- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 7, 2000

Once again, Americans are struggling to decide which candidate is least unfit to be president. Once again, the choice is between two major party candidates neither of whom scores of millions of Americans believe is mentally or morally equal to the job.
We are asking the wrong question. The issue is not who should be trusted with all the power of the presidency. Instead, we must ask how much power any candidate can be trusted with.
Would you choose George W. Bush or Al Gore to have the power to read your e-mail without a court-authorized search warrant thanks to the FBI's Carnivore wiretap software and the National Security Agency's Echelon system? Since the Federal Communications Commission has ordered that new cell phones be homing devices for law enforcement, which candidate would you prefer knowing your location at all times?
Would you choose either Mr. Gore or Mr. Bush to dictate the safety standards that might save your life or kill you (such as federally mandated airbags that smite children and petite ladies)?
How many new regulations and restrictions should either candidate be able to impose on you? Since 1993, federal agencies have issued more than 25,000 new regulations criminalizing everything from reliable toilets to snuff advertisements on race cars. The federal regulatory juggernaut is practically on automatic pilot, sure to continue advancing regardless of who wins today's vote.
How many pretexts should the winning candidate receive to have you thrown you in prison? There are now more than 3,000 federal criminal offenses on the book 30 times more criminal laws than existed in 1900 and 1,000 times more than existed at the birth of the Republic. The proliferation of vague laws are very convenient for federal agents and politically minded prosecutors who target certain citizens for ruin.
Which candidate should have jurisdiction over federal agents who can seize your property without any criminal charges filed against you based on hearsay evidence that you may have violated one of more than 200 federal laws that authorize asset forfeiture? Which candidate should have sway over the Justice Department lawyers who fight tooth-and-nail to deny due process to forfeiture victims?
How much would you voluntarily give either candidate to spend largely at his discretion? The average two-income median income household pays $17,762 in federal taxes per year, according to the Tax Foundation. Would you write out a check for that amount even though you knew presidents routinely spend tax dollars for their own political aggrandizement? Would you write out a check even after realizing some of your tax dollars will be spent to deceive and lull you into thinking you have nothing to fear from your rulers and thus no need to stand up for your rights and liberties?
The federal government mangles the marketplace far more than most Americans realize. Which candidate should have the right to continue doubling the price of the sugar and peanut butter you buy? Which candidate should be entitled to levy a 25 percent surcharge on Japanese-made trucks or a 40 percent surcharge on Brazilian orange juice, as the U.S. tariff code now decrees? Does any president deserve a license to skewer consumers to reward campaign donors?
How much power would you vest in either candidate to forcibly protect you against yourself vetoing your choices of lifestyle, food and recreation?
Is there any prominent politician from either party who could run your life better than you yourself? Is there any politician who is so superior to you in character and intellect that you should effectively sign your life over to his hands? Though few people would concede that any politician is so much their better, the current regime classifies citizens as, by definition, far inferior to their rulers.
We have a paternalistic system with pervasive contempt for the paternalist in chief. We have created a huge engine of government even though there is no one even vaguely capable of intelligently driving it.
A certain amount of government power is necessary to preserve the peace and deter foreign aggression. But the government passed that point decades ago. Albert Einstein warned in 1945 that, with the invention of the atomic bomb, mankind had far more destructive power than people were capable of responsibly controlling. It is the same now with political power: Government has amassed far more coercive power than politicians are capable of intelligently wielding.
Even if the wisest, most virtuous citizen was elected president, our Leviathan would still be a public nuisance. There is no magic wand that even the best president could wave over the entire federal government. The only sure way to improve government is to radically reduce its size and power. This is also the best bet to make presidential elections something more than the triumph of hope over experience.

James Bovard is the author of "Feeling Your Pain: The Explosion & Abuse of Government Power in the Clinton-Gore Years" (St. Martin's Press).

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