Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Distinguishing the Government from Us Key for Maintaining Limited Government

In this week's issue of The Weekly Standard, I note that, pace President Obama, we cannot simply equate the government with"us":
Over the spring and summer of 2013, perhaps still sunning in his November 2012 victory and ideologically extrapolating from this win, President Obama attempted to press the case that skeptics about federal power were outrĂ© paranoiacs. At the Ohio State University commencement in May, the president called upon his listeners to reject the voices of those who “warn that tyranny is always lurking just around the corner.” In July, he trumpeted his administration’s commitment to technological innovation and managerial efficiency, arguing that it was “up to each of us and every one of us to make [government] work better.” We “all have a stake in government success—because the government is us.”
In light of these bold declarations, it is grimly amusing that the rollout of the Obamacare website and the individual mandate should be so flawed. The bureaucratic progressivism for which the president advocates requires faith on the part of the public in the efficiency and competence of government. When that faith is shaken, big-government schemes lose some of their luster. One of the main reasons to continue to assert the distinction between government and “us” is government’s limited competence: The fact that government is not omniscient offers a very practical reason why it should not be omnipotent. Like any other institution, government cannot know all the facts on the ground, nor can it know the perfect way to deal with or make use of the facts that it does know.
The Obamacare debacle reminds us again of the practical irreducibility of “us” to government. Indeed, the distinction between “government” and “us” is central to the project of republican liberty for the United States. One of the keys to maintaining the tradition of limited government is recognizing that it is part—and only part—of the broader society in which it operates. Our government, as Lincoln said, is of the people, by the people, and for the people—but it is not the people. 
The people are a mixed lot: young and old; Republican, Democratic, and independent; married and unmarried; Christian, Jewish, Muslim, atheist, agnostic, Buddhist, and Hindu; for higher taxes and for lower taxes; unemployed and working; rich and poor; healthy and sick; and countless other permutations. Government cannot be everything to everybody. It cannot embody all the diverse wishes, hopes, and desires of the people—nor should it try.
 Read the rest here.

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