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Jewish World Review Dec. 1, 1999 /22 Kislev, 5760

David Limbaugh

David Limbaugh
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In defense of liberty -- Just this morning, I received an article that appears in the forthcoming issue of Policy Review from the Heritage Foundation. In it, economist Bruce Bartlett, a former Reagan administration Treasury official, argues that tax revolt is dead in America, for now.

Bartlett isn't saying that Americans now favor high taxes, just that reducing taxes is not among their foremost priorities. This is a particularly disturbing finding considering that "taxes as a share of gross domestic product or personal income are at all-time highs and have risen very sharply during the Clinton administration."

One obvious reason for this is that the tax burden has shifted dramatically toward the highest producers. Since the wealthy are much fewer in number than the middle and poorer classes, it stands to reason that the majority is not up in arms over the tax structure. Alexis de Tocqueville warned that our Republic would be imperiled when the people realized they could vote themselves money from the public trough.

But by focusing too intensely on how much the public values tax cuts we may be missing the bigger picture.

Last week, I wrote that there would always be a place for Republicans so long as they serve as guardians of our political liberties. But built into that statement was the assumption that enough people appreciate those freedoms.

As each day passes, I become increasingly concerned over the validity of this assumption. In addition to the public's attitude about tax cuts, how else do you account for:

  • A recent poll showing that 57 percent of Americans believe banks should be prohibited from charging ATM fees to non-customers?

  • The virtual acceptance of Donald Trump's hare-brained scheme to retire the federal debt by confiscating property of the wealthy?

  • The like-minded notion that it's OK for the law to impose caps on salaries of corporate executives?

  • That presidential candidates Alan Keyes and Steve Forbes talk about our freedoms until they're blue in the face, but it doesn't seem that anyone is listening?

  • The public's lax attitude about the president's lax attitude about the Constitution and the rule of law?

We must remember that only a very small percentage of living Americans ever had to put their lives at risk to defend their liberties. Could this fact, coupled with two decades of nearly uninterrupted prosperity, have softened us on freedom -- the condition necessary to produce prosperity in the first place?

As we approach the new millennium, perhaps it's time for a wake-up call. As a society, we've begun to confuse means with ends. That is, in our zest for prosperity, we seem to have forgotten that the greater societal good is not wealth, but the underlying liberty that makes possible its pursuit and attainment. Lord Acton observed that "liberty is not a means to a higher political end. It is itself the highest political end."

By concentrating solely on how much prosperity is going around, we lose sight of the ideal of freedom and the subtle, incremental encroachments on it that occur each day at the hands of our government.

While the major battles in the political arena are fought over how much federal money should be allocated over this and that, our politicians no longer even object to the propriety of government being involved at all in certain areas of our lives.

What possible business could a government that was constituted primarily to provide for our common defense and domestic tranquility have, for example, in funding the arts or spending billions of our federal tax dollars on local education?

The challenge for next millennium's American political leaders is not to demonstrate how they can best micromanage our macro-economy, but to lead the charge in holding the line on our freedoms (life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness). That, after all, is the reason for the existence of the necessary evil of government.

Before implementing any governmental initiative involving tax, education, Social Security, the environment or even foreign policy, we must always ask ourselves the threshold question of whether and how much freedom it will cost.

You may argue that I'm being too idealistic. Maybe so. But then what about those other fellows: Washington, Franklin, Hamilton, Madison and Jay?

JWR contributor David Limbaugh is an attorney practicing in Cape Girardeau, Missouri, and a political analyst and commentator. Send your comments to him by clicking here.


11/29/99: Are Republicans obsolete?
11/24/99: Say you're sorry, Mr. President
11/22/99: Architects of victory
11/17/99: Trump's tax on freedom
11/15/99: GOP caves again
11/10/99: Triangulation and 'The Third Way'
11/08/99: Sticks and stones
11/03/99: Keyes vs. media lapdogs
11/01/99: Signs of the times
10/27/99: The false charge of isolationism
10/25/99: A matter of freedom
10/20/99: Clinton's mini-meltdown
10/18/99: Senate GOP shows statesmanship
10/13/99: Senate must reject nuclear treaty
10/11/99: Bush bites feeding hand
10/06/99: Jesse accidentally opens door for Pat
10/04/99: Clinton and his media enablers
09/29/99: Reagan: Big-tent conservatism
09/27/99: The Clinton/Gore taint?
09/22/99: Have gun (tragedy), will travel
09/20/99: Hillary's blunders and bloopers
09/15/99: GOP must remain conservative
09/13/99:Time for Bush to take charge, please
09/10/99: Bush's education plan: Dubya confounds again
09/07/99: Pat, savior or spoiler?
09/02/99: Character doesn't matter?
08/30/99: Should we judge?
08/25/99: Dubyah's drug question: Not a hill to die on
08/23/99: Should Dubyah start buying soap ... for all that mud?
08/16/99: 'W' stands for 'winner'
08/11/99: The truth about tax cuts
08/09/99: Hillary: Threading the needle
08/04/99: What would you do?
08/02/99: No appeasement for China
07/30/99: Hate Crimes Bill: Cynical Symbolism
07/26/99: Itís the 'moderates', stupid
07/21/99: JFK Jr. and Diana: the pain of privilege
07/19/99: Smith, Bush and the GOP
07/14/99: GOP must be a party of ideas
07/12/99: Gore's gender gap
07/08/99: Clintonís faustian bargain: our justice
07/06/99: The key to Bush's $36 million
06/30/99: Gore: a soda in every fountain
06/28/99: 'Sacred wall' or religious barrier?
06/23/99: GOP must lead in foreign policy
06/21/99: Crumbs of compassion
06/16/99: Compassionate conservatism: face-lift or body transplant?
06/10/99: Victory in Kosovo? Now What?