Vail Daily columnist Jack Van Ens: Sizing up a growing government
How divided is our nation about whether to swear at a growing federal government or swear by it?
It’s a toss-up, reports a Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll conducted last month. Respondents reacted to the follow-ing statements: “Government should do more to solve problems and help meet the needs of people” or “Govern-ment is doing too many things better left to businesses and individuals.” Forty-seven percent endorsed the first state-ment. Forty-seven percent OK’d the second.
Such a split shows a divided pub-lic who can’t agree on the right lev-el of the government’s involvement in their lives. This national debate isn’t new. When our Founding Fathers wrote the Constitution in 1787, they caused a public uproar over the place of a federal govern-ment in our republic.
Antifederalists were forerunners of Tea Party activists. They desired free enterprise protected by having the federal government provide a small public safety net. Antifederal-ist leaders George Mason and Patrick Henry showed great faith in personal initiative. Because they harbored deep distrust of Big Government, their political enemies dubbed them “men of little faith.”
Tea Party ancestors called Antifederalists demanded power be restored to state constitutions. “From a well-digested, well-formed democratic (government the states provide),” argued Antifederalist James Lincoln, of South Carolina, “you (who endorse the Constitution) are at once rushing into an aristocratic government.” He feared Wash-ington’s politicians who stole precious rights from citizens. He wanted Big Government off their backs.
Scripture may regard as a vice those who “despise govern-ment” (II Peter 2:10). But Antifederalists considered it a virtue to distrust federal government. In the decade follow-ing 1776, they asked, “What have you been contending for these 10 years past?” Their resounding answer: “Liberty! What is liberty? The power of governing yourselves. If you adopt this Constitution, have you this power? No. You give it into the hands of a set of men who live 1,000 miles distant from you (in Washington).”
Don’t we hear strident Antifederalist voices today? Wrapped in patriotic flags announcing “Don’t Tread On Me,” Tea Partyers scorn Washington’s power, demand the Feds regulate less and let business prosper.
The Antifederalists in 1787 lost big time to those who entrusted constitutional power to the federal government. The experiment in freedom prior to the Constitution proved a miserable failure. States’ debts ballooned. They didn’t unite for the Republic’s welfare. Corruption ruled in states as wealthy families acquired more power.
John Marshall, nominated in 1801 by President John Adams as chief justice of the Supreme Court, clashed with opponents who worked against a strong federal government.
“The friends of the Constitution are as tenacious of liberty as its enemies,” thun-dered Marshall. ” They wish to give no pow-er that will endanger it. They wish to give the government powers to secure and pro-tect it.
“They wish to give no power that will endanger it. They wish to give the govern-ment powers to secure and protect it.”
Who speaks this way today? Who believes the federal government works to protect our liberties rather than rob us of them?
President Barack Obama, sounding like Chief Justice Marshall, spoke outside Cleve-land on Sept. 8. He described what happens when the Tea Party’s weakened government takes over.
“I ran for president because for much of the last decade, a very specific governing philosophy has reigned about how America should work: Cut taxes, especially for mil-lionaires and billionaires. Cut regulations for special interests. Cut trade deals even if they don’t benefit our workers. Cut back on investments in our people and in our future in education and clean energy, in research and technology. The idea was that if we just had blind faith in the market, if we let corpo-rations play by their own rules, if we left everyone else to fend for themselves that America would grow and America would prosper.”
But the Great Recession starting at the end of President George W. Bush’s second term choked our nation with its Antifeder-alist sympathies for deregulation.
We, the people, in order to form a more perfect union, respect our Constitution that establishes a federal government. As Pres-ident Obama declared in Cleveland, ” … in the words of the first Republican president, Abraham Lincoln, I also believe that gov-ernment should do for the people what they cannot do better for themselves.”
Let’s dispatch Tea Party/Antifederalist rhetoric, as patriots ditched British tea in Boston Harbor.
The Rev. Jack R. Van Ens is a Presbyterian minister who heads the nonprofit, tax-exempt Creative Growth (www.theliving history.com), which enhances Christian worship through storytelling and dramatic presentations aimed to make God’s history come alive. Van Ens’ book, “How Jefferson Made the Best of Bad Messes,” is available in local bookstores for $7.95.