April 10, 2010 | Commentary on Political Thought
The president may try to joke about it — "the Earth didn't crack open" after his health bill passed, he has said several times — but a majority of Americans don't like the direction in which he is taking the country.
The old media dismiss the open anger as the ravings of the Radical Right, but Main Street Americans are concerned about 16,000 new IRS agents checking their returns to see if they have complied with the latest government regulations. They are worried about the cost of another trillion-dollar program, which they suspect that they, and not just the "wealthy," will wind up paying for. They know there's no such thing as a free lunch — or a free entitlement. They understand that something fundamental to our society is at stake.
The overriding cause of their anger is neither political nor fiscal but philosophical. The nation is engaged in a Great Debate over a question that has been with us since the founding of the Republic: How much government do we need?
President Obama clearly favors a dependency society, in which Americans become ever more dependent on government. He and his progressive allies are apparently succeeding. According to my Heritage Foundation colleague William Beach, 62 million Americans — one in five — rely on government for their daily housing, food and health care.
Conservatives are committed to a free society in which individual Americans, not the government, make the decisions determining their future. In this clash of principles, the left eagerly embraces government, the right keeps it at arm's length. So it has been since 1776, when Patrick Henry declared, "Give me liberty or give me death!" The colonists seeking independence cheered Henry. The Royalists satisfied with British sovereignty thought the Virginia patriot was crazy.
Now, no one but an armchair anarchist disputes that we require some government to ensure life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. As James Madison wrote in Federalist 51, "If men were angels, no government would be necessary." Recognizing the darker side of human nature, the founders sought to establish a balance between liberty for which they had fought a revolution and order which would protect the rights of all.
The resulting governing document was our Constitution, so constructed that through checks and balances no one "faction" would be able to achieve dominance and ignore the will of the people. So when Congress passes and a president signs a 2,000-page bill that affects every American but is opposed by all the members of one political party as well as a majority of the people, expect consequences — both major and far-reaching.
It was never intended by the founders that our government should be neat or efficient or predictable. But it was intended that our government would be as good and fair and honest as the representatives chosen by the people could make it. When their representatives do not represent their true interests, the people will speak and they will be heard.
As he left the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia, a woman asked Benjamin Franklin, "Well, Doctor, what have we got — a republic or a monarchy?" "A republic," replied the Doctor, "if you can keep it."
Those who participate in town halls and attend tea party rallies and vote for principled candidates are not an isolated minority that only emerges from their mountain hideouts at night. They are members of a resolute majority determined to preserve and protect the republic. They know that here in America, as Ronald Reagan put it, "We the people tell the government what to do, it doesn't tell us."
Lee Edwards is the distinguished fellow in Conservative Thought at the Heritage Foundation.
First appeared in Desert News