And so we come to what really is agitating the voters this year, as seen on so many homemade Tea Party signs: The Constitution today is all but irrelevant. In their hearts, Americans know that it was written to limit government and protect our liberty — that’s what the Revolution was about, after all. But time and again they see unlimited government running their lives — and irresponsibly at that.
Government is planning our retirement and health care, for example. Yet the three big “entitlement” programs — Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid — are going broke as Congress, rather than deal with that, creates an even larger and even more unfunded entitlement scheme, Obamacare. And states too have mortgaged themselves as far as the eye can see to give public sector employees health and retirement benefits that far exceed anything available to the private sector workers whose taxes have to pay for them.
Indeed, taxes and regulations today have so hammered the private sector that states like California appear to be in a demographic death spiral, with taxpayers fleeing while tax‐takers flow in. Just look at the latest census estimates: for the first time in over a century, California will gain no new House seats.
Yet the Constitution gives only limited powers to the federal government, and it checks what states can do as well by recognizing the inherent right of individuals to plan and live their own lives, free from government interference — indeed, from government’s planning our lives for us.
So how did we go from the Constitution’s vision of liberty through limited government to the Leviathan we’ve got today? That’s a long story, but at its core, it’s really quite simple. The watershed was the Progressive Era, in the early decades of the 20th century, when the forebears of today’s liberals rejected the founders’ view of liberty. Their idea was to empower government bureaucrats, elites trained at the best schools, to plan everything from the economy to our living arrangements — even to our population, as in the infamous Supreme Court case of Buck v. Bell, which upheld a Virginia statute that authorized the sterilization of people thought to be of insufficient intelligence, all part of the eugenics movement aimed at improving the human race.
To some extent the court resisted the Progressives, citing the Constitution, but with the New Deal, especially after President Franklin Roosevelt’s notorious court‐packing threat in 1937, the court caved, and the Constitution was turned on its head. The floodgates were thus opened for the modern welfare state, the unsustainable foundations of which are now so obvious that they can no longer be ignored.
And so, having abandoned individual responsibility, succumbing instead to the siren song of government responsibility, we’re now at another watershed. Either we grasp the nettle and restore our founding principles — gradually, as we must — or we go the way of Greece, or France, or, much earlier, Rome.