Several months after the historic battle in the fields of southeastern Pennsylvania concluded, President Lincoln addressed a somber gathering in Gettysburg on Nov. 19, 1863.
He noted that the United States was “a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.” He then offered his assessment that the great war was “testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure.”
I believe we face such a pivotal period today. Our Gettysburg will last almost two years - until Election Day in 2012. Like that great battle, our Gettysburg may determine whether a nation created in liberty and representing the people can endure. Either the American people will begin to dismantle the statist juggernaut they have allowed to thrive, or it will devour us.
There are times when the logic of a policy or the weakness of a set of political institutions play themselves out so that their essential nature becomes clear. We are in a time when the destructive natures of the welfare state and its complement - the administrative state - are plainly visible.
Margaret Thatcher famously and correctly said that the problem with socialism is that sooner or later, you run out of other people’s money. The illogic of the redistributive welfare state is that it creates unsustainable, ever-increasing amounts of government spending until financial implosion occurs. In the United States, the federal and state governments have created one Ponzi scheme after another. These are programs with small initial expenditures that balloon uncontrollably over time with no proper financing scheme for future obligations.
Social Security is the classic example of this sort of program that eventually goes bankrupt. Public-employee union pensions are going to sink many states and municipalities. Furthermore, under the Obama administration, even current federal spending has exploded in two years. It has added $5 trillion in debt to a base line of $9 trillion when this president took office.For the next three years, we have projections of annual deficits well in excess of $1 trillion per annum.
The Obama administration represents the logical endpoint of the anti-democratic administrative state’s expansion. The administration has run wild, issuing new regulations that appear to be clearly outside the scope of their parent statutes. Examples may be found in the Federal Communications Commission’s newly minted “net neutrality” rules and the Environmental Protection Agency’s newly claimed power to regulate virtually every source of carbon dioxide in America.
It remains to be seen whether the federal courts will curb such excesses. Typically, the courts have given the government the benefit of the doubt when regulations have been under review. Precedents issued in an era of smaller, less threatening bureaucracies may serve us ill when this behemoth needs to be tamed. And let’s not kid ourselves: The federal judiciary is filled with jurists who see nothing wrong with statism and ignoring the government-limiting text of the Constitution.
The illogic of socialism and the administrative state is leading to national bankruptcy while concentrating massive fiat-based powers in bureaucracies barely susceptible to federal control. Socialist statism is clearly a failure, but its advocates are incapable of self-correction.
At least the newly elected Congress brings the assurance that we will not be imperiled by legislation for the next two years. But such passive success will not be sufficient. It will be up to this Congress to hearken to the Tea Party roots of its new members and aggressively challenge the federal leviathan’s spending. Only the repeal of vast swaths of statutory authority can control modern government’s regulatory stranglehold.
As at Gettysburg, this Tea Party House of Representatives must fight aggressively to defend the constitutional government established in 1789. Like Gettysburg, it is a clash that will determine in large part whether a nation founded upon the principle of liberty and representative constitutionalism will survive. Critical to this victory will be defeating the Pickett’s Charge of Mr. Obama’s re-election bid.
Clearly, Mr. Obama’s State of the Union address and other recent policy steps have been taken to make him appear to be a centrist. But to paraphrase John Mitchell, Richard Nixon’s attorney general, watch what he does, not what he says. The regulatory and spending juggernaut appears to be going full-force even if the rhetoric is blowing in a different direction.
With that in mind, the Republican Party must embrace and encourage the efforts of Tea Party patriots to restore our Founders’ principles of governance and educate their fellow citizens. They must not lose heart, for the fight is just beginning. They should remember that from Lexington and Concord to the beginning of our current government in 1789, 14 years elapsed. We, too, must be prepared to persevere in the face of great adversity over many years.
Christopher M. Gacek is senior fellow for regulatory affairs at the Family Research Council Action.