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Esse Quam Videri – Old Standard for New Direction


essequamvideriIt’s hard to imagine a better motto for any government, institution, or person than the one North Carolina has had since 1893:  esse quam videri.  From Cicero’s “On Friendship,” the phrase is translated from Latin as “to be rather than to seem.”

How many elected officials in Raleigh and elsewhere live up to this standard of sincerity?  To ask the question is to laugh.  John Edwards and Mike Easley, formerly successful N.C. politicians and now common jokes, come quickly to mind.  So do Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton, along with a rogues’ gallery of others, small fry and large.  “To seem rather than to be” more accurately describes what we have come to expect in politicians.

The Democrats have refined to high art masquerading as non-ideological moderates, and then pushing for policies as far to the Left as possible.  After spending his first year in office working to have the federal government control more of the economy than ever, President Barack Obama told the Business Roundtable on Feb. 24, “I am an ardent believer in the free market”.

As for many Republicans, look at their posturing on out-of-control federal spending.  As recounted by Bruce Bartlett in a brilliant Forbes article last year, President George W. Bush pushed for a costly new Medicare drug benefit in 2003.  With both houses of Congress controlled by Republicans, Bush could succeed if he could get his own party members in line.

Devoid of any new funding mechanism, the proposed benefit was estimated to add $395 billion to the deficit over 10 years, despite a Medicare fiduciary’s higher estimate of $534 billion.  If the higher number had been used, a point of order killing the bill could have been made.

When the roll was called in the House on final passage in November 2003, the bill was going down to defeat, 216 to 218.  Instead of cutting off the vote after the standard 15 minutes, Republicans kept the vote open for three hours while their leaders pressured members to support the bill.

In the end it passed the House 220 to 215, with only 25 Republicans bucking Bush and voting no.  In the Senate final passage was 54 to 44, with nine Republicans voting no.

The split among Carolinas Republicans reflected the overall trend in Congress.  Of the seven Republicans in the House from North Carolina, only Walter Jones showed the courage to vote no.  Sue Myrick, Robin Hayes, Richard Burr (now a U.S. Senator), and the three other Republicans voted yes.  Former Republican Sen. Elizabeth Dole also voted yes in support of Bush’s vast expansion of Medicare and the deficit.

Of the four House Republicans from South Carolina, two voted no, Jim DeMint (now a U.S. Senator) and Gresham Barrett.  Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham also voted no.

Despite this record, Charlotte-based Congresswoman Sue Myrick was ready to pounce when the now-majority Democrats raised the government debt ceiling to $14.3 trillion in early February.  “Today, the majority made it perfectly clear that they will continue to support reckless deficit spending.  These trillions of dollars will ultimately be paid back with higher taxes.  That’s not fiscal responsibility,” Myrick said.  Why didn’t she express such sentiments to President Bush on his huge Medicare increase to the federal deficit and vote against it?

After criticizing Rep. Trent Franks (R-Arizona) and others for posturing similar to Myrick’s, Bartlett, a former Reagan administration Treasury official, concluded his Forbes article:  “It astonishes me that a party enacting anything like the drug benefit would have the chutzpah to view itself as fiscally responsible . . .  Any Republican who voted for the Medicare drug benefit has no right to criticize anything the Democrats have done in terms of adding to the national debt.”

“Which office do I go to to get my reputation back,” asked former U.S. Labor Secretary Ray Donovan after being acquitted by a jury of highly publicized fraud charges in New York in 1987.  Many Republicans in Congress today ought to ask themselves the same question, though in their case it is their own record they must face up to.  They could do no better than to adopt, once and for all, the standard of North Carolina’s old motto, esse quam videri.


Tom Ashcraft, a Charlotte native, is  a lawyer and former Reagan-appointed U.S. Attorney .  Write him at

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