The very idea of being coerced infuriates Americans; and as a people, we are, and always have been, united in our resolve to resist coercion. Left or right, progressive or conservative, we want to be free to express our views and live our lives. We passionately resist the attempts of others to force their will upon us.
We can also agree that there is a certain limit, albeit circumscribed, to the concept of having total freedom to do as we please. Reasonable laws ensure we are not free to harm others (theft, assault, rape and murder are not unalienable rights).
And as a country, we have become upset with our government. Though we may disagree on exactly how our leaders in Washington have coerced us, we can all agree that we have been, and are being, forced to accept things we do not like.
We have had it, and the all-time low ratings of our politicians reflect that.
We also have very strong opinions about what is good for the country. But if we are not careful, good intentions can lead to tyranny. We can debate the concept of general welfare, and even within the debate we can recognize the “grain of truth” in our opponents’ arguments. The Right acknowledges that the poor need some type of help. The Left understands that our country needs some degree of military protection. What we can’t seem to agree upon is the amount of both. And as free debate disintegrates into emotion-laden rhetoric, the career politicians capitalize on this emotion to further their own careers, while at the same time jeopardizing all of our liberties by growing the national debt.
The way they do this is by professing they are simply trying to provide for the general welfare.
Thomas Jefferson exposed this tactic to twist the enumerated powers. He agreed that Congress does have the power to lay taxes for the purpose of providing for the general welfare. However, they are not to lay taxes for any purpose they please: only to pay debts and provide for the general welfare. Similarly, they are not “to do anything they please to provide for the general welfare but only to lay taxes for that purpose.”
He emphasized this subtlety as, “giving a distinct and independent power to do any act they please, which might be for the good of the Union, would render all the preceding and subsequent enumerations of power completely useless.” That would reduce this to, “instituting a Congress with power to do whatever would be for the good of the United States; and, as they would be the sole judges of the good or evil, it would be also a power to do whatever evil they please.”
Throughout history, those in authority tend to undermine and tarnish the very revolutionary concepts they claim to espouse. Just as many churches have abandoned Christ’s true teachings, many politicians have abandoned the Constitution.
A great example of this attempt to provide for the “general welfare” by violating individual rights can be seen in the following video. It definitely puts a new slant on the famous “got milk?” slogan.
Regardless of your politics, please continue to speak out against attempts at coercion and violation of individual freedoms that do no harm to others.
Visit the good folks at Reason.com for more about this saga.
The quotes from Thomas Jefferson are from:
Thomas Jefferson, On the Constitutionality of a National Bank, February 15, 1771