was Harding, Coolidge and Hoover and Harding was very good as far as fiscal things go. He’s downgraded because of his scandals, but I think the scandals were overrated. But Coolidge is kind of a mixture of Harding and Hoover and of course, Hoover would go into the progressive Republicans, which I think is relevant to today. He is rated fairly low. He is like a Bush-like character.

As far as Reagan goes, I think there was a lot of rhetoric there, and he may have had good intentions, but he doubled the size of the federal government while he was president. And federal spending as a proportion of GDP actually went up. So, I think he offered tax cuts and sometimes we see presidents offer tax cuts. But if you don’t cut spending, it’s largely a fake tax cut. You either have to raise taxes which he did later on, but not quite as much as he cut them, or you have to borrow money and run a deficit, or you have to print money, which is the worst.

As Ronald Reagan would have said himself, “there ain’t no free lunch there”. So he, unfortunately, had a fairly poor record on spending and the two presidents who surprised me, with whom the government spending as a proportion of GDP actually went down, are Clinton and Carter. Eisenhower was in third place and he held it level. But, Ronald Reagan, George Bush, George W. Bush didn’t have that good a record in that area.

Now, Ronald Reagan did some good things, he negotiated with the Soviets despite all his rhetoric. That “tear down this wall” speech was to give him cover to get arms control agreements, and he had very good intentions on that front, so I think it’s a mixed record for Reagan.

Ron Paul: Yeah, but at the same time there were things that he did militarily. You know, there was bombing in Libya, and there were things in Central America and different things like that which you probably would have written about. But we still have those who consider themselves limited government people in the neo-conservative moment who say, “we love that stuff”. You should rate him…

Ivan Eland: If I would rate him on the basis of neo-conservatism, I would give him a higher rating for spending domestically and for getting involved in that sort of overseas thing. I think one of the problems Ford and Carter had were the least interventionist of the modern presidents since they came after Vietnam. And I think Reagan started ramping up again. He did the Granada invasion, probably to some extent to cover up marine bombing in Lebanon. He then withdrew from Lebanon, and he tried to cover his retreat by bombing somebody else.

That may not have been the total reason he did it, but they happened at the same time, or roughly the same time. And also, of course, he went after Libya and actually made Libya to increase its terrorism contrary to popular belief if you look at historical records. And of course, he ramped up the mujahedin funding. Carter had actually started that, which was a mistake, I think, and Reagan vastly expanded it. Carter wanted to give the Soviets another Vietnam. So he was willing to throw a little money in there to give the Soviets problems. Ronald Reagan decided he wanted to win that war, and he really escalated that.

Ron Paul: […] Whether it was Afghanistan, what we were doing there, as well as in Nicaragua, a lot of that was down on the Q.T. Wasn’t quite like Jefferson…

Ivan Eland: And of course, we haven’t talked about the big thing. The problem was Iran. And I think that was a bigger problem than Watergate, because he circumvented secretly Congress’s biggest remaining power and that’s to fund federal activates. He took money, inflated the prices of weapons that were used to selling to a state sponsor of terrorism, and he transferred them illicitly and secretly, and in contravention of the […] agreement which the Congress had passed. So, he violated one of the central tenants of the constitution, and that is that the Congress is supposed to fund federal activities and approve of them.

That exceeds, I think, even the abuses of power by Nixon in Watergate. The only reason I think Reagan wasn’t impeached for that was because his own attorney general, they decided to come out with it themselves rather than letting the press do it.

Ron Paul: We need to take a break and we’ll be back in just a moment.

Ivan, I wanted to follow up and ask you another question about Herbert Hoover, because so often many Americans have been taught that one of the problems that caused the Depression was Herbert Hoover because he was a laissez-faire capitalist, gold standard and that’s why we had the Great Depression. But in your rating you rated him not so high. Was it because he was a lot more interventionist and was not a laissez-faire capitalist?

Ivan Eland: Well, he never was a laissez-faire capitalist. He was what was called a progressive Republican. I downgraded him not for doing nothing, but for doing too much, and most people would say, “you know, compared to FDR he didn’t do very much”. I say, “Yes, that’s true but he set a lot of bad precedents for FDR”.

And I think one of the things he did which is relevant to the present… unfortunately I think we have a comparable situation with the Bush-Obama handover because basically what happened in Hoover’s time was that he flooded the market with excess credit and he put even more credit involved. He loosened the foreign exchange requirements for the Fed and made them able to lend more into the economy. He also gave loans to various interest groups like farmers, railroads, home owners, financial institutions and, of course, he also did public work. He started the public works bandwagon going, which of course, FDR picked up.

