America's most outspoken commentator reminds conservatives that the foundation for their beliefs lies in the Constitution
From the Print Edition:
Jeff Bridges, Sep/Oct 01
Today the federal government dictates the amount of water that can flow through toilets, the level of emissions from leaf blowers, the future design of washing machines, who can advertise what where and the rules of professional golf. As I've told the listeners of my radio show, a government that has the power to do these things is a government with unlimited power. That's not the way it's supposed to be.
The Democratic Party is the unapologetic vanguard of big government. It's uninhibited in the pursuit of an egalitarian utopia. Republican Party leaders, including the president, must be more than a timid voice in opposition if individuality, enterprise and creativity are to flourish. They must speak with conviction and act unambiguously. Comity, "a new tone" and compromise may be tactics, but they are not substitutes for statesmanship and political leadership, as the authors of the Constitution well understood.
In 1787, 55 delegates from the 13 original colonies met in Philadelphia to look for ways to improve the Articles of Confederation. They spent a long, hot summer debating and drafting, eventually scrapping the Articles, which had provided no effective means for uniting the states, and replacing it with the Constitution. Congress approved the proposed Constitution and sent it to the states for ratification, which occurred in 1788.
George Mason, a Virginia delegate at the Constitutional Convention, refused to sign the Constitution because it did not include the 12 amendments he had authored. In 1789, Congress eventually submitted Mason's amendments to the states, which ratified 10 of them in 1791. They became known as the Bill of Rights. It's worth noting that those who opposed the Bill of Rights did so not because they objected to protecting the rights of individuals against the power of the central government, but because they believed that by listing them, some future generation might wrongly construe the Bill of Rights as the only God-given liberties belonging to the people.
The framers of the Constitution lived through the authoritarian tyranny of King George III and the
relative anarchy of a nation lacking a central authority. In their brilliance, they devised a
Constitution that granted limited, enumerated powers to a central government. The
central government was restrained further by separating power among three equal branches, each serving as a check and balance on the others.
The founders were so committed to limiting the role of the central government that they put two exclamation marks at the end of the Constitution in the form of the Ninth and Tenth Amendments. The Ninth recognizes that the people retain rights apart from those mentioned in the Constitution; the Tenth recognizes that the states retain authority not specifically delegated to the central government.
The framers were also profoundly aware that both liberty and the rule of law would not endure long if the central government was ruled by an aristocracy or elite unresponsive to the will of the people or, conversely, if the central government was subject to the whims of the many. The Constitution created a representative republic. As many Americans are now aware, thanks to the events surrounding the last presidential election, the president is elected by an electoral college, not by direct popular vote. Originally, senators were selected by the state legislatures. Of course, today, like members of the House of Representatives, they're chosen at the ballot box.
The federal courts, according to Alexander Hamilton, were to be "the bulwarks of a limited Constitution." He believed that lifetime tenure for judges was "essential to the faithful performance of so arduous a duty."
About now you're probably asking yourself, "Rush, what's the point of this history lesson?" Well, the point is that today the federal government exercises power without real limits. The number of federal entitlements and programs seems infinite, and the massive federal bureaucracy knows no bounds. It's difficult to imagine any area of life that the federal government doesn't tax, regulate or otherwise influence. And each day, we gradually lose a little bit more of our freedom as a result of this incessant need to legislate, which is often nothing more than the establishment of even more restrictions on individual liberty.
Conservatives believe the Constitution enshrines enduring principles, that its words having meaning, and that the meaning of those words must be read in the context of the framers' intent. Liberals and moderates (who wait for the majority to form on a given issue and then join it), on the other hand, talk about a "living and breathing Constitution" that "adapts to the times" -- meaning it should bend to accommodate and enshrine what former Sen. Daniel Moynihan described as "deviancy defined down." There are no hard and fast principles, few if any distinctions between right and wrong, and the Constitution is subject to modification without amendment. But tell me: where is the middle ground between good and evil? Liberals and moderates struggle mightily to find it -- as in the case of Vermont Sen. James Jeffords, who said of Juanita Broderick's charge of rape against President Clinton, "That is a private matter."
During much of the last century, thanks especially to the presidencies of Franklin Roosevelt and Lyndon Johnson, the Constitution's firewalls have seriously eroded. The three branches of government that were to serve as checks on each other, and to jealously guard their own distinct constitutional roles, now work in relative harmony as advocates of big government. Courts not only legislate, but they assume executive functions such as running school districts (in Kansas City, a huge failure) and prison systems. The executive branch legislates through the issuance each year of thousands of pages of regulations, not to mention the expanded use of executive orders and presidential directives. And Congress exercises its legislative function unrestricted by enumerated and jurisdictional limitations.
