The emergence and rapid growth of the Tea Party movement is due in large part to an increasing concern by taxpayers that our government has strayed too far from fiscal responsibility. As many have awakened from our shared national somnambulism, the electorate's attention is galvanized by issues once considered banal or trivial, now viewed as grave threats to our country's security, prosperity and even our national identity. A public that until a few years ago quietly trusted the job that its government has been doing in Washington is now focused like a laser beam on both the role of government and the careers of our leaders.
Tea Partiers' deepest fears for the future of our nation are being realized in Greece. They see the beginnings of anarchy in a social democracy crippled by enormous budget deficits (13.6 percent of gross domestic product) and a heart-stopping national debt (115 percent of GDP). They see a country saddled with massive, unsustainable, unbearable entitlements. This has caused many to reflect on how our own annual budget deficit and national debt may be taking us down the same path as Greece and the other social democracies of Europe. Tea Partiers and their many sympathizers are well informed: They easily see the connection and are making sound, reasoned conclusions.
In addition to fiscal irresponsibility, there is a second major component of concern for Tea Partiers: government exceeding its constitutional limits. Too much power, money and authority are concentrated in our national government. This is detrimental to the functioning of the individual states and increasingly diminishes the freedom and liberty of the American people.
For a very long time, a majority of those who serve us in Washington have worked under the assumption that the national government is better equipped than any other entity to govern and solve all of America's problems, and, therefore, bigger government is better. The result has been ever-increasing regulation, unfunded mandates, earmark projects and increasingly toxic entitlement programs, including the recently enacted health care reform law.
But what if this paradigm is ill-formed? What if Americans actually could be better served by being governed and regulated locally to a greater degree? Our national government has taken on a life of its own, to the disservice of those it was established to serve. Perhaps a smaller national government, with many functions returned to the states, would be better.
On April 15, the ContractFrom America was unveiled at tax rallies held across the country. I co-authored one of the provisions in the contract:
"Create a Blue Ribbon task force that engages in a complete audit of federal agencies and programs, assessing their constitutionality, and identifying duplication, waste ineffectiveness, and agencies and programs better left for the states."
Our Founding Fathers did not envision a massive, all-powerful, centralized national government, nor was it their intent to lay the groundwork for one in our Constitution. Rather, our current national government exists as it does despite our Constitution. As a result, the national government is too bloated, too greedy, too unaccountable and always hungry for more. Too often, the national government has proved it is inadequate for the task of competently managing its massive programs and exercising good and faithful stewardship over the funds provided to it from the American people.
Much of the power wielded by the national government should rightfully reside with the states. Our state capitals weren't meant to be simply the 50 field offices of the national government, implementing directives from Washington. No. They are autonomous entities charged with governing their own residents. Our Constitution demands that the long era of Washington's usurpation of state power must end.
With the return of power and authority to each state through the intervention of a "federalist panel," money would be returned to the states as well. As the size and reach of the national government abated, that government would require less funding and would, accordingly, derive less tax revenue, allowing more money to remain within state borders. Each state would have discretion as to which social programs and regulatory agencies it would choose to enact and fund and to what degree, with consequences and benefits accruing to each state's residents. "Bringing home the bacon" would be eliminated from the job descriptions of members of Congress because the money would have remained in the states.
When the national government enacts national programs, oppressive national taxes, national regulations and regulatory agencies and other national bureaucracies, there is no escape, no recourse for the citizenry. We are hemmed in in every state. These are tyrannical impositions of unconstitutional burdens.
The beauty of America is our diversity, much of which is still reflected in the personalities of each of our states. If the reach of the national government extends too far and we become thoroughly homogenized, we inevitably start moving toward a type of tyranny. If the rules and the standards are exactly the same in every state, where can one go either for respite or advantage? As the national government grows, this key element of our American liberty recedes.
In its Dec. 19, 2009, issue, the Economist magazine described the wonderful functioning of our local governance very nicely:
"America has 50 states with 50 sets of laws. Virginia will never ban hunting, but even if it did, there are 49 other states that won't. In America, people with unusual hobbies are generally left alone. And power is so devolved that you can more or less choose which rules you want to live under.
"If you like low taxes and the death penalty, try Texas. For good public schools and subsidized cycle paths, try Portland, Oregon. Even within states, the rules vary widely. Bath County, Kentucky is dry. Next-door Bourbon County, as the name implies, is not. Nearby Montgomery County is in between: a "moist" county where the sale of alcohol is banned except in one city. Liberal foreign students let it all hang out at Berkeley; those from traditional backgrounds may prefer a campus where there is no peer pressure to drink or fornicate, such as Brigham Young in Utah."
How will our sublime, homespun American liberty survive if, increasingly, all our laws and regulations are national and onerous demands such as the individual health care mandate are enacted nationwide? There will be no choices left to us other than the single choice to comply.
Tea Partiers see the clear handwriting on the wall: As in Greece, a fiscally irresponsible, overgrown, overgoverning and overentitling national government is antithetical to domestic tranquility and the general welfare. Because of this, Tea Partiers are actively seeking to secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity.
Doug Mainwaring is a member of the National Capital Tea Party Patriots.