CONGRESS ACTION: November 08, 1998
In the summer of 1787, there gathered in Philadelphia an assemblage of some of the most brilliant political thinkers the world had ever seen, gathered in one place, at one time. It is one of the quirks of history that on those occassions when great deeds need doing, when great causes come to fruition, when monumental events occur which shape the course of human history, there will often arise great men who are equal to the tasks which fate and history demands of them. Such a time was that summer of 1787, when those great men gathered to create a new form of government, the likes of which the world had never before seen.
The fundamental basis for this new government was a simple, yet at that time revolutionary, idea: that all national power flowed from the people themselves to their government. This meant that government was only legitimate when it operated with the consent of the governed, and that the only legitimate powers which such a government could exercise were those powers specifically granted to it by the people, only those powers and no more. The Founders of this nation created a central government which possessed no legitimate power at all, except that power which was granted to it by the people. They drafted a Constitution which would become the structure of the new government, and which would define the extent of its powers. The genius of those delegates to the Constitutional Convention was that they started with a clean slate and created a government without any power whatsoever, they created an empty vessel. Into that vessel they sparingly poured just enough power to get the job done, just so much and no more. For added security, they hemmed in that power with the restriction of the Tenth Amendment: "The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people." And they made it clear that the people still retained all the rights they possessed when the central government was created, the Ninth Amendment: "The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people."
As James Madison, the Father of the Constitution, explained, "If no such power be expressly delegated, and if it be not both necessary and proper to carry into execution an express power; above all, if it be expressly forbidden, by a declaratory amendment to the Constitution, the answer must be that the federal government is destitute of all such authority." To put Madison into more modern terms: "If it doesn't say the government can, then it can't." The great tragedy of our time is that a cynical political elite, a growing ignorance of the general public, and a mass media which panders to the lowest common denominator rather than aspiring to the highest level of enlightenment and which shamelessly lies to advance a liberal/socialist agenda, has reversed Madison's dictum. Today we believe: "If it doesn't say the government can't, then it can." Unlike Madison, many of the Founding generation feared what the Constitutional Convention had created: "I look upon that paper [the Constitution] as the most fatal plan that could possibly be conceived to enslave a free people. If such be your rage for novelty, take it and welcome; but you shall never have my consent." -- Patrick Henry. Richard Henry Lee called it "elective despotism". It took 200 years, but the anti-Federalists were proven correct.
With the passing of two centuries, the government created in 1787 has changed, has grown in power in the way that governments always do. The government has gradually, but inexorably, usurped power from the people, and that usurpation went unchecked and usually unquestioned by the people whose power and authority was being stolen. With each succeeding generation, every minor and seemingly benign expansion of governmental power, which was novel to one generation, came to be accepted as routine by the next generation, and that next generation then assented to further minor and seemingly benign expansions of power. Incrementally, and sometimes in large jumps, governmental power increased. And to all these accretions of central governmental power, the people, either explicitly or simply through inaction, assented. Through all the changes, each generation looked back and consoled themselves that the government which they knew was not very different from that which their fathers knew. Slightly larger and a bit more powerful, but still recognizable. Yet if James Madison could look down the corridor of time, from his time to ours, he would scarcely recognize the government under which we live. He would be stunned that his heirs still honor his memory, and delude themselves into believing that they still live under the structure which the Founders had created.
George Mason, Virginia delegate to the Constitutional Convention, wrote, "No free government, nor the blessings of liberty, can be preserved to any people but by...a frequent recurrence to fundamental principles." Mason presumed, wrongly as it turned out, that all people naturally yearn for the blessings of liberty. Such natural yearning would vindicate what Thomas Jefferson called the great experiment "...which we trust will end in establishing the fact, that man may be governed by reason and truth." It has become clear, however, that what people yearn for, more than reason and truth, even more than liberty itself, is the illusion of security. What this just completed election has proved, and what the public's acceptance of the degradation of their rights over the course of the past two centuries has shown, is that if a government is not overtly hostile to the majority of its citizens (killing a few "extremists" now and then is alright), and if it provides some degree of security to a majority of its citizens (never mind that it is provided by taking from one to give to another), those citizens will gladly forego the blessings of liberty. Benjamin Franklin was asked as he emerged from the Constitutional Convention, what sort of government had been wrought. "A republic, if you can keep it", was his reply. If you want to keep it, he might have said. Doing the hard work to maintain liberty seems to be the last thing we want. It has been said that conservatism is triumphant because republicans still control the Congress after this election, despite the party's lack of the will to enunciate or fight for conservative values. Taking responsibility for this lack of focus, the Speaker has done the honorable thing. But it does not require politicians to tell people that crimes were committed at the highest levels of government, or that the federal government impinges on more of our freedoms every day. The problems in this country go far deeper than the lack of focus by one political party, or shameless lies by the other. Voters rejected even moderate republicans in favor of extremist liberal democrats. And people still support, in growing numbers, unconstitutional and radical liberal policies and values. Consider:
