In this three-part series (Part I, Part II), Robert Bearce of Houston, Texas identifies the basic principles of limited government as set forth in the Constitution of the United States. He shows how we have forsaken many of the basics, and points the way toward a restoration of freedom.
Our Constitution and the principles of freedom are being steadily eroded today. Too many Americans evidently disagree with Thomas Jefferson’s basic political philosophy: “Every man wishes to pursue his occupation and to enjoy the fruits of his labors and the produce of his property in peace and safety and with the least possible expense. When these things are accomplished, all the objects for which government ought to be established are answered.”
According to Jefferson and other Americans who fought for freedom, the purpose of government was to assure the God-given rights of individuals to work freely, create, build, invent, succeed, fail, and plan their own lives . . . without needless government interference. Government should intervene to prevent, prosecute, and punish crime. Government was also responsible for organizing the defense of the nation from foreign aggressors. The two major roles of government were designed to allow free individuals to rise to the heights of individual potential consistent with their own abilities, energy, will power, and personal accountability.
The United States Constitution has worked very well in the past as a bulwark for personal liberty. Now, though, we are faced by a loss of individual rights and a growth of government power. Two views of the Constitution by two past Presidents illustrate a partial cause for our present difficulties.
President William Taft wrote that: “. . . the President can exercise no power which cannot be reasonably and fairly traced to some specific grant of power . . . in the Constitution or in an act of Congress.”
Taft’s strict interpretation of the Constitution contrasts with President Theodore Roosevelt’s liberal interpretation of the powers of the Presidency: “. . . My belief was that it was not only his (the President’s) right but his duty to do anything that the needs of the nation demanded unless such action was forbidden by the Constitution or by the laws.”
Over the years since President Theodore Roosevelt wrote about the Presidency, the “liberal” interpretation of the Constitution has gained an ever increasing acceptance by all three branches of the government—executive, legislative, and judicial. This “liberal” concept of government authority tramples upon the Tenth Amendment of the Bill of Rights: “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.”
The problem is twofold: (1) “WE THE PEOPLE of the United States,” as stated in the preamble, have deserted the Constitution, (2) The people’s elected and appointed officials have debased the Constitution. If we truly value what freedom we have left, and if we wish to regain what rights we have lost, we must understand the destructive mentality or philosophy that has gripped so many Americans.
The Santa Claus Complex
First, a greater number of Americans are accepting what has been called the “Santa Claus” complex. Some people might want to term it the Big Daddy or Great Uncle Sam complex. At any rate, when citizens look upon the federal government as Santa Claus, they will continue to expect supposedly “free” presents from the government.
While large numbers of businesses, special interest groups, professions, and average citizens are looking to the federal Santa Claus for goodies, their elected officials have an affliction called the “Robin Hood” complex. Actually, the Santa Claus mentality and the Robin Hood philososphy work together to assault the Constitution. In order to play Santa Claus and give to the citizenry federal subsidies, grants, and other aid, government officials must also assume the role of a benevolent Robin Hood.
They do this with a great deal of enthusiasm and sense of morality. Before they can distribute gifts to different segments of the populace, they must first take money from other people. Thus, government plays Robin Hood, taking from the “rich” and giving to the “poor”—the “poor” classified as whomever the federal government so chooses.
The fact is that government cannot create wealth. It cannot give away anything it hasn’t first confiscated from the “rich” (industries, businessmen, hard-working individuals) or the citizenry as a whole. Robin Hood does this through taxation. The only other way the federal government can pay for its handouts is simply to create money it cannot or will not bring into the Treasury through taxation. When it creates the new money from the federal printing presses, we suffer inflation.
Although the average citizen decries inflation and excessive taxation, he continues to vote for more government interference in the economic and social life of the United States. Legislators are quite willing to play the parts of Santa Claus and Robin Hood. To do so is the best way to get elected and reelected. They learn by experience and continue to promote the idea that government is motivated by compassion and humanitarianism.
To some extent that is true. A large number of public servants are probably motivated by a desire to do good. Although playing Santa Claus is mostly a matter of self-interest, many government officials honestly believe they are doing what is best for the citizenry of the United States after they assume public office. They believe they can use the authority of government to devise and then carry out plans to bring “social justice,” good housing, health care, and the like, to the people. Frankly, they feel that government has a moral obligation to manage our lives. Their goodness in our behalf, however, profanes the Constitution.
