Opinion | Morgan Liddick: On the government we made
On Your Right
This year, $14 billion has been spent electing 470 senators and representatives and one president, making this the most expensive election season in U.S. history.
Over $550 million dollars have been spent in the five most expensive races for the U.S. Senate, and $290 million for the top 10 House races. Why? These positions start at $174,000 a year. It certainly isn’t about the pay.
These races are costly because they give the winners control of a government that is bloated, intrusive and too controlling of our lives. Far from its original charge of regulating interstate commerce and our currency, providing for the national defense and relations with other nations, organizing interstate infrastructure projects and little else, our federal government has grown to a behemoth that controls most aspects of modern life, from the information on a bottle of imported wine and the fuel economy of one’s vehicle to farmers’ use of irrigation water and the proper curriculum to teach LGBTQ issues.
This hypertrophied reach and concomitant ability to control us tends to attract the wrong sort of people to federal officeholding. Some still serve from a sense of obligation, but more are drawn by the illicit whisper of authoritarianism. The Roman satirist Juvenal observed, “Every man is a secret tyrant,” and a national government with its fingers in everyone’s business is irresistible to those who lust to rule those they see as lesser beings. Most of us, in other words.
There is another type for whom the millions spent to attain office are justified by the tens of millions easily accessible to those without scruple against the corruptions large and small offered by their position.
Apparently, Joe Biden is one of those, but he is hardly alone. From Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse to Rep. Chris Collins, 1 in 3 members of the legislative branch have made stock deals in the past two years, much of it based on insider information. Sure, it’s corrupt and illegal, but what are you going to do about it? Throw one guy out and think the problem is solved?
Serious as they are, those corruptions pale in comparison to the tidal wave of cash flooding into politics from corporations. Nine of the top 10 contributors in 2020 own businesses subject to federal regulation, and they all think — with the good reason of past practice — that their money will buy them consideration.
We may squeal about the injustice of all of this, but we don’t try to understand why it happens and why it’s going to continue to happen regardless of any law. It happens because our federal government is too large and too involved in too many areas of our lives and because, humans being what they are, those with opportunity will seek their own advantage using any means available to them.
Our founders gave us a government constrained and limited to specific functions because they understood human nature: the itch to profit from authority, the whispered temptations of tyranny, the unintended consequences of good intentions. They preferred that Americans solve their own problems, see to their own prosperity and secure their own futures rather than trust those functions to a remote and anonymous government because they understood that government is an instrument to be wielded sparingly and carefully because all government contains the seeds of tyranny. For almost 150 years, their small national government witnessed the growth of our country’s power and prosperity on a scale unprecedented in human history.
Near the turn of the 20th century, another idea arose: that governments can be instruments to right wrongs, to satisfy wants, to create a veritable paradise on Earth. Attempts to realize this idea have been responsible for the deaths and misery of hundreds of millions of people across the face of the globe, but its adherents are unfazed. Those former attempts, they argue, were improperly led. Improperly planned. Improperly executed. “We know better,” they say. “We are smarter than they were and than you are.”
“Let us rule,” they promise, “and everything will be perfect. Diseases will be cured, poverty eliminated. Peace, prosperity and comity will abide.” It’s a pretty promise. Remember that in morality tales, poisons are often hidden by outward beauty.
We are at a crossroads today. One path leads to a temporary — because all victories over human vices are temporary — restructuring and reduction of the state’s impact on our lives, with a resulting enlargement of freedoms. The other leads directly and swiftly to tyranny.
Morgan Liddick’s column “On Your Right” publishes Tuesdays in the Summit Daily News. Liddick spent 27 years working for the U.S. Foreign Service, primarily living abroad. He also spent 12 years teaching U.S. history and Western civilization at community colleges in Colorado and Texas. He lived in Summit County as recently as 2015. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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