If the latest news from Pennsylvania is any indication, the limited government movement is alive and well. Commentators who’ve concluded it’s been muscled aside by the onslaught of supposedly popular tax, spend and regulate proposals coming from the Biden administration are confused. On Tuesday, voters in the Keystone State opted to push back against the lockdown culture by stripping Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf of the emergency powers he invoked to shut down the state during the coronavirus pandemic.
Acting on the advice of former Commonwealth Secretary of Health Rachel Levine — who President Joe Biden later tapped to fill the No. 2 position at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services — Mr. Wolf acted with unchecked authority to restrict economic and social activity throughout the state because of COVID-19. Even worse, he was among the handful of governors who foolishly and fatally designated nursing homes as recovery sites for patients recovering from the disease, causing untold numbers of additional infections and more than a few deaths.
It’s an extreme case but it’s also a useful reminder of why political power in America is generally diffuse rather than concentrated in the hands of any individual or group. Even when intentions are honorable, the potential for abuse is too high for any single person to be trusted.
This is not the first time an effort at limiting Mr. Wolf‘s emergency powers had been tried. But, since he repeatedly vetoed the ones coming out of the Republican-controlled state legislature, it was left to the people to take charge. And, by an eight-point margin they did — while at the same time giving the legislative branch the authority to undo future overreaching by an affirmative vote of two-thirds of its members.
The lockdowns were a bad idea and there’s no evidence they helped retard the spread of COVID-19. But the politicians who promoted them liked the power the lockdowns gave them, making them not just destructive but dangerously so. Going forward, the smart play would be to replicate the limits just imposed on Mr. Wolf in other states through the citizen initiative and referendum process, perhaps on the November 2022 ballot.
It would turn the fall elections into a referendum on where we’ve been and where we go next time something like the COVID-19 panic happens. For the proponents of limited government, it’s a smart move. In the battle between lockdowns and freedom, it’s a sure bet freedom wins every time.