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September 2008

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I'm starting to feel like we've seen this before, somewhere. You have the Bush administration telling us there's a dire crisis, and that we have to do exactly what he says or the terrorists financial bogeyman will win.

Well, surely, he wouldn't lie to us again.

It is a bit strange to see the Democrats all gung ho this time, though. Isn't this the party for labor unions and the "working man?" You know, redistributing wealth downward, not upward? I guess at the end of the day anything that expands the power of the federal government - and the executive in particular, since they seem to think Obama will win - is A-OK by them.

When I heard that the bill was sunk, I eagerly looked up the roll call in the hopes that my representative, David Price, might have done the right thing. Unfortunately, he did not. Fortunately, I get to vote against him in November.

Everything else be damned, I'll be a one issue voter over this. Attempting to rob the taxpayers of almost a trillion dollars to fund a failed business model is not something that can go unpunished.

Let's take a trip back - way back. Before the perpetual war on terror, before the federal government got into the business of wealth redistribution - back to when the country was born.

The founders were not asking questions about drilling for oil or bailing out banks - they had real things to figure out. They were asking how they could create an entity that was powerful enough to preserve the rights of its citizens and member states, yet constrained enough that it could never be used to violate these rights. More than this, even, they had to ask what these "rights" even were.

History conspired to place Jefferson, a man of the Enlightenment, behind the Declaration of Independence, and thus managed to irrevocably tie the philosophy of John Locke with the birth of the new nation.

Jefferson - and those who agreed with him - feared power, and rightly so. They had witnessed the abuse of power first hand, and they felt that such power was anathema to a society of free men. The Constitution and the Bill of Rights were drafted to shackle the federal government, to prevent any man or group of men from acting as a despot.

The Jeffersonian view of government was essentially classical liberalism. The core tenet of classical liberalism is that of inalienable rights, as Jefferson described them in the Declaration of Independence - rights that all men share, rights that may not be forfeit to government. Rather than government granting its citizens rights, the citizenry grants its government certain powers to be used only to protect these rights.

These core rights of man were referred to by Locke as "life, liberty, and property." While it is perhaps unfortunate that the text of the Declaration of Independence contains a modified version of this phrase, the 5th amendment still contains Locke's version:

No person shall... be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.

It is clear that protection of private property from the federal government was a key consideration of the founders in general. Madison summed it up quite nicely:

... the government of the United States is a definite government, confined to specified objects. It is not like the state governments, whose powers are more general. Charity is no part of the legislative duty of the government.

In this quote you also get a real sense of how the Constitution was designed to restrain the government. The original republicans had no notion that the Constitution would become a "living document" the way that our current judicial system likes to view it. To them, it was "living" only in the sense that there were provisions through which it could be modified. What the Constitution said is what the Constitution meant, and the articles contained therein could not be violated by the government. Where it is unclear or inadequate, it is meant to be amended, but it is not meant to be reinterpreted - it is meant to be obeyed.

It's also clear that the states were meant to "pick up the slack," performing all the other responsibilities of government. While the federal government's powers were clearly enumerated in the Constitution, the States' were not. Citizens were allowed to grant their respective states additional powers as they saw fit, but they could never do this to the federal government without a Constitutional amendment.

Over time, due to real and imagined threats, the federal government has gradually expanded its scope well beyond this original intent, and essentially violates the intent of the Constitution with almost every action it engages in. Since the Supreme Court claims to be the ultimate arbiter of what the Constitution means, the document - which was intended to cripple the federal government - is now placed at the mercy of the institution it was meant to restrain.

Some of the Unconstitutional acts of the government are so obvious that they're ludicrous on the face of it. The "war on drugs" is one of the more flagrant violations - it should be quite telling that in 1919 a Constitutional amendment was required for the federal government to outlaw alcohol, but a mere 50 years later Nixon and his friends in congress managed to outlaw drugs entirely on their own.

Other government programs, though, are more insidious. The worst perhaps are those that people feel compelled to engage in out of altruism, as with the various welfare programs operated under the umbrella of Social Security. While presumably these programs really were created with the best of intentions, such wealth redistribution is well beyond the original scope of the federal government. Indeed, any such actions should have been taken by the states; but now we all come to largely accept them.

In our current political climate, our candidates for national office do not run on platforms of defending the Constitution or protecting the freedoms of the states. Instead, they run on platforms of morality legislation and wealth redistribution - both of which are outside of the scope of the federal government. The most frustrating, perhaps, are the promises of token tax cuts - they have the gall claim that if you vote for them they'll do you a favor by stealing a little bit less from you.

You could argue that all this is just fine. That the federal government should wield such power. That it should be in the business of regulating activities between consenting adults. That it should be able to redistribute wealth to the poor.

These are discussions worth having. We live in a democracy - we have a framework for making such things happen.

But we, as a people, as a union of states, never asked for these things in the only way we are able - by amending the Constitution. Instead, our government took these things and told us they were for our own good.

And, over time, we believed it. Maybe we wanted the government to reach into somebody else's pocket and give us a cut of their wealth. Maybe we wanted the government to reach into other peoples' bedrooms and stop them from engaging in activities we believe to be perverse.

We, as a people, stopped asking how to keep the government under control, and instead started asking how we could use the government to control everybody else. And feeding off of this, the government itself took more and more, playing off of these desires in the populace to bypass the Constitution, bit by bit.

Now, every election, the government offers back to us a fraction of what it takes. Token tax cuts, funding for our local school systems - money that they never had the right to take in the first place.

I'll end this post with the words of Ben Franklin:

When the people find that they can vote themselves money, that will herald the end of the republic.