We are at odds over the meaning of our history and why, to quote our Declaration of Independence, “governments are instituted.”
“We”? Mr. Dionne must have a mouse in his pocket. Only the left in America is at odds with our history, because they don’t like individual freedom. Time and again, they have tried to rewrite our history, and he’s no exception. The left doesn’t like self-determination. The left want to pick who wins, who loses, and define “fair” as it suits them. That cannot work in a free country, and they hate it.
…our friends in the Tea Party have offered a helpful clue by naming their movement in honor of the 1773 revolt against tea taxes on that momentous night in Boston Harbor.
Whether they intend it or not, their name suggests they believe that the current elected government in Washington is as illegitimate as was a distant, unelected monarchy. It implies something fundamentally wrong with taxes themselves or, at the least, that current levels of taxation (the lowest in decades) are dangerously oppressive. And it hints that methods outside the normal political channels are justified in confronting such oppression.
First of all, the tea party wasn’t then and isn’t now about an illegitimate government. The left demonstrates clearly this is how they think — we put up with 8 years of “Bush stole the election!” We merely question the actions of our government, and we’re depicted as loading our muskets. Secondly, the Declaration of Independence wasn’t ratified until 3 years later. The Boston Tea Party was an effort to get the Crown to pay attention, a warning that the people were growing weary of a distant and deaf government who simply imposed taxes with little input from the taxed. Breaking away from England – and all the consequences therein – was far from a foregone conclusion at this point. The Declaration of Independence only came after repeated grievances went unanswered time and again. The men affixing their signatures to that document knew full well that they were likely signing their own death warrants for treason against the crown.
I admittedly know very little about Mr. Dionne personally, but I can imagine that like most liberal elites, he doesn’t like the people in flyover country, and probably never talks to them. His little attempt to school us in American history sees to that. If he did, he would understand the parallels of a deaf and distant Washington government that many of us have grown weary of. Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi informed us that in order to know what laws we were going to be subject to in ObamaCare, we had to first pass the bill into law. That is insane and emblematic of the type of actions taken by the government that have many of us angry.
Yes, we’re angry about taxes — because we know what is coming. Totally and completely out of control government spending has to be paid for somehow. Conservatives aren’t the type of folks to buy votes now and kick the burden down the road to our children and grandchildren. We recognize the massive debt they will be faced with. To suggest that “taxes are the lowest in decades” seems far fetched at best, and Bush’s fault at worst.
In the long list of “abuses and usurpations” the Declaration documents, taxes don’t come up until the 17th item, and that item is neither a complaint about tax rates nor an objection to the idea of taxation. Our Founders remonstrated against the British crown “for imposing taxes on us without our consent.” They were concerned about “consent,” i.e. popular rule, not taxes.
Mr. Dionne is the only one here insinuating that conservatives don’t want to pay any taxes. Basically, because we’re not collectivists like him, we’re anarchists. The reality is, we recognize the need for government and believe that government of enumerated powers can serve a useful purpose. However, conservatives despise government deciding that because the Constitution doesn’t forbid something, then the act, no matter how egregious an assault on liberty and individual freedom, must be permissible. We recognize that taxes are necessary for the operation of government, itself a legitimate social and political institution. When, however, said government takes from the people more than that which is absolutely needed to function and carry out its proper and limited role, it is theft.
The very first item on their list condemned the king because he “refused his assent to laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good.” Note that the signers wanted topass laws, not repeal them, and they began by speaking of “the public good,” not about individuals or “the private sector.” They knew that it takes public action — including effective and responsive government — to secure “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”
The Claremont institute explains the first grievance:
This charge refers to the fact that several of the colonies had been obliged from their establishment to submit their laws to the King for his approval. This power, the Declaration implies, was never consistent with the fundamental principle of just government: consent. And by adding “laws the most wholesome and necessary for the public good,” Jefferson indicates that the laws that were vetoed were intended to accomplish the fundamental purpose of government stated in the preamble, “to secure these rights.” One important example of this charge was King George’s refusal to comply with various attempts by the Colonies to abolish the slave trade, as Jefferson explicitly stated in his original draft of the declaration. The King, wishing to protect this profitable British trade, defeated all attempts by the Colonies to curtail or abolish it.
Sidenote: there goes the leftist argument that the Founders were huge fans of keeping slavery.
“Public good” does not mean welfare, government handouts, and redistribution of wealth as we have been led to believe. The Founders would have cringed at the very notion. The public good is that which secures the blessings of liberty for ourselves and our posterity. Notice that it does not secure wealth, health care, housing, cell phones, cars, cable tv, good food, etc. The founders understood that basic sustenance for those who could not care for themselves was left to the church and to individual charity – both much better equipped to directly meet the needs of the downtrodden than some government bureaucrat. There is no evidence to suggest taking care of the poor by stripping one man of his legally earned wealth and giving it to another was ever intended as a legitimate function of the federal government.
Friedman explains the concept of public good in Capitalism and Freedom this way:
The free man will ask neither what his country can do for him nor what he can do for his country. He will ask rather “What can I and my compatriots do through government” to help us discharge our individual responsibilities, to achieve our several goals and purposes, and above all, to protect our freedom?
