Obviously, there is a huge difference between an advocate of truly unlimited government power and anyone who subscribes to the vision of our founding fathers, the idea of a people free to exercise natural rights. But few people overtly advocate the former. Very broadly speaking, there are two positions in regard to government control over citizens. There are those who believe there ought to be some limit on the power of government and those who don’t. There is a difference between a person who believes in government with no restraint and one who believes in even the slightest limitations on a ruler or government. It’s a rather profound difference even though life might well be about the same for the average citizen of a country in which a leader has unlimited authority and one in which he has almost unlimited authority.
I have never heard the question asked, “Do you support any limits on government power?” Perhaps that is because we assume, probably correctly, that few, if any, Americans would disagree with the concept that our government should operate under some restraints. Virtually all Americans would prefer to maintain some measure of their freedom. Should the government have the power to imprison or execute anyone who is in the way? Surely, almost all Americans would object to that in theory.
If nearly all of us agree that government should have a limit, even if only that it should not stone a gay citizen or draw and quarter anyone, we have a very significant agreement. We agree that government can have and misuse power; therefore, it can be dangerous. We have an agreement that some limit on government is a good idea, just as there is general agreement on the other end of the spectrum that a government is necessary.
The idea that a government or head of state should not have unlimited power is not a given by any means. Autocracies and oligarchies have existed in the form of monarchies and totalitarian dictatorships, military juntas, and aristocracies in various parts of the world and throughout history and in modern times. Tyranny and poverty are human norms. The American experiment was unusual, founded in the radical idea of respect for liberty. The agreement that government should have some limits is significant, because it describes the advocate of the forefathers’ vision and most of the advocates of the “fundamental transformation” of America, not as opposites, but as people who merely draw a line in different places.
The advocate of the forefathers’ vision generally wishes to restrict the federal government to its limited constitutional role, leaving to the citizen the freedom to act according to his conscience and his desires, deciding for himself what he needs and how he will pursue happiness. The advocate of the progressive vision is generally comfortable with the government’s growing powers, trusting government, on behalf of the people, to define what is moral and ethical, dictating for the citizen what he needs and how he is to serve the interests of society. Different as those attitudes are, we have some common ground so long as the advocate of fundamental transformation objects to absolute government power.
So, where do we draw that line? At what point does the federal government have too much power? That may be the political question of our time. Citizens of various political stripes have various points at which they feel the government has gone too far, and we may be inconsistent, desiring government involvement in various things and not others because of our personal preferences rather than as the result of having reasoned out a political philosophy.
One who is wary of powerful government is likely to recognize the dangers of our government appropriating extra-constitutional powers and is probably already concerned about the reach of government and constricting liberty. But the statist who does believe in a limit somewhere down the road, would be wise to consider where that point is. Absent the restrictions on government in the Constitution, the government has no limit on what is possible.
My dear fellow Americans who share our president’s progressive vision, the future is in your hands now. Yours is the vision going forward. I respectfully ask the following:
If you feel there should be any limit on government power, where is that limit? Do you think we need to concern ourselves with making sure the government doesn’t exceed the limits you feel are appropriate? If not, why not? If so, how are you going to make sure the government doesn’t go beyond that limit? Do you feel there is any danger in moving closer and closer to your limit?
Remember that government power is like a train speeding along a downhill track. It will pick up speed on its own. If we stoke the fire that fuels it, it will pick up speed even faster. The faster and faster it goes, the more difficult it will be to slow or stop. Do you have a plan to stop it somewhere down the road when it will be harder than it would be now?
Are you confident that our leaders will, at the point you feel the government has enough power, voluntarily give up the opportunity to amass more power? Do you trust them to decline any excess control of your life? Are you confident with your life in the hands of powerful leaders who may come forward at some later time? Are you confident that your preferences will be the ones that are ultimately imposed on society should there be division among progressives in the future? Are you sure that it will be the others whose ideals and liberties are quashed and not your own? If you trust the president, is your trust unconditional? Do you trust that he will never abuse power and that no future leader will abuse any power he has acquired for one who holds his office?
If you trust the president and the government to take care of you and to turn down any power beyond what you feel is enough, note that such restraint is not typical of human beings, particularly those ambitious enough to go into politics. If you believe that our leaders will slow and stop that speeding train when you think the time is right, you are betting your future, liberty, and life, and the futures, liberty, and lives of your children, on that dubious proposition.
Our president recently spoke to Ohio State University’s class of 2013. He counseled the graduating class and audience to ignore voices that “warn that tyranny is always just around the corner.” Our first president, George Washington, was one of those voices. He warned, “Government is not reason, it is not eloquence, it is force; like fire, a troublesome servant and a fearful master. Never for a moment should it be left to irresponsible action.”