Senator Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) of Texas may not have advanced the cause of defunding ObamaCare on last Tuesday night and Wednesday morning, with his rhetorically fluent arguments on the floor of the Senate (and his still standing at the end), but he did serve to highlight a critical issue: The problem is not just ObamaCare, it is the increasing encroachment of the state into our daily lives.
ObamaCare is only its latest (and potentially most significant) manifestation. It is the deliberate (and deceptive) focus on the trees by much of the press and most politicians that prevent us from seeing the forest. In 1992, the late Robert Bartley, longtime editor of the Wall Street Journal, warned that it was “absolutely true that in the long term we will be unable to control government expenditures if the government keeps assuming new responsibilities.”
For decades, the country has been drifting inexorably to the left. President Obama, in 2008, promised to fundamentally transform the country. He has not. What he has done is simply sped up a process that has been underway since the 1930s. To “fundamentally transform” the country, we need to exit the highway we are on and take a different route, one towards less dependency, more freedom and greater personal responsibility. That is the route toward which Mr. Cruz is pointing. Keep in mind, less government means less power in Washington, which is why Mr. Cruz’s threat is so inimical to almost all of those who live and work within the Beltway.
It is true that federal spending as a share of GDP has declined from the 26.5% in the second quarter of 2009 to 23.5% in 2012. It is estimated to fall further to 23% this year. When speaking to fiscally conservative Democrats and Independents, Mr. Obama has brayed that this has been the most rapid drop in forty years. What he doesn’t say is that the 26.5% was by far the highest level of spending in the post-War period, or that sequester cuts and other caps on spending, which have led to deficit reductions, were largely due to Republican Congressional victories in 2010.
If the decline in government expenditures persists, that should lead to an improvement in the economy, which would generate more tax revenues, thereby lowering the deficit even further. The operational word, of course, is “if.” And it assumes that ObamaCare is less expensive than most experts now anticipate. The Congressional Budget Office (CBO), for example, calculates that ObamaCare alone will add $1 trillion to spending over the next decade.
Given the vitriol in Washington, it is impossible to have the kind of reasoned debate needed that would allow Americans to fully understand the consequences of the choices they have. Opinions are held too strongly and no respect or consideration is given by either side – one has only to read the President’s comments at Prince George Community College on Thursday, addressed to what the New York Times called a “friendly audience.” Mr. Obama’s ego was no doubt flattered by the accolades he received from his young and adoring audience. The Times wrote that Mr. Obama’s voice was “laced with scorn” and that he “ridiculed” his opponents, who he referred to as “billionaires who would deny help for the sick.”
My guess is that the mostly middle class Tea Partiers would be surprised that the President would include them among such rarified ranks, and with many being middle-aged and older, caring for the sick is probably a daily part of their lives. Most of his opponents are average, every-day Americans who are concerned about a loss of freedom – the individual freedom that has characterized America for most of its history. They differ from the President. They believe in a government supported by the people, not a people supported by the government.
The problem with too many Washington politicians is exacerbated by the corrupting influences of the District. Men and women have long gone to serve in Congress – to right wrongs; to promote particular, perhaps idealistic, causes; but, most importantly, to represent the people of their districts. However, too many stay for the money, the power and the glory. The very fact that Congress exempted themselves from the more onerous aspects of ObamaCare is an indication of their arrogant abuse of power and a growing separation between them and those they represent.
Gerrymandering, of course, has made House Congressional seats increasingly safe. Only a small number of seats are truly at risk. Senators increasingly see themselves as national figures, no longer principally tied to the needs of their individual states. Democratic Senators, no matter from which state they hail, get their campaign funds from wealthy coastal elites, Hollywood big shots, unions, big business and Wall Street. Republicans get theirs from wealthy Midwesterners, small businesses, and Wall Street. (Wall Street is largely apolitical, more interested in protecting its nest, than concerning itself with longer-term political philosophies. It is shortsighted in that regard.) The only answer to the disconnect between the people and their representatives is a Constitutional Amendment to impose term limits.
