America’s body politic deeply infected by progressivism

(CCU Student) Americans have created a culture where we don’t like to be pushed around, where we value our ability to make decisions for ourselves. This ideal is reflected heavily in popular culture, where our most well-known characters are rugged individuals that forge their own path (i.e., John Wayne). But if this is the case, then why are we allowing such expansive legislation to pass in Congress such as the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (Obamacare)? Why do we sit back and watch as the government adds thousands of pages of regulations to the books that have a direct impact on every facet of our lives – from the very food we eat in restaurants to the type of light bulbs we have in our homes and businesses? And how in the world did we get to where we are today?

Many people think of the New Deal as the first real push to expand the federal government. But in reality, the big push came much earlier than that. The true beginning of big government came with the triumph of progressivism from 1890-1920. The goal of every progressive was, as Bob Moffit of The Heritage Foundation said at a luncheon I attended, “Seek first the political kingdom, and all the rest will come to you.” Major initiatives of progressives were focused on civic reform – for example, implementation of an income tax, direct election of senators, Prohibition, and the expansion of suffrage – the 16th-19th Amendments. The way to achieve this reform was through the government.

But progressivism instead sowed the seeds for its own contradiction: it valued a democratized society, yet ultimately, the major decisions on how everything was to be run would be made by unelected experts who applied social science to all situations. The people should be freer, except in those areas in life where they do not know enough to make informed decisions about. Once this philosophy becomes ingrained in the government, it slowly dissolves the ideal of a free society, one where everyone has the power to make their own choices about their own lives. Government becomes the major solution for everything.

America has become infected by progressivism, though it is not as obvious as it was in the early twentieth century. Instead, it manifests itself in Congress. Congress is the only branch with the constitutional power to legislate. There are checks and balances, of course, but the Congress is the only branch that has the power to initiate, debate, amend, and repeal laws. With the growth of the administrative state, this power has been given to the “fourth branch,” the bureaucracy. Instead of passing clear, concise laws that specify actions and consequences, many laws now are vague and delegate the details of decision-making to agencies and unelected officials. Essentially, Congress has given up its very special legislative power to those who are held accountable to no one.

Take Obamacare for example. The bill directs the Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services to act over 1500 times in 2700 pages. It creates 159 new agencies within the federal bureaucracy – although that number is essentially unofficial, as the bill also gives sweeping authoritative powers to the Secretary of DHHS to create more if “necessary.” This kind of arbitrary power is unprecedented, to speak nothing of the questionable constitutionality of such powers.

The American Revolution was fought for a reason. It was not fought over a three cent tax on tea; it was not fought due to any particular incident of quartering soldiers in private homes. The Revolution was fought against an arbitrary government, one whose power had far overreached its proper limits. The Revolution was won because American colonists believed in such limited government, and they founded the world’s first successful republic on such principles. The America of today has lost that ideal. We instead have allowed the government to sneak into our very private lives and regulate everything. The government of today looks nothing like what the Founders envisioned their beloved country to look like.

Congress MUST wake up to their constitutional duty – and authority – to legislate. Too much power has gone out from them, and it will be a long road getting it back. But in order to have a more balanced, limited government, the power must go back to Congress. It’s not just a matter of reducing the size of government – there needs to be a change in how the government makes its decisions.

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