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Government’s “Other” Gluttony

A Commentary by Howard Rich

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Over the last decade, America’s leaders chose to address the unsustainable growth of an already bloated federal government by spending unprecedented amounts of borrowed money. First there was George W. Bush’s “compassionate conservatism,” a wholesale abandonment of the Republican view of limited government that quickly turned surpluses into deficits – and independent voters into Democrats.

Now have Barack Obama and his “yes we can” brand of socialism, which has taken Bush’s bailouts and entitlement excesses and put them on steroids – turning independent voters back into Republicans.

When will our leaders get the message? All told, both parties have added more than $8 trillion (and counting) to the national debt over the last ten years – an avalanche of deficit spending that has our nation fast approaching fiscal Armageddon.

Given the dimensions of this looming crisis, it’s understandable that the debate in Washington, D.C. is focused almost exclusively on dollars and cents. Yet as limited government advocates continue to drive this fiscal dialogue, it has become increasingly apparent that we cannot turn a blind eye to the government’s “other” gluttony –its voraciousness with respect to gobbling up our individual liberties.

That loud sucking sound you hear in cities and towns all across America isn’t just money being vacuumed out of your wallet or pocketbook – it’s the steady vacuuming up of our once-inalienable rights.

This trend goes much deeper than the unconstitutional individual mandate of “Obamacare,” which would force Americans to pay fines of up to 2.5 percent of their annual income if they decline to purchase insurance.

It’s about Americans being physically molested by Homeland Security agents and having their laptops and cell phones seized without probable cause. It’s about the FCC infringing on freedom and commerce on the internet while the SEC is empowered to seize and liquidate financial institutions all over the country on a whim. It’s about the Federal Reserve investing trillions of dollars in secret while government at all levels continues inventing new definitions of “public use” to take away your private property.

And yes, it’s about the U.S. House of Representatives – our House – going behind closed doors to debate funding for our nation’s domestic spying program (which it did in 2008).

It’s about overzealous politicians of both parties handing down overreaching legislation to overpaid bureaucrats and overstepping judges. It’s about the creation of convenient enemies, the cultivation of fear – and never letting a crisis go to waste.

“It’s sometimes easy to lose perspective of just how extreme and outrageous certain erosions are,” author Glenn Greenwald noted in a recent piece about warrantless computer seizures at America’s borders. “One becomes inured to them, and even severe incursions start to seem ordinary.”

Sadly, the dangers that Americans face with respect to our individual liberties were laid bare by the tragic shooting in Tucson, Arizona earlier this month.

The day after the tragedy Keynesian economist Paul Krugman claimed that a climate of “toxic rhetoric” emanating overwhelmingly “from the right” was to blame. Krugman went on to suggest that further bloodshed would be on the hands of GOP leaders.

That same day, U.S. Assistant Minority Leader Jim Clyburn claimed that the shooting was due to excessive “vitriol” in the public discourse. As a result, he argued that America needed to “rethink parameters on free speech” by reinstituting the Fairness Doctrine and implementing other government controls over the media.

While these radical reactionaries were callously politicizing this tragedy – and while aides to President Barack Obama were busy preparing a pep rally-style memorial service for the victims – it became readily apparent that this full-court press against the First Amendment was based on nothing more than wishful and wildly inappropriate speculation (as if suppressing free speech was ever appropriate or justifiable).

The suspect in the Tucson shooting spree does not appear to have acted in accordance with anything resembling a rational ideology. In fact, he seemed only tangentially connected to reality – yet the assault on free speech in the wake of his actions hasn’t let up.

“The saddest epitaph which can be carved in memory of a vanished liberty is that it was lost because its possessors failed to stretch forth a saving hand while yet there was time,” Supreme Court Justice George Sutherland wrote more than seventy years ago.

And obviously the most dangerous assaults on liberty come not from sweeping edicts – but rather gradual incursions born out of the opportunism of the latest crisis.

As limited government advocates, we must continue to vigorously advance free market solutions in response to our nation’s fiscal implosion. But as we do so, let’s make sure we do not ignore government’s “other” gluttony.

Doing so would invite an even more pernicious fate.

The author is chairman of Americans for Limited Government.

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Views expressed in this column are those of the author, not those of Rasmussen Reports.

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