- The Washington Times - Friday, December 2, 2011

The idea that the law must apply uniformly to all was something that the Founding Fathers considered to be of fundamental importance. It was, in James Madison’s words, something “without which every government degenerates into tyranny.”

A system in which elected officials make “legal discriminations in favor of themselves and a particular class of society” is inconsistent with a free society. According to Madison, it creates a “state of things in which it may be said with some truth that the laws are made for the few, not for the many.”

Madison’s words have a peculiar relevance to our times.

Many Americans were disgusted, if not shocked, by a “60 Minutes” report that featured the findings of a new book, written by the Hoover Institution’s Peter Schweizer, demonstrating the alarming extent to which members of Congress are essentially immune from laws that apply to the rest of society.

Many members, such as House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, have - by leveraging their political connections or insider political intelligence - reaped hundreds of thousands of dollars in profits from trading activity that likely would be illegal if done by a private citizen.

Some have accumulated vast sums of wealth while serving a lifetime in government. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, for example, has spent the past 45 years (except two years in which he ran for mayor of Las Vegas) in government service, yet he has amassed a multimillion-dollar fortune.

The leveraging of public service for personal enrichment is but one part of a larger malady afflicting American politics. We seem to have two distinct classes in society: the rulers, as represented by the political class, and their subjects, otherwise known as “We the People.”

This distinction is evident in the differing standards that govern the conduct of private citizens and those that bind elected officials. For their part, members of Congress have been quick to enact tough legal sanctions against officers of private corporations who submit false financial statements to the Securities and Exchange Commission; the willful certification of a financial statement that fails to comport with federal requirements can be punished with imprisonment for up to 20 years.

Yet many of those same members of Congress justified their incredible claim that Obamacare would reduce the federal budget deficit with transparently fraudulent estimates about the cost of the law. If a private businessman tried to pull off a similar stunt with his company’s financial statements, he’d stand a good chance of ending up on the working end of a federal grand jury indictment.

Members of Congress also have taken to enacting laws that are so voluminous and convoluted that they defy human comprehension. Perhaps that is why members pass bills without even reading them and even admit, in the words of Mrs. Pelosi, that “we have to pass the bill so that you can find out what is in it.”

It is an accepted maxim that “ignorance of the law is no defense,” but this may have to be revised in light of the rise of Pelosian lawmaking. The sheer incomprehensibility of legislation in the age of Obama creates a wedge of separation between lawmaker and citizen, which, in the words of James Madison, “poisons the blessings of liberty itself.”

While such voluminous laws undermine liberty, they provide a golden opportunity for members of Congress and staff members to make millions of dollars after leaving office by helping private interests navigate the wreckage they created.

The reports of such profiteering from “public service” have struck a nerve with the public, and rightfully so - it is precisely the type of behavior that the Founding Fathers warned would represent the death knell for republican government.

During the great ratification debates, supporters of the new government, such as James Madison, were forced to respond to those who claimed that the political class would “aim at an ambitious sacrifice of the many to the aggrandizement of the few.”

In the Federalist No. 57, Madison rejected the notion that political leaders would alienate themselves from the rest of society and argued that the new House of Representatives “can make no law which will not have its full operation on themselves and their friends, as well as on the great mass of society.”

How can such political favoritism be prevented? Madison pointed, among other things, to the “vigilant and manly spirit which actuates the people of America - a spirit which nourishes freedom, and in return is nourished by it.”

The Founding Fathers expected the American people to throw the bums out. We will know in less than a year whether the American people will live up to the Founders’ expectations.

Ron DeSantis is author of “Dreams From Our Founding Fathers: First Principles in the Age of Obama” (HPH Publishing, 2011), a veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom and a former federal prosecutor.

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