Ours is a government, as Abraham Lincoln observed, "...of the people, by the people, for the people..."; and the people eventually get precisely the form of government they desire. What this election proves is that the people of this nation do not want a limited Constitutional republic, they do not want the independence of ruling their own lives. We sometimes speak of our freedoms being stolen by an intrusive, overbearing, and unresponsive government. This is not accurate. Our freedoms are not being stolen. We are throwing them away willingly, even eagerly, with both hands. This election proves that what the people want is a government to take care of them, a national nanny, a theraputic society in which reason, truth, integrity, and the Rule of Law are less important than image, entitlement, and the illusion of security. In the end, it appears that the freedom most of us seek is not the freedom to live our lives as we see fit, not the freedom to raise our children according to our own values, not the freedom to pursue our dreams as we see fit and achieve success on our own terms, not the freedom of being left alone by our government; but rather the freedom of not having to think too hard, the freedom of having all our decisions made for us by others, the freedom of having our entitlements handed to us as others think appropriate; the freedom, in short, of a slave. Government has ceased being our servant and is now our master, and most of us like it that way. As for the rest of us, the minority, those who still cherish the old freedoms, who still honor the old values, who look at our history, our traditions, and our Constitution with reverence and not with the loathing and disdain of the modern multicultural utopians, we must face reality. We are anachronisms, dinosaurs heading for extinction. The Constitution is no longer relevant. A decade from now, a generation from now, when schoolchildren are taught to revere the giants from their past, it will not be to George Washington or James Madison or Thomas Jefferson that they will look. It will be Bill and Hillary Clinton they honor, who represent the future of America. Big government socialism is here to stay. Get used to it.
- In imprisoned countries, people dream of having a vote to control their own lives. In newly free countries, people often risk their very lives to go to polling places, and do so in large numbers. In our country, jaded with freedom too easily gifted from past generations, just over one-third of our citizens voted this election, and many of those decided they cannot bother going to the polls. We demand mail-in ballots, and prohibit even routine measures to make sure that those who vote, do so legally. We are so sure our liberty is eternal that we care little about the corrupted and stolen elections which result.
- People struggling for freedom around the world often risk death or imprisonment to express their beliefs and their ideas. Editors of newspapers are jailed for advocating freedom. Demonstrators taking to the streets for freedom are crushed under the treads of tanks. We, however, demand more limits on our own ability to speak and write freely. We demand campaign finance "reform" so that we won't be bothered by too many ideas, so that we won't be forced to think, a skill with which we have become unfamiliar through disuse.
- Parents in totalitarian countries fight to control the upbringing of their children, against rapacious regimes bent on warping those young minds and severing them from parental influence. Yet we readily hand our children over to schools controlled by government ideologues. We eagerly surrender local control of our schools for the promise of our own money returned to us by the Department of Education, with federal strings attached.
- At the end of the 18th century, when Americans read the Federalist Papers and debated the proposed Constitution, and at the start of the 19th century, when America was still largely rural, historian Gordon S. Wood writes that "...people in New England...attained levels of elementary literacy that were higher than any other places in the western world...". After two centuries of massively expanded and government controlled education, we rank near the bottom of advanced (and less advanced) nations in the intellectual capabilities of our public school graduates. Today, most of us wouldn't even be able to hold an intelligent discussion with the Founders, let alone understand the prerequisites of liberty which they deemed vital.
- Dictators around the world know that to maintain their power, they must first disarm their citizens so that they cannot resist tyranny, then make sure that their citizens cannot support themselves independently with the work of their own hands on their own private land. We want our government to take away our ability to defend ourselves against tyranny, and even against criminal assault; and we demand that the rights of private property fall before often illusory communal interests.
- People around the world seeking the freedom to run their own lives demand the right to elect their leaders, and to hold those leaders accountable. We fought a revolution over the right of representation in the councils of government. Today we transfer the power of governance to unelected international bureaucrats accountable to no one. When faced with possible criminality and serious abuse of power by our own highest elected leader, and a Constitutional process to hold him accountable, we decide that he is above the law. We just don't care if crimes were committed. Honor and integrity in our elected leaders are now irrelevant. We have validated corruption, thereby inviting even more venal corruption in the future.
- Socialism has been proven an abject failure around the world. People living under it fight to end it, and risk their lives to flee from it. We embrace it. We cheer the rhetoric of class envy, and we demand the redistribution of wealth. Anyone who succeeds by his own hard work is considered a threat who must be destroyed in the name of radical egalitarianism.
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