Their second grievance reinforced the first, accusing the king of having “forbidden his governors to pass laws of immediate and pressing importance.” Again, our forebears wanted to enact laws; they were not anti-government zealots.
Despite Mr. Dionne’s snide implication, neither are conservatives or tea party folks. We are small government, not no government people. How many times do we have to explain this?
Abuses three through nine also referred in some way to how laws were passed or justice was administered. The document doesn’t really get to anything that looks like Big Government oppression (“He has erected a multitude of new offices, and sent hither swarms of officers to harrass our people, and eat out their substance”) until grievance No. 10.
Mr. Dionne tries to cleverly over-simplify the grievances of conservatives and tea party folks, by claiming that the Declaration of Independence wasn’t solely about a Big Monolithic Government, like those silly rednecks today think we have. This is Mr. Dionne’s way of trying to make us look stupid, and pretend that our concerns of government overreach into every aspect of our lives are shallow and dull.
This misunderstanding of our founding document is paralleled by a misunderstanding of our Constitution. “The federal government was created by the states to be an agent for the states, not the other way around,” Gov. Rick Perry of Texas said recently.
No, our Constitution begins with the words “We the People” not “We the States.” The Constitution’s Preamble speaks of promoting “a more perfect Union,” “Justice,” “the common defense,” “the general Welfare” and “the Blessings of Liberty.” These were national goals.
Again, clever, Mr. Dionne, but no. Governor Perry is correct. The 13 states (colonies at the time) sent representatives from their governments to draft the Declaration of Independence. It was hardly a free-for-all.
Furthermore, until the 17th amendment was passed, Senators were duly elected representatives of the several states, sent by the state legislatures to represent the states. They were not popularly elected until … Woodrow Wilson. The Founders believed so strongly in the states as independent, sovereign bodies that they intentionally provided them in the Constitution with representation in the federal government co-equal (with slightly different responsibilities) to that of the popularly elected House of Representatives.
I know states’ rights advocates revere the 10th Amendment. But when the word “states” appears in the Constitution, it typically is part of a compound word, “United States,” or refers to how the states and their people will be represented in the national government. We learned it in elementary school: The Constitution replaced the Articles of Confederation to create a stronger federal government, not a weak confederate government. Perry’s view was rejected in 1787 and again in 1865.
Stronger federal government. That ‘er’ suffix is a grammatical device to indicate a relative relationship between two things, not an absolute as Mr. Dionne would have us think.
While we’re at it, let’s look at the 10th amendment:
The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.
Here, the “United States” clearly refers to the federal government. True, the Constitution generally uses the phrase “United States” – because it is the document that defines the operation and nature of the federal government. Through sleight of hand, Mr. Dionne wants us to come to the conclusion that the states don’t really matter – that the founders really saw no need for decentralized government. The mere use of “United States” says nothing about the strength and scope of the federal government as the founders intended it. They did not define the governments of the several states in the United States Constitution, they left that up to the individual states to decide for themselves.
Stronger national government hardly requires the states to subjugate themselves to Washington. Note that we are not referred to as the “People’s United Democracy of America” or “United Republic of America”. We are the “United States of America”. Mr. Dionne likes to emphasize the “United” as if that implies a monolithic, top-down federal government. A government of the people, by the people, and for the people begins with the individual. A person grants some power to his local government, which grants power to the state. The state grants limited power to the federal government.
If government is to exercise power, better in the county than in the state, better in the state than in Washington. If I do not like what my local community does, be it in sewage disposal, or zoning, or schools, I can move to another local community, and though few may take this step, the mere possibility acts as a check. If I do not like what my state does, I can move to another. If I do not like what Washington imposes, I have few alternatives in this world of jealous nations.
The very difficulty of avoiding the enactments of the federal government is of course the great attraction of centralization to many of its proponents. It will enable them more effectively, they believe, to legislate programs that – as they see it – are in the interest of the public, whether it be the transfer of income from the rich to the poor or from private to governmental purposes. They are in a sense right. But this coin has two sides. The power to do good is also the power to do harm; those who control the power today may not tomorrow; and, more important, what one man regards as good, another may regard as harm. The great tragedy of the drive to centralization, as of the drive to extend the scope of government in general, is that it is mostly led by men of good will who will be the first to rue its consequences.
That which remains after such powers have been enumerated and declared for the national government are left to the states, and to the people. That is what the 10th amendment says.
Dionne wraps it up by pretending to laud the Founders and call us stupid for noting the lessons of history.
We praise our Founders annually for revolting against royal rule and for creating an exceptionally durable system of self-government. We can wreck that system if we forget our Founders’ purpose of creating a representative form of national authority robust enough to secure the public good. It is still perfectly capable of doing that. But if we pretend we are living in Boston in 1773, we will draw all the wrong conclusions and make some remarkably foolish choices.
Leftists love to throw around “public good” when what they really mean is “Give me yours, so I can give it to this other guy and thus purchase his vote with the fruits of your labor. In doing so, I will control both of you, because you’re too dumb to take care of yourself.”
I can’t imagine a philosophy more anti-thetical to the Declaration of Independence, individual liberty, and the principles of our founding.
Edit: corrected misspelling of Dionne’s name. Thanks @FLFusionista for catching it