FRONT PAGE CONTRIBUTOR
How to resist
It didn’t occur to me, when writing of my reasons for skepticism of Big Government, that it would end up with something of a cliffhanger ending, or maybe an implied final sentence reading “… and that’s why we’re doomed.” But I can see why the beast I described sounds formidable. We’re generations past the point where it could have been reformed by a few visionaries, boosted into office with a few well-timed votes. We live among a generation that has been shaped by the government, more than it has been shaped by them. You can’t give social engineers decades of time, and trillions of dollars in resources, without seeing some results.
But I don’t think we’re totally doomed. Not just yet. I do feel a final tipping point is approaching, and every missed opportunity has serious consequences. I recall some spirited 2008 forum discussions with people who thought it was better to let Obama win and put a Democrat name on what would have generally transpired anyway, under John McCain. I thought that attitude severely underestimated what Obama could do, especially if he kicked things off with a couple of years of Democrat dominance in Washington. I’m not here to say “I told you so,” but I would point to these last few years as evidence that the people who made things bad are fully capable of making them worse. They never act like they have anything less than unlimited mandate when they win even the tightest election.
Much of the practical restraint on government power comes from the media now; the American people grow generally exercised only by crises that are brought to their repeated attention by saturation news coverage and “narrative” construction. It is very dangerous to introduce a leader the media adores into such an environment. Whatever other deficiencies we may lay at the feet of McCain, or any other Republican candidate who lacks strong conservative convictions, the media would have kept a more skeptical eye upon him, and that would have counted for something.
But here we are, and the question is, how can we effectively resist an overbearing system that has swept a growing number of decisions completely off the table for individuals? Before ObamaCare blew up, it was pushed very hard with a mantra from the President and his allies: the settled law of the land. In other words, they were explicitly stating that we aren’t allowed to resist, not even politically. They would, of course, have said the same thing under President Romney – you wouldn’t believe how much the media talks about the deadly danger of executive orders and unitary power in the mirror universe where Mitt Romney won in 2012. The media over there had a very, very, very different response when he started making unilateral changes to ObamaCare deadlines, let me tell you!
So let’s establish the first principle of resistance as the refusal to accept there are any “settled laws of the land.” Even the Constitution can be amended, after all. Everything beneath that is subject to change at the will of the voters. Anyone who even rhetorically denies this – offering not a brutally frank estimate of the odds for success in changing some hated law, but saying the attempt cannot honorably be made at all – is a totalitarian, pure and simple.
Accept nothing less than the complete and total submission of the political class on this point. Look, language shapes thought. ObamaCare apologists speak of it as a permanent disfigurement of the American system, which no decent person can even think about changing, because they want to infect decent people with shame and despair. Hopelessness is the true currency of a politician like Barack Obama, no matter what happy-face rhetoric to the contrary he might offer. When he says “hope and change,” he means your life is hopeless unless the right politicians are empowered to force other people to treat you better. Voters on both Left and Right should demand better. They should at least unite in acknowledging that we don’t give up our right to political debate, or strip it from our descendants, when a candidate manages to shove his pet legislation through Congress. “One man, one vote, one time” is the language of the banana republics Obama keeps insisting we bear no resemblance to.
Another signature feature of the banana republic is a one-way legal system, in which laws place no burden of obedience upon those who pass and enforce them. We should resist Big Government by insisting on the rule of law. Frankly, if the American people got serious about the rule of law, Big Government would have an immediate heart attack and drop dead at our feet. There’s no way this system would run for a single day if we insisted upon true equality under the law, demanding the government enforce every law as written, without favoritism. There have already been at least half a dozen significant moments when insisting upon the rule of law would have wiped ObamaCare out, with either minimal resistance or reluctant cooperation from Barack Obama. The tax code would get an awful lot shorter, too. Congress would have to start submitting budgets, instead of funding its wild spending sprees with continuing resolutions. What a strange new world we would live in, if every single law was understood to bind the government with as many obligations as it lays upon citizens!
But our Ruling Class doesn’t even pay lip service to that idea. For example, on Monday, Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor explained that she thinks illegal aliens should be referred to as “undocumented immigrants,” because referring to them as either illegal or aliens is insulting. This is an enormous offense to the rule of law. She’s saying the immigration laws she dislikes aren’t really “laws” at all, because they cannot truly be violated; activity prohibited by those laws is not “illegal.” Likewise, the laws protecting citizenship are not laws, because border violators who lack American citizenship are not “aliens.” At the very least, someone who respects the rule of law would agree that people who break the law ought to feel a little guilt and remorse.
