Monday, September 7, 2009

Of Kings and Governments

In the Bible, in the book of 1 Samuel, chapter 8, verses 4 through 18, the Israelites approach the Prophet Samuel, who is their aging spiritual leader and judge and demand a king. You may remember the story: God had established the nation of Israel with a very minimal government. It was actually pretty simple: God would lead the people, either directly or through the priests and the judges and the people would follow. There was no need for a king since the creator of the universe was to be their king forever, a perfect, fair, righteous judge who would ensure that His people were properly cared for.

As Samuel got older, he began having difficulty keeping up with the needs of the people, so he appointed his sons to help him judge the people. The problem was that his sons weren’t good judges – they accepted bribes and were generally not really good at the job they were given. As a result, the elders of the tribes came to Samuel and requested a king. To digress for a second, in today’s parlance: a crisis was perceived by the people, so the solution of the leaders (who were, in essence, government functionaries) must be even more regulation and tighter controls, less freedom and more government! Hey, that sounds kind of familiar.

Anyway, the story goes on to explain that the elders of the tribes who met with Samuel wanted to be more like the nations around them, all of whom had kings to lead them. Neither Samuel nor God were very happy about this. They even had their talking points ready – they told Samuel that they wanted a king for a couple of different reasons: To lead them and to go out and fight their battles.

God warned the people that a king would be a very bad idea – that ultimately, it would cost them both of their treasure and freedom. The elders persisted, and God finally gave the people what they thought they wanted.

So today we find ourselves in an interesting and somewhat parallel position: Over the course of the last 100 years or so, we have, in one form or another, demanded a king, and have managed to get one in the form of the President of the United States. His powers have grown, the federal government of which he is a part has extended its tentacles in all directions and has usurped the authority of the individual states in nearly every area, and all of this has been done with the consent of the governed because we, like the people of Israel, believe somehow that if only there were just a little bit more government, just a little bit more authority given to our rulers, that they would finally and for all time end the problems of social injustice, poverty, crime, hate, greed and the multitude of other sins which we all find in our society.

The real problem of a king, however, is that they are human and that they aren’t all good. One has only to look at the results of the people of Israel actually getting the king they requested to know that it’s a bad idea. There were good ones: David, Asa, Jehoshaphat, Uzziah, Hezekiah and a couple of others (note that even the good ones had real problems! Go read the story of David). The problem, of course is that there were a LOT more who ranged from awful to downright evil. Even the very first king, Saul, was judged by God to be evil. And some of the ones that were considered good in their youth, became evil as they aged. Of the 43 kings of Israel, only 7 were judged to have done right by God. Five were mixed – did right sometimes and other times did not. The rest were wicked and, as God predicted, the people cried out to have the burden of the king removed.

In the same way, we have asked for someone to care for us – to save us from the unjust. To protect us from the bad things ‘out there’. But ultimately, this is a fools choice: Even if you have a good king, at some point, he won’t be king anymore and the next guy might be a bad one! And, unfortunately, as Israel found out, once you establish the kingship (or any government program), it doesn’t easily go away. The end of the kings of Israel came only when they were ultimately made captives of the Assyrian empire – not exactly a good outcome for the Israelites.

So, what does this mean for us today? Primarily, I believe it means we must get out of this worship of the office of President and government office. We have in many ways become exactly what we wanted to escape when the United States was founded: A democratic monarchy. And while we haven’t yet reached the point of an actual monarchy, with power transferring from father (or mother) to their offspring, it does seem that today the very utterances of a President seem to have gained almost kinglike authority. An example? The people are overburdened with taxation and regulation. The President says we must increase the taxes and regulation to protect the people. The people submit and nearly 50% of the nation believe that he is right because of who he is, not because his policies make any sense. The government has the right of life-or-death over its citizens. It can shut down any business, destroy any career and break any law that it has created in its push to ‘protect’ the people. The laws it writes and the ethics it attempts to enforce by fiat in most cases don’t seem to apply to this ruling class. Charley Rangel can avoid taxes on $1.5 million in income, services and property but somehow continues to be the chairman on the House Ways and Means committee (which writes tax law!!!). This is much as it was with King George in 1776 – his word was law, his law was brutally enforced and his subjects had no choice.

We certainly have had some good presidents in the last 100 years, but we have also had some very bad ones. Which is which is often driven by your political ideology, but you can take some of that personal ideology out of the mix by simply comparing a president to the role he is given by the Constitution and seeing if he overstepped his bounds. This test also applies to the other two branches of the government – especially when the President and the Congress are of one mind as they are today!

