Wherever the real power in a Government lies, there is the danger of oppression.—James Madison
An idea is powerful. It can change the world. A great leader may be able to alter the course of history, but without instilling new ideas, the world resumes its old course. When an idea or value is shared by the majority of a community, it becomes a cultural linchpin. That culture will not change until that idea is jerked out of the general consciousness and replace with a different idea.
Constitutional conservatives share an idea. They share this idea with the Founders and Libertarians—and to some extent with other conservatives. At one time, most Americans subscribed to this idea, but no longer.
What is this idea? Fear of overly powerful government. It sounds simple. But this fear was the overriding emotion that drove the Founders to design a republic with limited national powers. Inside the Pennsylvania State House, the delegates’ fear of government was strong and universal. Their entire focus was on constraining, checking, and decentralizing government power. Then the people who exercised these constricted powers had to constantly return to voters to remain in office. This had never happened in world history.
Governments are supposed to wield power, but the Founders worked against this purpose. This is especially surprising when you consider that they were replacing a failed government under the weak Articles of Confederation. The natural reaction would be to go to unbridled strength to halt the collapse of the United States—a country in which they had invested blood, fortune, and honor. The most learned men in the country locked themselves in a room for four months and designed a counter-intuitive government. How about that?
At the conclusion of my book, Principled Action, I recommended a number of actions to get us back to a constitutional government. My number one recommendation was to re-instill the fear of an overly powerful government. I received an email that said —to put it politely—that my recommendation was pantywaist. I beg to differ. To prove my point, I only have to point to the opposition.
Progressives use every crisis like Sandy to justify a strong national government. If a suggestion is made for the national government to withdraw from a marginal activity like funding PBS, they go ballistic protecting kiddies from the life-altering loss of Big Bird. Invectives are thrown at anyone suggesting any cut. The Tea Party is evil personified. Anyone who mentions limited government is branded as hating all government and wanting to throw granny off a cliff. The left knows. Ideas are powerful … and they can’t change society until they rip out ideas they don’t like and replace them with politically correct ideas.
The idea they are selling is that government is good. The government will insure fairness among all its citizens. The government is there with food, shelter, healthcare, contraceptives, education, money, and even cell phones for those in need or others who just grab it. The government will make sure the industrious or clever don’t keep all of their ill-gotten gains. The government is a great and just employer. The government knows which rights should be guaranteed and will make sure you get them. The government will keep you safe in a dangerous world. The government has your back. Barack Obama has your back.
Progressives want a powerful government because they crave power. But to get it, they need to shed us of that stodgy idea that overly powerful government is dangerous. Look, it’s just Big Bird, big smiles, happy talk, and stuff … lots and lots of stuff.
This is wrong and un-American. Governments do not protect rights, governments threaten rights. Fairness can only be insured through oppression. Food, cell phones, and all the other goodies will have to be paid for when the Chinese come knocking with a fist full of IOUs. Entrepreneurs who fear confiscation by the government don’t hire people. A government career depends on time in grade, not ability or energy. The national government ought to at least keep us safe, but Americans are not safe with porous borders, rogue nuclear powers, and a third world who believes everything we have has been stolen from them.
Government is good is an idea that has seeped into our culture with decades of sly campaigning. Has it penetrated the thinking of enough Americans so they willingly abandon limits on centralized power? We’ll find out Tuesday.
James D. Best is the author of the Steve Dancy Tales and Tempest at Dawn, a novel about the 1787 Constitutional Convention. Look for his new book, Principled Action, Lessons from the Origins of the American Republic.