by Jeff Wartman

If you are not free to choose wrongly and irresponsibly, you are not free at all.Jacob Hornberger.

Every four years, voters in the United States are given a choice between two major party candidates in the Presidential election.  We are often told that either of these candidates are the “mainstream” candidates and if you want your vote to count, you need to choose between either one of the two major party candidates who have a “chance” at “winning”.

However, for true supporters of limited government and personal liberty, this is often a choice made in vain.  If you truly believe in a limited, decentralized government which protects both economic and personal liberties and rights, during most elections there isn’t a major party candidate that will generally fit your values.  You have a choice between the Democratic Party, of which too many members wish to violate your economic rights and liberties, and the Republican Party, of which too many members wish to violate your personal rights and liberties.  This is not a judgment of individuals in either party.  Most individual members are doing what they think is right.  This is a judgment on those than run the major parties.

To illustrate my own philosophy of government, I’ve often used an analogy of a road trip.  The route and destination are analogous to the choices you make in life and the level of freedom you possess.

Too many big government Democrats want to drive your car for you.  They feel that if they know the route better, it’s in your own interest to just sit in the back and let them drive the car for you — they will be able to plan the best route and will be able to get to the destination according to the way they think is best.  It doesn’t matter if you feel that a different route may be better, because they know how to get there better than you do.

Unfortunately for the American people, some Republicans have deviated from the principles that the party was founded upon, limited government and personal responsibility.  Therefore, there is also a part of the Republican Party, a segment of big government Republicans that also want to choose the route and destination for you.  Rather than driving the vehicle for you, they will let you sit in the drivers seat and give you the illusion that you are making free choices when in reality the government is in the passenger seat next to you with it’s own set of omnipotent pedals and a steering wheel that they can use to override any choice they deem as unacceptable.  Like the omnipotent Drivers Ed teacher than can take control of the vehicle at any moment, big government Republicans want you to have the illusion that you are making your own choices but in reality are only holding up a smokescreen.  If they don’t like your choice, they can (and will) quickly override you.  The only difference between big government Republicans and Democrats is that Republicans want to give you an illusion that you will be able to choose your destination, when in fact the level of control is the same.  Pro-corporate bailout Republicans fit into this category, and it hurts good Republicans like Jeff Flake and Ron Paul.

Those who advocate limited government offer a different path.  Grover Norquist wrote that, “The Leave Us Alone Coalition [Norquist’s name for limited government advocates] is not antigovernment.  It simply wants properly limited government that plays a role in protecting the life, liberty and property of citizens.”

The proper role of government is not to shepherd you to the “correct” decision, government’s role is to protect your rights so that you may make your own choices, whether popular or not, good or bad.  Therefore, in the context of the above analogy, to an advocate for limited government, the government is not in your car at all.  No judgments can be made on either your route or destination because government is not a participant in the road trip.  Instead, government is the mechanic, keeping your car running so that you can make your own decisions while driving.

The proper role of government is not to make sure people make good decisions.  There is no role for personal morals in government.  The real purpose of government is to maintain minimum social order for people to live their lives by their own morals through their own choices. The key word in that sentence is minimum.  For too long, authoritarians have used the guise of “social order” to induce massive control and individual rights violations.  To protect minimum social order, government exists to protect nothing more than individual rights, with individual rights being defined broadly enough to include the right to do anything until you restrict the freedom of someone else to do what they please — the classic example being that you have the right to swing your fists through the air, but the right to swing your fist ends at the tip of another person’s nose.  This self-correcting view of rights is the only way to ensure freedom.  Some may even question whether government is the proper avenue for the protection of rights.  Throughout history, it is rare to find an institution that has as evil a record on protecting rights as government does.  However, while government may be a bad mechanism for protecting rights, it’s probably least bad way we have, and certainly the only demonstrable way.  Barry Goldwater illustrated this point when he stated in his classic Conscience of a Conservative, “All too often we have put men in office who have suggested spending a little more on this, a little more on that, who have proposed a new welfare program, who have thought of another variety of ’security.’  We have taken the bait, preferring to put off to another day the recapture of freedom and the restoration of our constitutional system.  We have gone the way of many a democratic society that has lost its freedom by persuading itself that if ‘the people’ rule, all is well.”

However, the deference to government power is moving us from the individualistic “Father knows best” mentality to our current way, a “government knows best” mentality where Barack Obama and his band of merry travelers will dictate economic planning from above because they know best.  This is the same type of argument that Justice Holmes gives in allowing the power of government to dictate what’s best in the 1927 decision Buck v. Bell in which Holmes reasoned that government could dictate solutions to social problems.  By reasoning that it was within the power of government to forcibly sterilize the “feeble minded and socially inadequate,”  Holmes’ reasons for why the government could sterilize women against their will and the reasons behind the entire platform of Barack Obama’s Presidential campaign are identical:  government knows best, and government will attempt to solve social problems.  If there is one lesson to take from history, it’s that deference to government knowledge and planning is dangerous and responsible for most of the suffering in the world.

