First the answer: undergo a root canal, win a liver-eating contest and give unsolicited foot massages to at least three Canadian geese.
Now the question: Name three extraordinarily unpleasant things I would rather do than watch tonight’s State of the Union address.
Among my many idiosyncratic habits, I cover my ears and eyes and sometimes hum during long movie trailers, because I favor leaving at least some of the narrative arc a surprise. Otherwise, what’s the point, right? Who wants to spend $50 on movie tickets and a babysitter to see the 27 minutes of a 97-minute film not spoiled or otherwise alluded to by the five minute preview?
Likewise, nearly any sentient American voter can predict the narrative arc of President Obama’s speech:
The American people are great and strong. But they need more federal government to gin up the economy, meddle in foreign countries, fight wars in Islamistan, redistribute wealth, smother successful industries, prop up malinvestments, print money, protect us from guns, borrow money, and invest in roads and bridges and green energy. Teachers work hard let’s give them more money. Something about playing fair and overcoming challenges. We are a strong people. God Bless America.
It wasn’t always like this. Indeed, once upon a Constitution, our Presidents regarded the General Government (as they were keen to call it) as a materially smaller and less necessary excrescence.
On December 8, 1801, President Thomas Jefferson delivered his first State of the Union address. Read the excerpts below, and then try to figure out how the “General Government” went from a model of severely limited, constitutionally decentralized control, to an omnipotent overlord that controls, taxes and regulates every single object, service or person that you can reach with your free hand.
- Let’s eliminate almost all existing taxes and pay off the national debt.
“Other circumstances, combined with the increase of numbers, have produced an augmentation of revenue arising from consumption in a ratio far beyond that of population alone; and though the changes in foreign relations now taking place so desirably for the whole world may for a season affect this branch of revenue, yet weighing all probabilities of expense as well as of income, there is reasonable ground of confidence that we may now safely dispense with all the internal taxes, comprehending excise, stamps, auctions, licenses, carriages, and refined sugars, to which the postage on news papers may be added to facilitate the progress of information, and that the remaining sources of revenue will be sufficient to provide for the support of Government, to pay the interest of the public debts, and to discharge the principals within shorter periods than the laws or the general expectation had contemplated.”
- More tax revenue just leads to a military-industrial complex that makes war more likely. Another reason to cut taxes and reduce military spending.
“War, indeed, and untoward events may change this prospect of things and call for expenses which imposts could not meet; but sound principles will not justify our taxing the industry of our fellow citizens to accumulate treasure for wars to happen we know not when, and which might not, perhaps, happen but from the temptations offered by that treasure.”
- A nod to the Tenth Amendment: If the States aren’t squabbling, the General Government is constitutionally required to leave them and their commerce alone.
“When we consider that this Government is charged with the external and mutual relations only of these States; that the States themselves have principal care of our persons, our property, and our reputation, constituting the great field of human concerns, we may well doubt whether our organization is not too complicated, too expensive; whether offices and officers have not been multiplied unnecessarily and sometimes injuriously to the service they were meant to promote.”
- The more taxes we give the federal government, the bigger it will get.
“Considering the general tendency to multiply offices and dependencies and to increase expense to the ultimate term of burthen which the citizen can bear, it behooves us to avail ourselves of every occasion which presents itself for taking off the surcharge, that it never may be seen here that after leaving to labor the smallest portion of its earnings on which it can subsist, Government shall itself consume the whole residue of what it was instituted to guard.”
- No need for a standing army during peacetime – that’s what our citizen militia is for.
“For defense against invasion their number is as nothing, nor is it conceived needful or safe that a standing army should be kept up in time of peace for that purpose. Uncertain as we must ever be of the particular point in our circumference where an enemy may choose to invade us, the only force which can be ready at every point and competent to oppose them is the body of the neighboring citizens as formed into a militia. On these, collected from the parts most convenient in numbers proportioned to the invading force, it is best to rely not only to meet the 1st attack, but if it threatens to be permanent to maintain the defense until regulars may be engaged to relieve them. These considerations render it important that we should at every session continue to amend the defects which from time to time shew themselves in the laws for regulating the militia until they are sufficiently perfect. Nor should we now or at any time separate until we say we have done everything for the militia which we could do were an enemy at our door.”
- Our prosperity is dependent upon free enterprise which should only be assisted within the limits of constitutional powers.
“Agriculture, manufactures, commerce, and navigation, the 4 pillars of our prosperity, are then most thriving when left most free to individual enterprise. Protection from casual embarrassments, however, may sometimes be seasonably interposed. If in the course of your observations or inquiries they should appear to need any aid within the limits of our constitutional powers, your sense of their importance is a sufficient assurance they will occupy your attention.”
- Above all, maintain the constitutional form and equilibrium of General and State Governments.
“The prudence and temperance of your discussions will promote within your own walls that conciliation which so much befriends rational conclusion, and by its example will encourage among our constituents that progress of opinion which is tending to unite them in object and in will. That all should be satisfied with any one order of things is not to be expected; but I indulge the pleasing persuasion that the great body of our citizens will cordially concur in honest and disinterested efforts which have for their object to preserve the General and State Governments in their constitutional form and equilibrium; to maintain peace abroad, and order and obedience to the laws at home; to establish principles and practices of administration favorable to the security of liberty and property, and to reduce expenses to what is necessary for the useful purposes of Government.”