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The following op-ed was published this past weekend by the Daily Herald.
The ballot box provides American citizens an opportunity to indicate their support for or opposition to a variety of political candidates and proposed policy changes — an opportunity that a majority ignore; in Utah County, more than 67 percent of voters abstained from voting in the general election earlier this month.
For the few who do vote, this process becomes a majoritarian popularity contest in which warring factions attempt to wrest power from their competitors in hopes of imposing their views on everybody else. As Lord Acton wrote, “The one pervading evil of democracy is the tyranny of the majority, or rather of that party, not always the majority, that succeeds, by force or fraud, in carrying elections.” No student of history should regard American elections as a particularly praiseworthy process.
Of course, most see the current system as the least problematic approach to public policy, and therefore a valid system by which the government can be changed. But will this election actually change the direction America is heading, or is it, in the end, a theatrical rearrangement of deckhands on a ship whose course is fairly fixed?
Republicans regained control of the U.S. Senate, thus putting the GOP into majorities in both chambers of Congress. Many people who object to the clearly anti-liberty Democrat agenda are excited by the opportunity this presents, and hopeful that change is afoot. But the future should be informed by the past; context and data are better indicators of a trend than hope and prayer.
When the Republicans were last in control of Congress, a variety of flawed, big-government policies were foisted onto the public. In the cloud of fear following the 9/11 attacks, Republicans rammed the USA PATRIOT Act through both chambers without reading it, strengthening the foundation of today’s surveillance and police state in which liberty, privacy, and security have been substantially eroded in the name of “fighting terror.”
Republicans also gave us No Child Left Behind, a heavy-handed federal intervention into local education, and a precursor to Common Core. The same party cheerfully enacted Medicare Part D, the largest expansion of the welfare state since Medicare’s creation in 1965, and an unfunded mandate costing over half a trillion dollars in the first decade alone.
While new elected officials might bring redemption to the supposed party of limited government and low taxes, a decades-long trend of increasing interventions and violations of liberty provides skeptics with sufficient reason to doubt this outcome, welcome though it would be.
Costs for post-9/11 wars currently stand at $4.4 trillion, 6,800 dead American soldiers, hundreds of thousands of dead Middle-Easterners, rampant sexual abuse and suicide within military ranks, and untold amounts of collateral damage. The federal government routinely spies on our digital communication and personal information, unfazed by Edward Snowden’s revelations of the NSA’s activities. The USA has the highest corporate tax rate in the developed world, and Americans have to collectively work for nearly four months of each year merely to finance the government’s tax bill.
These and a lengthy list of other policy problems present a foreboding question to the politically inclined individual: is any of it going to change, to any substantive degree, any time soon? Did the election of Mike Lee in 2010, or Orrin Hatch in 2012 change this direction — or will Mia Love’s election do it? The question answers itself.
While the charted course of the federal government has long been in the direction of a perilous cliff, concerned citizens should consider fixing their gaze at more local levels where government can be — and often is — far more active than Congress. Consider this data point: in 2013, Congress passed 57 new bills. In the same year, the several states together passed some 40,000 new bills into law. This torrent of new laws makes a truism out of Gideon J. Tucker’s quote from 1866: “No man’s life, liberty, or property are safe while the legislature is in session.”
And it’s not just state legislatures — in many cases, voters become directly complicit in furthering the growth of big government, less liberty, and more taxes and debt by supporting these measures at the ballot box. Republican majorities permeate Utah County, and yet a new tax increase was just approved in American Fork, and Provo taxpayers were committed to $108 million in new debt because of the votes of roughly 10 percent of voting-age residents.
Electing new people into office may slightly and temporarily alter the trajectory of government, but without active watchdogs and a freedom-minded people jealously guarding their liberty from encroachment, the direction will remain the same. After all, as Thomas Jefferson said, “The natural progress of things is for liberty to yield, and government to gain ground.”
Here’s the key takeaway: showing up on Election Day to express your position on a few things — even if you’re one of the few who took the time to research what you’re voting on — doesn’t cut it. Elected officials, no matter how saintly they may seem in their private lives, generally cannot be trusted to protect your rights. They work with, and are lobbied by, people who desire more power and money — at our expense. No matter what level of government, it is highly tempting to disregard liberty and constitutional fidelity in exchange for praise, political favors, and power.
Casting a few votes won’t change this trend. Abandoning the political process is unlikely to affect it. Campaigning for your neighbor or friend won’t do it. Big problems require bold solutions — and while there are a variety of options and strategies to consider, a fundamental question first needs to be addressed: do we even care?