Pick your preferred bully, then vote | Rich Elfers

"That government is best which governs least."

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  • Friday, May 6, 2016 4:30pm
  • Opinion

“That government is best which governs least.”

These words of Thomas Jefferson are the hallmark of current conservatives toward the size of government. Big government is the bane of all hardworking Americans because money is taken from the productive and given to the unproductive. There are too many government regulations, which hinder freedom and raise costs because of expensive rules and regulations. Large government is inefficient and acts incompetently. Power should reside with the states and with individuals. These are the crux of arguments propounded by conservatives.

Progressives take an opposite perspective. The rich and powerful control small government for their own advantage. They use their power to enrich themselves at the expense of the middle class and poor. Conservatives complain about government regulation, but they’re expert at using sharp attorneys and lobbyists to shape the laws so that money flows to them.

The wealthy complain about welfare and care for the weak, debilitated and poor while they scoop up wealth through corporate welfare in the form of tax breaks and write-offs. Big government is better because there needs to be an institution that fights the wealthy and powerful. Part of the job of government is to justly redistribute wealth from the haves to the have-nots, or so the progressives believe.

This debate has its foundations in the Constitution, the Bill of Rights and the 14th Amendment.

The Constitution was created out of the need for a strong central government after the revolution. The Articles of Confederation, our first constitution, put power in the hands of the states. The central government under the Articles had very little power to govern and solve problems. Big states used their greater population to take advantage of small states. There was no real national army after the revolution. State militias were supposed to come together to defend the nation in case of foreign invasion or internal rebellion.

This belief was shattered in 1786 and 1787 when Daniel Shays, a Revolutionary War veteran and hero, raised an army in western Massachusetts to combat the greed and selfishness of the wealthy and powerful in and around Boston. Poor western farmers were losing their farms due to high taxes and an uncaring state government.

Those farmers faced debtors’ prison because they could not pay their debts, an illogical practice of that era. In an act of desperation, they rose up to overthrow the rich and powerful in the eastern part of their state. Shays and his rebel army came very close to overthrowing the state government before being defeated by the state militia.

That near disaster frightened the leaders of the other states to action. In the summer of 1787 state representatives met in Philadelphia to amend the Articles of Confederation. In actuality, they threw out the Articles and created the Constitution.

Their chief concern was protecting the common good over the concerns of the masses and individuals.

There were objections to this proposed constitution because protections for the states and individuals were not clearly defined. The potential to abuse power was too great. Finally, to ensure ratification, those who favored the Constitution agreed to add a bill of rights during the first session of Congress. So the first 10 Amendments, called the Bill of Rights, were ratified by the states in 1791.

One of the chief problems, though, was whether the Bill of Rights protected individuals within the states. The answer from the South was no. Slaves were viewed as property. Treatment of slaves was not covered by the Bill of Rights.

It took four years of Civil War and three subsequent Amendments to settle the constitutional issue of this debate. The 14th Amendment in particular was added to settle once and for all that the Bill of Rights applied to all people in the United States, especially former slaves.

As we know from Civil Rights history, this issue of equal protection of the law is still being fought over and demonstrated against, which brings us back to the present debate between conservatives and progressives.

Conservatives hate large government because it tends to abuse power. States’ rights are the answer for them. If one is progressive and a minority, states’ rights signifies a return to racism and discrimination as clearly seen in the recent removal of polling places in poor and minority districts in Arizona.

Conservatives are right that big government tends to abuse power. Progressives are correct in that states’ rights means the return of abuse of its power over minorities.

This big/small government debate really comes down to which bully you prefer – big government bullies or state bullies? Vote accordingly.

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