The din of debate in America is often the result of the clash of principles that lie below the surfaces of the actual discussions and positioning and political wranglings. I have noticed few forums where actual debate is practiced anymore. That is, the presentation of a single issue with a proposition attached where two individuals, within the context of an arbiter, stick to the topic. What we are offered is often a group of people yelling at each other, switching topics at will and seldom accomplishing any fact dissemination. To add to the confusion, slogans and past incorrect information continue to be thrown out to the public. A little demagoguery slopped on top blurs the entire issue and causes many to throw their hands up in the air in disgust.
Why the disparity in conclusions by people raised in the same republic?
Very often, the underlying beliefs and principles are not brought to the surface to face the light of discussion. There are many of these that cause this confusion. What was the intended purpose of the federal government? What are people entitled to? Is Capitalism the engine of American economic progress or the bane of the little guy? How does individual responsibility and accountability either harm or buttress the republic? Does social policy even matter in the United States anymore?
Do the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution guarantee equality of opportunity or equality of outcome? To listen to the pontifications of many on the political left today, one would conclude that the founding documents of the republic were designed to guarantee an equal outcome for every American. Do they? Let’s review the facts.
Jefferson wrote, and the Founders agreed, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal and are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights; that among these rights are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” Jefferson had done extensive research on the evolution of government in Greece and Rome and read extensively from Hume and Locke as they discussed the underlying bases of good government. As he reflected on the progress made and the tyranny under which he was living, he proceeded to state clearly what government had no right to restrict. Jefferson clearly viewed the role of government to be institutionally weak and limited, leaving men to direct their own affairs as closely to themselves as possible and to rely upon their own industry for their care and success.
When he was serving in Europe, his neighbor James Madison asked Jefferson to send him as many books as he could find on government, the rise and fall of nations, and the justification for government as he could lay his hands on. Madison took the time at Montpelier to study carefully and brought forth the Constitution we have. He produced, and the Founders concurred, a limited government that was specific in its enumeration of the things that the federal government could do. In fact, many refused to sign on to the document until a “Bill of Rights” could be drawn up to seal in stone forever the rights that could not be restricted by this new centralized government. These men had experienced firsthand the oppression of a big centralized government and they made sure to identify the things that were off-limits to this entity. There is no ambiguity here!
And in case ambiguity was claimed, they concluded this Bill of Rights with the 10th Amendment, “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited to it by the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people. The “prohibited to it by the States” involves the amendment process and does not allow the legislature to claim powers not delegated to them. (I’ll tackle the “reserved to the people” issue in another post.)
During the next 100 years, we struggled through the pain of certifying the words of the Declaration in a violent Civil War that ensured the equal opportunity of every man. We added an amendment in 1920 confirming this concept meant that women could also vote. This amendment process, though difficult and requiring super-majorities of citizen and legislative approval, has secured the intent of the Founders that the goal of these documents can be realized through the fog of evil and cultural blindness.
So, what do we make of the idea that this intended central government is somehow empowered to create equal outcomes? A cursory historical review will show time and again the Founders and the generations of citizens following rejecting outright the idea that the federal government should be interfering in the individual lives of citizens. In fact, when individual men and companies began to seize control of processes and products, the government stepped in and made sure no one could get a monopoly in business and industry, thus fulfilling their role to control equality of opportunity, not outcome.
In the past ninety years, our seeming interdependence upon each other has caused us as a nation to lose sight of this important principle. A national economic crisis in the 1930’s allowed us to sleep while the executive branch seized powers not granted to it and the legislative branch went along. The judicial branch looked the other way and the welfare state was born, that is, the overreach of the central government to create equal outcomes and force others to pay for it against their will.
This process was ramped up in the 1960’s in the “War on Poverty” the longest war in which we have been engaged. It took us five years to defeat the Nazis and Imperial Japanese, but poverty is still with us. The Founders would not be surprised, since equality of outcomes cannot be legislated. There is not enough of other people’s money to fix this problem. It cannot be solved by federal fiat and confiscation of the wealth of working people.
And the beat goes on. Federal intrusion into the private markets, bailouts of Democrat-supporting unions with taxpayers’ money, bailouts of irresponsible federal mortgage entities, printing trillions of dollars to give to banks at home and abroad without a single legislative appropriation, a health reform bill that will result in the takeover of a private market, providing cash for the purchase of products, allowing tax breaks for the purchase of “approved” items, etc., etc., etc have moved this process into dangerous territory.
The principle of the federal government providing equality of outcomes is a century-old failed system and should be scrapped because it does not work and continues to drive us deeper into economic disaster. Principles matter and the founding documents matter. And if citizens wish to provide aid and support to individual citizens, then they are free to do so out of their own largesse through individual contributions or the forming of charitable organizations. Or if they choose, they can enact legislation within their own states to confiscate the income of their fellow citizens to carry out these programs. That is what the founders intended and the accountability that would be realized would benefit the givers and the receivers of assistance.
For those who argue that “benefit” programs work better being managed by the federal government, history proves the federal government to be the most ineffective and inefficient providers of anything (failing Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, Post Office, Conrail, Welfare, etc.).
For those who argue that this is settled law, I maintain that the Dred Scott decision was Supreme Court settled law once and was reversed because of the principles of the Declaration.
I realize this is a revolutionary idea. I rest in the fact that it was a revolutionary idea in 1776 and 1787. It can be again.