No matter how we label ourselves — conservative, liberal, moderate or none of the above — we all must grapple with the ever-expanding size and scope of government.
America has reached a tipping point. The federal government has grown exponentially, not just in spending, but in its reach. Government intrudes into virtually every aspect of our daily lives, from the type of toilet we can buy, to the mix of fuel we put in our cars, to the kind of light bulb we can use.
Government policies have stifled domestic energy production while pouring billions of tax dollars into alternative-energy subsidies, reflecting the elitist, "progressive" faith that bureaucrats can pick winners and losers better than individuals making voluntary decisions in their own interests can. Unelected bureaucrats have been empowered to stipulate what health services we will purchase, and how and from whom we will receive them.
Excessive government intervention not only limits individual freedoms, it stifles entrepreneurial creativity and job creation. It locks the poor into a lifetime of dependency and poverty. And it limits the ability of hard-working Americans to enjoy upward mobility.
The federal government also dominates in spheres of activity traditionally reserved to the states. This leaves little or no room for state-level innovation in areas such as education, transportation, health care, welfare and even law enforcement.
The pace of expansion has been breathtaking. The rapid growth of federal grasp and reach is unsettling, leading Americans to question whether their children will inherit a better future — and even whether it's still possible to achieve the American Dream.
That's why it's more important than ever for us, as we begin a new year, to recommit ourselves to the principles that led to the founding of our great nation.
At the heart of these principles is the belief that people are free by nature and possess inherent rights. The use each of us makes of these rights will naturally differ, and the outcomes of those choices will naturally differ, too. The choice remains ours.
Freedom is thus inextricably bound up with living our lives as we see fit. This is self-government in the truest sense of the term. We the people need not slavishly defer to experts. We can be trusted to govern ourselves.
That is why government must remain limited. The people have given it only limited powers, as described in the Constitution. When government takes more than we have given it, it renders our choices meaningless. At worst, unlimited government is tyrannical; at best, it imposes a dull uniformity that crushes true diversity and saps the independent spirit of the people.
The Founders understood this. That's why they avoided creating a government that could be dominated by a single faction. Whether that faction was a minority or a majority, it would seek to promote its own narrow interests at the expense of the people's liberties. The Constitution's checks and balances are intended to restrain the ambition of the powerful — to ensure that government genuinely promotes "the general Welfare."
As the federal government has grown over the past century, the business of government has increasingly become taking from Paul to benefit Peter, and then borrowing from Peter to pay off Paul. What the supporters of big government call the general welfare is merely the artful distribution of favors to particular factions.
The federal government is not supposed to be the most important institution in America. In securing the general welfare, it is supposed to do only those things that are provided for in the Constitution.
It must, for example, provide for the common defense and regulate our relations with foreign nations. It must respect our right to enjoy the fruits of our labor by taxing lightly, and defend the freedom of the marketplace by ensuring the rule of law.
And it must remember that the family and religion are where we learn virtue — and that without virtue, government cannot be both limited and free.
Let's see if we can move America back in the right direction together during 2014.
Ed Feulner is founder of the Heritage Foundation (heritage.org).