The new citizenship

Many observers believe Tuesday brings us a historic election.  I have long thought it would be an election that either re-defines the relationship between Americans and their government, or begins our return to our Constitutional foundations.

I don’t like what I’ve seen of the New Citizenship.  Too much hourly and daily control over our lives has been transferred to elections held only once every couple of years.  The 2010 Republican wave was the clearest repudiation of a governing party’s agenda we’ve ever seen… but if Obama wins in 2012, it will prove to have been only a “bump in the road,” to borrow one of the President’s more unfortunate phrases.  I don’t like the idea that so much of my life’s course will be set by forces I have a modest chance of slightly delaying, if I can get a huge number of my fellow citizens to join me in a “wave” election.

The balance of power between the legislative and executive branches has tipped in dangerous ways, as President Obama has repeatedly tested the limits of executive power… and found very little resistance to his efforts.  Too many of the checks and balances in our system have decayed into an informal enforcement of limits by the media.  When an executive they favor cuts down a tree in the forest, and they choose not to report it, it makes no sound.

Our government is far too large, and it has become much too centralized.  The shift of power to Obama’s model of “unitary executive” reduces the value of individual and regional representation.  The inability to escape from central government inevitably leads to corruption and inefficiency.  Competition is good – between individuals, corporate entities, and states.

But competition plays an increasingly small role in the life of the New Citizen.  It is viewed as menacing and evil, a savage business of predators feasting upon hapless little people.  The power of competition has been devalued, and replaced by a model of “cooperation” that really means compulsion.  There was a bit of a stir when Democrats described government as “the one thing we all do together” at their convention.  That’s a bit of happy talk to hide the reality that for the New Citizen, government is a bunch of things we force each other to do.

The expansion of government power inevitably reduces the size of the private sector, which means it reduces freedom.  And this expansion is increasingly undertaken in the name of demands that cannot be argued against, issued by those who claim the power to divine the rights and needs of voiceless constituencies, such as the Earth itself.  No dissent can be permitted from edicts designed to “save the planet,” and no jurisdiction can be allowed to disregard them.  The outrage vented against apostasy from these beliefs is both an expression of tribal anger (“you’re a bad person because you don’t believe in climate change!”) and the bottomless hunger for power of the State.

There’s a lot of that tribal anger surrounding the New Citizen.  President Obama let it slip during a remarkable late-game “gaffe” in which he told supporters to think of voting as an act of revenge.  He was just being honest, really.  In a life ruled by the almighty State – in which benefits are dispensed, wealth is redistributed, and failure is selectively subsidized by benevolent politicians – your fellow citizens really are your enemies.  You want the government to take from them, and give to you; some of them view you the same way.  You’ll see more of this, played out with growing bitterness, as the government becomes more insolvent.

Citizenship itself has become a gift from the rulers of the central government, rather than a question of laws and restrictions controlled by the vote of the public.  We’re supposed to respect and venerate legal immigrants… but not enough to lawfully protect what they worked so hard to achieve.  The enforcement of both citizenship and voting laws – two integral elements of what it means to be American – has become almost impossible to discuss rationally, let alone administer.  That means they’re not really “laws” any more.  They are matters in which we are expected to trust the judgment of the ruling class, without complaint.

It seems like most of the laws that bind the State aren’t really “laws” any more.  They’re more like suggestions.  They are lightly drawn foul lines, whose violation a nebulous force of “referees” often chooses to ignore.  On the other hand, the mass of laws and regulations binding the citizen has grown exponentially, at incredible cost.  The government can break any limit placed upon its power, provided it can convince enough citizens that it has their best interests at heart, but our nominal intentions count for little when we accidentally tear a hole in one of the million pages of code piled upon our backs.

And the growth of that code is deemed inevitable.  The New Citizen has been taught to think of government growth as “progress” and moving “forward,” while any expansion of individual liberty would be “regressive.”  Spending baselines have been permanently increased.  A return to even George Bush’s irresponsible spending levels would now be portrayed as a “savage cut,” the sort of thing contemplated only by right-wing madmen.  The boundaries of possibility have contracted.  The number of things we are permitted to attempt has been reduced, and the capital we might have invested in them has been seized.

Built into this model is the assumption that compulsion by the ruling class is inherently virtuous.  President Obama has explicitly said that increasing liberty by reducing the size of government is equivalent to leaving people to their doom in an unregulated wilderness.  The more we place our faith in the State, the less faith we have in one another.  That’s a precious resource we don’t seem to worry about exhausting.

But we are exhausted, aren’t we?  The New Citizen is characterized by his ennui.  Everything is too difficult, too complicated; all commands must be obeyed without question, because asking questions is hard work.  Trust the “experts,” and save your anger for the targets they have designated!  Risk and self-reliance are fearful prospects.  It’s best not to ask what happened to all the money the government has spent, or observe that their plans for getting more, by taxing “millionaires,” don’t produce enough revenue to pay for their future plans.  We can’t expect better than 2 percent economic growth or 8 percent unemployment – that’s the best this spent, bankrupt nation can do.  We cannot survive beyond the mercy of a government several times the size of the one our grandfathers bequeathed us.  We would starve if it didn’t feed us, and our industries would collapse without its stern regulation.

For my part, I greatly prefer the Old Citizenship, in which iron laws restrain the power of the State, and their locks cannot be melted away with warm rhetoric of good intention.  I love the idea of my fellow citizens competing for my business, and state and municipal governments competing for my citizenship, while distant Washington does only what it must.  I preferred a federal government that actually wrote budgets… a government more concerned with reporting to its citizens than auditing them.  I want pass my own judgment on my ambitions, and those of others, rather than awaiting government certification.  I find strength built through competition both morally and practically superior to transformation imposed by force.  Such strength built a mighty nation, but it already seems like a distant memory… as though the deeds of just a few decades past were performed by some long-dead race of Americans, whose inexplicable wonders we can only marvel at, while our new ruling class tells us that return to such an age of legends is impossible.