From Issue #99-40
New and Improved Republicans
|"I predict future happiness for Americans if they can prevent the government from wasting the labors of the people under the pretense of taking care of them." --Thomas Jefferson|
We suspect that Mr. Jefferson's quote came in reply to the question, "What is the future of compassionate conservatism?"
On the "Gee Dubya" campaign trail this week, fresh from his "triangulation" assault on Republicans in Congress for proposing to "balance the budget on the backs of the poor" (a line and strategy plagiarized from Mr. Clinton, which prompted House Majority Whip Tom DeLay, a fellow Texan, to declare, "We're getting stuff done here. Real stuff. Compassionate conservative stuff."), Mr. Bush set his sights on more sacred Republican targets.
Granted, Bush has not said much about his view of the role of government and how that view would translate into policy. Of course, with a $60 million-and-growing campaign war chest at hand, combined with a strong statistical lead over his party opponents, he doesn't have to say much.
That notwithstanding, he took a careless swipe at Reagan Republicans: "Too often, my party has confused the need of limited government with a disdain for government itself." It was a thinly veiled assault on Ronald Reagan's conviction, "Government is not the solution, but rather the cause of our problems."
Such disdain for government long precedes Ronald Reagan's beneficiaries -- not the least of whom would be G.W. Bush, the younger.
Perhaps Mr. Bush does not share the contempt for government that fueled the Anti-Federalists at the time of our nation's founding. Of course, the Federalists also shared a healthy disdain for government, as articulated in the Federalist Papers' detailed description of the limitations on government as set forth in our Constitution and its Bill of Rights.
Perhaps Mr. Bush does not accept Thomas Paine's assertion in his 1776 pamphlet, Common Sense, that "Society in every state is a blessing, but government, even in its best stage, is but a necessary evil; in its worst state an intolerable one." Or Reverend Henry Ward Beecher's notion, "The worst thing in this world, next to anarchy, is government."
A short course in the history of "government compassion" provides that the Founders' prescription for limited government was largely sustained until 1913. In 1895, the U.S. Supreme Court had ruled income taxes were unconstitutional because the Constitution requires equality in the levying of direct taxes -- flat taxation. Congress's growing penchant for spending, "under the pretense of taking care of" the "people," led to its advocacy of the 16th Amendment's ratification, which in 1913 legalized "progressive" taxation.
A mere two decades later, the original purveyor of "compassion," Franklin Roosevelt, uttered in traitorous ignorance, "Here is my principle: Taxes shall be levied according to ability to pay. That is the only American principle." That quote sounds vaguely familiar to another: "From each according to his abilities, to each according to his needs." Of course, the latter was from Karl Marx. And so it went.
It was not until the landslide election of Ronald Reagan in 1980, that a president again so forcefully expressed his disdain for government. "Government is like a baby. An alimentary canal with a big appetite at one end and no sense of responsibility at the other," said President Reagan. He empowered conservatives to drive back the forces of socialism -- the archnemesis of freedom.
It was in 1964, decades before his presidential election, that Ronald Reagan said in his now-famous speech, A Time for Choosing, "It's time we asked ourselves if we still know the freedoms intended for us by the Founding Fathers. James Madison said, 'We base all our experiments on the capacity of mankind for self-government.' This idea that government was beholden to the people, that it had no other source of power, is still the newest, most unique idea in all the long history of man's relation to man. This is the issue of this  election: Whether we believe in our capacity for self-government or whether we abandon the American Revolution and confess that a little intellectual elite in a far-distant capital can plan our lives for us better than we can plan them ourselves. ...
"You and I are told we must choose between a left or right, but I suggest there is no such thing as a left or right. There is only an up or down. Up to man's age-old dream -- the maximum of individual freedom consistent with order -- or down to the ant heap of totalitarianism. Regardless of their sincerity, their humanitarian motives, those who would sacrifice freedom for security have embarked on this downward path. Plutarch warned, 'The real destroyer of the liberties of the people is he who spreads among them bounties, donations and benefits'."
Indeed, we say to Mr. Bush, "This is the issue of this  election."
As for Bush's populist expression of "compassion," it was Justice Louis D. Brandeis who, in a 1928 decision, warned, "Experience teaches us to be most on our guard to protect liberty when the government's purposes are beneficent." He was taking a page from Noah Webster, who said more than 100 years earlier, "Good intentions will always be pleaded for every assumption of authority. It is hardly too strong to say that the Constitution was made to guard the people against the dangers of good intentions. There are men in all ages who mean to govern well, but they mean to govern. They promise to be good masters, but they mean to be masters."
If Mr. Bush is intent on discarding President Reagan's platform of disdain for the federal government as part of his "New and Improved" Republican agenda, and replacing it with "compassionate conservatism," we encourage him to surround himself with advisors who possess a learned historical knowledge informing them that disdain for the central government is a thematic tenet of conservatism.
And a final bit of advice for Mr. Bush: A man of few words should choose them judiciously!
PHILOSOPHY OF GOVERNMENT
9 Oct 99