A chilling consequence of this concentration of power is that the rights of individual citizens are frequently subjugated to the "public interest." And there are always "public interests" that require government action. Political speech, the primary type of speech protected by the First Amendment, must be restricted to supposedly clean up politics, even though speech is not the corrupting agent. Politicians for sale are. Gun ownership, protected by the Second Amendment, must be limited and controlled to supposedly stop shootings at high schools, when the primary problem is our failure to instill values and the sanctity of life in our children and the refusal to enforce the myriad gun laws already on the books. Private property rights, protected by the Fifth Amendment, must be forfeited to supposedly save the environment and endangered species of oddball animals, which subordinates human life to weeds, snail darters and kangaroo rats. Individual and states' rights, protected by the Ninth and Tenth Amendments, have become virtually meaningless. And, of course, it's always in the public interest to increase federal spending, and to increase taxes to support that spending.
Why don't more people resist this radical departure from our founding principles?
Unfortunately, too many Americans, wittingly or unwittingly, simply reject the very purpose of our founding. Apparently they believe that individual liberty and freedom are granted by the federal government, not by the natural yearning of the human spirit. Therefore, a larger and more powerful government is not viewed as a threat; it's actually seen as a blessing, when, in truth, the actions of the federal government almost always limit freedom, not confirm or expand it. So, for example, free medical care and prescription drugs are rights that the federal government has the power -- indeed, the duty -- to grant, even though it is not the government paying for these rights. It is fellow citizens, given no choice in the matter, who pay and who are then accused of being selfish when they claim they are already taxed too much for others' responsibilities and needs. Tell me, why should anyone else be forced to pay for Bill Gates's prescription drugs when he turns 65? Believe me, people other than Gates will be told it is their duty. Taxing others to secure these "rights" is therefore just. But an alarming fact is that fewer and fewer Americans are paying the majority of the total tax bill in the country today. This leads to more lower and middle class citizens being removed altogether from the income tax rolls, who then know they have no financial stake in tax cuts. They know that tax cuts may actually harm them by reducing the assistance they now think is provided by a caring government, when, in fact, that burden is now spread among an increasingly smaller number of taxpayers.
Incidentally, this also helps explain, at least in part, why so many people don't care whether their taxes are cut yet become furious when a bank charges them $1.50 for using its automatic teller machine. Taxes are seen as securing rights; however, banks are seen as profiting unfairly from the use of one's own money.
These folks have become part of an ever-growing entitlement class. They're receptive to, and targeted for, populist/class warfare rhetoric, which has been the core message of the Democratic Party for at least the last 70 years.
Second, too many Americans simply don't care if some constitutionally protected right or freedom, such as smoking a cigar in a room designated for that specific purpose, is denied another American as long as it's not perceived as threatening or directly impacting their own lives. Since liberty is lost in small rather than big pieces, its loss is hardly noticed.
Third, too many Americans who do care about the loss of liberty don't believe that their vote has consequences. They've become disappointed with elected representatives who share their conservative principles but don't appear willing or able to slow government's expansion. Part of the difficulty is that the growing, massive federal bureaucracy, with decades of acquiescence and even encouragement from Congress, has become largely insulated from the influence and will of the people. In effect, it runs on autopilot.
I believe this is a realistic assessment of the state of our union. However, you might be surprised to learn that I remain optimistic about the future. As recently as 1980 and 1984, Americans overwhelmingly supported Ronald Reagan for president. And Reagan was an unabashed conservative who campaigned on tax cuts, spending cuts, individual rights, federalism and conservative judicial appointments. Reagan was successful, and is among our most beloved presidents, because he understood that leadership involved repeatedly reminding the people about the principles of liberty and limited government. It is these principles, after all, that have made the United States the greatest country in world history -- not countless government programs. It is our God-given freedom, stemming from our creation, and firmly asserted by our founders, that explains ordinary people accomplishing extraordinary things; ordinary people becoming extraordinary people. These are the people I like to say who make the country work, people we've never heard of who are not seeking fame or notoriety. They are simply pursuing their dreams and inspiring others to follow their example, which explains the greatness of America.
Furthermore, in 1994, the Republicans won the House of Representatives for the first time in 40 years running on an unequivocally conservative agenda known as the Contract with America. It included tax limitation, capital gain tax cuts and a repeal of the marriage tax penalty. And in 2000, George W. Bush won the presidency not only by campaigning for tax cuts, which Congress recently enacted, but also for the privatization of a portion of the sacred Social Security program.
I'm convinced that when conservatives, including candidates for office, effectively and enthusiastically articulate America's founding principles, and contrast those principles with the politically expedient positions of the left, most citizens embrace such leadership. And that should give all of us great hope for the future. It certainly does me. I have pledged to not retire until every American agrees with me. That is optimism. You have been warned.
Rush Limbaugh broadcasts America's #1 radio show on 600 stations daily.
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