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A choice between two Americas

Government

The Affordable Care Act passed with no Republican votes. Since then, popular opposition to it has polled consistently above 50 percent. From its inception, Obamacare has exposed the fault lines within American politics. Supporters and opponents of the law have fundamentally different views of what politics is, of what government and civic community are.

The views expressed in our Declaration of Independence and embodied in our Constitution advocate limited government. From the start, America has been a brilliantly ambitious political experiment. It attempts to solve the great problem of government, which is, as James Madison put it in Federalist Papers No. 10, how to enable the government to restrain the governed and at the same time oblige it to restrain itself. We need government to protect us from each other and from foreign invaders, but the power to protect is also the power to enslave. Fundamental to this Founding American spirit is a historically justified distrust of government, and thus an extremely guarded embrace of it.

Government is like a gun. Many see the need to have one in their house for protection, but they keep it in a safe, albeit handy, with a safety lock on it. Only the most trusted and capable people in the home are allowed to handle it.

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But while gun safety is the norm among gun users, people today who share this cautious approach to the use of government are called “conservatives,” and in Washington, D.C., they are vilified as radicals. Why? Because for more than a century our politics have been divided by a “substitute Founding” led by people like Woodrow Wilson, Franklin Roosevelt, and now Barack Obama. Our nation is so politically divided because—within the same country, under the same Constitution—there are two different Americas struggling to establish themselves: One is “republican” and the other is “progressive.”

In 1944, President Roosevelt announced the inadequacy of the existing Constitution to protect liberty in the industrial age, saying it requires the redistributionist welfare state. Columnist George Will points out that “the name ‘progressivism’ implies criticism of the Founding, which we leave behind as we make progress.”

Progressives trust government implicitly, hence their reflexive willingness to empower it. They believe in governing human affairs not by private judgment, local communities, and prudent statesmen, but by applying the discoveries of social science by administrative elites, or technocrats, in the interest of general peace, safety, and comfort. This leaves only a grudging allowance for personal liberty and self-government. It is the Environmental Protection Agency writ large. Hence, though you were told, “If you like your health insurance plan you can keep it,” Obamacare sees no problem with telling you what plan you are allowed to like.

This explains why, when the Tea Party wants to roll back the personal security state, progressives like Nancy Pelosi hear a call to destroy government itself. Tomorrow is Election Day. Our choice in every election is between which America we want to be.

D.C. Innes
D.C. Innes

D.C. is associate professor of politics at The King's College in New York City and co-author of Left, Right, and Christ: Evangelical Faith in Politics (Russell Media). Follow D.C. on Twitter @DCInnes1.

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