The political debates this election, highlighted by the recent US Supreme Court decision on the PPACA emphasize a question that will be central to the decisions made by voters on November 6th.
George Washington said it well: "Government is not reason; it is not eloquence; it is force. Like fire, it is a dangerous servant and a fearful master." Our founders gave us a constitution of limited and strictly enumerated powers. The founders were determined to prevent government from trampling on the liberty of the citizen. In their view, government was a necessary evil, to be kept, but on a very short leash. Our entire structure of government was built deliberately with checks and balances to ensure that no law be passed without considerable consensus and no major minority in implacable dissent.
Modern fashion describes government very differently. Government today is viewed a font of "services", and politics is the process that decides "who gets what". Some call it "redistribution".
I don’t know if there is a senator that doesn’t have something in this bill that was important to them. . . . [And] if they don’t have something in it important to them, then it doesn’t speak well of them. That’s what this legislation is all about: It’s the art of compromise.
This should tell us where the current fashion leads. It leads to a mindset of "You can have your pet project if I can have mine." Only the taxpayers lose, and we "get things done".
This is not a politics of civic virtue or prudent stewardship, of limited government and serious lawmaking. According to Mr. Reid, the purpose of legislation is as a vehicle for individual senators to "bring home the bacon". That's what good senators do. They redistribute wealth.
The transformation of our government into a conveyor of goods and services is not an accident. It is as natural the human nature that drives it, and just as dangerous. The temptation to use government as a tool of self interest is powerful. The checks and balances in our constitution were not crafted to guide the application of self interest, but to prevent its flowering. Our founders may not have had the internet, but they understood us as human beings. Our technology may change, but we never do.
There is great harm is transforming government into a "redistributor". Government has nothing to give, and cannot "provide services". Government gives only what it first takes, and it always takes by force. If you don't believe me, try not paying your taxes. Every bit of government power and government spending comes at the expense of the People.
Government is meant to be our servant, but servants cannot redistribute wealth. Only a master can redistribute wealth.
As we shift from government as a minimal arbiter between competing "factions", toward being a major player in every activity, the necessity of having your hand on the levers of power becomes irresistable. Political contests are no longer debates over the best way to be stewards of those few things that are necessarily shared. Political contests become battles of raw power and self interest. If government picks winners, and losers, no one can afford to allow the "other side" to win.
Even worse, as we look to government to solve problems, the career paths of those who seek honor in the society gravitate toward those levers of power rather than to the private, voluntary, productive economy. Over time, we give more and more honor to those who take from others for redistribution, and less and less to those who actually produce.
In the end, the ability to maintain decorum and follow procedure in lawmaking becomes a luxury. The appeal of civic virtue, shared goals and the duty of citizenship recede. Read this account (LEA report item 1 - Vikings' stadium) of the process that gave us the Viking's stadium, and weep.
We, in the United States have something rare and precious. We have a nation that is based on an idea. The idea is that we can govern ourselves. Our Constitution is a document that spells out in plain language a set of procedures that we can use to resolve our disputes and run our government. We are free people who can arrange our affairs as we please, as long as we are responsible for our actions, and maintain the civic virtue required to maintain public order.
Above all, we must respect and defend that constitution - the owner's manual - for our republic, and maintain our understanding of its foundations.
The appeal of "redistribution" is undeniable, but totally at odds with the principles of our government and the ethical principles that underlie it. As fellow citizens, with limited government, we can discuss public policy and our shared responsibilities. As competitors in a political contest of raw power, we cannot afford to be genteel.
President Obama captures the question in a few words. He says that with "them", you are "on your own". He's exactly right. Free citizens are "on their own". They are adults. They stand up on their own two feet, and shoulder their responsiblities. The opposite of "on your own" is to be "kept". It means living off the efforts of others, a condition that we as Americans have traditionally considered dishonorable.
I hope and pray that my fellow citizens will stand with me, shoulder their responsibilities for themselves, their families and communities, and reclaim our government from those who seek to transform it from servant, to master.