We ought to thank Washington for the shutdown. If we stop raving for a moment about the demonic intentions of our political opponents, both liberal and conservative, we may recognize in it an exquisitely teachable moment about why our federal government is structured as it is.
History flows in many channels; one of the widest and deepest runs through Periclean Athens, the Rome of Gaius Marius and Julius Caesar, and the court of Louis XIV of France. It shows us that people are easily lead, and often inattentive to the consequences of their leaders’ bad decisions. Glib, attractive politicians can even herd them in directions dangerous to their well-being, using expectations of glory or promises of gain. More modern societies also resort to impenetrable thickets of regulations and bureaucrats — our equivalent of fences and sheep dogs — to keep the crowd in line and heading in the same direction.
Those who wrote our Constitution knew this human weakness well: the history of western civilization is thick with examples, one of which was the English monarchy of 1775. So when called upon to create a working government to replace the dysfunctional Confederation, their concerns were twofold: to give the central government enough power to competently perform the limited tasks which it was assigned, without giving it power enough to expand without limits.
Their creation worked admirably for almost 150 years. But we now face a situation that reminds us we should not blithely dismiss the founders’ concerns about the corrosive effects a powerful centralized government has on personal liberties. When the federal government can compel an individual citizen to purchase a product which requires surrender of important, identifiable personal information, said government has smashed down any reasonable expectation of privacy. The idea that there are areas of one’s life about which others cannot know exists now only at the whim of functionaries, and is dependent on the security of systems in which such information is stored. Lately, we’ve seen plenty of reasons to distrust both. One might as well nail the most intimate details of one’s life to an advertising kiosk in a subway station.
Today’s concerns about the terrible effects of the recent federal government shutdown also measure the extent to which old values and traditions underlying this nation’s success have been erased. In James Madison’s time, a “government shutdown” would barely have been noticed. There was no Occupational Health and Safety Administration, no EPA, no Federal Civil rights Commission. Yet somehow we survived, even prospered.
Why is a “government shutdown” such a catastrophe? Because today’s federal government has so insinuated itself into every aspect of our daily lives that the easily deluded among us fear we cannot survive a day without having helpful feds at hand to swab out our throats to prevent us drowning in our own spit.
Never fear; we will be reminded that when federal dollars stop, people suffer. The White House has begun collecting stories of terror, woe and despair brought on by the closure of 17 percent of the government, and we’re going to be treated to them ad nauseum. Until they publish the whole sordid story, we can refer to liberal sob sites like “Truthout.org,” which reported that 50,000 people in North Carolina were in danger of starving to death when the federal gravy train stalled. And thousands in Arizona had no money because their access to your wallet was cut off.
According to the Huffington Post, nine million mothers and their children went hungry, and schoolchildren everywhere fainted because you didn’t buy them breakfast. And lunch. Others weren’t able to get a home mortgage for no money down, with taxpayers holding the bag for any potential default. Multiply thousands of other examples by 50 states, and you will have some idea of how large the nation’s dependency class has become. Taking personal responsibility for one’s own needs is superfluous when there are politicians panting to fulfill every desire, all at someone else’s expense.
Throughout history power-hungry leaders have bought the poor and ignorant, promising to “spread the wealth around” by using public money to fulfill their wants. This strategy eventually destroys every state in which it is tried, since human desires are infinite and wealth is not. Those who created our country understood this, and built our government as well as they could to withstand this menace.
What they could not do was insure that a confident, self-reliant, well-informed and engaged citizenry would endure. Now, after 80 years of government programs tailored to whittle away these characteristics and instead make petitioners out of citizens, we are seeing the woeful results under a president who vowed to “fundamentally change” this country.
One promise he has kept, to our detriment.
Morgan Liddick lives in Summit County.