It’s interesting because neither Hoover or FDR really thought in their hearts that the public works were going to work. But they had to do something.

Ron Paul: That’s what’s happening today.

Ivan Eland: Right, exactly. So they did a lot of infrastructure projects and that sort of thing. And of course, the problem now, as it always is, is that the money has to come from somewhere. People just say “the government is putting a lot of money into the economy”. Well, either the government is taking out money from the economy from the taxpayer, who can spend it more efficiently than the government ever can, or they are borrowing money and running up big deficits, or they are actually printing money.

So, I think we have a comparable situation here were the government is trying to sort of trick people into believing that there is no recession, and that’s exactly what Hoover did. He tried to draw-bone business to hold wages and employment constant, and you can’t hold both of them as constant, right? One of them has to bear it. And he also wanted businessmen to pledge to increase their investments when demand for their products was going down. So why would you build a new factory logically, if the demand for your product is going down?

So, of course, what happens is instead of letting the market recalibrate the economy as it always had done before, Hoover tried to soften the blow, or trick people into saying, “Well, you know, we can get out of this. The government is going to help us”. Well, what happened was FDR followed all these precedents. So it was really Hoover that set the precedents, but then FDR came in with gangbusters and continued them all.

Ron Paul: You know, the jawboning certainly was there, but they also passed some laws that made no sense whatsoever because they believed that if the farmers only had good income it would revive the economy. So they wanted the farmers to make profits. They said, “what we need is the farmer getting more money for their crops”. Well, we have supply and demand, and if we have less supply the price will go up and the farmer is going to make more money. So what is the policy, compulsive laws that said you had to plough the crops. And the people starving in the streets and then our government comes in and says “if you plough your crops and if we make the farmers rich then everybody else is going to get rich”.

In some ways I think that is similar to what we are doing today. We have 19 million houses that are empty. So what does out government do? They’re trying to build more houses and keep the prices up. Too often I see similarities between some of the fallacies that we practiced back there with Hoover and Roosevelt coming about today.

Ivan Eland: Well, there is only so much economic activity and if the government is in there competing with the private sector… That’s another problem that FDR had was that he created the Tennessee Valley Authority and the Rural Electrification Administration, and this was competing with private utilities and, of course, the government had tremendous advantages because they had tax-free status. And as you pointed out, they passed a restrictive law making it hard for private utilities to raise capital. So of course, the government’s competing but the government can set the rules of the competition. So that’s not very fair, and there is only so much economic activity that is going to happen and the government is taking it all over and is an opportunity cost that is not in the private sector. The private sector usually does a much better and more efficient job at these things than the government does.

Ron Paul: Which was the last president you evaluated?

Ivan Eland: George W. Bush.

Ron Paul: George W? Okay. You mentioned earlier that you have good presidents and bad presidents in both parties, they shared. But what about currently, during the last 10 to 15 years? Is there a distinction between the two parties? If you and I were to look at the two parties, the Republicans and the Democrats, could we sort it out and say, “Well, we know which one to pick because definitely this party is talking more about peace, more about prosperity and more about liberty”. Or is it too much of a mixed bag to become more partisan in what you are talking about.

Ivan Eland: Well, I think the partisanship does have one silver lining in that the amount of legislation since 1993 has gone down. And if you think that, you know, that a lot of stuff is bad, I guess that’s a positive thing. But as far as the presidents go, you can’t really tell, it’s a mixed bag. Both parties are big government parties I think now. At least most of the people in the party… and the Republicans, of course, would be shocked at that. But, George Bush spent more money than any other president since Lyndon Johnson and he compared himself to Ronald Reagan a lot. But really, the model guns and butter is LBJ. I think the one thing that is even worse than LBJ’s time is that LBJ could raise taxes because the economy was doing well. The economy is not doing well now, and so certainly Bush was not a conservative on spending. In fact, he is very liberal on spending.

And, of course, in the last 10 or 15 years we had Clinton, and in some cases Clinton was more conservative than Bush was in terms of trade, in terms of welfare reform and certainly in terms of spending. Now of course, the Republicans, I think, do better when they are out of power and I think they’re acting as a restraining force on this stimulus bill. Of course, they are going to go along with it. But I think when they are not in power, that is to say they don’t have the presidency, they do better in restraining the presidency, because when Clinton was president, Clinton was actually for deficit reduction before the Republicans took over in Congress. But they gave him a big boost, Gingrich and those people gave him a big boost in going through that. And now I think that was a valuable thing to do.