Some observers have suggested that these perennial Senators and Representatives form a new Party – the Permanent Bipartisan Fusion Party (PBFP), representing all of those who are less concerned about Constitutional matters than they are about personal survivability. These men and women label themselves as reasonable centrists, declaring those on the fringes to be whackos. They believe in leaving government largely as it is, drifting lazily downstream, but, as indicated earlier, irrevocably to the left. That is the risk Senator Cruz sees. The appeal of the PBFP to independents and centrists is that they appear as adult voices amidst squabbling kindergarteners. But there are times when one should listen to a screaming child.
For those of us who have always lived in America, it is difficult to grasp the concept that freedom is fragile – that most of the world’s people are not free, and that once gained, freedom can be easily lost. Many go to Washington with the idea that government should assume responsibility for more and more aspects of our lives, ignoring or unaware of the effect on our freedoms. With no real life experience among autocracies and little understanding of history, it is easy to be swept up under the arm of a caring government. But every time we give up some small aspect of responsibility we also surrender some aspect of our freedom.
We see that recently in the expanding power of agencies, such as the EPA and HHS. Since most of us do not believe in anarchy, we recognize the trade-off of living in a society where we must obey rules, laws and customs. Even the most wild-eyed Tea-Partier (the crazies, as Mr. Obama characterized them) obeys traffic signals and pays his or her taxes. The question we should be debating, but which we apparently cannot or will not, is how much freedom are we willing to give up for increasing security, safety and comfort?
Democrats, and Mr. Obama especially, have become masters of the “blame” game. “Bush did it,” became such a commonplace phrase that it has been added to our dictionary of idioms. Republicans know that they will be blamed for any government shutdown. But, so do Democrats, which is why Mr. Obama, who is willing to negotiate with the Syrians and Iranians, has not seen fit to sit down with the opposition party. It is why Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV) is so arrogantly steadfast against equally tenacious Tea Partiers.
Our system of government allows for majority rule, but the rights of minorities are supposed to be respected and represented. The Affordable Care Act was passed solely along Party lines. It did not receive one Republican vote. Never before in our history has a landmark piece of legislation passed without a single opposition-Party vote. Imagine the hue and cry if the tables had been reversed! The President is the only person in the Country in a position to try to reconcile the differences. Instead, he chooses to demonize and belittle his opponents, ignoring the fact that they represent a significant part of the population over which he presides.
Mr. Obama was the first President in our modern history – perhaps ever – to win a second term with a smaller percentage of both the popular and Electoral College vote. One would have expected that might have infused him with some sense of humility – that he would make an effort to reach out and try to understand why a significant cross section of the American population does not support him or his agenda. Instead, he has become more imperious, more condescending. On Friday he chastised Congress as a parent might a wayward child. “Knock it off, pass a budget and move on!” What does he mean, “Knock it off” and “move on?” Whose spending got us into this mess in the first place? Who has ignored the House and the millions of people their members represent?
Perhaps Senator Cruz was acting only in self interest – that his marathon speech would serve to help him in 2016? Perhaps? But perhaps he is legitimately concerned about the direction our Country is heading? Continuing down the path we are on will lead relentlessly and inevitably to greater dependency, more regulation and diminished freedoms.
Long-time, professional politicians of both Parties do not want to rock the boat. They are comfortable. Most of our post-War Presidents have been men of the center. The two exceptions have been Ronald Reagan and Barack Obama. (One might argue that Jimmy Carter fit that mold, but he has done more damage as an ex-President than he ever did as President.) Neither Reagan nor Obama was able to totally reconfigure the political scene, but Mr. Reagan did slow the leftward drift and Mr. Obama has accelerated it. It is possible that Senator Cruz is an instrument of change – not likely to reverse course, but at least to temper the pace. It is the forest of government encroachment that gets lost when we hear Mr. Obama, and his minions in the press focus mainly on the trees.
Politics is the art of horse trading, but good government is based on principles, character and adherence to the law. Compromise makes little sense when the principles that created our Republic have been abandoned or compromised, or that laws get enforced depending on the whims of the president. Character, by which I mean honesty, adhering to principle, care for others and integrity, is largely absent in Washington.
Our principles are embedded in the Constitution and its 27 Amendments. Should we condemn as a tantrum a principled stand? Senator Cruz is not a man of the center and he will surely not achieve the goal of defunding ObamaCare, but that does not mean that his 21-hour marathon was in vain. I suspect he was looking at the forest.