What difference does the role of government make?

As the quadrennial glare that hovers around the external trappings of elevated office fades, it behooves the citizens of the Republic to consider the substance behind the glare.

President Barack Obama began his second Inaugural Address last week by claiming, “What makes us exceptional—what makes us American—is our allegiance to” three of the five self-evident truths articulated in our Declaration of Independence:

that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

Mr. Obama omitted the fourth and fifth truths:

That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, –That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.

Toward the end of the speech, he provided a likely reason for the omission:

“Progress does not compel us to settle centuries-long debates about the role of government for all time–but it does require us to act in our time.”

In other words, we don’t really agree with what our founding document calls a self-evident truth about the role of government, but we’ve got pressing things to do anyway.

It is apparently considered appropriate among the elevated to ask of momentous things: What difference does it make?

But the role of government makes a great deal of difference. Only a finite vision of its purpose and powers, buttressed by a strong Constitution, can stop the encroachments, gradual and silent or swift and noisy, that tilt a government from a dangerous servant to a fearsome master.

The essence of government is power, and power, lodged as it must be in human hands, will ever be liable to abuse. The elevated of course do not present themselves as being enamored of power, and prone to abuse it; they present themselves as good men and women, ready to do battle for the downtrodden against the familiar dragons of greedy corporations, millionaires and billionaires, the 1 percent. But these self-appointed dragon-slayers form a leviathan with far more power to trample life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness than every member of the much-maligned, ill-defined 1 percent could amass even if they all worked together.

It is not the 1 percent who keep the rest of us wading through the vile mire of dependency; it is the national government. It is not millionaires and billionaires who subject us to the humiliation of being felt up or naked X-rayed; it is the TSA. It is not greedy corporations that riffle through our records, making sure that we’re handing over our “fair share”; it is the IRS.

And in the most egregious cases where greedy corporations have trampled the rights of the people, they have done so with the blessing and backing of the national government. Susette Kelo lost her home not because the New London Development Corporation wanted her land but because the U.S. Supreme Court empowered them to seize it.

The lamp of experience illuminates the sad reality that a government instituted to secure rights can be its most dangerous enemy. And so government must be restrained by a citizenry with a finite view of its role, guarding with jealous attention the public liberty, suspecting everyone who approaches that jewel.

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