Government is not the only force that can limit your liberty.
The most disciplined voices from the Tea Party Movement, the professional ones who are least likely to veer off into the Birther, Obama-is-a-Muslim, NAFTA/Amero weeds, harp on a theme that rolling back federal power will mean more freedom. Ask them to explain what the heck they are talking about, ask them to outline what limits on personal liberty they expect to see restored, and they will just repeat the same lines over again, interspersed with inane comments about spending and the national debt.
Your African-American friends can tell you stories, family stories, about life under a weaker Federal authority. It turns out that liberty is not a central theme of those tales.
The truth is that smaller government does not necessarily equal greater freedom. Churches, unions, corporations, foreign invaders, criminals, bankers gambling with government-backed funds, the guy next door dumping waste oil from his cars in the back yard; they are all capable cutting into your ability to exercise your God-given liberties and use your property to its fullest extent.
In order to achieve the best possible balance of power between these and other competing forces, we organize ourselves and give up some calculated chunks of personal freedom in exchange for better ones. I resent not being able to burn my garbage in the backyard like we used to do back in Texas (not in Houston). It chafes me. But I’m willing to give up that precious freedom in exchange for the privilege of not having to live with my neighbors all doing the same thing.
We trust government to be the mediator of these exchanges of our liberties because government in our system, much more than churches or corporations or unions or the local mob boss, is responsible to us.
The fury over the Federal TARP program is a fine illustration of what the Tea Party Movement would mean for liberty in America. Without the “bailout,” which let’s be honest, was a bailout of all us, your bank would be gone, along with all of your money that was inside it. Our entire system of electronic payments would have been shattered. It was already grinding to a halt. Unless you’re a subsistence farmer who keeps all of his meager savings in a hole in the ground (and I realize that doesn’t exclude everyone in this audience), the federal government in 2008 bailed you out.
A sincere commitment to freedom was demonstrated by the hordes of angry citizens who descended on the National Mall in 2005 to protest the refusal of Congress, the SEC, the Federal Reserve, and the IRS to implement reasonable regulations to prevent the terrifying abuse of our credit markets. Those folks who took a bold stand against the unrestrained, ideologically driven deregulation that allowed federally insured institutions to gamble away trillions of dollars with taxpayer-insured funds, they are the heroes of liberty.
The protestors carrying signs that read “I shouldn’t be mortgaging my home to pay credit card debt” and “make me provide proof of income” and “mortgage interest rates are suspiciously low” were the real patriots. Their courageous and selfless efforts to protect our basic prosperity and rescue the Republic from ruin inspire… Oh, yea.
The Tea Party was nowhere to be seen when the problem was being built. They didn’t want any new regulation then, when it could have saved us from a disaster, and they didn’t want any government intervention when it all fell apart, and they didn’t want any reforms after the disaster happened to prevent us from going through it all again. They want to close their eyes and pretend everything would be fine if we did nothing.
It is childish to pretend that we can cultivate prosperity and freedom in a shrinking, capitalist world, by shirking the hard stuff. It will be hard to figure out how to make Social Security solvent. It will be hard to figure out how to pay for decades of irresponsible spending without either tearing government apart or smothering the economy in new taxes. People who go on TV and say it will be easy, that we can just slice it all away and be done are looking to rake in advertising dollars. So far its working out well for the folks inside the tube and not so well for the rest of us.
Freedom is hard. People shed blood, and thought carefully, and wrote, and studied, and worked, and devoted their lives to make it real for us. The men who created the Constitution did not give us a completed work. They gave us a challenge. They weren’t able to deliver the liberties they spoke of in their time. It took generations of working our way toward better government before slavery could be eliminated, black Americans could vote, women could be treated with equality and respect, and we could achieve prosperity on such a grand scale as we enjoy now.
The simple solutions will fail. We cannot hack our way to a masterpiece. Our freedoms don’t necessarily depend on either more or less government. They depend on better government. There is no enemy in the crosshairs. There is no useful scapegoat.
No one can deliver better government but us.
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