Hating Government

At the time of the Oklahoma City bombing, Bill Clinton chastised those Americans who loved their country but hated their government. That's a morally blind statement at best. After all would Clinton have said that to Germans who loved their country but hated the Nazi regime or the Russians who loved their country but hated Moscow? It is both possible, and moral, to love one's country and hate its government. Our government is not like Germany or Russia. But if we ask whether we're heading towards more liberty or more totalitarianism, it's clearly toward the latter, tiny steps at a time.

Northern California's Fred and Nancy Cline might be among the rising numbers of Americans who hate Washington. According to Reader's Digest (November 1995), the Clines bought their 350-acre farm in 1989 to grow grapes, raise cattle and bring up their five children. That year the Clines plowed up 190 acres of it for oats and cattle grazing as had the previous owner.

In August 1990, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers slapped them with a "cease and desist" order accusing them of destroying wetlands and thereby polluting the "navigable waters of the United States." The "cease and desist" order threatened the Clines with a one-year prison term and/or $25,000 fine for each day of the violation. The Clines immediately stopped their leveling of the field but continued plowing.

The Clines secured records to show their land had been continuously farmed for decades contrary to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' claim it hadn't. Then their case took an ominous turn: FBI and Environmental Protection Agency agents began interviewing their business associates, friends and neighbors. A federal grand jury subpoenaed their business and tax records. Army helicopters started surveillance of their property, hovering for minutes over various structures.

By an act of extraordinary luck Bernie Goode, former chief of the Army Corp's regulatory branch in Washington, heard about the Clines' case and visited their farm. He found no evidence of Clean Water Act violations saying, "Everything you did clearly qualified for the agricultural exemptions written into the law." The U.S. Justice Department decided not to file criminal charges against the Clines but the "cease and desist" orders remain in effect, denying the Clines use of most of their farm.

Given the Clines' experience and others more brutal, one can only marvel at the level of civility toward government bureaucrats. Put yourself in the place of the Clines. You take out a mortgage and plow your life's savings into a farm that you have every reasonable expectation to fully use. A bureaucrat, acting on behalf of environmental wackos, orders you not to use half of it. What has happened to the Clines, and thousands of other Americans, not only offends basic decency but violates the Constitution's Fifth Amendment so vital to our liberty.

There may be a compelling case, though hard to imagine, for government denying the Clines the use of 190 acres of their property. The solution envisioned by the Framers is for the government to purchase the Clines' property or otherwise compensate them for the loss in its value. But Washington's tyrants, like tyrants anywhere, view abrogation and confiscation as the preferred alternative.

Most Americans could care less about the Clineses of our country who face increasing government abuse of basic constitutional and moral principles, but we do so at our peril. When Washington's Huns and Vandals are finished with the Clineses of our country, they're coming after you and me. That, by the way, is why statist liberals want gun control; it will make their job easier.

Walter E. Williams
May 29, 1996
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