One big advantage of unwavering insistence upon the rule of law is that it would make politicians nervous about passing huge bills they didn’t actually read. As it stands, the Ruling Class shivers with delight when it can get away with passing half-written bills that lead to a million pages of regulations, which they can enforce as they please. Nancy Pelosi’s famous “we have to pass this bill to find out what’s in it” outburst should be the epitaph for the kind of power she craved, a sentence that makes tomorrow’s children laugh at the folly of their fathers. We should be willing to take the hit to our pride. We’ve dropped enough bills on our children; it seems only fair to let them have a laugh at our expense.
Effective resistance involves asking questions. Obviously, that’s easier to do when you’ve got the media on your side, but even biased reporters perk up a bit when they hear someone asking questions and getting no answers. It’s remarkable how much the American citizen is expected to take on faith. The current crisis of managerial liberalism provides an excellent opportunity to ask tough questions about all the other things the Left has been getting wrong for a very long time.
“Where are the jobs?” is one of those questions we should encourage our fellow citizens to ask, after years of big-bucks stimulus programs. The process of using the free market’s own blood to give it a transfusion doesn’t seem to be working very well, especially since the procedure is administered by vampires. President Obama wants to make a big deal about “income inequality?” Okay… why has it been getting worse under his policies? He often talks about the urgent need to plow more money into the education system at various levels, to resolve a crisis of human capital. What’s that been doing for the last forty years, while it consumed countless billions? Why does an economy with a severe unemployment crisis need to import more labor? When you hear any demand for more taxes, the response should be “what did you do with all the other money we already gave you?” The American people seem to be in just the right mood to have such discussions.
We should work on dismantling the many tools used by government to conceal its cost from us. People don’t understand how much they’re paying, or how many costs are invisibly passed through every purchase they make. “How much am I supposed to sacrifice for this government?” is a very good question we should never stop asking, along with related questions about why some of us should be made to pay far more than others. We should ask why law-abiding citizens of good will should be made to feel the compulsive power of the State, which we accept as justified for preventing criminal abuse, not for cracking down on whatever the Ruling Class disapproves of.
Resistance requires organization. It’s too bad that it’s come to that, but because the State has grown so large and inescapable, there are only limited opportunities to sit out political battles and go your own way. The generally disappointing turnout for major elections tells me not enough people understand that yet. There really is no “none of the above” option; your choices are resistance or service. Non-participation equals submission. It really shouldn’t be that way, but it is.
What better way to recruit people for the resistance than encouraging respect for all citizens? The Ruling Class gets a lot of mileage out of convincing us to disrespect and distrust each other. It goes back to the question I asked above: why should well-meaning, law-abiding people be forced to do things, under penalty of criminal punishment? It’s the flip side of refusing to take certain laws seriously enough to speak of violators as criminals. People who violate the law are criminals, and ignorance of the law doesn’t usually get them very far in court. If you don’t want a lot of criminals running around, you need a smaller body of laws, more easily understood by the people. Such restrained government is a gesture of respect for the people, while Big Government is, inescapably, a gesture of contempt. If the State is your nanny, what does that make you?
People argue with each other all the time. It is the nature of strong beliefs to clash. Of course you’ve heard the old saying, “I guess we’ll just have to agree to disagree.” But when you bring compulsive force into the argument, the other fellow doesn’t get to disagree any more. A proper respect for one another would reduce our desire to “win” the great debates of the day by securing the submission of dissenters. One can’t help noticing these debates get more sour and vicious when one, or both, combatants have no personal skin in the game, and politics is all about convincing people that Uncle Sam can do all their bleeding for them.
“Free lunch” remains a tantalizing mirage; resistance begins with the acknowledgement there is no such thing. Although we’ve got some long odds to fight against, it also occurs to me that this is a great moment for conservatives to remind the public that lunch is never free, every airy promise comes with more than one price tag, every opportunity pursued means one is forgotten, and power is a flame that consumes freedom to keep burning. Tough fight? Sure. Unwinnable? No, not yet.