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When Americans limit ourselves to the narrow viewpoints of the “left” or the “right,” it often compels us to defend the position of “our” camp without giving due respect the perspectives of all Americans.
Every liberal and every conservative believes with all their heart that they have morality on their side. They believe that they are right, and that the other side has a warped view of the world.
Living among people with differing views is part of our American legacy. It began with the first settlers of our country, who came here to practice their faith freely. America is sometimes called a melting pot, but a more accurate description would be a stew of perspectives and backgrounds. Some of us are carrots, others are potatoes.
The United States is a republic
Although we vote for our representatives in democratic elections, the word democracy doesn’t even appear in the Constitution.
How does our Constitutional Republic differ from an absolute democracy? The US government was designed to defend the minority as well as the majority opinion. A total democracy without laws to provide protection for the minority becomes mob rule. For example, without such protections, if 51% of the population decided that everyone should go to church on Sundays, or that it should be illegal to eat meat, the majority could pass a law dictating how the rest of us had to live our lives.
If we are going to maintain a free republic ruled by the people, we must bear in mind that sometimes meeting the needs of one group is mutually exclusive of meeting the needs of another. Gay citizens want the right to legitimize their unions, while some churches reserve the right to condone heterosexual unions only. Sometimes we’re just not going to agree. That’s what makes us individuals.
A free society requires that we set aside our personal agendas and accept that others are free to live a lifestyle with which we are opposed. We are all free to rally, protest, and otherwise try to persuade others to think like us, but as long as they aren’t directly hurting others in the process, we shouldn’t be able to compel their actions by law.
A centralized federal government can’t resolve it all
What becomes sticky is the definition of ‘hurting others.’ There are pro-life believers who liken themselves to abolitionists: they feel that they’re standing up for the indefensible who can’t speak for themselves. On the other hand, pro-choice advocates believe that pinpointing the start of human life is subjective, so the government shouldn’t be able to tell a woman what she can do with her own body.
We must accept that it’s impossible to find a resolution that will appease both sides. Too often who we vote for in a national election becomes bogged down by subjects that should be irrelevant, distracting us from crucial national matters.
Defining when life begins is not under the constitutional jurisdiction of the federal government. Therefore, the true legal authority belongs to the states. As discussed in my last post, the same holds true for many of the issues on the national stage today, such as drug legalization, gun control and gay marriage. States need not conform on every law. This allows Americans the option to pick a home within our vast and varied nation that best fits their beliefs and lifestyles.
The proper way vs. the dangerous way to modify the Constitution
Our Constitution was designed to be the basis for all our federal laws. But times and sensitivities have changed in the past 237 years. That’s why when there is unified, national agreement about something not specified in the Constitution we can pass an amendment. An amendment, which requires approval by three-fourths of the states, ensures overwhelming support. The Bill of Rights, the abolition of slavery, and women’s right to vote all came from amendments.
Today politicians in Washington often finds it more expedient to simply ignore constitutional limits, considering their own causes more vital than protecting the viewpoints of all citizens. Examples include the federal administration’s continued raids on legal medicinal marijuana shops; the Edith Windsor tax case, in which the IRS refused to recognize Windsor’s legal marriage to her female partner under New York law; and President Obama’s trip to Connecticut to push for new gun control legislation.
Not adhering to the Constitution gives our federal government arbitrary power. Arbitrary power is a danger to any free republic.
That’s my opinion. What’s yours?
How has the role of the American government changed over time? How has it affected us?
The American government of today:
· is held responsible for stimulating our economy: they control our interest rates, they take responsibility for creating jobs, they subsidize industries and offer assistance to companies that fail.
· is responsible for keeping our society decent, moral, safe and healthy: they write laws to protect us from hurting ourselves, decide what we’re allowed to eat, drink and smoke, use taxes and fines as a way of modifying our behavior, regulate and license professions in meticulous detail and oversee our general care.
· is a charity: they attempt to eradicate poverty by supplying food, housing and medical care, they facilitate higher education, provide safety nets for those who fall short, support seniors, and redistribute wealth.
· is an international watchdog: they enforce peace and democracy by policing the globe, sending our troops to hundreds of bases around the world.
Should our government be pursuing these goals?
There’s no doubt that things like charity and the advancement of peace are worthwhile objectives, and that society should have organizations to pursue them. But what we must evaluate is whether the government of a free society is the proper institution to be pursuing each of these broad aims.
Does this viewpoint sound completely foreign and eccentric? If so, consider this: a century ago not a single issue listed above was on the federal government’s agenda. As a matter of fact, these would have been considered unconstitutional uses of power.
A transformation of government
Though we realize that technology, social norms and other influences are changing our lives at lightning speed, we may fail to recognize that the role of government has also changed significantly in the past century.
Our federal government was originally designed to perform strictly limited functions. Checks and balances restrained the size and scope of government and kept its responsibilities focused on individual liberty.
The role of Congress is spelled out very specifically in our Constitution:
to levy and collect taxes
coin money and regulate its value
establish post offices and roads
define and punish piracies, felonies and counterfeiting
raise, support and regulate armies, navy and militia
regulate commerce with foreign nations, the states, and Indian tribes
establish uniform rules and laws on naturalization and bankruptcies
and to make laws necessary to properly execute these powers.
As the 10th Amendment stipulates, “the powers not granted to the national government…are reserved to the states or the people.” In other words, according to the Constitution, no matter how compelling the cause, the federal government simply does not have the jurisdiction to pass laws on matters not specifically granted to them.
But sentiments changed drastically in the 20th century.
Unrestrained power means unrestrained spending
In 1913 the 16th Amendment was ratified, permitting a federal income tax. With a new source of tax dollars now at Congress’s disposal, special interest groups sprang up, demanding government programs to support causes that never could have been funded before.
During the Great Depression of the 1930’s, Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal agenda increased the role of government in unprecedented ways. But FDR and his Congress were required to prove the constitutionality of their programs. They did so by expanding the interpretation of the “general welfare” clause of the Constitution.
Article I, Section 8 of the Constitution says, “The Congress shall have power to lay and collect taxes, duties, imposts, and excises to pay the debts, provide for the common defense, and promote the general welfare of the United States.”
During FDR’s administration, the courts interpreted this phrase to mean that Congress could spend money for any purpose, whether a constitutionally enumerated power or not, as long as legislators deem it to be in “the general welfare of the United States.” For the first time in our history, this small clause was used to allow Congress to spend money in any way they deemed desirable.
Is more government the answer?
Just one consequence of unrestrained power is a national debt that is currently $16.8 trillion, increasing by $3.81 billion a day.
Is it possible that our Founding Fathers, who so cherished liberty and so feared government oppression, would have included a clause in our Constitution permitting Congress infinite and uncontrollable spending and legislative power?
For more detailed commentary on the effects of expanding government, please read my earlier writings on this topic here.