So what should we do to protect and defend the Constitution and our way of life? Simple: Put the government back in its place. Remember the quote by Thomas Jefferson: “When the people fear their government, there is tyranny; when the government fears the people, there is liberty.” I don’t think it’s much of a stretch to say that the people fear their government. Had any meetings with the IRS lately? What about an out-of-control city government? The government must fear the people. This is the cornerstone of our form of government. The words, “… of the people, by the people and for the people…” are the key to keeping government in check. It seems to me that we’ve gotten very lazy through the years – we the people no longer protect and defend the Constitution – we’ve given that job over to the government. Talk about the fox guarding the henhouse! The frightening part about that is that if you read the oath of office for the President and just about every other elected official (not to mention the military), you see that it is clear that the threats we should be protecting against are both “… foreign and domestic…”! So it’s not just the outsider, but also the person or entity who tries to usurp the Constitution from inside.

Here’s a question for you to ponder: Do you think the inclusion of enemies who are “domestic” in the oath of service refers to the citizens of the United States, or the government of the United States? I would bet that most of you have thought very little about it if any at all. And I bet that many of those who have taken the oath consider domestic enemies to mean an uprising of the people or a militia or those gun-toting religious right-wing nut jobs. However, if you spend any time at all reading the words of the founders and framers of the Constitution you find that their real fear was not of the governed, but of the government. Their greatest fear was tyranny from those who were entrusted with the power to lead the country.

By turning the presidency and the rest of the federal government into a royal ‘kingship’, we have done a huge disservice to our country and its people. I’m reminded of the campaign trail video when Bill Clinton was running for President: A young man stood and with tears in his eyes, asked… nay, begged Bill Clinton to help us – that he was ‘our father’, and we were his children. While it’s possible, I suppose, that given Bill Clintons proclivities that he was father to some of those good folks, the liberal image of the government as caretaker and ‘daddy’ and we as just children and humble servants of those who are so great and powerful is kind of spooky to most of us. As with the Israelites, a large number of people have been duped into thinking they need someone to take care of them so they are demanding that the government do it. Remember: it is axiomatic that a people who can care for themselves are a burden to no one else.

So how did we get to this point? If I wanted to steal the power of the people and give it to the government, how would I do it? Well, one way would be to convince the people that they are in dire need of my assistance. I believe that it is becoming very clear that individuals (and some groups) in positions of power in our government work very hard to create a belief that there are serious problems in our society for the express purpose of then pushing the people to ask for their help. The politicians then craft a government response that ultimately puts the people into the position of being dependant on the government to protect them from that ‘created’ problem. Once the program is in place, virtually nothing can get rid of it. Remember how long the tax to pay for the Spanish-American war was part of your phone bill? The tax was levied in 1898 and was aimed at only ‘the wealthiest Americans’ since they were the only ones who could afford a phone at that time (sound familiar?). That war ended in 1901 and the tax wasn’t repealed until 2006, long after it ceased to be a tax only on the wealthy, since virtually every household in America had a phone!

Let me digress for a minute and say that if you think ANY of the taxes aimed only at the wealthy will stay only on the wealthy, you’re sadly misguided. To prove my point, you need look no further than the Alternative Minimum Tax, which was intended to apply to just 155 taxpayers and was really targeted at just 20 of these folks (no, I really do mean 20 taxpayers – not 20% of taxpayers) who had used the perfectly legal loopholes provided by the government in the tax code to avoid paying any taxes at all. This was back in 1969, and because it was never adjusted for inflation, or more rightly, abolished outright, it is anticipated that by 2010 it will apply to nearly 30 million taxpayers, including 94% of married filers who have children and make between $75,000 and $100,000 per year (from the New York Times). Keep in mind that this was a program put in place in 1969 – not exactly a long time ago. Somehow, between 1969 and 2010 this tax went from impacting fewer than 160 people to over 30,000,000! And who benefits???? Oh yeah - the government. Government rarely has the best interests of the people at heart – it always has the best interest of government in mind. Any other belief is misguided and ignorant of the facts.

At any rate, back to our topic… The current debate on healthcare is an example of a created problem. Fewer than 5% of the legal population of the country is involuntarily without health insurance of some kind. To generate fear, politicians find a way to inflate that number and build a world of dire consequences which they then ‘sell’ to the people. Being good little capitalists, we buy it, hook, line and sinker. We the people demand a fix from our government. So the answer they come up with is to craft a system that will financially undercut private plans, makes it illegal to seek care at your own expense once you are in the government system and then claims to not make healthcare choices for the people it covers. Instead of focusing on fixing the basic problems, the answer the ‘king’ has come up with is to replace the system with one that is worse than the problem it is intended to fix.

At the end of the day, it is my fear that if the United States does not remove its fealty to the false king of the President and the federal bureaucracy, and return to the core belief in a limited government that is ultimately submissive to the people, that we, like the Israelites will find ourselves ultimately in captivity, and our way of life, the life of self-direction, self-reliance and self-responsibility will end forever. And like the Israel of old, we will find our lives, our traditions, our freedom scattered and lost.