Friends, not yet converted to the classical liberal point of view, often criticize me for criticizing the government.
Never mind asking whether, if they are entitled to criticize me, I am entitled to criticize the government.
And never mind the First Amendment. By "entitled," I am simply describing human decency, i.e. a moral right. Until the evil John Ashcroft — whom Ted Kennedy (or was it Dianne Feinstein?) has described as "the most unfit candidate for attorney general ever" — comes to take away my computer, books, and life — all with the due process of law, you understand — I will continue to take it for granted that I have the legal right to speak my mind.
(By the way, that Ted Kennedy is so right. That sweet woman Janet Reno, who took responsibility for incinerating those 20 or so children at Waco, is a much better human being than that dirtbag Ashcroft, who thinks that the government could sometimes be "tyrannical." As if there are tyrants in America. Doesn’t that stupid Republican Ashcroft know that tyrants are all Romans? Or were they Greeks? That’s, like, the past).
But I digress.
I frequently receive flack for taking on that compulsive spender known as "Uncle Sam," his fifty near-relations known as "states" (as yet without anthropomorphic nicknames), and municipalities too numerous to count. It’s not patriotic to criticize the government, said Bill Clinton in the wake of the bombing of the federal building in Oklahoma City. Clinton, a true American patriot of whom we should all be proud, blamed radio hosts for the bombing.
Well, not "radio hosts." Radio hosts work for the government, at "National Public Radio," and they sound real smart and speak real good English. Not like that "Russ" Limbaugh guy (as the great Surgeon General, Joycelyn Elders called him), who makes fun of people that he doesn’t like. Clinton blamed those right-wing hate-mongers who make money on radio by saying mean things about the government.
Clinton, showing atypical restraint, did not go far enough.
Not only is it unpatriotic to listen to hate-radio like Rush Limbaugh, it’s not patriotic to watch the Star Wars trilogy, where a bunch of rebels — armed with guns and highly sophisticated military weaponry that they should not be allowed to have — topple their government. One of the rebels — some guy named John McCain — actually kills the president (emperor? well, some kind of important guy) himself. The president — an old, wrinkly guy who kind of resembles Mr. Burns from "The Simpsons" (not that O.J. guy, the yellow cartoon people) — liked to wear a lot of black, like Abe Lincoln. On second thought, McCain’s dad killed the guy, to stop the old guy from killing McCain.
(By the way, John McCain looks a lot taller in those movies. I guess the big screen will do that to you.)
I haven’t seen the films in a while, mostly because they are so unpatriotic that I could not possibly sit through them more than once, but you get the idea. Star Wars: bad. Pro-gun, pro-violence, anti-government. Very bad. All they do is fight, yell, blow things up, and spend energy by traveling. Perhaps Ted Kennedy can have John Ashcroft burn down George Lucas’ ranch before Lucas pollutes our culture with violent video games and movies. My kids will never watch that stuff.
(On the other hand, maybe these new "episodes" will be better. That first one has a nice politician — a senator, like Ted Kennedy, I think — who says that he will take charge of the bureaucrats and put an end to corruption. He also tried to help the young female politician save her planet. So maybe George Lucas understands the unpatriotic damages his movies have done to the moral fibre of our country. Maybe that nice senator, who looks like such a leader, will finally take charge and get things done).
So I am taking the rest of this column to criticize the real bad guys in America: Americans.
If you are an American, and you don’t like what your government is doing to you, it is your fault. Yes, yours.
If you voted for Clinton, FDR, Kennedy, Carter, or any other such Democrat, it is directly your fault. You put those kleptocrats in office, and now you are paying the consequences. If you have wised up, for God’s sake do something about it.
If you voted for Bush the First, Reagan, or other Republicans, who were only less bad than their Democratic counterparts, you will spend some time in Purgatory, but you must do penance as well.
Our government can only do to us what we allow it to do, and, more to the point, it will only do what we want it to do.
This was the beauty of the Gore election coup: mass protests by irate Republicans scared the stuffing out of the smug Democratic Party. The Democrats, used to getting their way by smear tactics and intimidation, were suddenly confronted by their favorite punching bags — middle-class white people — refusing to put up and shut up in the face of election fraud.
