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The Government our American Founders Warned Us About

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In one sense, Republicans and Democrats are nearly the same. While they may have different philosophies that motivate their actions, the results are usually identical: An impenetrable bureaucracy that’s expensive to run and difficult to control. Sadly, it’s a trend that neither side seems interested in changing. Maybe they think we won’t notice. And maybe they’re right.

I think it might be time to revise the traditional left/right political spectrum we use to describe American politics. We may need a new way to define the current political landscape, perhaps focusing less on ideology and more on the existing scene we’re now facing. It might even be time to view the nature of government with the same perspective as the American Founders.

The framers of the U.S Constitution were well aware of the historic trend of government. They knew that ruling entities that endured over time evolved towards greater power, gradually increasing control over their nation’s citizens. The Constitution was designed in part to remedy this.

The Founder’s vision of a limited government was a remarkable innovation for its time that was meant to maintain the rights of the individual citizen, and preserve the power of the individual states. Their concept had little to do with left versus right, or liberal versus conservative. Rather, they were largely motivated by the creation of a republic that would not descend into a state of tyranny—a fate that history seemed to show was in the end, inevitable.

I’m proposing a new method of evaluating politics that will measure our government according to the power they have over their citizens. I’m hoping that it will be an effective way to get a simple representation of our politicians and the policies they support. I think it can also serve as a gauge to judge legislative proposals in a way that frames every argument into its basic essentials: size and complexity—the two things that make our government expensive to run and difficult to control.

spectrum-diagram

The left end of the spectrum represents 100 percent government—the domain of dictators, despots, and totalitarian regimes. The right end represents a 100 percent stateless society where you find anarchists*, sovereign citizens, and anti-government groups. The midpoint represents a theoretical equilibrium where the state and the citizen are equally balanced. You’ll find that Americans lean towards one end or the other, depending on their views on the role of government in society.

* A brief sidebar on “anarchism:” The term is often misused, misapplied and misunderstood by politicians and the media. Nowhere is this more evident than in the labeling of Occupy Wall Street demonstrators, WTO protesters and various anti-globalization groups. Far from being anarchists, these types of activists are simply anti-capitalists who support government intervention to oppose the private sector.

Keep in mind that this political gauge is a gradient scale. There’s no exact point on this number line that represents any singular ideology or philosophy. The end points and the zero midpoint are absolute, and in the real world unobtainable. Between those points are a range of generic political tendencies that might indicate how much government one would be willing to support or tolerate.

The totalitarian-stateless scale of government is meant to be a measuring device that can be applied without regard to political ideologies, parties or factions. While such factors shouldn’t be necessarily ignored, this spectrum is meant to establish a more basic political inclination: Should government be weighted in favor of the state or towards the citizen? And to what degree? Is there an ideal balance between the two?

From here on out, and until further notice, I have only one simple question. And it’s multiple choice, so any politician should be able to handle it: Is the size of the Federal Government: (a) too large; (b) not large enough; (c) pretty much the right size. As far as I’m concerned, it’s the most important discussion we should be having right now. And it’s a question to which we should demand an answer from every politician.

When government is allowed to grow unchecked, (sort of like now) it eventually becomes too expensive to support and too complex to run (sort of like now). Never mind the abuse and injustice it brings to its citizens (sort of like now), it’s patently unsustainable. This should be beyond dispute.

Our choices are simple: We either rein in the power of Washington, or we go broke and careen out of control. The American Founders would certainly have understood this. On the other hand, our elected officials tend to be slow learners. But I hope they can manage to get up to speed, sooner rather than later.

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