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The perils of progress

By Lisa Fabrizio
web posted March 1, 2010

For months we've been bombarded from both sides of the political aisle with the idea that when it comes to healthcare, and nearly anything else in Washington, that our most pressing need is to 'get something done'. This idea that Congress was created by our founding fathers with a mandate to 'get things done' should be offensive both historically and grammatically to all Americans. At the same time, despite the precipitous drop in popularity of the party in power, folks continue to point out that the GOP is 'leaderless' and 'rudderless'.

They point to meaningless signs like the results of the straw poll at CPAC; as if the votes of 2, 395 mostly young people--including an openly gay group for the first time--were vitally important. Believe me, I've been to CPAC many times and many was the time that friends and I repaired early to the bar, leaving the ballots commingled on the floor with sandwich wrappings.

But far from anointing Ron Paul as their presidential nominee of choice, the most indicative effect of including gays was this result from the poll: while the great majority of respondents named reducing the size of government as the most important goal of conservatism, only nine per cent cited the promotion of "traditional values". Scary stuff when you realize that the former is impossible without the latter for our particular constitutional republic.

A smaller government which is not based on the moral underpinnings of our founders would have been just as repulsive to them as a larger one that is. As John Adams said, "We have no government armed with power capable of contending with human passions unbridled by morality and religion...Our Constitution is designed only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate for any other."

So the goal of a true conservative movement should be to conserve--or in this case to reestablish--those founding ideals; that a nation of laws and not of men ought to govern loosely at the federal level, with great emphasis on state sovereignty. How sweet to the ears of conservatives should be the words of the Tenth Amendment: The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.

And maybe the best consequence of the hopefully short-lived majority reign of Obama and his party is the greater awareness the American people have gained regarding the nature of their government; that it was founded as a confederation of individual states with an intentionally restraining instrument known as the U.S. Constitution. This may not seem like a big deal to those who are familiar with American history but when was the last time you tried to explain something like the Electoral College to, say, a college student? Blank stares and disbelief are usually the reaction to the news that our president is not elected by the country, but by the individual states.

But the fact that ours is a union of fifty entities with vastly diverse needs and interests was made crystal clear by the deals cooked up by Harry Reid and friends in their attempt to nationalize healthcare and otherwise wreck our economy. Voter anger at cash-for-cloture deals such as the Cornhusker Kickback and the Louisiana Purchase translated into a thorough and stunning victory for Republicans in the liberal bastion of Massachusetts.

Americans started to wake up to the reality that sometimes, some states were more equal than others and they didn't like it one little bit. But this is a good thing, as this kind of friction between the states was very much intended by our founding fathers as a way to restrain the forces that would collude with each other in order to establish the ever-growing federal government most of them feared.

And make no mistake about it; government expansion is the goal of liberals, or progressives as they now label themselves. But that is surely what they are, because they see the growth of federal power as progress, whereas conservatives feel exactly the opposite. In his essay, The Rights of Man, Thomas Paine wonderfully summed up this difference when he warned that governments in a continuous quest for progress are the most dangerous:

If, from the more wretched parts of the old world, we look at those which are in an advanced stage of improvement, we still find the greedy hand of government thrusting itself into every corner and crevice of industry, and grasping the spoil of the multitude. Invention is continually exercised, to furnish new pretenses for revenues and taxation. It watches prosperity as its prey and permits none to escape without tribute.

A great day for progressives in Washington is one where they 'get things done'. But for conservatives, it's when Congressmen are at home doing what they do best: raising money. ESR

Lisa Fabrizio is a columnist who hails from Connecticut. You may write her at mailbox@lisafab.com.


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