The following is an excerpt from Our Last Hope: Rediscovering the Lost Path to Liberty
During a Republican primary debate leading up to the 2012 presidential election, Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.) illustrated this misplaced faith in the federal government as the “protector of the people.” Like many Americans, he makes the erroneous assumption that Washington D.C. will protect the interests of its citizens, while state governments will trample rights and abuse its people. To hammer home his point, Santorum set the feds up as the defender of Americans against state government mass sterilization campaigns.
“We have Ron Paul saying, ‘Oh, whatever the states want to do under the Tenth Amendment is fine.’ So if the states want to pass polygamy, that’s fine. If the states want to impose sterilization, that’s fine. No! Our country is based on moral laws, ladies and gentleman. There are things the states can’t do. Abraham Lincoln said, ‘The states do not have the right to do wrong.’ I respect the Tenth Amendment, but we are a nation that has values. We are a nation that was built on a moral enterprise. And states don’t have the right to tramp over those because of the Tenth Amendment.”
In the first place, Santorum completely ignores the federalist system our founders created. The federal government was never intended to enforce a moral enterprise. That role was left to the states and the people. That’s why few federal laws against murder exist. Beyond not understanding, or simply ignoring, the division of powers between state and federal governments in the American system, Santorum’s comment reveals his misplaced faith in centralize power.
No government enjoys innate superiority over another. All governments operate subject to identical forces of human nature – a flawed nature that leads people to abuse power and seek their own self-interest if left unchecked.
Political philosopher Frederick Bastiat observed:
“But there is also another tendency that is common among people. When they can, they wish to live and prosper at the expense of others. This is no rash accusation. Nor does it come from a gloomy and uncharitable spirit. The annals of history bear witness to the truth of it: the incessant wars, mass migrations, religious persecutions, universal slavery, dishonesty in commerce and monopolies. This fatal desire has its origin in the very nature of man – – in that primitive, universal and insuppressible instinct that impels him to satisfy his desires with the least possible pain.”
Apparently, Santorum assumes a mysterious substance sprinkled in the D.C. water supply makes federal officials more benevolent and moral than the men and women who frequent our 50 state capitols. Or perhaps mutations in the DNA of federal bureaucrats make them superior to state workers. Maybe he believes something in the air along the Potomac mystically negates basic human nature, rendering federal officials altruistic and dedicated to serving American citizens.
A quote often attributed to George Washington sums up the danger of government power. ANY government power.
“Government is not reason; it is not eloquent; it is force. Like fire, it is a dangerous servant and a fearful master.”
Even if the first president never uttered the words, they ring no less true.
And concentrated power poses an even greater danger. As Lord Acton observed, “Absolute power corrupts absolutely.” When we step back and look at the nature of government, it becomes clear that placing all authority in Washington D.C. poses a much greater threat to the people than allowing state governments to exercise their powers individually.
Let’s take Santorum’s ridiculous assertion at face value. Let’s say Kentucky passes a law mandating castration for every male over the age of 30. How long do you think it would take for the mass exodus to begin? Guaranteed, the population of males over the age of 30 in Tennessee, Ohio, Indiana, West Virginia and the other bordering states would skyrocket within hours of the passage of that legislation. And you’d likely find the guys that didn’t care to leave the Bluegrass State gathered on the steps of the capitol in Frankfort, shotguns in hand.
But what would happen if the federal government passed such a law? Where would we go? How easy is it to leave the United States? What escape or recourse do we have? When the feds pass a law, we all get what we get.
Santorum supporters might assert, “Well, the federal government would never do such a thing.” Really? Then why assume state governments would? And really, can you guarantee that? Have you ever heard of Tuskegee?
Between 1932 and 1972, the U.S. Public Health Service studied the unchecked progression of syphilis in poor black sharecroppers in Tuskegee, Ala. Officials told the subjects of these studies that they were receiving free government health care. Officials never told them they had syphilis, nor did doctors ever treat them for the disease. They were told their treatments were for “bad blood.”(4) On the detestable scale, this ranks up near to top. Yet discussion of the Tuskegee experiments never includes stripping power from the federal government. In fact, the solution proposed, and ultimately implemented, was more federal government. Kind of like an extra dose of arsenic for the poisoning victim.
Here’s a question for you. Why do we never hear the Tuskegee experiments invoked as a reason to distrust and limit federal power in the same way big government apologists use the Civil Rights era as a rational for growing the federal government and limiting the power of the states?
And another: if you can be so sure the federal government wouldn’t pass Santorum’s hypothetically created draconian sterilization law, how can you stand there with a straight face and argue that we need the federal government violating the Constitution to protect citizens from states passing such ridiculous legislation?
Fact: governments do bad things. All of them. Local governments. State governments. National governments. The question becomes, how can “we the people” best control them?