The Democrats did not get away with handing the election to Gore because enough people were willing to take a stand. This was not a Confederate States of America, declare-your-independence-and-defend-your-homes-at-gunpoint-stand (kind of like that Bunker Hill, Lexington and Concord thing they had up North), but it was a stand.
As a philosopher, let me say that Americans should not feel too bad about not taking more stands. It is part of human nature. In The Politics, Aristotle describes the middle class as generally preferring to mind its own business, and not really bothering to follow what goes on in politics. That is how life is supposed to be: people living their lives. The problem comes when evil men realize that most people would rather just live their lives in peace, and figure that they can completely screw those people because the people are not paying attention. To be fair, some of these men ("politicians") simply figure that they can live off of others, much like a flu virus or tuberculosis lives off of you. But the end result is that people get screwed. Left untreated, tuberculosis and the flu will kill you. Left unchecked, politicians who do not understand the limits on government will kill a nation.
The middle class, then, those of us who want to work, love our families, worship God, and generally be left alone, must pay more attention to what is really going on in politics. Politics should not consume our lives, but we must figure out what is what. This is what is meant by eternal vigilance being the price of liberty. It can be a pain to try to figure out what is going on behind closed doors, especially when the politicians themselves will never give you straight answers, but that is what we have to do in order to keep our freedom and live like men. The reason that so many people were willing to protest Al Gore’s electoral coup is that the stakes were high enough for people to really care about what happened, and there was ample time for people to read all sorts of accounts of what was going on. Most days are slow news days, and you need to really dig to find out the truth in matters that concern you. That is why LewRockwell.com is so valuable. The alternative is to be herded like sheep, human sheep manipulated by pretty faces on TV and silky voices on the radio.
The government treats us like sheep for the slaughter because that is what a large enough percentage of us want it to do. Remember that guy with the pony tail who asked candidate Clinton to "treat us like children"? There are more wimps out there like that guy. Judging by the votes for Gore, there are maybe 50 million such wimps who happen to be American citizens with as much a right to vote as you or I.
Of course, not all the Gore voters are wimps. Some may not want the government to treat them like children, but they pay no attention to the fact that the government will treat them like children if enough of their neighbors ask the government to do so, or if the government adopts all the social programs that they themselves are begging for. Some also seem to figure that since we have a government with all these agencies, we might as well use them to do something.
In sum, there are enough Americans, sometimes known as a "majority," who vote for panderers who promise the sun, the moon, and the stars, all in exchange for an intangible thing known as "freedom."
As a result of this fact, we now find ourselves living in a nation where we have lots of government programs, not a lot of money, and very little freedom. My church asks me to tithe, but I already tithe four or five times over to the IRS, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, and the City of Erie. (I call this "quintuple tithing," or a "quinthe." If you say it out loud, it sounds like you’re lisping, and is mildly amusing, especially after a stiff drink.) If these governmental entities are doing such a great job of taking care of the poor, why does my church seem to have so many poor people to serve? The reason is that the government is not taking care of the poor, it is blowing your money on worthless programs. In the end, you have no money to really help the poor, and there is a giant, well-paid government bureaucracy that doesn’t do a darn thing to justify its budget, other than spend your money. Yes, your money. The money you don’t have to save for retirement, to put in new windows, or to pay for your daughter’s wedding. Your money.
If this is ever going to change, Americans must come to understand economics: there is no free lunch. Americans must come to understand the law: there are certain things that government has no power to do. If you want to do something that the constitution does not give the government the power to do, don’t lobby the Congress, don’t whine like a loser, just get off you duff and act. Get a bunch of your friends who think like you do and do them yourself. You will either succeed or fail, but at least you will have tried. As Robert E. Lee said "Do your duty in all things. You cannot do more. You should never wish to do less."
Whenever you hear someone say "The government ought to do that," think for a moment. First, ask yourself "Should that be done at all?" Second, ask yourself "Should the government be the one to do it?"
The answer to the first question will depend on the facts.
The answer to the second question is never yes.
Mr. Dieteman is an attorney in Erie, Pennsylvania, and a PhD candidate in philosophy at The Catholic University of America.