The Road to Big Government

Why “comprehensive reform” will lead to more government and less freedom.

The Obama administration came to power promising to “transform” America and they have attempted to make good on that promise. The White House and Congress have broken with the American past in ways that few administrations have done, unmooring the ship of state from safe harbor and sailing ahead without the slightest idea of where their “transformation” is truly taking us.

It’s more than just establishing a Euro-style social democracy in a nation that consciously rejected the European model of government 221 years ago. That would be bad enough under any circumstances – even when justified by their belief that no crisis should go to waste, and that the economic downturn offered the opportunity to greatly enhance the power of the federal government.

To that end, the Democratic Party and its leftist allies have chosen the most monumentally imprudent gamble since the New Deal, with little thought to the unforeseen consequences that will flow from their efforts.

The manner in which they are seeking to impose their new-fangled vision of America on the rest of us is by using the moniker of “comprehensive reform” on three of the most important sectors of our society – health, banking, and energy – to radically alter the structure of government, and forever change the relationship between the ordinary citizen and Washington, D.C.

Not content with seeking to wrap government’s tentacles around those three vital economic spheres of influence, the Democrats are also seeking comprehensive reform of immigration and labor law – both of which have far more to do with enhancing their political position with electoral allies than with addressing problems in those areas.

Whenever a politician says he wants “comprehensive reform” of anything, grab your wallet. History has shown us that such efforts always lead to unintended consequences that redound unfavorably to the individual citizen’s wealth and liberty. Whenever government’s reach exceeds its grasp – as in passing a 3,000-page health insurance reform bill – it is certain that we will be paying more, getting less, and enjoying fewer choices, thus incrementally reducing our freedoms.

Take comprehensive campaign finance reform. Democrats are apoplectic over the recent Citizens United decision that tossed out several odious portions of the McCain-Feingold Act regarding corporate participation in the political process. But that act was meant to alter the 1974 comprehensive campaign finance reform amendments that gave us the Federal Election Commission, limits on contributions, and disclosure requirements. At the time, we were assured that the “reforms” would reduce the influence of special interests in the electoral process while curbing the appetites of “fat cats” to contribute. How’s that working out for you guys?

Each and every “reform” in campaign finance has led to the ludicrous spectacle of special interest lobbyists finding giant loopholes. The unintended consequences of well-intentioned reform have been a bigger role for special interests, a larger slice of fundraising being done by fat cats, and more corruption of electoral politics. It’s hard to imagine how anything decided by the Supreme Court in Citizens United could give corporations and unions any more influence with candidates and political parties than they enjoyed previously.

With health insurance reform, we still don’t know where some of the slippery slopes will lead, or what kind of massive dislocations are in store for us as a result of Congress passing this comprehensive monstrosity. But even before most of this comprehensive reform bill goes into effect, we are seeing the fruits of Congress’ imprudence. Told by almost every opponent of the measure that comprehensive reform would cause insurance premiums to skyrocket, Democrats referred to those making such charges as “liars” and assured us day after day that premiums would actually come down.

The president’s own Health and Human Services Department begged to differ. More than a week prior to the final vote, Medicare’s Office of the Actuary delivered a report concluding that premiums for individuals and companies would rise significantly under Obamacare. There is some debate over whether the report could have come out prior to the vote (whether it would have changed anybody’s mind is another question) but the fact remains; the rise in premium costs were not intended by the president or congress and yet, the unanticipated has become reality.

Of course, this is the tip of the iceberg. The same will hold true for comprehensive financial reform now being considered by the senate. Despite differences in the Senate and House bills, there is going to be some kind of “consumer protection” agency. The thought of government “protecting” consumers or anyone else should give us all pause. In this specific case, the House bill would set up a board to determine whether financial instruments – stocks, mutual funds, mortgages – were too complex for the consumer to understand when the broker sold the product. Aside from protecting us from our own stupidity, the board will have the power to come down like a ton of bricks on both the broker and the company employing him with fines and even jail time.

The makeup of the board would be determined by the president. Imagine the politics that could be played in this scenario if a large financial institution won’t contribute to Democrats or otherwise play ball with the party in power. The board’s discretionary power would be immense and much mischief could be in the offing if the House version of the agency becomes law.

It doesn’t matter what putative tasks that government wants to assign for itself, anytime that Congress comprehensively tries to address a supposed injustice, or take on a big problem, it is a given that government will carve out a role greater than it had previous to the reform. It is a sure means of growing the size of the federal behemoth. Unintended consequences notwithstanding, you can take that to your federally run bank and cash it.

Will “comprehensive immigration reform” slow the number of illegals coming into this country? That’s what we will be told it is intended to do. Will making it easier to set up a union shop via the so-called “card check” bill – the most comprehensive “reform” of labor law in a generation – raise wages and increase job opportunities? That’s the bilge that will be pumped out of Washington when the Democrats try and sell the undemocratic measure. Will cap-and-trade lower the emissions of greenhouse gasses by one molecule? Not on your life; but it sure will give the feds a stranglehold on energy production in America.

Prudence as a civic virtue has disappeared from public life. It’s just not the style in these days of massive, nation-changing legislation and a president with one eye on the polls and the other on the history books. One of Cicero’s Four Cardinal Virtues, prudence, he wrote, “is the knowledge of what is good, what is bad, and what is neutral.” Russell Kirk believed that prudence was one of the ten most important conservative principles, saying, “[a]ny public measure ought to be judged by its probable long-run consequences, not merely by temporary advantage or popularity.” It would seem that both classical and contemporary philosophers had a better handle on what the liberals are doing than Republicans in Congress.

In an age where anything is justified in the cause of “social justice,” or advancing “positive rights,” the Left’s massive attempts at “comprehensive” reform are unsettling society, discarding America’s first principles, and uncoupling citizens from the traditions that have been lovingly and courageously handed down by our ancestors at great cost in blood and treasure. It is being done without so much as a sniff in the direction of continuity in government, as Democrats seek to shatter convention and substitute an alien philosophy that alters society in ways that most of those who voted for “change” in 2008 could never have dreamed. What is really needed in America today is not comprehensive reform but a comprehensive cleaning of our House – and the Senate.