Rein­ing the big-gov­ern­ment stam­pede

A self-re­liant peo­ple will al­ways out­per­form Big Brother

The Washington Times Daily - - OPINION - By Ed Feul­ner Ed Feul­ner is founder of the Her­itage Foun­da­tion (her­itage.org).

Most Amer­i­cans don’t ex­pect the fed­eral gov­ern­ment to stay out of their lives al­to­gether. What they ex­pect is min­i­mal in­volve­ment: Let Washington be the last re­sort, the one Amer­i­cans turn to only when they truly can’t de­vise any al­ter­na­tive.

Given our re­source­ful­ness, that should be rare. As Alexis de Toc­queville, the 19th cen­tury French po­lit­i­cal writer, ob­served, “The cit­i­zen of the United States is taught from in­fancy to rely upon his own ex­er­tions to re­sist evil and dif­fi­cul­ties of life; he looks up on the so­cial au­thor­ity with an eye of mis­trust and anx­i­ety, and he claims as­sis­tance only when he is un­able to do with­out it.”

Self-reliance char­ac­ter­ized the first set­tlers in this coun­try, and the U.S. Con­sti­tu­tion ex­em­pli­fied that spirit by cre­at­ing a fed­eral gov­ern­ment of sep­a­rate and limited pow­ers — one strong enough to rep­re­sent a new na­tion to the world, but weak enough to al­low states and in­di­vid­u­als to thrive.

Ar­ti­cle 1, Sec­tion 8 lays out the spe­cific pow­ers vested in Congress. They range from col­lect­ing fed­eral taxes and reg­u­lat­ing in­ter­state com­merce to rais­ing armies for na­tional de­fense and declar­ing war. They in­clude the power to make all laws “nec­es­sary and proper” for car­ry­ing out any con­sti­tu­tional power — a way to adapt those pow­ers to chang­ing times. As it turns out, the re­sult has been ever more fed­eral laws, stacked as high as the Washington Mon­u­ment.

On the whole, the Con­sti­tu­tion is a mar­vel of prin­ci­ples and re­straint, a unique com­pass de­signed to keep the na­tion both pointed in the right di­rec­tion and sta­ble in the face of un­know­able change in the fu­ture. But if we re­visit the Con­sti­tu­tion’s orig­i­nal im­pe­tus

— the need to pre­serve Amer­i­can in­de­pen­dence and self-reliance — we re­al­ize that what the doc­u­ment does not say is no less im­por­tant than when it does say.

For ex­am­ple, it does not men­tion such ac­tiv­i­ties as ed­u­ca­tion, med­i­cal care and re­tire­ment se­cu­rity. These is­sues and others af­fect self-reliance in pro­found ways. The framers ex­cluded them from the Con­sti­tu­tion al­most cer­tainly be­cause, at the time, most Amer­i­cans thought they were none of the fed­eral gov­ern­ment’s busi­ness and were best car­ried out by in­di­vid­ual cit­i­zens.

When this im­por­tant sep­a­ra­tion of fed­eral and lo­cal func­tions is breached, prob­lems be­gin. The poor state of our school sys­tem is a clas­sic ex­am­ple.

Since 1965, the fed­eral gov­ern­ment has spent more than $2 tril­lion (in­fla­tion-ad­justed) on K-12 ed­u­ca­tion, ac­cord­ing to tes­ti­mony de­liv­ered by An­drew Coul­son be­fore the House Ed­u­ca­tion and the Work­force Com­mit­tee. Shouldn’t the log­i­cal re­sult be all sorts of won­der­ful aca­demic im­prove­ment in U.S. schools?

It hasn’t worked out that way. Since 2012, test scores for Amer­i­can school­child­ren have fallen steadily be­hind those in Bri­tain, Ja­pan, the Nether­lands, Sin­ga­pore and most other industrial na­tions. In 2015, for ex­am­ple, the United States ranked 35th in math, down from 28th just a few years ear­lier, com­ing in be­hind the Slo­vak Republic, Hun­gary and Lithua­nia. In other words, it looks as though ed­u­ca­tion ranks among the black holes of fed­eral spend­ing.

The ex­is­tence of the Ed­u­ca­tion Depart­ment is proof that sub­par ed­u­ca­tional per­for­mance is a na­tional prob­lem that mil­lions of Amer­i­cans yearn to solve. But that does not make it a fed­eral is­sue. Be­cause there is also proof that fed­eral bureau­crats have al­most zero chance of truly solv­ing those prob­lems.

It is clearly im­prac­ti­cal to de­mand that the fed­eral gov­ern­ment im­me­di­ately with­draw from ed­u­ca­tion, health care and all the other ar­eas in which its cur­rent vast pres­ence is, to the minds of many con­ser­va­tives, clearly un­con­sti­tu­tional. It is too late, as well as po­lit­i­cally im­pos­si­ble, to try to lock that barn door. The in­trud­ers are al­ready act­ing like own­ers.

But we can, and must, try to keep the re­main­ing horses un­der lo­cal con­trol. With pa­tience, per­sis­tence and cit­i­zen in­volve­ment, it should even be pos­si­ble to re­cap­ture some of the stolen ponies — and help re­store the fed­eral gov­ern­ment’s proper role.

The ex­is­tence of the Ed­u­ca­tion Depart­ment is proof that sub­par ed­u­ca­tional per­for­mance is a na­tional prob­lem that mil­lions of Amer­i­cans yearn to solve. But that does not make it a fed­eral is­sue.

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