"Hypocrisy can afford to be magnificent in its promises, for never intending to go beyond promise, it costs nothing." Edmund Burke
It's easy enough to be a Democrat. All you have to do is promise the expansion of big government, without actually using those same exact words. And voting to expand their own power base, is something that's up every politician's street. By contrast being a Republican is far trickier, because it often requires politicians to campaign on a platform of giving up their own power. And that is something that politicians may promise, but very rarely do.
When George Washington stepped away from the Presidency, he performed a virtually unique action at the time by giving up power. King George III said of Washington on his resignation that it would place him "in a light the most distinguished of any man living" and make him "greatest character of the age." Napoleon in Elba marked this difference between the elected leader and the tyrant another way, scornfully saying that his countrymen had wanted him to be "another George Washington."
But today Washington is the proper model for the Republican Party, as a man who had power and gave it up in order to safeguard the rights and freedoms of the citizens of the republic. In a time of chaos and turmoil, when a possible war with France lingered on the horizon and domestic unrest still made it doubtful that the American experiment would survive-- Washington could have very easily given in to the urging of some of those around him and taken on a role more akin to a monarch. And such an act would have been easy enough to justify. Instead George Washington chose to put his faith in the American people, not in himself as a leader.
The steady expansion of the powers of government has meant an unchecked erosion of individual liberties. While the Bill of Rights still exists, for the most part, the dominance of government powers in every area of life has drastically altered the balance of power between the people and the government through an omnipresent stream of regulations. The idea of reserved powers has become a joke. Activist Supreme Courts have created their own Constitutions, ignoring the existing Constitution and creating an entire litany of precedents based on their own willful misinterpretations of a phrase or two.
As a result America is following Europe down the garden path to socialism, reduced to a people shrinking beneath the tottering effigy of unchecked government growing over their heads. And while the politicians assure the people that all the powers that they allotted to themselves are for the benefit of the people themselves, the purpose of power... is power. Power accumulates like electricity and attracts objects and people into its vicinity. And as government power grows, the fundamental check on its powers in the form of the people, fall further under its dominion.
So while the Republican party these days is talking once again talking about the virtues of smaller government, we saw rather little of that in 8 years of Bush. Nor did we see very much of it from Republican Presidents over the last half century. Instead what we saw was a party that was trying to position itself as the responsible federalists, in contrast to the irresponsible socialists of the Democratic party. But the problem is that the Republicans have failed to halt or reverse the concentration of power in Washington D.C. Because it requires the rank and file politician to not just talk about giving power... but to actually give it up.
Giving up power is never easy. The entire city of Cincinnati was named after the Roman Cincinnatus. Cincinnatus was a Roman leader famous for taking power in a crisis and then voluntarily giving it up and retiring. The Society of the Cincinnati was founded in the United States by the veterans of the Revolutionary War to protect the ideals which they had fought for. Its members included more than half the signers of the Constitution and its first President General was George Washington himself.
The first paragraph of its principles saw the Society dedicating itself to... "An incessant attention to preserve inviolate those exalted rights and liberties of human nature, for which they have fought and bled, and without which the high rank of a rational being is a curse instead of a blessing." That incessant attention is as necessary today, as it was then. And the prescription once again demands leaders who are willing to take power, only to give it up again.
Politicians have spent too long paying lip service to the idea of protecting freedoms, when they actually mean expanding government powers. The Democratic party has embraced the notion of liberties as emerging from government powers wholesale. The Republican party has not entirely embraced it in rhetoric, but they have all too often perpetuated it in practice. And therein lies the danger. Because the idea that freedoms are a function of government, rather than a function of limited government, is a very seductive one to politicians.
And how many people are prepared to run for office, only not to use the powers that they're given. Is there any member of congress who is truly willing to give up the power and the pork, though we all may have our favorites, in truth there is not a single one. The more a politician hides his earmarks and his favors to well connected figures behind self-righteous rhetoric, the more he makes a mockery of his own principles. Some may do it boldly in the light of day, others may speak boldly against one expenditure or another, but still set down the same earmarks anyway. Because the purpose of power is power, and it is painfully hard to break that cycle. To give up power for the benefit of the people.
Who will spend time and money to be elected to higher office, without reaping the benefits of that office? And when a system is corrupted, it corrupts even the decent men who take part in it. The purpose of being elected today is in order to bring back that share of the treasury to one's district and friends and supporters, that one's power and influence has made it possible to drag away. The more the others take, the more each politician must try to seize to keep up with the rest, or risk being tarred as unable to bring home the bacon. And when the spending grows too much, he raises the debt limit so the wealth keeps on flowing.
The American people are angry and dissatisfied with the situation, but they also see few ways to change it. The Republican party is currently the most credible of the two parties when it comes to reducing the size of government, but to do so, it must follow in the footsteps of George Washington and take power, only to give it up, by reducing the size of government and the influence of their positions.
For too long, politicians have defined themselves by what they can do. But it is time for them to look to the Society of the Cincinnati, to former officers who could have ruled the nation by force, but instead chose to see themselves as citizens first. The day that we have a congressional majority that sees itself as citizens, rather than politicians, is the day we will have a congress that is willing to give up power by scaling back the powers of government... for the good of all Americans.