Paine, Pogo, and More...

...a pamphleteer's musings on the not-so-petty tyranny that envelops us.

Common Sense in the Twenty-First Century

     We have met the enemy and he is—us.  We say we have a government of laws, not of men, but if we don’t honor our laws, if we allow the exercise of raw power against fellow Americans without justice and law, where are we?

     In A Man for All Seasons, Sir Thomas More said, “And when the last law was down, and the Devil turned 'round on you, where would you hide, the laws all being flat?  This country is planted thick with laws, from coast to coast, Man's laws, not God's!  And if you cut them down, do you really think you could stand upright in the winds that would blow then?  Yes, I'd give the Devil benefit of law, for my own safety's sake!”

     The concept of legal restraint is fast eroding away.  Every petty office holder now thinks that he or she is entitled to speak authoritatively and legislate on virtually every aspect of our lives.  While we talk about the need to restrict government, it keeps on growing.

     If we remain silent in the face of usurpation of power, what freedoms will be left to us?  We must speak and act.  Lincoln said, “As our cause is new we must think anew and act anew.  We must disenthrall ourselves.”  Robert Heinlein wrote, “You can have peace or you can have freedom, never expect to have both at the same time.”

     People question whether the Constitution still matters (see Time Magazine).  It matters.  The Constitution is the glue that keeps a people prone to violence honoring elections and litigating rather than fighting.  The last time the Constitution really broke down, we had an incredibly bloody civil war.  As long as people believe the rules of the Constitution are the rules, they consent to be governed.  Loosen that bond and you have chaos.

     The President now enforces only those laws with which he agrees, notwithstanding the Constitution’s requirement that the President faithfully enforce the laws, all the laws, not just those the President likes.  He bypasses Congress and uses recess appointments and executive orders to carry out appointments and policies he knows Congress won’t approve.  He and members of Congress vote on bills without reading them and which fly in the face of the known wishes of the majority of the people they supposedly represent but whose will they defy.  What happened to representative government?

     We have become politically polarized.  The art of compromise has been lost, partly because in every negotiation, it takes two, negotiating in good faith, to reach agreement.  Negotiating in good faith does not mean “you give me what I want and then we’ll reach agreement.”  Class warfare is exploited by some and we are approaching a majority of our citizens who no longer pay income taxes.  When people are no longer taxed themselves, what is their incentive to vote against taxing others to gain benefits?  None.

     County legislatures take positions on international issues.  City councils announce “sanctuary cities” and legalize federally banned drugs.  Local town boards strip people of property rights and ban every aspect of economic activities they don’t like, or zone out entire industries, even in defiance of state law.  The concept that local officials elected to fill potholes should respect the limitations on their authority and not deliberate foreign affairs seems lost.

     The Constitution stands at the top of our legal pyramid, followed by federal law.  Our states retain some vestige of sovereignty and power to act where the Constitution allows concurrent authority.  But, it is unseemly for states to undermine active and constitutional federal policy.  Localities are by law mere sub-divisions of the states.  They do not enjoy total home rule and we elect them for some close to home oriented services.  We are represented at each level by different people with differing responsibilities.  It is wrong for local governments to spend their time and our money on issues over which they have been assigned no power.  Don’t they have enough to do locally?

     Civility has been lost.  Rather than argue issues on the merits, all too often some attack opponents personally rather than debate their arguments.  Calling someone “stupid” is not an argument on the merits, it is a showing of disrespect.  For a society that prides itself as multi-cultural or culturally aware, intolerance of diversity of opinion is a sad commentary on today’s America.  And, when it is particularly prevalent in academic communities where ideas should be debated on their merits it is even more disturbing.

     Our government can no longer act even to protect our vital interests.  Take energy development.  We have become dependent on foreign nations for our energy.  When you are dependent, you become less free.  Dependency requires us also to protect vital interests overseas, entangling us in overseas wars, killing American service people.  Yet, we have the resources at home, if we develop them, to meet much of our need.  But, while they consume energy, some Americans who heat their houses, drive their cars, and live on the grid oppose domestic energy development everywhere, in far off places and in their own back yards.  For them it is fine for people in other countries and other areas to accept the risks of development for their comfort, but never any development in their own back yards.  This is a national security interest.

     We can learn much from a historical predecessor, the Roman Republic.  When civic virtue died out, when men clung to power, when government became corrupt, the Roman Republic gave way to the Roman Empire, rule by emperors.  Great men gave up power in the Roman Republic, power was kept divided, and given only for a short term.  There were checks and balances.  Our founders knew that and tried to design a government that would stand the test of time.  It has, but it is now in peril.  Office holders acknowledge few restrictions and many cling to power, making politics a professional career.

     Our politicians pass pork barrel legislation so they can claim they got money for us.  As Ronald Reagan said, “it is all our money.”  There are no free lunches.  The government has no money of its own, only money taken from the private sector, our money.

     Politicians go to Washington and morph from our representatives into entrenched defenders of the bodies on which they serve and their privileges.  They exempt themselves from their own laws.  They resist term limits that would rotate the powers, responsibilities, and burdens of office.  They make politics a lifetime career, instead of a period of civic service in a lifetime of private sector work.  They like to make us dependent on government.  Self reliant people do not feel grateful at election time.

     A simple political reform would change much but will never pass.  Our government officials should be paid and compensated on how efficiently they deliver services.  If personal pay were tied to government performance and effectiveness with controlled costs, then cost conscious politicians would arise and work hard to find productivity in government.  The current system rewards growing empires and spending more, even if wastefully.

     America can have a new birth of freedom.  But, to get it we must stand up and be counted.  We must turn our backs on big nanny government that claims it can solve all of our problems and which creates more of them.  We must limit our public spending as much as possible to what we can afford.  We must prevent the erosion of civil liberties and of our personal and our property rights.  If we continue with business as usual, our country may survive for several centuries, much as Rome did, but it will be on the path to decline and fall.

Publius Ithacanus
July 2011


This article is great! Thank you it helps to lift some of the depression I've been sinking into the last few days.