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Jewish World Review Dec. 1, 1999 /21 Kislev, 5760

Cal Thomas

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Re-educating the American people --
As Gov. George W. Bush joins his Republican presidential candidate colleagues in debate this month, one of the services he should perform is to re-educate the American people on the origin of our nation and what our Founders saw as the fundamental purpose (as opposed to function) of government. It is ignorance about our roots that has allowed the federal government to grow into an overreaching, overtaxing and overspending behemoth bearing little resemblance to the original.

The Constitution assigns just 20 powers to the national government. All other power was to be diffused: to the states, thousands of counties, tens of thousands of communities, tens of millions of families and ultimately to hundreds of millions of individual citizens. The Tenth Amendment was specifically written to protect the states from encroaching national government.

Too many modern Americans see national government as an essential component of their lives. The Founders saw it as a potential impediment to individual liberty. Bush should remind us of the essence of the great American experiment: that government preserve, protect and defend conditions under which the people can exercise their dreams and entrepreneurial spirit free of the all-seeing eye and all-reaching hand of national government.

People should be asked whether they prefer a small monthly government check that cannot possibly cover retirement expenses, or much larger amounts of their own privately invested dollars.

Bush could distinguish between "what the government can do for you'' and "what the government expects you to do for yourself.'' Welfare reform is the greatest contemporary example of what happens when government stops being a source of guaranteed income and forces able-bodied people to do for themselves. There is no constitutional right to rob another person of his income in the name of "compassion'' or in any other name. Government is no more capable of compassion than it is effective in collecting and dispersing wisely and efficiently large percentages of our incomes.

Repeatedly, Bush ought to quote the Constitution, which not enough people have read and understood, and show how this great document, not the courts and certainly not opinion polls, should be the basis upon which we govern ourselves. Otherwise, the principle of government of, by and for the people becomes government in spite of the people, which is largely what we have now.

James Madison spoke for the Founders when he said, "The powers delegated by the proposed Constitution to the federal government are few and defined. Those which are to remain in the state governments are numerous and indefinite. The former will be exercised principally on external objects as war, peace, negotiation and foreign commerce; with which last the power of taxation will, for the most part, be connected. The powers reserved to the several states will extend to all the objects which, in the ordinary course of affairs, concern the lives, liberty and prosperity of the state.''

The Founders wanted it understood that people, not government, are the source of all such power. As Thomas Jefferson noted: "The way to have good and safe government is not to trust it all to one, but divide it among the many, distributing to everyone exactly the function he is competent to. Let the national government be entrusted with the defense of the nation and its foreign and federal relations; the state governments with the civil rights, laws, police and administration of what concerns the state generally; the counties with the local concerns of the counties; and each ward direct the interests within itself. It is by dividing and subdividing these republics from the great national one down through all its subordinations until it ends in the administration of every man's farm by himself, by placing under everyone what his own eye may superintend, that all will be done for the best.''

Modern national government has not divided and subdivided. It has multiplied and accrued. It is viewed by too many as a giant ATM machine, dispensing checks and other goodies for which the slothful do not have to labor.

Bush should give the country a history lesson and, in the process, remind people that government functions best that governs least.

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