Ron Paul: You said that we’ve had the least legislation since 1993, is that correct?

Ivan Eland: Yea, they’ve been fewer bills passed because of the bipartisan…

Ron Paul: Fewer bills. But for some reason that doesn’t really reassure me. I don’t feel better because you are saying that.

Ivan Eland: Of course, it depends on what you pass.

Ron Paul: Because when you think about it, it might be a strong negative, because maybe there is more reliance on the federal register, just writing regulations by the federal government. Maybe there are more court rulings that become legislative in fact, maybe there is more executive orders and it just maybe that the government is so out of control, and Congress is just missing the boat.

What I am thinking about right now is, you know, we have this economic crisis going on and Congress is involved and they look real important, but in some ways they might even be token. Even if it’s 800 billion dollars at a clip, that might be token compared to, say, what the Federal Reserve might be doing, you know, spending 2 or 3 or 4 trillion dollars and buying up assets and doing all these things. It seems like the actual pieces of legislation might not be relevant and that might be a real danger sign rather than us being reassured.

Ivan Eland: Well, you have a point there. It’s only one measure of what is going on and you don’t know what was passed and you don’t know what the bureaucracy, because in many respects we sort of resemble Japan where we have a bureaucracy that is just sort of governing and the politicians are running around posturing, but the bureaucracy what they are doing. But I think you are right, the Federal Reserve has really gotten into areas that it didn’t traditionally get into and this has been, you know, ever since the Federal Reserve was created it’s expanded its reach into the banking system and I think, of course, you are very knowledgeable about that area so I won’t attempt to compete with you. But I think that my opinion is that the Federal Reserve was probably […] to hundreds we have been we had a banking system up until that time which was more free market.

Ron Paul: The Federal Reserve has no supervision. They do not have to be audited. We do not have any right to know what they are doing. And right now Congress is considering giving them more regulatory power. They say they need more regulations, they’re blaming the lack of regulations as the cause of our crisis, and so the Fed needs even more power. Let me ask you one question…

Ivan Eland: I think it’s important. This idea that we have too little regulation… I think if we go back in history… let’s look at the history of this. One of the problems started when FDR did the bank holiday in 1933 and he also insured deposits with FDIC and said, “well isn’t that a good idea?”. Well, the problem in doing that is those are sort of subsidies to the banking industry, and it also told the banking industry that you are not […] over regulation.

If you have a private bank and they’re working with their own money, they work with the incentives that the government gives them and the playing field that the government provides. If I’m working with my own money, I’m not going to go out and make a bunch of risky loans unless I have a lot of money and I don’t care if I lose a little part of it. But normally businessmen don’t do that. The problem is when we come to the Federal Reserve, the government can do risky things and everyone assumes, “we don’t have to monitor them, they’re the government”… but the bureaucracy has their own interests and they are not governed by the markets.

So what is the deduction? You have to pay capital gains on your house, which Clinton put in. You have to pay it on stocks and everything. They kept interest rates low. They have the Fannie Mae and the Freddie Mac out there giving loans to people who can’t afford to buy houses. That’s the mission of the plan. Well, what are you going to have? You’re going to have a housing bubble, right? So I think it’s really a mistake to blame this on overregulation [underregulation?]. We got to go back and look at, as I said… if businessmen are bankers are using their own money, there’s a built-in market incentive that you don’t want to lose that money. You want to make money.

Ron Paul: You more or less have concluded that certainly in the 20th century we are having more and more power delivered to the executive branch of government and presidents actually get benefits in their conventional ratings. A powerful president involved in war and other such things, gets to be known as a great president.

Why do you think this has happened? Why do we have an executive branch that is just unbelievably large, and nothing I believe the founders had ever dreamed would happen? Does it happen because we get bad men in office who say, “Hey, you know, I love power, and I want to do this and I want to …” regardless of the motivation they do it and they grab the power? Or does it come from the people who say, “give me a king?. Do the people come and say, “I can’t take care of myself, I need the government, I need the president to have this power. Yes, the president will take care of us”. The post 9-11 atmosphere was like “yes, the president will make us safe, the president will provide for the safety net”.

Which one you think is the most powerful? The individual president who wants this power and takes it and usurps it from the legislative branch, or is it the people who demand it and push us in this direction?

