Government exists to protect our natural, God-given rights. Unfortunately, our federal government is too large and too burdensome, and as government expands, our freedoms contract. —Dr. Milton Wolf, tea party candidate for the Senate in Kansas
Many political ideas are advanced without justification, as if they were self-evident truths. Many of them won’t hold water. I’m from Missouri on these three ideas:
- Small Government
- Legislative Predominance
- State’s Rights
Dr. Wolf’s statement above is vague–government exists for many reasons, “natural, God-given rights” are undefined, there is no justification for “too large,” nor for the idea that big government limits freedom. The idea that small government is good is not Dr. Wolf’s alone; promoted by the Koch’s, it is echoed by conservative politicians and pundits again and again.
The libertarian core belief, that the economy regulates itself in the public interest without government intervention, is surely wrong–laissez-faire leads inevitably to obscene wealth for a few and crushing poverty for the rest. We are currently inundated with political propaganda suggesting that small, limited government is desirable, an idea that serves the parochial self-interest of those promoting it. Small, weak government serves the interests of those hoping to escape regulation or wishing to avoid the responsibility of citizenship. I won’t buy the idea that a small, weak Federal Government serves the public interest.
This is the idea that the legislature ought to play a predominant role in government. The Reins Act, which Tom Reed supports, manifests this idea–congress should review and approve all proposed regulations. The goal of the Reins Act is to rescind as many regulations as possible.
The “Articles of Confederation assigned executive responsibility to the legislature;” that government worked poorly as one might expect–squabbling legislators with an eye on parochial concerns we unable to agree in the public interest. The authors of the Constitution, well aware of this problem, created an executive branch of government. I won’t buy the idea that a more powerful legislature would serve the public interest.
Legislative predominance is the basis for complaints about executive orders and recess appointments. While conservatives often celebrate the “separation of powers” idea, they seldom recognize that the Constitution gives the President powers to balance the legislature and the courts.
The idea of state’s rights is reflected in the Tenth Amendment. It rose from colonial America’s fear of central government and concern for regional differences one such being slavery. Today we see it in complaints about marriage equality, common core educational standards and environmental regulations. Jeffrey Toobin, writing about Ted Cruz in the June 30 issue of the New Yorker, explains:
… ideological battles over the Constitution have often come down to the originalists, closely aligned with the textualists, against those who believe that the Constitution also protects some nontextual, or unenumerated, rights. The right to privacy is the paradigmatic unenumerated right, one that is not mentioned in the text of the Constitution but has been recognized by judges to include, for example, a woman’s right to abortion.
Those who don’t approve of a federal law or regulation find it easy to call for states’ rights. As there is no reason to see state government as wiser, more economical, or more democratic than the national government, the concept of states rights is obsolete. I won’t buy the idea that states’ rights ought to stand in the way of needed national laws, policies, and regulations.
© William Hungerford – July 2014