I often write about the need to return to the system of
limited government envisioned by our Founding Fathers and codified by the U.S.
Constitution. Nice as this is in
theory, how could it be made to happen in practice? A longtime reader and I recently exchanged e-mails in which
we pondered that very question.
Ideally, I would like to see the federal government divest
itself of every function not authorized by the text of the Constitution.
This would not just protect our liberty, private property and even our
culture. It would restore the rule
of law and go a long way toward making honest men out of the people who comprise
our political class. There are
political parties and candidates who run on platforms advocating precisely that
and these entities play a vital educational role worthy of support.
Alas, these parties’ presidential candidates only win a
few hundred thousand votes while the American people have arrived at a consensus
in favor of government far larger than what the Constitution authorizes.
The sad fact is that for anyone likely to actually hold office or wield
power, strict adherence to the supreme law of the land would amount to political
Over time, principled constitutionalists can strive to
alter this consensus and reinstate constitutional government.
But in the meantime, is there anything that can practically be done to
advance the cause of smaller government here and now?
My longtime correspondent, a bright fellow who possesses a
rare combination of political savvy and skepticism of the modern state, suggests
that candidates should at the bare minimum be expected to use small-government
rhetoric (think Ronald Reagan) and take incremental steps toward making whatever
cuts are politically possible. Let the leviathan “bleed from a thousand cuts” if need
be, he suggests.
A Republican who tried to repeal the entire welfare state
in one fell swoop would be swiftly voted out of office, if by some miracle he
managed to get there in the first place. But
is it not feasible for a Republican to try to cut the federal budget by 2 to 3
percent per year? Slowly trim a
percentage point here and there from tax rates? At the very least, stop discretionary spending increases in
excess of inflation plus population growth and then work our way down?
I will never punish an elected official for not cutting
taxes as much as I would like, or reducing spending by the amount I would
prefer. But that isn’t currently
the Republicans’ approach. Instead,
the GOP at best tries to increase spending by less than the amount the Democrats
The problem with that approach is that our politics
continue to progress in the same direction.
Government continues to grow and the only variable between the two
parties is the speed with which in consumes more of our income and the spending
priorities. This is not an
improvement; it is just foot-dragging.
The right in this country has succeeded in making it as
slow and painful as possible for the left to drag us toward massive,
European-style welfare states. But
without a fundamental change in direction, this will be seen as a delaying
tactic rather than a permanent achievement.
The implosion of our entitlements system and the oncoming collision
between the alternative minimum tax and real-income bracket creep portend a
return to pre-Reagan tax rates unless daring action is taken.
A good place to start would be meaningful tax and spending
limitations. The taxpayers’ bill
of rights (TABOR) provisions in Colorado helped the state avoid the fiscal
calamities experienced by other states during the recessions.
Proposition 13 in California and Proposition 2 ½ in Massachusetts have
helped provide some semblance of a check on those states’ rapacious
governments – if only they could be tightened to curb Boston and
Sacramento’s ability to levy other taxes.
Like the frog being cooked slowly in boiling water,
government growth has proceeded without much resistance because it has taken
place too gradually for taxpayers to notice.
Perhaps similar slow but steady progress can be made in shrinking
government, providing needed relief for taxpayers while trimming programs too
slowly to goad the beneficiaries of pork-barrel projects and corporate welfare
Even if a modest but real incremental approach to shrinking government didn’t get us as far as some libertarians and conservatives would like, at least it would be a step in the right direction.
expressed do not necessarily reflect those of PoliticalUSA.com.