Instead of showing loyalty to the principles of the Constitution—limited government and personal liberty—they attempt to create the “good society” according to their own designs. Again, their intentions are good, but they still refuse to have faith in the individual. They really do not think individuals are capable of achieving dignity, economic stability, and justice on their own—within the framework provided by the Constitution.
Holding Officials Responsible
Those government leaders who scorn the principles of the Constitution should be held accountable. On the other hand, the question should be asked as to who put such Robin Hoods in office. The American people, of course, are the ones who vote for the politicians who head for Washington, D.C., to continue the task of planning and regulating our lives. A nation-wide survey reported that 94 per cent of those surveyed believed that the main duty of a Congressman was “making sure his district gets its fair share of government money and projects.”
The survey shows that Americans are quite willing to accept the idea that their elected officials are in the business of distributing monies from the federal Treasury. Apparently, few citizens think the responsibility of their Senators and Congressmen is to cut back on the growth of government.
We—legislators and average citizens—need to reexamine the Constitution and realize the extent to which we have degraded it. We should think about a proposal made by Nobel Prize-winning economist Milton Friedman. Considering the fact that people in government are trying to do good with other people’s money, Dr. Friedman suggests that we need an eleventh amendment to the ten already in the Bill of Rights. The new amendment would ensure that every individual would have the right to do good—with his or her own money.
In reality, we already have the right to do good for others at our own expense, although it can be said that this right is being hindered due to oppressive taxation and government- sponsored inflation. We cannot very well help other people if we do not have the money to do so.
Regardless of stifling taxation, our right to help others is being neglected or rejected as we place charity, human concern, and humanitarianism in the hands of the government.
For example, some Americans are concerned that advertising and some children’s programming on TV is bad for the kiddies and the stability of the family. Advertisers, they say, take advantage of innocent young viewers. The youngsters are brainwashed and led astray to clamor for toys, candy, or other items that they do not need. The duped children are more or less forced by the commercials to demand the products seen on TV.
Thus, we have the tragic spectacle (as some Americans see it) of boys and girls strong- arming their helpless parents into buying the trivial products advertised on TV. If the parents should refuse, havoc arises in the family. Adults and children suffer emotional trauma. If the parents agree to the children’s demands, then the families waste money on the supposedly useless products.
The answer for the above problems, as suggested by those who dislike the quality of children’s programs and advertising, is either government regulation or “social conscience” on the part of business. “Social conscience” means that companies that manufacture children’s products should sponsor their programs without showing ads for toys, cereals, and other products. We could then have commercial-free children’s TV . . . which would eventually mean government subsidy of children’s programs at the taxpayers’ expense.
Now then, if you ask the proponents of government intervention whether or not they allow their own kids to watch what they, the parents, say is bad children’s TV, they might very well answer with an emphatic “No!” That being the case, we should ask such people why they feel so superior to their fellow Americans. In other words, why is it that they presumably have enough concern for their children to turn off the booby-tube, but other parents apparently cannot make the same decision in behalf of their own children?
Other questions we might ask are these: If changes really need to be made in children’s TV, why don’t those who want the changes use their own money to establish a private foundation to bring about whatever improvements they feel are necessary? Why don’t those concerned about little Johnny’s appetite for candy launch a nationwide campaign—paid for out of their own pockets and through voluntary contributions—to inform parents that they are perfectly capable of doing two things: (1) saying “No!” to their children, and (2) turning off the TV set or making certain that their children do so.
The fact is that we will always have our goodhearted, well-intentioned crusaders who want to bring about what they believe to be a better society. Their moral failure lies in the fact that they basically have faith only in their own intentions and the power of government to implement those good intentions for all our good . . . regardless of whether we agree or not.
Those who support more government regulations, “guidelines,” and laws tend to believe that the ordinary citizen is not capable of making intelligent decisions on his own. This distrust of individual responsibility illustrates some of America’s alienation from the Constitution. The principle of limited government authority is spurned. Individual freedom and the Bill of Rights are belittled.
The Bill of Rights
The Bill of Rights was meant to be a steadfast safeguard to individual liberty. These ten amendments were prohibitions against excessive government power. They upheld in dividual rights against government interference. Now, though, an increasing number of Americans are accepting and encouraging a different concept of human rights. They would accept a new bill of rights that would not restrict government power, but instead authorize more government intrusion into our daily affairs.
As the federal government expands and becomes more intensive, we proceed further down the path toward servitude. Willingly or unknowingly, most Americans accept their fate. Our future was somewhat prophesied by James Madison: “There are more instances of the abridgment of the freedom of the people by gradual and silent encroachments of those in power than by violent and sudden usurpation.”
