Are we a people with a government, or a government with a people?
This is not a trivial question. It is, perhaps, the most essential principle we must settle, as we consider current events, and the election approaching us in November.
Look at President Obama???s infamous ???you didn???t build that??? speech in Roanoke, Virginia. It has now churned through several media spin cycles. The President and his defenders, apparently confident that voters won???t use the Internet to go back and read his full remarks ??? or, even worse, watch him deliver them, noting this tone and body language ??? have settled on the spin that he really meant ???roads and bridges??? when he said ???you didn???t build that.???
It is one hundred percent clear, to anyone who watches the full passage of the speech in question, that he meant business enterprises were not built by their actual owners, not without the assistance of their ???senior partners??? in government. Obama went so far as to aggressively mock any business owner who does believe he was responsible for the success of his business, right before he dropped the ???you didn???t build that??? bomb. For the benefit of anyone tempted to fall for the desperate spin of Obama apologists, here???s the full passage:
As you can see, changing the target of the word ???that??? in Obama???s famous quote might ever so slightly mitigate the ten-second-sound-byte political damage, but it doesn???t change what he was trying to say: no individual succeeds without the resources of the government, which is an avatar of the popular will, so the government has an unlimited claim on the wealth of all individuals. It can assert this claim against whoever it likes, demanding different amounts from different groups of people.
These claims must be obeyed even when the government demands even more from the very same people who already provided the funds for the existing infrastructure, by paying the bulk of America???s taxes. Their objections to paying more are to be dismissed out of hand as morally unacceptable. Obama explicitly says they should be resented for raising such objections. They???re freeloading ingrates who looted the collectively-owned capital of the working class to build their fortunes, and now they refuse to give back what the State says they owe.
In other words, Obama sees America as a government with a vestigial private sector attached. This government derives its authority, not from the consent of the governed, but from the demands of the majority ??? and it reserves the right to inform the ???majority??? of what their demands are.
This mind-set is echoed in many of the demands for gun confiscation, in the wake of the ???Dark Knight Rises??? shooting in Colorado. New York mayor Michael Bloomberg astonishingly suggested that police forces across the nation should go on strike unless more gun control laws are passed. Even more clearly than most gun-control rhetoric, Bloomberg???s remarks designate the people as utterly subordinate to the government. The government finds it troublesome to cope with the exercise of an individual right, so that right must be rescinded??? and if the people resist, the government will stop performing one of its essential duties.
This is all profoundly contrary to the Founders??? notion of a government empowered voluntarily by its citizens. There is no chicken-and-egg inscrutable riddle behind their vision: the people come first. They delegate the government limited powers, which can be taken away. They provide every dollar of the government???s funding.
The Declaration of Independence sets forth a profoundly challenging, endlessly fascinating principle: ???We hold these truths to be self-evident, 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. That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed??????
The authors of the Delcaration weren???t merely laying out a justification for colonial rebellion from the British empire. ???Self-evident??? truths are universal, in every time and place. The rights our government is supposed to defend ??? not at its convenience, but as core duties it can never abandon ??? were later enumerated to include ownership, commerce, and self-defense. If the government finds its agenda cannot accommodate these rights, then the government is illegitimate, not the people.
And one of the many ramifications of deriving just power from the ???consent of the governed??? means that the power of our national government, including the burden of funding it, should fall as evenly as possible across all citizens. Otherwise, they???re not all ???consenting??? to the same thing, and when power is centralized in Washington, there is no meaningful way for consent to be withdrawn.
Obama???s Roanoke speech, like many others he has given, is an explicit rejection of this principle. The needs of the State take priority over any individual???s notion of consent. The sphere of economic liberty is precisely as large as the State, acting as executor of what the political class has divined to be the general will, permits it to be. Dissent is both functionally impossible, and denounced as immoral, because no one has any meaningful independence from the government.
Similarly, with gun control, it is said that the inherent right of self-defense must be discarded, because the actions of a few criminals and madmen leave the government convinced that citizens can no longer be entrusted with firearms. Greater power for the government is the only solution that may be considered. The right to keep and bear arms turns out to be quite ???alienable??? after all, and the people who wish to protect that right are portrayed as defendants in a huge national trial. They???re expected to offer an airtight case against taking their rights away, to a ???jury??? of politicians who generally enjoy armed security protection.
If America is a people with a government, we don???t have to endure withering cross-examination from politicians, and constituencies, who want to suspend our rights. We???re not supposed to be on defense in such matters, because our just government should be protecting our rights, not demanding their compromise. We should be telling the government how much money it may have, and insisting those funds be spent carefully – not receiving a bill for whatever amount the government desires, divided however it sees fit, including deficit-fueled financial demands on people who aren???t even old enough to vote yet. We should insist our state governments have primacy over Washington in all but a few vital areas of clear national concern, because the people in one state should have a limited ability to impose demands upon the citizens of another, and an individual citizen can more easily change or abandon unacceptable state government.
Either the government belongs to us, or we belong to it. We will not have many more opportunities to make our support for the former, wiser option clear.