Ivan W. Parkins


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About Ivan W. Parkins:

Dr. Parkins is a retired professor of Political Science from Central Michigan University.  He received his PhD from the University of Chicago and is a graduate of the United States Naval Academy.  Dr. Parkins served as a naval officer during WWII aboard the battleship Alabama.  He is a recent widower with three daughters, 3 grand children and 2 great grand children.  Dr. Parkins has written extensively, having authored 3 books and a newspaper opinion column for many years. 

Front Page


By Ivan W. Parkins


     How should I greet the start of a new Administration, one for which I did not vote? I hope that it serves America well.

     Here, I am dealing with some general questions regarding presidential leadership and conformity to preconceived rules.  I was prompted in this partly by a WALL STREET JOURNAL lead editorial 1/11/09( President Gulliver's Lawyer - WSJ.com ) pointing to narrowly legalistic views previously expressed by President-elect Obama’s choice for the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel.  The JOURNAL'S editors are right; Dawn Johnsen’s writings do suggest that she is best qualified to be President Gulliver's Lawyer.



By Ivan W. Parkins


     Probably, the greatest difference in economic downturns is that, until quite recently, most people lived almost literally “hand to mouth.”  The cost of basic food and shelter exhausted most of the income of many employed families.  The public’s propensity to spend was not the crux of the problem; how to fill needs was.  Increasingly, now, for those who are employed, much of income goes for discretionary spending.  Common purchases are meals out, larger homes, entertainment, and newer autos or appliances.  One major effect of this is that consumer demand can fluctuate quite suddenly and severely depending upon consumer confidence.  Furthermore consumer confidence is much influenced by the media.


     The panic of the 1930s was based substantially upon unemployment and income losses that threatened the very existence of numerous families.  Now, even a relatively small decline in employment threatens life-styles and industrial/commercial activity levels, but not nearly so large a portion of lives.


     In the 1930s a large portion of Americans were still employed in agriculture or in relatively small and local businesses serving agriculture.  Most farms were small and neither incorporated nor highly mechanized.  The urban-industrial depression followed a decade of declining agricultural prices.  Measured in bushels of wheat or pounds of meat, agricultural implements and chemicals often cost in 1930 two or three times as much as they had a few years earlier.  In too many instances, just the cost of shipping produce to market exceeded radio reports of market prices.


      The American South had a disproportionate share of tenant farmers.  There, especially, depression and desperation tended to be linked.  In fertile portions of the Mid-West (where I grew up) there was more proprietary farming. In most farm communities, including the small towns, people had vegetable gardens, and sometimes chickens or larger livestock.  The local food supply was less severely threatened.  Even so, I recall stopping to speak with a friend one evening and finding the family, three generations, gathered at supper.  Supper for all came from one large bowl of tapioca pudding.


     From the early 1930s, I also remember my father saying that “Mr.C.” was highly regarded locally, because he held many of the local mortgages and he had never been known to foreclose.  Some other personal arrangement could always be made.  Recently, while aiding a family member in a foreclosure problem, I found myself on the phone with a gentleman from India, the ultimate destination of that obligation.


     Although our increasingly huge, organized, diversified, internationally extended, and productive economy is more extensively regulated than ever before it is also less comprehensible, even to well educated citizens.  That, too, increases the likelihood of panic.  And, it implies that any large disruption may prove to be more difficult to remedy than those previously.


     So far, post-WWII economies, American and world-wide, have provided material benefits for larger portions of humanity than ever before.  How to maintain and improve upon that will not soon become a simple problem.

I.W.Parkins 109


By Ivan W. Parkins


     Our best Presidents from Washington and Lincoln through FDR, Reagan, and not excluding G.W.Bush have led, not simply followed, the people, especially in pursuing difficult policies to the best available conclusion.  In many instances, particularly war, the people respond to events first with demands for action, but then tire before an appropriate conclusion can be attained.

      Even President Thomas Jefferson, a narrow constructionist of his own constitutional powers, committed what was probably the greatest assumption of power in our nation’s history.  With little consultation of others he approximately doubled the geographical extent of the United States—through the Louisiana Purchase.  Extra-constitutional, audacious, and extremely expansionist, it was probably the greatest coup any American Chief Executive has ever deserved to count.

      Actually, the opportunity almost tumbled into Jefferson’s hands, and in circumstances that made delay unwise.  Let’s hope that future Presidents will, like Jefferson, not fail to value service to the nation above constitutional ambiguities, personal ideological consistency, or the other proprieties that help to guide our political system in most circumstances.

       How could I include President Bush as one of our best Presidents?  I am contemptuous of many media/public evaluations of sitting Presidents.  Bush succeeded in office a very different personality.  Most of the American public has been aware of  the very messy and minority popular nature of his success.  How many know that Clinton was the last of only three men, all Democrats, who won twice with less than half of the popular votes?

