“Truth be told, if you’re looking for the guilty, you need only look into a mirror.”
-V for Vendetta
I have a message for almost everyone who complains about the federal government, a message that is not likely to win me many friends. Here it is: you’re the problem with this country. There, I said it.
Admittedly, this doesn’t apply to everyone who takes issue with the federal government’s actions. A minority of Americans truly struggle against all federal tyranny. They are, quite unfortunately, still a minority. You may be asking yourself, then, how you can determine if you’re one of these principled folks or if you’re the problem. Let’s ask a few questions to find out.
Do you spend half your time complaining about federal regulations and half your time defending unconstitutional wars? If so, then you’re the problem.
Do you decry the abrogation of civil liberties while supporting federal wealth redistribution? Then you’re the problem.
Do you proudly display your Gadsden Flag while cheering the federal government’s war on drugs? Then you’re the problem.
Do you stop wringing your hands about the growth of federal power only long enough to defend the Department of Education, or of Agriculture, or of Energy or of Homeland Security? Then you’re the problem.
In essence, you’re the problem if you say you believe in the Constitution’s limits on what the federal government can do unless you want it to do something for you. If policy preferences and desired outcomes mean more to you than constitutional limitations, then you have no business complaining about the federal government.
Every amateur commentator on American politics wants to adopt an “us against them” mentality, as if federal officials operate independently of our desires. “Why, the government is trying to control me,” they incredulously observe. “How dare those politicians take away my rights?” Meanwhile they ask that the federal government trespass on someone else’s rights and fail to see the connection to the loss of their own.
The naked reality is that politicians don’t operate in a vacuum. The power they use to oppress you is the power that you have given them to oppress other people. Many people will balk at this statement, recoiling at the idea that they could have had any role in bloating the federal government. In their minds everything is the fault of those fools on the left or those psychopaths on the right. It’s not their fault. It couldn’t be.
But failure to see the connection between what you want the federal government to do to others and what it ends up doing to you does not mean that the correlation isn’t there. It just means that you’re wrapped up in the lie that you can grow the federal government beyond its constitutional boundaries and still avoid it’s attempts to run your life.
The sight of so many Americans who ignore this obvious truth brings to mind an episode of “The X-Files,” the popular 1990s television series. In one particular episode the show’s protagonist asks a beleaguered cult member, “Did you really think you could call up the devil and ask him to behave?” I want to ask Americans, “Did you really think you could grow the national government and ask it to not oppress you?”
Yet, this is exactly what most Americans think they can do. Economist Walter Williams once spoke of a discussion he had with the late Jesse Helms, a Senator from North Carolina. Responding to the economist’s criticism of agriculture subsidies, Williams reported Helms’ reply:
“He said, ‘Walter, I agree with you 100% that these farm subsidies ought to be eliminated.’ But then he asked, ‘Can you tell me how I can remain the senator from North Carolina and vote against them? If I do what you say, I would be voted out of office.’”
The prevalence of this sentiment among voters led Williams to conclude,
“Today’s politicians can’t be held fully responsible for our abandonment of constitutional government. While they can be blamed for not being statesmen, the lion’s share of the blame rests with (300) million Americans. Elected officials simply mirror public misunderstanding or contempt for constitutional principles.”
It’s time for Americans to face the reality that they are their own oppressors. In ignoring constitutional restrictions on the federal government, they consistently make arguments in favor of the power that is ultimately used to take away their own liberties. It’s high time we all eschewed the “us against them” delusion and understand that it’s really us against us.
One of my favorite anecdotes is attributed to British writer G. K. Chesterton. As the story goes, a London newspaper asked its readers the question “What’s wrong with the world?” Chesterton, displaying his trademark wit, responded to the paper’s inquiry with a simple note that read,
G. K. Chesterton”
Before Americans try to answer the question of what is wrong with the country, we could use a strong dose of Chesterton’s introspective candor. What’s wrong with our country? We are.