Madison realized that freedom was threatened by the gradual, often deceptive growth of government power. Whenever government steps beyond its constitutional duties, society begins to deteriorate. When government tries to arrange and direct society in defiance of the Constitution, a type of class warfare begins. As government attempts to pay for its various programs, it must resort to increased redistribution of the wealth. Society and politics become a battle ground where everyone demands “his share” of the funds in the federal Treasury.
Along with the continual struggle by lobbyists, special interest groups, and other beneficiaries for a cut of the federal pie, there is a corresponding loss of integrity. When the government takes from some (or all) to give to others, the redistribution of wealth hurts all segments of society—both the productive and the not so productive.
For example, a businessman finds himself in financial trouble due to his own incompetence or mismanagement. He looks to the federal government for help, and he receives it. A second economic crisis hits him, and he again finds himself rescued by government aid. Soon, he has lost his sense of self-responsibility. He has become dependent upon a paternalistic government. In this state of dependence, there is very little guilt about having his own failure subsidized by money taken from the productive elements of society.
Dependence and Servitude
Likewise, the productive people—whether they be corporations or individuals—slowly lose their sense of accountability, initiative, and self-reliance. They ask themselves why they should continue striving so hard, only to have the fruit of their labors taxed away for the benefit of others. Thus, there is a growing tendency for the thrifty, energetic, and hard-working people in society to work less and eventually become dependent upon government.
Government intervention is the first step towards dependence upon government. After dependence comes servitude.
If we are to escape the servitude of a socialistic type of government, we must act upon the advice of Patrick Henry: “No free government, or the blessings of liberty can be preserved to any people but by a firm adherence to justice, moderation, temperance, frugality and virtue, and by a frequent recurrence to fundamental principles.”
For the United States in the 1980s, “fundamental principles” should be the Constitution. Although the work of the Founding Fathers in 1787 is far from perfect, the Constitution does reflect an honest, firm adherence to certain basic truths about freedom and the purpose of government. One of the worst mistakes we can make is to believe that the Constitution is not relevant for today. The opposite is true.
More than ever, we need to uphold the Constitution with the realization that it is based upon certain wise, unchanging principles—principles that should be understood and obeyed today as much as they were during Madison’s day. The Constitution is not an outmoded document to be shrugged off as something that cannot or should not direct our political, economic, and moral life today.
Regardless of how durable the Constitution is, it cannot protect freedom unless “WE THE PEOPLE of the United States” heed George Washington when he said: “The preservation of the sacred fire of liberty and the destiny of the republican model of government are justly considered, perhaps, as deeply, as finally, staked on the experiment intrusted to the hands of the American people.”
Identifying Those Who Corrupt the Constitution
If we have an understanding of how the Constitution can protect our freedom from government encroachment, we must first identify those individuals and groups who are corrupting the Constitution. Are they federal bureaucrats who place their faith in larger and more powerful government? Yes, but who puts them in office in the first place?
“WE THE PEOPLE of the United States”!
Before we can think about the bad guys holding public office, we have to ask ourselves how unfaithful we have been to the Constitution. The average American’s desire for urban renewal, aid to education, price supports, and other handouts is the root of oppressive government. When we stop asking for needless government intervention, the constitutional renegades in Congress will not be reelected.
As soon as we have our own houses in order regarding allegiance to the Constitution, we can turn our attention to those people in government who want to continue spending our tax money, regulating our lives, and seducing other segments of society with their programs of government aid. Having a profound understanding of the Constitution, we can judge how well our elected and appointed officials are living up to their oath of office.
Sometimes it is possible to detect hostility toward the Constitution simply by knowing what government officials say in speeches, interviews, press conferences, or by the written word. More important, however, are their voting records and daily actions in office. Can your own Congressman and Senators answer a truthful “I do” to the oath of office?
Do you solemnly swear that you will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that you will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that you take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that you will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which you are about to enter: So help you God?
Politicians come and go. New Congresses are sworn in as our political process carries on year by year. New administrations take over, and new Cabinets are appointed. Regardless of who our elected and appointed officials are—whether they be defenders or betrayers of the Constitution—the tasks before us always remain the same. We are to comprehend the meaning of the Constitution and uphold it by accepting responsibility for planning our own lives. Once our own allegiance to the Constitution is firm and true, we can scrutinize our government officials with Thomas Jefferson’s wisdom in mind:
“In questions of power let no more be heard of confidence in man, but bind him down from mischief by the chains of the Constitution.”