Voter Fatigue on Election Eve 2012
There’s a video that went viral last week. It features a tearful little girl named Abby who speaks for many in our nation—even those of us for whom politics (and policy) is a spectator sport or even profession. She is tired of this election. Her fatigue and tears are an innocent reaction to this never-ending campaign and our national division. If she is crying now, wait until she finds out her share of the national debt.
We are spending a lot of talent and treasure fighting over the spoils of government—what those spoils should be, who should get them and who should pay for them. The tone is nasty because we are fighting over a big, bloated welfare state. Our economy is stalled (or worse) and we are in debt up to our eyeballs. Our public discourse has become small-minded in the face of a growing bureaucracy. We have become comfortable trading our liberty for free contraceptives and other largess. There are too few people pulling the wagon.
Nearby Mitch Pearlstein points to the extraordinary, multi-year, billion dollar marathon candidates must run to be our president. Who are we turning away from leadership as a result; who is not willing to do this? David Strom notes that the federal election should not be this important. Why is this so and how did we get here?
We turned the Constitution on its head decades ago when the Supreme Court yielded to threats from FDR, upheld New Deal programs, and, in doing so, abandoned the idea that the Commerce Clause limits federal power. Later on Kennedy and state legislatures opened the door to the public unions that now run our schools, as well as big chunks of state and national policy and budgets. Nixon created the EPA, one of the most dictatorial and least accountable agencies in the federal morass today. The long and bi-partisan list of offenses against the idea of a limited federal government with enumerated powers was topped off most recently by the passage of Obamacare and Justice Robert’s opinion upholding the law last June.
You have heard me say many times that the federal branch was assigned very limited duties (see Article, Section 8). If it had stuck just somewhat closer to the list of enumerated powers it was given, we would be paying a lower percentage of our taxes to Washington, D.C., and higher percentage of taxes to our state and local governments. In all, I am willing to bet we’d be paying a lot less to any level of government because we’d have more control over elected officials (and the attendant bureaucrats carrying out the laws) closer to home. And it’s not just taxes that we’d have more control over; we’d have more control over our daily lives. There would be less uncertainty in the marketplace and as a result a bigger, more vibrant marketplace. It’s a lot easier to grab the pitch fork and head down to city hall or Saint Paul than Washington, D.C.
We are supposed to be a self-governing people. It was a radical idea in 1776 and it is a radical idea today. Self-government requires a few essential ingredients: first, a mature and sober citizenry that is up to the tough tasks demanded by life in a free, constitutional republic, which, as we’ve learned, is no small thing. Second, a free marketplace for ideas and commerce. And last, a government of limited powers.
We have slipped down the slope that our Founders feared but hoped we would avoid. Our fall has been hastened by our own failure to be the citizens we must be to preserve this great American Experiment. We have figured out that we can vote for people who will take and then give us someone else’s money. We have turned over the education of our children to an industrial union. Why are we surprised by the resulting decline of our citizenry and republic?
Now before your think I am going to leave you with that reprimand, let me end on a positive note. Americans are hardworking and innovative; we are ornery and we thrive on a challenge. I met an editor from Forbes, John Tamny, last week when he spoke to a large gathering of women here in the Twin Cities. He argued that we are not like the Europeans because America has and still does attract strong and talented people from all over the globe and because of this—and in spite of ourselves--we will recover and triumph.
While I do not expect that we can return to a much simpler time or that a recovery will be easy, we can identify the core enemies of self-governance and prosperity and then use our freedom to defeat them. We can work together to renew our understanding of what it takes to be a free and prosperous people. I was not born to work for the state and I’ll be damned if my children-- or little Abby-- will toil as indentured servants to service a debt they did not create or consent to.
Come what may on this Election Day 2012, we will all shed a tear or two of relief. And then we must get on with the mission of building a culture of prosperity.