Cato’s release of its annual 10,000 Commandments is good reading. I didn’t realize that regulation is one of three main ways the federal government funds projects for which it would rather not account. The first two methods are tax now and tax later (apparently the "do not spend" option is either not available or never selected). Regulation is the friendlier, off-the-books "third" way that government forces changes and initiatives and projects on the masses. It costs everyone money, about $860 billion in 2002.
George W. Bush hasn’t made much of a small government mark so far, although he and his advisors are doing their part to reduce the size of the military in onesies and twosies every day in Iraq. Lots of military folks are now thinking twice before recommending the military to their own children and nieces and nephews. That could help shrink the size of the future defense force. A few weeks ago a truck driver with a 19 year old daughter explained to me that he is encouraging her to go into the Guard instead of the active services she was thinking about because at least if she is deployed forward, chances are good she’ll remain in the States. This guy doesn’t read Lew Rockwell or Antiwar.com, as a typical Shenandoah County resident he statistically votes Republican, listens to Rush and Hannity, and is the kind of patriot that the Bush White House is still proud of. His wisdom and perspicacity would shock the pollsters. He gets it, and there are millions in this country just like him.
A lot of these folks are starting to think about what good the federal government is really doing, and beginning to consider the personal costs of the vast gray federal beneficence. The fifty percent of the population that doesn’t pay a lot of taxes has been counted on for years by the Democratic Party. Today’s Republican Party considers them prime stooges as well. But these so-called beneficiaries of government-supervised wealth redistribution are not necessarily a rubber stamp for the political twinnage represented by Hillary and Dubya.
Big and Bigger Government cannot truly rely on this group — even though technically this near plurality of citizens seem ideal BBG supporters — they do not pay for government excesses while ostensibly "benefiting" from them. The secret is hidden in plain sight in the 10,000 commandments. Because these citizens tend to work for a living, often in small businesses, they understand the complicated decisions taken to hire and keep employees, and they understand how distant and often nonsensical rules and regulations impact their work life and that of their neighbors. They utilize the public schools, and they are as dissatisfied with state dogma as their wealthier kin — usually more so since they have no choice. These are the folks who waste their working day standing in line at the DMV to pay another new fee and their evenings struggling with federal and state forms and processes. Working-class people may not pay as much attention to internet monitoring and Dr. "Strangelove" Poindexter in Washington, but they increasingly fail to view state and federal agencies as their allies. These folks don’t tend to get those dinnertime sales calls the benevolent feds (and their big business buddies) are so conscientious about all of a sudden. Many of these folks have historically viewed military service as a ticket up and out for their children, and now even that is changing, thanks to Dubya’s brand of bratty imperialism.
Where I grew up in the mountains of North Carolina, there was a certain attitude toward people who tell you what to do under threat of force and confiscation. We were reminded of that recently with the accidental capture of the accused domestic terrorist Eric Rudolph. The media (who also bought the T-shirts) seemed to enjoy reporting the idea of a regional lack of respect and trust for the feds, and this portrayal angered many of the locals as unfair and untrue. But there is no denying that there was a whole lot of laughing at the FBI, ATF, and the Attorney General going on behind closed doors, and it wasn’t limited to Appalachia.
The fifty or so percent of Americans that the Demicans and Republicrats count on to passively support more government and increased federal taxing and spending, while simultaneously ignoring hurtful trends in government regulation of lives, casual expensing of the future, and adventuristic foreign policy are also the ones who tend to earn a greater percentage of their livelihoods in cash and barter, off the books. Funny how that off the books approach, perfected in Washington, cuts both ways.
The reams of paper containing the 10,000 Commandments are depressing and the image certainly makes consideration of anarchism or violent revolution attractive. Incremental change may not be possible. My brother, not a fan of whining and also not a fan of my columns, told me recently, "So what? You and these other folks mad about the war in Iraq and the size of government have an opinion! But where are the practical solutions? What do you offer other than sarcasm?"
The Amish "Ordnung" may provide some insights. The idea of "Be ye separate" may be the first step in a path towards smaller government, barring a sudden catastrophic collapse of the debt house of cards or the fledgling empire. The pollsters may not call us, the two major parties don’t seem to truly understand or share our values, but we’re here and we’re not going anywhere. We are discussing our lives and our opinions with our families and neighbors; we are trading services and helping each other out. We are not afraid to say what we think, and we think the Constitution and the Bill of Rights are pretty good just as they are. We are the Americans who so amazed de Tocqueville in the early 1800s, and we may have it in us to help break the back of the 20th century scourge of big, bureaucratic, deadly government.
George W. Bush squeaked by in 2000 on a platform of smaller, less intrusive government and a foreign policy of nonintervention and humility. That message resonated. It continues to resonate with a majority of Americans. Unfortunately, Bush either lied or can’t lead his way out of a paper bag. In this ongoing conflict between constitutionally defined government and massive suffocating invasive expensive government, this war of the ten thousand commandments, we need to take a stand, every day, with everyone we meet. For my brother, the former Marine, it’s a practical action taken early on known as softening up the battlefield.
Karen Kwiatkowski [send her mail] is a recently retired USAF lieutenant colonel, who spent her final four and a half years in uniform working at the Pentagon. She now lives with her freedom-loving family in the Shenandoah Valley.