This article was written in January 2011 as the Republicans assumed power in response to overreaching by President Obama during the previous two years. After the fiscal cliff negotiations concluded last evening giving us a very poor compromise, it is necessary to remember that the House is our only protection from an imperial presidency. The Senate is dysfunctional and will not pass a budget nor vote on any legislation it receives from the House limiting spending. As a new House is sworn in, we can hope that some sanity will emerge and halt our glide toward insolvancy.
With new leadership in Congress, the conservative ascendancy has begun. Are Representatives John Boehner and Eric Cantor prepared to follow our founding fathers’ intentions? Our country was founded on principles rarely taught today. Opposing socialist governance is not enough. Our founders were not conservatives or progressives. As Enlightenment era of enthusiasts, who valued the individual decision maker, they resembled modern day libertarians. Founders wanted the least powerful federal government that could unite the several sovereign states. Their earlier attempt at small federal government failed when they abandoned the Articles of Confederation in 1787. The Constitution was developed with many compromises allowing the states autonomy while providing a central government that could govern a large and diverse nation. Since much of American history is taught from the prospective of an apologist, students are not given an appreciation of this great experiment in freedom. Our founders were radical in their approach, but they were not collectivists.
President Obama’s worldwide apology tour reflected the progressive theme that American individualism is grandiose and threatening to the world. When he says the country has been arrogant, he is expressing the historical approach taught in many American schools for the last 50 years. His speeches set a new tone throughout the world, but little else has resulted. Our allies’ political orientation, democratic socialism, is in contrast to our country’s “cowboy mentality” which results from our individualistic survival mode. Our President had aimed at remaking our image, but he has missed the distinction between the American and European approaches: Our system was designed specifically to limit change while the Parliamentary system encourages it. Our Constitution requires a 2/3 vote of Congress and ¾ vote of the states for an amendment. Our society may evolve. Although our Constitution may be changed, it is not “evolving document”, otherwise it cannot serve as a contract between the people and the government it created.
History textbooks often neglect the religious and social imperatives underlying the “manifest destiny” dogma. Students are rarely taught that “manifest destiny” was the moral compass for westward expansion of the nation during the 1820 through 1860’s. Religious undertones accompanied this social imperative that Presidents such as Jackson and Polk asserted. However, with the removal of religion from curricula, this expression of American exceptionalism is eliminated. Xenophobia and persecution of the Native Americans become the causes. Arguing over the amount of government rather than the effectiveness of programs cedes the point to progressives. Our founders were theists, but ensured that our government would not become a theocracy through the First Amendment. Yet, they did not intend to eliminate religion from our lives, as this is among our most precious freedoms. While liberals frequently use humanistic terminology through their concern for society, they are principally incremental socialists.
President Obama sees the Constitution as a “negative limitation” of the government. He understands the founders attempt to limit central power against the natural instinct of politicians to expand power. The President wants the Constitution to be a set a “positive affirmations” empowering the government to correct societal ills. This is socialism. However, since history lessons focus upon dates, places and names, rather than upon enduring lessons of humanity and human nature, we are ill prepared to recognize this conclusion. We become prey to politicians who want to remake this country without transparency. Historians may point to our country’s failures, but ours is an enduring attempt at freedoms. Governmental growth has not eliminated poverty, ignorance, sickness or decay of our infrastructure. Cuba, the former Soviet Union, France, and Greece give us a glimpse of our future if we continue on this path.
Great movements require social imperatives to unite populations and endure difficult times. This was the purpose of arguing against “taxation without representation” during the American Revolution. President Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address and the Emancipation Proclamation gave purpose to Northern soldiers during the American Civil War. Some argue that religion serves the same purpose: to encourage humans to behave in a manner not consistent with their nature. The United States is a great movement of people toward unification without loss of individualism. Although the nation is evolutionary, our core document, the Constitution is not. Many governmental programs are inefficient and burdensome. While they originate as well intentioned efforts, few citizens can identify positives when describing the government agencies they must negotiate. Overreaching and expansion of government has resulted in budgetary deficits which threaten our greatest imperative, our survival. We must not surrender to politicians who do not respect our founding principles.
Today we are told that our politics are divisive. This has been the norm. Few are aware that our first Treasury Secretary, Alexander Hamilton, was killed by President Jefferson’s Vice President, Aaron Burr in a duel. President Washington assembled the greatest Cabinet. Yet two friends, Adams and Jefferson became bitter enemies resulting in the end of the Federalists and the creation of the Democratic-Republicans. The vitriol at that time exceeded the present rhetoric. While Jefferson opposed the expansion of federal power in the Alien and Sedition Act of 1798, he then expanded the Presidential power with the Louisiana Purchase in 1803. This expansion of power stands in sharp contrast to President Washington. Few would expect pleasantries between the warring parties during the Civil War. The press, with its own political prejudices, will not support reduction of the government in its reporting. We can hope that the incoming Congress heeds this lesson.
Socialists seek government expansion. President Obama desire to “redistribute the wealth” ignores the founder’s intent. The founders desired a system of equal opportunity, rather than equal outcome. Several changes to the Constitution were necessary to accomplish equitable opportunity. First, citizenship was conferred on former slaves after the Civil War; then women were given the right to vote. Our founders were successful white males who did not seek economic equality. They thought this was not possible. They created a system that allows creative persons to flourish. The incoming Congress must not stifle this creativity and should reverse impediments already in place.
Congress cannot solve all societal ills and generally hinders creative people. The marketplace of ideas and business hold the best hope for our economic recovery. Restraining federal growth and influence is necessary. Entrenched people will fight this move aggressively as their special interests are threatened. Our long-term debt and obligations threaten our future wealth and economic vitality. This malaise can end only if the expansion of government is curtailed. We wish these leaders well and recognize the uphill battle that they face.