Ivan Eland: Well, I think what we have is a series of crises over American history. And really it is the mindset of the people, because in the 1800s the idea that the government would come and bail people out and make the economy right was foreign. In fact, people said, “we don’t want the government in there, they will make it worse”.

But now we got a series of wars, the Spanish-American war, World War I, the Depression, World War II. We got all these crises, and of course, the politicians, particularly presidents, they do usurp power. But I think also the national fabric has changed, that we’ve relied too much on the government and the people rely too much on the government. Like in this crisis, you have even conservative economists like Martin Feldstein who are supporting this massive program. They want to adjust it on the margins. So, that’s an indicator that the population, I think, even many conservatives, they are uncomfortable with this, but they feel it needs to be done.

And so, it’s the popular mentality, but it’s also the presidents taking advantage of a crisis. Because I think most people when they are president… even like Jefferson is the extreme. He was for individual liberty and at certain points he fought for individual liberty. And when he got to be president, he liked the activist role and so…. but the founders realized this. They made three branches of government and I think part of is that the Congress is less willing than it was before to challenge the president.

If he’s in your party then you go along with him, if he’s not then you fight him, but really, there are few people in Congress any more that stick up for the institution which is what the founders thought. So I think the Congress has delegated a lot of this power and they could get it back if they wanted to.

Ron Paul: It seems to me that we as a nation have lost our confidence. Confidence in ourselves, confidence in our traditions, confidence in our constitution. Really, confidence that freedom really works if we allow it to. And we become, you know, so dependent.

What do you foresee? You know, you talk about peace and prosperity and liberty, and it seems like things are all mixed up. If you look at the two parties you might have one party that’s a little bit better on peace. They might say, “well we shouldn’t be doing so much overseas” and they might also say, “we should have less government meddling in our lives, we don’t need an executive branch with so much authority to police our lives and invade our bedrooms and invade every private activity that we have and have total surveillance”. And then you have the other party that will be better on the economic issues, but it seems like the American people come up losing either way. Do you see a division has occurred over the last 100 years where we don’t put this together and get an individual that might defend the philosophy that would defend peace, which would lead to prosperity and also lead to personal liberty?

Ivan Eland: Well, I think in the 19th century the Republicans were the party of big government and the Democrats were the party of small government. But Woodrow Wilson, I think, changed the Democratic Party into the party of big government, and so we have two big government parties and the differences that you are alluding to, I think, are there. But I think they’re at the margins. I think we have two big government parties who are interventionist in the domestic scene and they are also interventionist overseas. Now there may be variations on that, but I think even the Republicans on the economics went along with George Bush’s spending and many other regulations that he put in.

I think the Republicans are probably marginally better in the free market side, and the Democrats, at least right now, are more marginally better on the peace and the civil liberties side. But I think it’s all at the margins. We’ve got these two interventionist parties and, unfortunately, I think the main thing that we have to do is educate the people about the history of the United States and the fact that this wasn’t always the case. And so, we need to get back to the founders’ original vision, or at least, move towards that way. We’ve gotten so far away from it, it will take time to move it back there. But I think one of the key things is to educate the conservatives that war leads to big government, and I think we need to educate the liberals that a lot of these interventions overseas for humanitarian reasons… we can do other things besides sending the marines that a lot of these interventions really don’t do.

Well, first of all, they are done disingenuously by whatever president is in power for his own other goals, and he dresses it up as humanitarian, change, or expanding democracy. But a lot of these are sort of sham interventions and, plus, they don’t usually have their desired effect anyway.

Ron Paul: Of course, the message I sort of get from this could be pretty pessimistic, because I think you accurately describe two parties that are big government people, therefore, where are the people going to go who believe in less if the two parties, and sometimes the argument only is, “Well, I’m going to vote for him because he is little less bad than the other person”. But could we look for a little bit of optimism and say, “Well, there’s still lot of people out there that might understand this and they don’t know exactly what to do”, and they’ll say, “well, you know some people get so frustrated and make an intellectual decision not even to register to vote, because they don’t see much benefit coming from it.

And then not everybody that registers actually turns up to vote. There is not a large percentage of people who vote. Might be between 25% to 30% of the people actually elect a president. So, there are a lot of people out there that I think wished for more. Do you end up being totally pessimistic about this, or what do you see on the signs of optimism? Do you see any hope that we will move in this direction of wanting a government based on these principles that you talk about, and maybe someday even electing a president on those terms?

