An engaged electorate is a beautiful thing to behold. For a generation or two, hard working, industrious, and long-suffering Americans had neglected politics. After 1925, Evangelical Christians did not connect their religious beliefs with the social sphere. They did not have a biblical worldview of culture and politics. I don’t mean they didn’t vote. I suspect that they believed that if they did the right thing—even vote for a political party that had done some good for their parents and grandparents in the past—that the rest of the electorate and the people they put in office would reciprocate. They didn’t. Politicians abused the system, denied their constitutional oath, and millions of Americans saw an opportunity to take advantage of the potential for redistributed bounty. In time, even the “greatest generation” gave in to the promise of security over freedom. It didn’t happen overnight.
It started with free public (government) education and moved to accept the Sixteenth Amendment because it would mostly affect the “rich.” In 1913, the income tax did not impact the average American wage earner. The first bracket was one percent on incomes up to $20,000 per year (see chart). There was a standard deduction of $3000 to $4000. With the average income being less than $1000 per year, the people who did not oppose the income tax amendment initially were not impacted by it. The richest Americans, those making more than $4000 paid most of the tax, with those making more than $500,000 paying seven percent. Like today, the tax burden was on the “rich” (see original IRS form).
It was easy to move from using the State to confiscate money from their neighbors so their children could be educated for “free” and taxing the rich generally to pay for other services to instituting a compulsory insurance program financed partly—actually, half—by employers. If you work for someone, the State forces your employer to pay what you pay in Social Security and Medicare. Few people complain. It’s free money, but at your employer’s expense. And yet today, those who protest government intrusion in their lives are willing to live with just enough theft so they’ll be secure. We’ve seen this before, the German people valued “security over political freedom” that “caused them to see in the State, however conservative, a benefactor and a protector.”1 “We’re from the government, and we’re here to help you.”
Ronald Reagan is said to be the model for how a conservative president should govern. In reality, Reagan oversaw the expansion of the State at the federal level. Gary North throws up some history that Reaganites don’t want to acknowledge:
There is no question that Ronald Reagan destroyed Republican resistance to the expansion of the Federal deficit. He oversaw the complete destruction of effective resistance to the Federal debt. As it turned out, Bill Clinton was more successful in balancing the budget than Reagan,2 Bush I, and especially Bush II. If deficit spending is the great evil today, and if political resistance to deficit spending by the Tea Party movement is the heart, mind, and soul of the political transformation of America, then the great enemy of the Tea Party movement ought to be Ronald Reagan. Yet Republicans and conservatives during the Reagan administration applauded his administration, and almost nobody systematically called attention to the fact that his deficits were undermining the future of the country. . . .
He made no attempt to stop the expansion of Federal spending. If Federal spending is the great problem today, then Ronald Reagan is the grandfather of it in the era after Franklin Roosevelt. Roosevelt at least had a justification: World War II. Reagan had no similar justification. He just oversaw the destruction of the principle of the balanced budget.
All of this should be obvious. All of this has been in front of us for almost 30 years, yet the conservative movement still venerates Reagan. Reagan did do a good job in cutting top marginal tax rates. I have to give him credit for that. He also bankrupted the Soviet Union. But his unwillingness to veto Congressional spending measures has led to the disaster that we are facing today.
This information is available for all to see, but most conservatives don’t want to believe it. They don’t want to believe their conservative hero had feet of fiscal clay. Most Americans didn’t mind since they had already been conditioned to believe that a certain amount of socialism is OK. It’s the other guy’s socialism that we don’t like.
We’ll see if Chris Christie, the newly elected Republican governor of New Jersey, can fight the temptation to offer the people of his state false security instead of true liberty. Christie understands that ultimately the people are the ones who make policy, if you can get enough of them on your side: “The most important thing in public life, in a job like governor, is for the people you’re representing to know exactly where you stand. People who disagree with me on things at least have a sense of comfort in knowing where I’m coming from.” He’s only half right. If a majority doesn’t want the cuts and reduction in services, there is little that a government official can do. Greek officials saw riots in the streets with a few dead bodies thrown in as a warning to government officials. It hasn’t come to that in America, but most Americans aren’t desperate yet. Millions of people are still getting their government checks.
There is no easy way out of the fix we’re in. But there is a way to get started. First, get out of debt: “The rich rules over the poor, and the borrower becomes the lender’s slave” (Prov. 22:7; cf. Deut. 28:12–13; Rom. 13:8). Second, take responsibility for your own life. Pay for your children’s education. Don’t ask me or your neighbors to pay for it. This is the first test to see if you value liberty over security. There are residual benefits. Your children won’t be turned into State-loving Socialists, and we may be able to shut down the government school system and the oppressive bureaucracy that goes with it. Third, practice living on less so that it becomes a habit. Fourth, get a worldview adjustment. Watch a film like The Pianist (2002, also see here) to get some idea how bad things can get. Fifth, don’t ever say, “It can’t happen here.”