A Government of Laws

In recent discussions with at least two different liberals, I have encountered variations of the following assertion after a discussion about federal individual assistance programs: “Government is you and me, not some nebulous, inherently ‘other’ thing.” Oh, really. And this supreme tidbit of insight was where, exactly, from 2000 to 2008?

John Adams once added the idea of “a government of laws, and not of men” to the Massachusetts constitution. Adams, who, along with thousands of others in his day, lived under the subjective edicts of King George, grew to realize that laws are universal, and (ideally) not at the whim of the current ruler. This idea became the very crux of our system of government. Laws must reflect the fact that all men are created equal. Preference cannot be made in the heat of the moment or based on temporary circumstances.

I think Adams’ concept has a second meaning. Government is comprised of men, yes, but only in the capacity to enforce laws that ensure liberty for all men. We drift towards dangerous waters when we think of the government as some organic, emotional creature like a human, or a group of humans. Men have a subjective bent and need constant magnetization to the truth. Has the decadence of great empires not taught us that cultures fade into complacency over time as men begin to accept gifts and subjectively-granted rights from their government? It is imperative that the federal government of America is not viewed as a collective gathering of men who seek to pool their resources for the common good.

Cliche as they are in today’s political discourse, the Constitution and its companion, the Declaration of Independence, still provide not only an excellent legal basis for our federal government, but also serve as a compass for our notion of government. What we have is a system that designates a necessary but highly dangerous entity to hold together individual and otherwise independent states. We have a system of restrictions on that entity, not empowerment of that entity for the very subjective idea of “greater good”. It’s vital to the long-term health of this republic that we do not succumb to our emotions and sympathies by consenting to an excess of “compassionate” programs.

“Government is not reason; it is not eloquent; it is force. Like fire, it is a dangerous servant and a fearful master.” – George Washington

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Lost in Translation, Part 1: The Entitlement Mentality

American politics is a different animal. If you’re not careful, you might start believing, as many do without realizing it, that our state and federal governments are above the laws of human nature, economics, and finance. A lot of politicians and political aficionados might seem pretty normal talking about the weather or a recent doctor’s visit, but start discussing the federal government and you’re likely to witness some pretty amazing mental gymnastics. Somewhere in the development of a political philosophy, principles generally recognized as “common sense” begin to give way to what some call “Washington speak.” These next few articles will highlight just a few widely-accepted laws of nature governing personal and family issues that get “lost in translation” as people distort or simply ignore them when trying to reinforce their political argument.

The first is an entitlement mentality.

If you had even halfway decent parents growing up, you know that they sometimes said “No.” Ever considered why? At some point, we all came to realize that their refusal to give us everything we wanted was actually for our benefit. If you get what you want, when you want, every time, you come to expect immediate gratification in all areas of life. Your life becomes increasingly egocentric and artificial. And when you hit the real world and the gravy train stops, you’re left with lots of unanswered questions and an incredible sense of loss. Of course, the preventive cure is delaying pleasure and working hard throughout your formative years.

Do these principles hold true for people already out on their own? We all know they do. If that guy’s rich daddy bails him out every time he partied a little too hardy over the weekend, what would we say about him? “He hasn’t grown up yet.” If that girl’s credit cards keep getting maxed out and she runs to mom for a new one every time, would we think she was a well-rounded individual? Of course we wouldn’t. With a good upbringing that emphasized diligence and self-respect, it’s likely you’ll turn out okay, no matter your place in the rat race we call the American economy. You will probably be a self-starter and won’t view government entitlement programs as desirable. However, anything that comes free has the potential to addict. Money, especially, is no exception.

More food stamps have been handed out in the past couple of years than at any time in American history. Does this trend negatively or positively? Are entitlements now desirable? Politicians’ claims that unemployment benefits are the best stimulus for the economy still cannot change human nature: people will gravitate towards what is easy and free. Even the best of people. Those without the tools to deal with hardship and want will gobble up such benefits without a second thought. Those with a good work ethic will slowly be corrupted by the allure of entitlement. This irrefutable fact of life is crucial to a child’s upbringing, yet is routinely lost in the clamor of competing political worldviews. Does the passage of money through the hands of Washington politicians cleanse the currency of its addictive nature? If not, then why are there so many otherwise clear-thinking adults who favor a more robust social welfare net?

Entitlements make people of any age feel entitled. Obviously, people can fight off this crippling mentality, but the danger is nonetheless there. With the number and scope of federal entitlement programs on the rise, we must honestly assess the path that our nation is on. Will an entitlement mentality overcome our desire to help ourselves, or will we keep hoping that welfare programs will give us just the push we are looking for to get us out of economic malaise before the detrimental effects of free money fatally infect us?