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Electing Our Daddy

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For 125 years, the American people elected a president. During that time, the powers of the president were extremely limited. The American people did not permit the passage, for example, of income taxation, drug laws, and welfare laws. They also refused to permit a large standing military force. And they did not allow their government to engage in foreign wars. Thus, when our ancestors went to the polls every four years, they knew that regardless of who was elected, the president would have extremely limited powers over their lives and fortunes.

But for the past several decades, Americans have elected much more than a president — they have, simultaneously, elected a daddy. Thus, modern-day Americans have a much larger stake in presidential elections — for a presidential daddy is a much more important position than simply that of president.

Our ancestors believed that a person should be free to take what others considered were harmful actions toward himself. As long as a person’s conduct did not entail violence, fraud, or some type of direct or trespass against the life or property of another, the job of the president (and other governmental officials) was to protect the exercise of the conduct. Sometimes the choices made were unpopular or despicable. But the American people believed that what mattered was the right to choose. Thus, they refused to permit the passage, for example, of drug, censorship, and gambling laws.

Twentieth-century Americans took an opposite view. They did not want freedom of choice because they did not trust themselves or their fellow citizens with it. Thus, American adults empowered their daddy (and other governmental officials) to punish them for doing bad things to themselves. “Johnny — Bad! Bad! You know you’re not supposed to be putting harmful things into your mouth.” And Johnny is a 40-year-old banker. “Billy — Bad! Bad! You know you’re not supposed to be looking at naughty pictures.” And Billy is a 55-year-old plumber. “Mary — Bad! Bad! You know you’re not supposed to be losing your money at poker.” And Mary is a 60-year-old grandmother.

The principle is the same with welfare laws. Our ancestors believed that a person should be free to do whatever he wants with his own money. Thus, past Americans rejected Social Security, Medicare, subsidies, and other laws which took money from some to give to others. The idea was that a grown-up would decide for himself how to dispose of his own money.

Modern-day Americans moved in an opposite direction. They said, “We cannot be trusted with freedom because we might not make the right decisions. We need a daddy to take control of our money and to force us to be good and responsible.”

Thus, the welfare state was adopted in the United States in the 1930s. It is a way of life in which our elected daddy has complete control over our earnings. Sometimes our daddy is kind to us and lets us keep more of our income. Sometimes, he is mean to us and lets us have less. But make no mistake about it — our allowance is set by our daddy.

Moreover, no longer do American grown-ups have full responsibility for deciding what to do with their incomes. For our daddy has been given control over these decisions. For example, American adults might not take care of the disadvantaged; so, our daddy gives a portion of our allowances to the poor and needy. And if we are caught lying to our daddy about how much money we make each year, he says to us, “Bad! Bad! Go to your room for a few years!”

Our daddy also relieves us of the responsibility of choosing our friends. For he tells us whom to like and whom to dislike. For example, daddy tells us that we should dislike Fidel Castro, the president of Cuba. Of course, we have a difficult time understanding why we should dislike him. After all, Fidel’s policies are the same as daddy’s: public housing and medical care for the poor and elderly, public schooling for everyone, high levels of taxation, and no “legal technicalities” to enable criminals to go free. But daddy says we should dislike Fidel, and that is good enough for us. Daddy knows best.

Sometimes, we have to stop liking our friends because daddy stops liking them. For example, one of our best friends was daddy’s close friend Antonio Noriega, the former president of Panama. We sometimes wondered what daddy saw in Tony — after all, he was sending bad substances to the U.S. for Americans to put into their mouths. But since daddy said that Tony was our friend, then he was our friend. Daddy knows best.

One day, daddy got angry at Tony and said to us, “I don’t like Tony any more, and I don’t want you liking him either.” So, we had to turn against Tony; he could no longer be our friend. Daddy knows best.

Of course, we are still wondering about the end of our friendship with Saddam Hussein, the president of Iraq, another of daddy’s close friends. For many years, daddy gave lots of our allowance money to Saddam to help him out. Some of us wondered about supporting a man who had engaged in terribly bad conduct towards others. But we didn’t question daddy. Daddy knows best.

One day, daddy got upset at Saddam. And he said to us, “Saddam and I are no longer friends. I hate him. He’s an ‘Adolf Hitler’ (never a ‘Joseph Stalin’ because Joe was a close friend of America’s first presidential daddy, Franklin D. Roosevelt). We cannot survive if Saddam continues to be the president of Iraq.”

So, we lost another friend. We immediately began hating Saddam. Saddam had to go. Our survival depended an it. Daddy knows best.

But Saddam didn’t go! We killed 200,000 of his citizens (what better way to punish a ruler than to kill some of his taxpayers?). But Saddam is still president of Iraq. And what does our daddy say about this? Well, it turns out that we can live with Saddam after all. Apparently, our survival did not depend on ousting him from office. Daddy knows best.

The United States is a nation of children. American grown-ups view themselves and their relationship to their government in the same way they viewed their lives in public schools: they are little kids who depend on the principal to guide them, make their decisions for them, make them good and responsible, punish them when they do bad things to themselves, and tell them whom to like and dislike. They are expected to do as they are told and never to question the principal.

And we are a nation of people who now have been on the welfare-state dole for three generations. The weakness of the American child-adult is best exemplified by his reaction to the idea of dismantling our welfare empire: “How would we survive without our dole — our welfare, Social Security, subsidies, public schools, SBA loans, and protection from overseas competition?”

The same attitude holds true in foreign affairs. “How would we survive without our warfare empire? We need our daddy to protect our overseas interests and to decide who our foreign friends should be. You don’t expect us to do so, do you?”

Modern-day Americans have exchanged the liberty won by our ancestors for the apparent security of America’s welfare-warfare empire. But security does not come from empires. And empires ultimately crumble. A nation of weak, childlike grown-ups is a nation headed toward suicide. And talk of “getting tough overseas” and maintaining “military superiority” is false bravado. The crushing taxation, regulation, and control that comes with empires — and the lack of will to fight and die for them by weak, infantile adults — ultimately makes empires ripe for the plucking.

What would be the results if we ended America’s welfare-warfare empire? The same results freedom brought to America for 125 years. First, a nation of strong, responsible. and caring adults. Second, a strong and prosperous economic base that would provide the long-term security needed for military defense. Third, freedom would bring fierce fighters — citizen-soldiers, men and women alike — who would have the incentive, in a moment’s notice, to take up arms to protect their own freedom as well as that of their families and friends.

The solution for America, then, lies in moving toward the principles of freedom and limited government of our ancestors. We need once again to elect a president — not a daddy.

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    Jacob G. Hornberger is founder and president of The Future of Freedom Foundation. He was born and raised in Laredo, Texas, and received his B.A. in economics from Virginia Military Institute and his law degree from the University of Texas. He was a trial attorney for twelve years in Texas. He also was an adjunct professor at the University of Dallas, where he taught law and economics. In 1987, Mr. Hornberger left the practice of law to become director of programs at the Foundation for Economic Education. He has advanced freedom and free markets on talk-radio stations all across the country as well as on Fox News’ Neil Cavuto and Greta van Susteren shows and he appeared as a regular commentator on Judge Andrew Napolitano’s show Freedom Watch. View these interviews at LewRockwell.com and from Full Context. Send him email.