However, under no objective analysis have the Republicans done any better.  Too many Republicans have given in to the demands of big government is an effort to hold on to power.  The Republican Party is not in the gutter because they have been too laissez-faire.  The Republican Party is in the gutter because the status quo of the GOP has thrown the principles of limited government into the trash. Discretionary domestic spending under George W. Bush rose at a higher rate than it did under Bill Clinton.  The legacy of George W. Bush will be as the Great Spender and the Great Regulator.  If you are proud of the record of the GOP in the last eight years, you are not an advocate for limited government.  If you are proud of the record of the GOP in the last eight years, you are a supporter of big government.

The main problem for this stems from the fact that when presented with a big government Republican, advocates for limited government are often pressured to support the big government Republican in the name of ‘victory.’  Unfortunately, I see no ‘victory’ in creeping socialism, despite whether there is an R or a D next to the name.  Republicans who supported candidates like John McCain and other politicians who voted for the bailout seem to welcome socialism, as long as there is an R next to the candidate’s name.  Instead of standing up for the principles of limited government, these Republican socialists have tossed aside what’s right and many have become no better than Democrats.

Under President Bush, this Republican administration has left a legacy of big government.  Among the legacies of the Bush administration

  • When President Bush took office, the national debt was approximately $5 trillion dollars.  As he leaves office, the national debt is currently over $10 trillion dollars.  President Bush has doubled the national debt in eight years.
  • President Bush has made it his policy that the federal government should micromanage who should and who shouldn’t get married.  The federal government must approve of your relationship before you can wed.
  • President Bush spearheaded the federalization of education in 2001.  President Bush has decided that unelected bureaucrats in Washington should control your child’s education, not parents and teachers.

This is only a select portion of the harm that runaway government power under George W. Bush has threatened our nation and way of life.  Big government was slipped in by Republicans because no one was minding the store.  Many of the largest budget items weren’t even included in budgets, because they were so outrageous that they wouldn’t survive budget negotiations.  They could be added later with a sense of urgency because of “emergency” purposes.  According to Grover Norquist:

“The Bush administration has perfected the strategy of pretending to send up a budget and then showing up later with ‘emergency’ spending requests to pay for such ‘unexpected’ costs as pay and equipment for the hundred thousand American troops in Iraq that have been there for years, but somehow the guys at OMB forgot this when they wrote their budget”

The fiscal policies of the Bush administration while running interference on budget supplementals would make Senator Goldwater roll over in his grave.  In the end, there is really no difference between the “Compassionate Conservatism” of President Bush and the Great Society socialism of President Johnson.  Both are big spending, big government social programs designed to treat the “symptoms” of poverty and not the actual “disease” of poverty.

Henry Hazlitt understood these problems when he wrote the free market classic Economics in One Lesson.  The central thesis of the book is that economic planning by government will always attempt to benefit one group (whichever group is lobbying for a policy enactment) at the expense of all other groups, and will always help in the short term while being harmful in the long run.  Therefore, he states that, “The art of economics consists in looking not merely at the immediate but at the longer effects of any act or policy; it consists in tracing the consequences of that policy not merely for one group but for all groups.”  When government tries to meet the need of whatever group has power or money at any given time, the results are almost universally bad.  Hazlitt states,

“Each one of us, in brief, has a multiple economic personality.  Each one of us is producer, taxpayer, consumer.  The policies he advocates depend upon the particular aspect under which he thinks of himself at the moment.  For he is sometimes Dr. Jekyll and sometimes Mr. Hyde.  As a producer he wants inflation (thinking chiefly of his own services or product); as a consumer he wants price ceilings (thinking chiefly of what he has to pay for the products of others).  As a consumer he may advocate or acquiesce in subsidies; as a taxpayer he will resent paying them.  Each person is likely to thinking that he can so manage the political forces that he can benefit from a rise for his own product (while his raw material costs are legally held down) and at the same time benefit as a consumer from price control.  But the overwhelming majority will be deceiving themselves.  For not only must there be at least as much loss as gain from this political manipulation of prices; there must be a great deal more loss than gain, because price fixing discourages and disrupts employment and production”

Because we have many different roles in our economy, any policies which are enacted for your benefit as one role will harm you in your other roles.  The only way to keep everything is free market capitalism.  Enterprise capitalism is the only way to ensure justice among all the roles within a diverse economy, strictly because it avoids the problems of central economic planning expressed so eloquently by Hazlitt above.