      Beginning with Harry Truman, the best Presidents of my lifetime have been unmercifully harassed by the media, and most have left office in low esteem.  It might be a joke, if less tragic for the country.  Few, if any, ranked lower than Truman in leaving office.  Truman soon after emerged as the unpretentious man who had acted openly and decisively in difficult situations.

     The Roosevelt's, Theodore and Franklin, became especially popular and powerful because of their capacity to “be” news, and to charm much of the news gathering corps.  In T. R’s  time, the daily newspaper was still a young and  expanding medium. FDR  faced greater opposition from printed media, but he had the advantage of radio,  a medium just appearing in most households. 

      Television has now eclipsed its predecessors, and shows some sign of losses to new media. Not only did the Roosevelt's exploit new media to expand executive leadership, they almost define the temporal extent of that phenomenon.  Now, the effect of television has become so great that not only Presidents but a growing variety of their critics become familiar to the public.  And, the job of critic often involves  both much higher pay and less responsibility than that of chief executive. IWParkins109


By Ivan W. Parkins


      The institution of law, i.e. specific and codified rules applying to varied persons and tribes within a particular jurisdiction, arose with the collection of such unrelated persons in cities.  Today, both the laws of the United States and those of each individual state fill several volumes.  They are few and simple compared to the legally enforceable rules handed down by various regulatory agencies.

      One result is frequent conflicts of rules.  Another is that nearly every person who is really active in public affairs is to some extent a rule breaker.  Political enemies, watching closely, can discover and use such violations.  How that plays out is often the result of who can manage the best media campaign for appealing to public opinion and enforcement authorities.

      Two Presidents in recent years have faced major impeachment proceedings.  The one whose prior election was by huge popular margins was forced to resign.  The one who joined two other Democrats as the only persons to win twice without a popular majority either time beat an indictment (on reduced charges) by the House of Representatives, by obtaining for his conviction the vote of a majority, but a smaller one than the constitutionally required two-thirds.

      In both of those cases the Chief Investigative Counsel chosen by the House Judiciary Committee was a Democrat, and both Jerry Zeiffman and David Schippers subsequently published books denouncing as unfair and legally flawed the impeachment proceedings for which they had just investigated.  What does that do for the claim that Congress is the primary defender of American democracy?

      Too many rules, and selective enforcement of them, can negate one of the most fundamental provisions of our Constitution. Bills of attainder, designating individuals for punishment rather than acts to be punished, are forbidden to both the United States and the individual states by Article I, sections 8 and 9.  But, where violations are numerous and only rare individuals are selected for punishment, that principal of justice becomes virtually meaningless.  Such infringement of the principal is especially likely when punishment is inflicted by the public in reaction to media denunciations that can not be reviewed in courts of appeal.




      More than two millenniums ago the Greek philosopher Plato said that a law is a good rule for an average case.  I do not agree with Plato’s solution, but I do approve of executive powers to pardon—even if they, like other enforcement/non-enforcement decisions, are sometimes abused.  I would suggest that those who think differently acquaint themselves with the huge discretion whether or not to enforce that this country grants many prosecutors


     A rule is a rule; is a rule; is a rule.


     But, any such rule


     It apt to become


     The tool of a fool!


     During service in both the Navy and several universities I sometimes observed rules made by superiors that seemed to be aimed primarily at isolating the superiors from any mishap rather than at improving performance in their domains.


      As a first classman at the Naval Academy I observed (and admired) a protest organized by some of my classmates.  Tradition was that, as first classmen neared graduation, they were allowed some “slack” where the voluminous Academy rules were concerned.  As my class neared graduation, and wartime service, several of its members bought or were given bits of officers uniforms.  Discovered by commissioned officers, those became the basis for disciplinary charges.  The response of several of my classmates was to enforce without exception every rule violation that they could discover among the under classes, something that was listed among our responsibilities, but usually done with considerable leniency.


      As I looked on during a joint lecture session, a classmate seated behind me whispered to the second-year Midshipman beside me, who was doodling, “Mr., you are on report for inattention at drill.” A grimace from the offender produced a demand that he display his garters, an item of regulation uniform that was seldom actually required of anyone except plebs (freshmen). The second charge was followed by another slight protest and produced a third charge, “disrespect to person in authority.”


      It took two or three days of such enforcement to so clog and disrupt the disciplinary system that the Commandant of Midshipmen, a very proper Regular Navy Full Captain, called us into Memorial Hall and made concessions.


      Let’s have fewer rules and enforce them more systematically.  But, let’s also remember that even the best of rules were devised without perfect foresight of the circumstances to which they might be applied. I.W. Parkins 109

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