The fundamental problem facing our nation is that true representative government has been supplanted by an inbred, self-serving, self-perpetuating political class that does not represent the people. As a result, the government has escaped the control of the people.
Evidence is all around. For example, whether or not one agrees with the policy, for decades term limits have been consistently favored by an overwhelming majority. Yet they are opposed and sabotaged by the political class at every opportunity (most recently in New York City, where the city council just overturned mayoral term limits despite their being approved by 59 percent of the voters in a 1993 initiative, confirmed in a 1996 referendum.) By what principle of representative government is negating the repeatedly expressed will of the people justified?
Similarly, there's a durable popular consensus favoring a federal balanced budget amendment, and an equally persistent refusal by the political class to enact it. At the state level, "Taxpayer Bills of Rights" spending limitations enjoy broad public support, but will never pass a single legislative body.
It's not just the politicians — public employees are an integral part of the problem, too. For example, in Michigan last year there was an effort by some Senate Republicans and House Democrats to outsource certain juvenile justice and adoption services to private social service agencies. Despite bipartisan recognition that it would save money and generate better outcomes for children, the measure was gutted at the 11th hour because some 800 government jobs would have become superfluous.
Locally, can anyone doubt the result if pollsters asked, "Should municipal and school employees be able to retire at age 50 with a full pension and lifetime health coverage?" Yet such benefits are commonplace. The elected officials who grant them and their beneficiaries are all members of the same political/government class, which protects its own above all else.
The political class perpetuates its rule in many ways. One is campaign finance regulations that impose nearly impossible burdens on challengers, while incumbents use tax dollars and their offices in never-ending campaigns. Also, the government's pampered minions — public employees and their unions — have become what may be the most powerful and effective special interest, and are fully engaged in electoral politics. Their exclusive goal is defeating candidates or initiatives that might diminish their authority, resources or privileges, and their political power all but dominates elections at every level.
That particular power-center is in part the offspring of the 19th century's Progressive movement goal of replacing the bribes, kickbacks and graft of a corrupt patronage system with a professionalized, non-partisan bureaucracy. With the growth of a massive welfare state this "good government" reform metastasized into a much deeper corruption of the democrat ideal: An unelected bureaucratic nomenklatura, controlling or allied with today's political class, manipulating the system to deprive the people of any real choice. You can vote for the red squad or the blue squad, but they're all members of the same elite, which always promotes its interests ahead of yours.
Can anything be done? What's needed is a movement that, like the Progressives in their time, captures the public's imagination by defining a new dimension in U.S. politics: Not Republican vs. Democrat, conservative vs. liberal, or populist vs. capitalist, but the people vs. a political and government class that no longer represents them.
Don't look for help from the political parties. Parties are all about power, and recent history demonstrates just how quickly a party abandons whatever principles it professes once that object is gained, instead embracing the instrumentalities of big government to keep it.
As always, the true source of reform must be the people themselves. Those who would restore representative government must raise the public's consciousness regarding this fundamental but little understood divide: The people vs. the political/government class.
The rare candidate who sincerely opposes the status quo, or ballot initiative that challenges it, enjoys the tremendous advantage of an enthusiastic public. But they must also expect concerted counter-attacks from the arrayed forces of the system itself, rippling with political muscles.
These forces will only be overcome when the public explicitly understands where the real divide lies, and so sees through the inevitable demonization, lies and outright thuggery funded by the political establishment's nearly bottomless resources, much of which come directly or indirectly from the state itself.
We may be approaching a tipping point where this political class and establishment amass such power and resources that efforts to dislodge them become futile, and Americans are no longer sovereigns, but subjects. While we still are able, defenders of liberty must become modern-day Paul Reveres, raising the alarm by identifying freedom's true and most and potent enemies: Those who run and operate our unrepresentative governments.
Jack McHugh is senior legislative analyst at the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, a research and educational institute headquartered in Midland, Mich. Permission to reprint in whole or in part is hereby granted, provided that the author and the Center are properly cited.