This all leads back to the fact that the powers that be in both the Democratic and Republican Parties have ignored two of the most important parts of the Bill of Rights:  the Ninth and Tenth Amendments.

The Ninth Amendment states:

The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.

In layman’s terms, this means that just because some rights are specifically mentioned in the Constitution, naming those rights should not be taken to mean that rights that are not mentioned are not protected.  Put simply, the list of rights in the Constitution is not exhaustive or complete; there are other rights held by the people which are not named, because it would be impossible to name every single right retained by the people.  Leading Ninth Amendment scholar and law professor at the Georgetown University Law Center (and native of my home town/graduate of my high school alma mater) Randy Barnett has this to say about the Ninth Amendment and the protection of rights, from his book Restoring the Lost Constitution:  The Presumption of Liberty (p. 58)

…natural rights define a private domain within which persons may do as they please, provided their conduct does not encroach upon the rightful domain of others.  As long as their actions remain within this rightful domain, other persons — including persons calling themselves government officials — should not interfere without a compelling justification.  Because people have a right to do whatever they please within the boundaries defined by natural rights, this means that the rights retained by the people are limited only by their imagination and could never be completely specified or enumerated.

There is no better paragraph on the meaning and bounds of natural rights of which I am aware.  The Ninth Amendment is not a source of any specific rights per se, it’s a guideline that ensures that just because a right isn’t mention doesn’t mean it isn’t held by the people.

Next up is the Tenth Amendment.  It states:

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.

This is probably the most ignored part of the entire Constitution.  The meaning has been lost to many currently in power, yet is so simple:  the federal government only has the power it is specifically given in the Constitution.  Unless the Constitution gives the federal government the power to do something, it doesn’t have that power.  This system was set up by the founders precisely to give autonomy to the state and local governments, with minimal power to the federal government.  The federal government serves an important purpose, and that’s why powers are delegated to the federal government in the Constitution.  However, the power that was delegated to the federal government was minimal.  Current politicians have chosen to completely ignore this amendment, and give a completely illiterate reading of the necessary and proper clause of the Constitution.

The ninth and tenth amendments work hand in hand.  The ninth amendment gives an expansive view of individual rights, and the tenth amendment institutes a strong limitation on the powers of the federal government.  It seems that too many Republicans want to ignore the expansive view of natural rights in the ninth amendment and Democrats want to ignore the strict limits on the power of the federal government of the tenth amendment.

The most principled person in Washington understands this problem.  Back in 1998, Ron Paul wrote,

“But rather than abide by our constitutional limits, Congress recently passed two pieces of legislation – neither containing a shred of constitutional authority – which, of course, were “non-controversial” despite moving us further from the notion of a limited government. One piece of legislation pledged that the Congress will “pass legislation that provides the weapons and tools necessary to protect our children and our communities from the dangers of drug addiction and violence.” Setting aside for the moment the practicality of federal prohibition laws, an experiment which failed miserably with alcohol in the 1920s, the threshold question must be: “under what authority do we act?” Whether any governmental entity should be protecting individuals from themselves and their own stupidity is certainly debatable; whether the federal government is constitutionally empowered to do so is not. Being stupid or brilliant to one’s sole disadvantage or advantage, respectively, is exactly what liberty is all about.”

Unfortunately, not enough people have read the Constitution.

It is for these reasons that I call on advocates for limited government to pledge to support the World’s Smallest Political Platform.  It reads that we “support reducing the size, scope and power of government at all levels and on all issues, and opposes increasing the size, scope or power of government at any level or for any purpose.”

There are good organizations out there that believe in limited government.  Some good ones to support are (There are many, many more good limited government organizations.  This is just an example):
Heartland Institute
Americans for Tax Reform
Illinois Policy Institute
Cato Institute

Republican Liberty Caucus

I leave you with a quote from Mr. Republican himself, Robert Taft.  If we had more Robert Tafts in the Republican Party, we’d be much better off.

I mean liberty of the individual to think his own thoughts and live his own life as he desires to think and to live; the liberty of the family to decide how they wish to live, what they want to eat for breakfast and for dinner, and how they wish to spend their time; liberty of a man to develop his ideas and get other people to teach those ideas, if he can convince them that they have some value to the world; liberty of every local community to decide how its children shall be educated, how its local services shall be run, and who its local leaders shall be; liberty of a man to choose his own occupation; and liberty of a man to run his own business as he thinks it ought to be run, as long as he does not interfere with the right of other people to do the same thing.Robert Taft

Jeff Wartman [send him email] is an activist for limited and local government in Will County, Illinois.  He is fighting to restore the principles of limited government, liberty and competitiveness to the people.  Visit his website at