A Government of Laws, Not of Men

U.S. Congress

A column in The Washington Post last week, co-authored by two prominent Democrats, Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, is entitled “How to revive the American dream.” It’s a good place to turn to see that for many holding office in America today and for those who vote for them, today’s American dream is about politicians running our lives.

“Government policies matter and can make a difference. Strengthening the American dream is about the basics,” they say.

What are those basics, per Warren and de Blasio? Increase the minimum wage, strengthen unions, government-directed workplace laws, government control of school programs, government R and D, government control over retirement and health care, government control over banks, and government control over trade, and finance it all with more taxes on business and personal wealth.

A famous line in our nation’s history, incorporated into the Massachusetts Constitution in 1780, says that “it may be a government of laws, and not of men.” The author of this passage was John Adams, America’s second president.

It’s this very basic idea — the rule of law — that was at the core of the American idea and that would make possible the ideal of individual freedom.

It started with the Declaration of Independence and declaring self-evident truths and then moved on to the U.S. Constitution, which carefully delineates the authority of the federal government and its three branches: executive, legislative and judicial.

That was it. The recognition that human society needs government, but that government should be kept in check by laws preventing any one person to further personal interests at the expense of the life, liberty or property of others.

In the language of today: to prevent a government of special interests.

What happened?

When did we lose the idea that the American dream is about individual freedom and government protecting citizens from tyranny?

With all our ongoing problems with race, wasn’t the whole civil rights movement about breaking barriers to people of color becoming full participants in this American dream of freedom?

When Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. stood at the Lincoln Memorial in 1963 and said, “I have a dream,” wasn’t this the dream he was talking about? That every American, of every background and color, could live free?

But Warren and de Blasio’s dream is that they get to run everybody’s life.

Their vision, along with that of a large portion of the American people who are now part of or leaning toward the political left, is a government of men, and not of laws.

But as we turn more of our lives over to politicians, Americans increasingly feel shut out of their own lives and don’t trust any of the major institutions around which our society functions.

According to a 2014 Gallup poll, here are the percentages of Americans who say they have a “great deal” or “quite a lot” of confidence in the following American institutions: 7 percent in Congress, 18 percent in television news, 21 percent in big business, 22 percent in organized labor, 22 percent in newspapers, 23 percent in the criminal justice system, 26 percent in banks, 26 percent in public schools, 29 percent in the presidency, and 30 percent in the Supreme Court.

But the politicians to whom we give control of our lives have never had it better. We can read all the latest on the machinations of the Clinton Foundation. Somehow Bill Clinton, a career politician, has become one of the richest former presidents in history, with an estimated net worth as high as $80 million.

Of course, the upcoming election will be about issues. But more fundamentally, the discussion of issues should come out of a deeper discussion about vision.

Can we again become a nation “of laws, and not of men,” where citizens are protected, and not manipulated, controlled and abused?

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