By Matthew Wadler:
There are two great quotes that I will often reflect upon when pondering our government and their meanings tend to weave through each other. The first is by Ronald Reagan where he eloquently stated that, “Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction. We didn’t pass it to our children in the bloodstream. It must be fought for, protected, and handed on for them to do the same.” The next much older quote is attributed in its modern format to Samuel Johnson which states simply, “The road to hell is paved in good intentions.” As this current election cycle enters its apex I find my mind once again reflecting on these quotes.
Politically I am a very conservative constitutionalist. I believe in not only the words of the constitution, but in the beauty found in the promise of hope for all people. To my core I believe that left to our own devices, most of us will do what we believe is morally right most the time without government oversight. I grow tired of the legislation attempting to exude its influence over the life of myself and my family.
My in-laws, however, hold the opposite views and values. They believe in big government and love what the current administration has done through executive order. They are avid Clinton supporters and look forward to the continuation of current policies, even if that means continuing to push through policy based upon presidential decree as opposed to congressional law. In their eyes the ends justify the means.
What they, and most people, fail to see is that this justification is both shortsighted and dangerous. I believe everything in the world is cyclical. The political leanings of a country will ebb and flow over time, just as everything else does. It will only be a matter of time and our country will once again be conservative in its dogma. When this happens will the same people who are clamoring for change, even if done through less than constitutional means, be as delighted? Will they be willing to silently sit by as change is forced upon them? Unfortunately for them, it will be too late. The legal framework for our country was based upon England’s Common Law system. Simply stated, Common Law is law created by precedence. By allowing one party to govern through writ of law, the other party is enabled this same power.
With this being said, I do not want my article to be taken as a stab at the current administration or any specific political party. It is rare when one can look at any politician and see them hold themselves in restraint. It is at this point where I once again refer to the two quotes I stated at the beginning of this essay. As Reagan stated, our freedom is tenuous at best. Every day it is under assault by a multitude of sources; both internal and external to our country. Each moment we live under the protection of our constitution is a gift. However, the greatest threat to our way of life is not from foreign enemies. Our own elected officials are the greatest threat to us. Although a major threat, I do not believe they are intentionally diminishing our civil liberties. This is where I harken back to the second quote. As a constitutional conservative, I personally disagree with almost everything that President Obama has done. Even though I oppose his every view, I do not believe that he is trying to hurt our country or constrict our freedoms. In fact, I do not believe that this is the goal for virtually any leader.
If I were elected President I too would want to see my vision come to fruition. I would allow myself every avenue that I was authorized or that was accepted to bring my truths, norms, and values into existence. I would take the power granted to me by previous elected officials and use it for my purposes. In doing so I would create a host of unintended consequences. By pushing an agenda free of the constraints of opposing opinions I would lose the ability to see beyond my own goals and I would undoubtedly create other and unequivocally equal issues. That is the inherent flaw in the human condition. As one’s power grows their vision becomes tunneled. This has been shown historically and is the danger from allowing our leaders dictatorial like power.
Our founding fathers saw this flaw in our humanity. That is why they created a government that was adversarial in its design. They wanted a federal government that was slow to change and would only do so out of necessity. During my time in the military I learned about bottom up leadership. The concept is simple – empower the lowest level leaders to do the greatest good. After all, they are the ones who have the greatest direct impact on the soldiers. The less interference they had, the more they could accomplish. Being that they were directly accountable to the welfare of their soldiers they were also the least likely to cause them harm due to their leadership.
The issue is not simply one of unrepressed power either. With a goliath the size of the federal government, it is not possible to simply reverse the decisions of presidential decree once a new party takes office. I had a brigade commander in the Army once make this point very simply. His subordinate commanders were waiting on a decision and some were getting frustrated at him not making an immediate pronouncement. He explained that making a decision was simple, even when in command of a brigade combat team consisting of almost 5000 individual soldiers. However, once he decided on an action an immediate cascading chain of events began spreading out like a spider web with each subordinate level adding their required piece to the puzzle. If he should need to adjust the plan once all those other levels had started their planning chaos and disorder would ensue. It is like turning a battle ship. To start the turn is relatively easy, but to stop that turn and put it back on the original course takes time and a lot of energy.
Unfortunately, our government has forgotten this. Each administration grants itself a little more power based upon the antecedence of the previous administration. If the current president uses this power in a way that the majority of the populace concurs then there is no issue raised. However, what happens when we get a president who chooses to go against the people? The courts and congress have allowed the preceding presidents this power so this power is now essentially common law. Where does this power then stop?
There is a process decreed by the Constitution which allows for the government to issue laws. There is even a process to amend the Constitution itself should the need arise. It is time that the government harken back to the days when they abided by the constitution and the three branches worked in conjunction to restrain each other. To conclude this I would like to leave the readers with one other quote by President Ronald Reagan. “No government ever voluntarily reduces itself in size. Government programs, once launched, never disappear. Actually, a government bureau is the nearest thing to eternal life we’ll ever see on this earth!”
Matthew Wadler is an OpsLens Contributor and U.S. Army veteran. Wadler served admirably for twenty years before retiring. His service included time as a paratrooper and two deployments to Afghanistan.