Ivan Eland: Well, I think the public is going to have to do it first. People get the government that they deserve. I live in Washington DC, but I go back to my home state of Iowa quite frequently. People always ask, “When are you going to fix the mess in Washington?” and I say, “Well, I don’t really have any power to fix the mess in Washington, you have to do it”. And they say, “Oh yea, I guess we do”. But they don’t really know how to go about doing it.

So I think there’s lot of frustrated people out there in both political parties and surprisingly there’s a faction of both political parties that would probably agree with the suspicion of government both domestically and overseas, and I think if a person came along that could capture that, they could get some votes. Unfortunately, the system is set up so that we have these two broad parties and everyone seems to be dissatisfied with the nominee that we get because that nominee has to be all things to all people in their own party, so then we get two, sort of generic, nominees, and then we have to pick the least evil of the two, or the least objectionable of the two. I don’t want to say “evil” because most of these people probably have good intentions, but I just don’t think oftentimes they pursue good policies.

But I think there is always hope if you educate people and my books is really trying to say that maybe we should try to reevaluate our history a bit and get back to the founder’s original vision of what the country should be and educate people on what that is, because you know, people like to be patriotic. They go on 4th of July to activities that are patriotic and that sort of thing. But it’s a very different sort of patriotism… they don’t really know what the founding principles were or they have lost sight of them or they were never taught the principles in their school books. And I think one place to start is the history of the country. Most of the people running today wouldn’t be approved of by the founders according to their vision.

Ron Paul: I think your book is very important and we could boil it down to saying, “How do we measure a great president?” If we measure him for the wrong reasons, this is very detrimental to us. But I wonder, in your travels, in your talking, whether there is a different reception for your book with the young versus the older generation. In the past year or so I have been traveling a lot and talking to a lot of people and it seems like the young people are very open minded and may be more willing to look at that. Have you seen any difference between age groups of those individuals that might be interested I what you are talking about?

Ivan Eland: Absolutely. I think younger people tend to be more open-minded, because they haven’t really found their path, and I find them much more sophisticated than when I was growing up about the founding principles. Because I think we sort of have some lost generations in there who were the victim of the big government teaching in the public schools. But I think one thing that’s really triggering the young people is the Social Security issue, because they look at the government and they see they’re paying into this program and they’re thinking about it. And it really triggers their thinking about other government programs. They ask who does this benefit, because they are paying into the system and they might never see anything come out of it and I think this has caused them to think about other issues.

And that’s the way with anybody, whether young, old or middle-aged. When you find an issue that hits home to you, then you start looking around at other things. So I think the young people are really looking around more.

Ron Paul: I’ve argued that many times individuals vote for their belly, you know, in their self-interest. And I think young people are starting to realize that these promises can’t be met, you know, whether it’s Social Security or peace – that we fight more wars for peace, and they are asking these questions. So, I find this very encouraging, matter of fact, I was very encouraged talking to collage kids and I think it’s the realism now that is setting in, that this place in Washington is a real mess. And I think your book is going to contribute a whole lot to this way of thinking, so I am really pleased with what you have done.

Ivan Eland: Thank you.

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  • mike

    He’s referring to Thomas Jefferson’s presidency. I’m curious what makes you guys say that he was the greatest president? What in his presidential career was particularly great?

  • Thomas Jefferson

    And his claims show his complete ignorance. Jefferson is rated worse than Clinton because at the time of Jefferson it was “normal” to follow the Constitution. And why was there even a good Constitution? BECAUSE OF THOMAS JEFFERSON. Without Jefferson the USA would have been just another totalitarian European style country.

  • Thomas Jefferson

    This sick piece of shit rates Thomas Jefferson the best president of all times at the bottom twenty? Without Thomas Jefferson there would have been no United States of America as we knew it. What a piece of shit.

  • Why not change it to the ORIGINAL founding fathers, the true native americans. Sitting Bull, Red Cloud, Black Elk, Chief Joseph…

  • Ian

    In the 2nd video of this series, Mr. Eland names Martin Van Buren as one of the top 5 presidents in American history because of Van Buren’s limited government policies. This, despite Van Buren’s enforcement of the Trail of Tears, his support of the slave trade during the Amistad incident, and his refusal to protect Latter-day Saints (Mormons) from mob violence. All of this was to maintain electoral votes, which was unsuccessful as he lost the election of 1840. Whatever notoriety Van Buren gained through executive restraint was lost by his unwillingness to protect human life and liberty on American soil.