Divisive Government?

"It would be hard to think of a more ridiculous way to make decisions than to transfer those decisions to third parties who pay no price for being wrong." – Thomas Sowell

Some claim that government’s supposed ability to solve any of today’s pressing issues is hindered by partisan politics. Due to term limits, Michigan’s Legislature is supposedly too driven by partisan differences and too inexperienced to make the deals necessary to move forward. Some have proposed that the solution is to modify or eliminate term limits.

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While changes to term limits are worthy of debate, we need to accept that American politics have always been a contact sport.

A few examples:

In 1794, during a debate on a controversial treaty with Britain, chief American negotiator John Jay said he could have walked the entire east coast at night and had his way illuminated by protesters burning him in effigy.

A few years later, a newspaper that was generally opposed to President George Washington’s policies published an editorial with the preposterous claim that he had been a traitor during the Revolutionary War.

In 1798, Thomas Jefferson hired someone to write vicious attacks on President John Adams. Jefferson at the time was Adams’ vice president.

In 1804, Vice President Aaron Burr shot and killed Alexander Hamilton, the former secretary of the treasury, in a duel over Hamilton’s ongoing assaults on Burr’s character.

In 1856, on the floor of the Senate, Congressman Preston Brooks used his wooden cane to beat Sen. Charles Sumner unconscious as a result of an earlier speech by Sumner.

And of course, let’s not forget the worst political disagreement in U.S. history: The Civil War.

So, if our divided government is nothing new, then it is doubtful that any changes in term limits will fundamentally change our situation. Perhaps we all need to stop looking for quick fixes to our troubles and instead search for their root causes. Perhaps it is time to re-evaluate how we have come to view the role that government should play in our lives.

The Founding Fathers wrote the Constitution to limit government because they knew that while a central government was necessary to maintaining order, it could not be trusted to a small group of flawed human beings. George Washington said "Government is not reason, it is not eloquence, it is force. Like fire, it is a dangerous servant and a troublesome master. Never for a moment should it be left to irresponsible action."

We seem to be waiting for new solutions to be developed by others in government, or for a great political leader to come along and save us. Both simply do not exist. Everyone is a flawed, imperfect human being. It seems more likely that the root cause of much of our troubles is that we have come to view government as the sole legitimate solution to any problem. Why should anyone believe that a distant group of bureaucrats is any better at developing solutions than we are? We have allowed the government to tell us the gas mileage of our cars, the wattage of our light bulbs and the volume of water in out toilets. Are these really critical functions of government? Are the people really unable to make adult decisions on these subjects without coercion by a small group of politicians?

While Michigan’s economy is the very worst it the country, our state representatives have been busy discussing the merits of hiring a State poet laureate and legislation to stop bullying in schools. Are these really critical functions of government?

How many of us have said upon encountering a problem that "they" should do something about that, and then walked away? But isn’t that un-American? Shouldn’t we be saying: "Hey! There’s a problem, how am I going to fix it?" This country was formed by people who accepted the responsibility to manage their own affairs without outside help or interference.

Perhaps the real solution to our troubles is to accept personal responsibility to manage our own health care, save for our own retirement, control the education of our children and care for the poor in our own area through voluntary contributions to organizations such as local churches and charity groups. As long as we are looking for others to solve our problems, those problems will continue to exist, new ones will develop, and we will continue to lose our liberties and our greatness as a nation.


Philip Seamon of Birmingham is an engineer and Scott Taylor of Brandon Township is a salesman and U.S. Navy veteran. The Mackinac Center for Public Policy is a research and educational institute headquartered in Midland, Mich. Permission to reprint in whole or in part is hereby granted, provided that the authors and the Center are properly cited.

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