The state of the disunion21 February 2014
Mark Hendrickson :
Americans are deeply divided in 2014, suggesting that this year's elections will be another bitter clash. One major fault line that divides us is that many Americans view the federal government as their benefactor while others perceive it as a grave threat to their well-being.
A recent Pew research project found that 53% of Americans think that today's government threatens personal rights and freedoms. (Incidentally, this isn't the first time Americans have felt this way. As historian Burt Folsom reminds us in New Deal or Raw Deal, at the end of Franklin Roosevelt's first term in 1936, a Gallup poll indicated that 45% of Americans thought that FDR's policies could lead to dictatorship.)
Government aggression against Americans is indeed rampant. The IRS has targeted conservative groups, persecuted individuals who have tried to expose election fraud, and will now act as the grand inquisitor of businesses that have laid off workers due to Obamacare's costs. The rogue EPA is hounding energy companies and others, the National Labor Relations Board has once again shown it isn't impartial by helping to get Volkswagen workers to join the UAW, and the NSA's snooping seems ubiquitous.
Perhaps most worrisome is that even elected leaders are becoming bolder and more overt in expressing their hostility to individual rights. It's almost as if they feel they are so close to achieving an unbreakable political hegemony that they don't even have to pay lip service to tolerance, pluralism, or the rights of conscience any more.
Here are a few examples:
Last month, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo stated on live radio that "extreme conservatives" (Americans who are right-to-life, Second Amendment absolutists, and those who do not embrace the gay agenda-far too sizable a percentage to merit the pejorative "extreme") "have no place in the State of New York." (Cuomo's team went into damage control spin mode, claiming that all he meant was that conservatives couldn't win statewide elections.)
New York's senior Senator Charles Schumer followed Cuomo's outburst a couple of days later by openly calling for the IRS and other government agencies to continue to hamstring tea party and other conservative groups so that he and his fellow progressives can exert more control over national policies. Apparently, Schumer no longer fears a public backlash from advocating the suppression of free political speech.
Then, of course, there was the ominous irony of the president declaring in his State of the Union address that, if Republicans wouldn't work with him to adopt the policies he wants, then he would bypass the people's elected representatives completely and rule by executive fiat.
And don't forget Senator Harry Reid's decision last year to jettison Senate rules by reducing the votes needed to approve key presidential appointees from 60 to a simple majority. Critics at the time thought Reid's decision was short-sighted-that he might rue having changed the rules once the Republicans regained a majority.
But what if Reid doesn't think the Democrats will fall from power? What if he, Cuomo, Schumer, Obama, and company believe that by ignoring precedent, defying the constitution, and usurping power, they will never relinquish control of the government to Republicans-that they are so sure of their own rightness and good intentions that they feel entitled to rule and that the end justifies the means?
Some of you on the right might regard these brazen statements on the left as a godsend, on the grounds that surely the majority of Americans will perceive how tyrannical the left is, thereby paving the way for a conservative counterrevolution. Although I hope that is the case, the question then becomes: Who are you going to turn to as an alternative-the Republicans?
The problem with today's Republicans is that they do not offer a unified, principled opposition. Recently, they have capitulated on the debt ceiling issue and helped to pass the $956 billion farm bill "with strong bipartisan support." Runaway spending continues unchecked. Central planning is alive and well in Washington, the welfare state is undiminished, and crony capitalism remains firmly entrenched as the basic modus operandi of the federal leviathan. Combined with the internecine feuding between the GOP "establishment" and the tea party, constitutionalists, and conservatives, prospects for a significant change of direction in Washington in 2014 seem dim.
It appears that those Americans who want to use the government to redistribute wealth outnumber those who feel victimized by the predatory state. This is the true state of our disunion in 2014.
(Mark Hendrickson is an Adjunct Professor of Economics at Grove City College and Fellow for Social and Economic Policy for the Center for Vision & Values, for whom I've written 200+ articles in the last five years.)