L. Neil Smith's

Number 18, November 15, 1996.

Losing Our Way

By Vin Suprynowicz

Special to The Libertarian Enterprise

         Disguised by day as an editorial writer at a major metropolitan newspaper, I had the opportunity this fall to sit down and help interview several dozen incumbent and would-be state lawmakers.
         There was a curious lack of fire in this year's crop of candidates. Right wrongs? Comfort the afflicted? With droning consistency we heard: "Oh, probably just continue on the way things are going ... one legislator can't have that big an impact ... I'd have to study that."
         Even the Republican incumbents -- supposedly such radical ax-wielders -- mostly declined to name a single state program they'd cut or kill, hesitant to offend the remotest outpost of the powerful unionized bureaucracy.
         But what really proved revealing was to ask the candidates a question any 10th grader ought to be able to answer: "What is the purpose of government?"
         "Government has a role to take care of people who can't take care of themselves," responded a prominent Republican running for the state Senate.
         "It's there to establish policies for assistance to communities when the resources or programs are not available. We have a responsibility to help make people's lives better," explained one prominent Democrat. (Not only did this pretty schoolmarm and former union chief blame all the current problems in our government schools on the parents, she even had a solution: "Why don't we look at some responsible training for parenting?")
         "To satisfy the living standards of the American people," said another schoolteacher.
         "Government is there to serve the people, to see tax money is spent in the right ways," responded a Republican incumbent, who went on the explain that police officers supplementing their budgets by seizing the houses and planes of suspects before they're convicted of any crime is "OK, if they're serving a function. We should have a committee come in and study that."
         (We endorsed her opponent. She lost.)
         Another incumbent schoolteacher-lawmaker perhaps best summarized the bureaucratic role most of our modern delegates see for themselves: "It (government) provides a variety of services: police, fire protection, education," he explained. "At the state level, the state administers the federal programs, like welfare and education."
         Does no one recall how Tom Jefferson warned we would know we had descended into Bonapartist tyranny if ever our once-sovereign states (once 13, now 50) were reduced to the role of mere "administrative jurisdictions" for the central authority, "like the Departments of France"?
         In fairness, my question about the purpose of government seemed to catch most candidates off guard. Many were struck speechless for a time, darting their eyes from side to side, or opening and closing their mouths in dumb puzzlement like spiny fish hauled suddenly to the surface.
         Many readers -- educated in the same government schools -- may even wonder what's wrong with the above replies. Surely it's true that our state legislators spend most of their time deciding how tax revenues shall be "fairly" divided to provide "services otherwise unavailable," isn't it?
         Sure. It's also true that soldiers, for the most part, shine boots, march around in squares, and perform equipment maintenance. But I hope the Joint Chiefs, asked "the purpose of the Armed Forces," would refer not to spit-shines and tautly-made bunks, but to "defending the Republic from invasion." To lose sight of the purpose is to lose all.
         The purpose of government on this continent, the Declaration of Independence reminds us, is different from the purpose of many a European or Third World satrapy, which may well be to divide up the tax loot according to some proto-feudal hierarchy of special interests who prop up the throne.
         Not so long ago, our delegates still realized their main role was not placing a measured dollop of succor into the mouth of each whining constituency, but rather guarding our liberties against the assaults of the insatiable petty tyrants of the bureaucracy, who can always be counted on to cloak their power-grabs in pious mewlings about the widows and orphans.
         The Declaration reminds us that governments are "instituted among men" for the sole purpose of "securing the unalienable rights" with which men are "endowed by their Creator," rights which include but are not limited to "Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness" ... including the right to private property and the vital right to keep and bear arms.
         This is the measure against which each petty proposed enactment should be measured -- in Washington City or Carson City, in Austin or Lansing -- not merely whether it will please a majority of the supplicants who have traveled to the capital to bow and scrape and present their offerings at court.

Vin Suprynowicz is the assistant editorial page editor of the Las Vegas Review-Journal. The web site for the Suprynowicz column is at http://www.nguworld.com/vindex/. The column is syndicated in the United States and Canada via Mountain Media Syndications, P.O. Box 4422, Las Vegas Nev. 89127.

Space for Fun and Profit

NASA delenda est.

There's plenty of money to be made in space; let's go get some.

Houston Space Institute
PO Box 266151
Houston, TX 77207-6151
(713) 990-9536

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