Mr. Smith Is in Washington

The following article appears in the spring 2002 issue of IMPACT!, the Mackinac Center for Public Policy's quarterly newsletter.

I was invited to the White House last year to discuss how state-based research institutes like the Mackinac Center for Public Policy could work with Bush administration officials to advance meaningful reform.  I was reminded of the encounter in recent weeks as President Bush called for tariffs on imported steel, signed the largest federal intervention in education in U.S. history, prepared to direct more federal subsidies to religious institutions, and released plans to take $100 million from hard-working American families and spend it on federal marriage instruction programs.

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Now this may sound like a prelude to criticism of our president.  After all, these measures are certainly contrary to the principles espoused by the Mackinac Center, and several even exceed the authority granted to Congress by the U.S. Constitution.  But that would miss the point.

The problem is the good people Bush hired.  This is the first time I have had so many personal friends and freedom-movement colleagues appointed to key positions within a presidential administration. And in the months since I sat in the Old Executive Office Building last year listening to them, I have been struck by the contrast.  One day they were emphasizing that education is a state or local issue, the next day they were federally mandating the testing of every public school child in America.  One day they were bemoaning $5 trillion worth of failed Great Society programs, the next day they were in the newspapers defending federal marriage instruction.

Too many people today continue to invest their lives and their money in the fanciful hope — call it the Frank Capra Theory — that someday Mr. Smith will go to Washington, end the corruption, and restore our liberties.  I am here to say that I know Mr. Smith, he went to Washington, and he lost his soul.  As thoughtful and well-intentioned as he is, he was sucked into the vortex of political pragmatism and transformed into a welfare state apologist.  He is now mocking those who believe in principled, limited government and helping perpetuate the debilitating modern myth that it is wise and right to take resources from our communities and send them to Washington.

I have turned down several opportunities to go to Washington for one simple reason: This is a bottom-up revolution.  Working at the state and local levels, the Mackinac Center does the tough work of building a constituency of informed leaders who will one day change their communities, then their states, and ultimately their nation.   If you are reading this and still dreaming about a Washington revolution, pull out the membership envelope and join us.  Fighting for freedom closer to home may not be as glamorous, but it's real.

"Too many people continue to invest in the fanciful hope-call it the Frank Capra Theory-that someday Mr. Smith will go to Washington, end the corruption, and restore our liberties."