“Americans are losing trust in government”
Glenn Reynolds’ latest in USA today is dead on. And I’m not just saying that because it reads like me, were you to shorten my sentences, make them more direct and persuasive, and remove the anger and the rancid sarcasm. Writes Glenn:
Last week, I noted that Americans are losing confidence in their government: According to a new Pew poll, more than half see it as a threat to their freedom. That’s a troubling number. But why have things gotten so bad?
Well, perhaps it’s because government actually has become a bigger threat to freedom. There’s plenty of support for that notion, given that we’re seeing everything from TSA scanners, to widespread surveillance, to drone strikes on American citizens. Add to that the creepy sound of “Homeland Security,” and now talk of gun control or even gun confiscation, and it’s easy to see why lots of people, with lots of different political views, might come to see the government as a threat.
New York Times blogger Nate Silver — best known for his prescient election projections in 2012 — matches up the data on distrust of government with the numbers reflecting increasing government spending on welfare (“social insurance”) programs, and makes this observation:
“The declining level of trust in government since the 1970s is a fairly close mirror for the growth in spending on social insurance as a share of the gross domestic product and of overall government expenditures. We may have gone from conceiving of government as an entity that builds roads, dams and airports, provides shared services like schooling, policing and national parks, and wages wars, into the world’s largest insurance broker. Most of us don’t much care for our insurance broker.”
Government used to do big things with obvious relevance to the public good. Now it takes money from A, and gives it to B. That could be part of it.
There’s also the fact that the sheer size of the government makes it hard to do anything well. Often two different parts of the government pull in different directions — subsidizing cheese, say, while simultaneously telling us to eat less fat. […]
A government limited to relatively few things — visible things, obviously relevant to the common good — can probably do those things well. As a consequence, it is likely to be trusted and admired. A government that tries to do a lot of things, on the other hand, will probably do them badly and be less highly regarded.
The problem, of course, is that a government that does a lot of things badly is more appealing to the political class: more opportunity for graft, and for exercising the inflated self-importance that probably drives politicians even more than graft. The question is whether the government exists for the country’s benefit, or for the benefit of the political class. At present, the answer to that question is depressingly clear.
In dealing with the self-interest of the political class, Glenn has, of late, begun to promote the idea of a new Constitutional Convention, mostly because it circumvents DC and is a way to affect the federal government without having to first try to gain popular control over it.
For my own part, I’ve resisted such a siren call, my own feeling being that we have a culture so steeped in the idea of positive rights, a political left so bent on adding potential structural defects that they can later exploit to raze the edifice and build on its rubble, and a GOP establishment that matches the passion of left’s ideology with their own doctrinal refusal to stand for anything other than trying to figure out a formula to win elections — having first bracketed out of any potential formula the very first principles that they themselves often reject, either out of some misplaced pragmatism, or out of a neo-statist mentality — and who are given to surrender and bad compromise, that we’d likely come up with a document that is riddled with poison pills and Trojan horses.
This is not to say I disagree entirely with Glenn’s position on the usefulness of at least the threat of a Constitutional Convention. My argument merely reflects my own hesitancy, which is born out of several factors, like, eg, the kinds of delegates we’d have sent to a convention by blue states, and their likely unwillingness to compromise.
Personally, I’d like to try state resistance / non- compliance first. Then maybe a massive tax rebellion, where small businesses didnt automatically withhold taxes and instead set things up so that employees can see the taxes they are paying and refuse to send the government a check to cover what they “owe”. Starve the government of revenue as it were.
Or put another way, I think we’d need first a kind of passive civil war in order to set the parameters for a Convention. That way we can gauge the strength if our hand.
But these are discussions worth having, because if we continue to do nothing except close our eyes really tightly and hope the bad men stop doing bad things, we’re as cowardly as, say, Josh Marshall who extols the feeling of freedom that washes over him once he finally surrenders to an abdication of personal responsibility as a first responder, an abdication of his responsibilities as a parent and a husband, which display of timorousness he hides behind a paper-thin wall of phony moral imperatives, themselves based on the risible dream of picturing a world without guns.
We cannot merely Hope for Change. To do so is to fall into the post-modern trap of language I discussed earlier today.
The government class relies on our impotence, having effectively closed the system, with unelected bureaucrats untouchable by the electorate and protected by civil service contracts issuing regulations that carry with them the force of law, empowering the Executive to legislate in those rare instances where the legislature will not (itself a bit of Kabuki theater, as they nearly always reach a “compromise” after the show of adversarial headbutting).
But the question is, what’s the best strategy to circumvent them? I’m not sure an actual Constitutional Convention is — though the threat of one is certainly promising. Me, I still think a reassertion of state sovereignty — like, eg., what we’re seeing in South Carolina with respect to incremental federal gun grabbing — is the best next step.
The Constitution we have is a magnificent document. As is. It merely needs to be respected and upheld. And that requires that Justices adhere to originalism as an interpretive necessity. That simple change — coupled with the discrediting of the crutch of stare decisis as a kind of self-serving deference to those who really do believe themselves philosopher kings, and treat their predecessors as often unimpeachable members of a select guild — would go a long way toward reversing course.
I’ve always been an advocate of classical liberals and libertarians for SCOTUS. And that’s because, unlike conservative justices, they appeal to the Constitution, not prior precedent.
Such a SCOTUS, together with a re-emergent insistence on federalism as outlined in the Bill of Rights, would provide the conditions for a tectonic correction to what has been a steady and increasingly pitched tilt leftward.