It's election time, and I'm not one to defend politicians even though only few exhibit honesty, statesmanship and respect for our Constitution. On the other hand, we all have complaints about what Congress does. In my more cynical moments, I feel that Americans deserve what we're getting, including the diminution of our liberties. Let's look at it.
What kind of things make us feel good about our particular congressman? Just listen to political advertisements. Among the criteria we use to judge whether our congressman is doing a good job are: Does he support federal expenditures for more teachers? Has he supported punitive taxes on cigarette smokers? For mid-westerners, has he supported agricultural subsidies? For the elderly, has he supported Social Security and Medicare payment increases?
Nowhere in the U.S. Constitution is there a speck of authority for congress to make expenditures for those activities. Moreover, making those expenditures come at the expense of personal liberty. In other words, Congress has no resources of its very own. The only way they can give a farmer or a senior citizen one dollar is to first, through intimidation, threats and coercion, confiscate it from some other American. The very last criteria we use to judge whether our congressman is doing a good job is whether he's respectful of the U.S. Constitution and seeks to protect our liberties.
The supreme tragedy is that a congressman who lived up to his oath of office by respecting the Constitution would be viewed with contempt by most Americans. Imagine Williams was your senator. During my re-election campaign, I tell my constituents that I voted against congressional measures that would take their money to give to someone else. I voted against measures that encroached on state sovereignty. I voted against the education bill because not even the word education appears in the Constitution.
Needless to say, I'd go down in blazing defeat, possibly tarred and feathered as well. Most constituents would view my respect for the Constitution with contempt. Even those who had a modicum of constitutional respect would confront me with a practical issue saying, "Williams, if you don't fight for our share of aid to higher education, agricultural handouts and federally-financed teachers, it doesn't mean we'll pay lower federal taxes. All it means is that some other state will get the money instead. You're expecting us to commit hari-kari." What could I say in response? They'd be absolutely right. The reason is due to a phenomenon known as "the tragedy of the commons." Once legalized theft or constitutional disrespect begins, it's in everybody's private interest, at least economic interests, to participate. The person or politician who abstains becomes a loser. Even more ominous about the process is the tendency for legalized theft to beget more legalized theft and more constitutional disrespect to beget more constitutional disrespect.
"Williams," you say, "what can we do?" The first step is that we must stop the charade of blaming politicians. Politicians do precisely what we elect them to office to do: promote programs that allows one American to live at the expense of his fellow American. We must demand constitutional accountability from our politicians by demanding they give us specific constitutional authority for what they do and don't let them get away with that "welfare" and "commerce" clause nonsense. I'm not optimistic, Americans will do that. Therefore, the most likely scenario is for us to see our liberties diminish and Washington despotism grow. If we truly cared about our children and future generations. Instead of demagoging about them, we'd worry more about saving liberty than saving Social Security.
Walter E. Williams
November 2, 1998
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