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The Failure of the Republican “Revolution,” Part 6


Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6 | Part 7 | Part 8 | Part 9

The Roosevelt Revolution in the 1930s was not a revolution of arms. It was not a revolution of armies. Nevertheless, it counts as one of the most dramatic and monumental events in American history. It not only altered America’s way of life, it also shattered the moral, ethical, political, and economic foundations on which American society had been based since its inception. It is impossible to overstate the significance of what happened in the 1930s.

For over 150 years, the American people had said no to the notion that government should take money from those to whom it belonged in order to give it to others.

Perfection being impossible — and human nature being what it is — there were, of course, exceptions that crept into the system. But the guiding moral and ethical principle of our ancestors was simple and fundamental: “You don’t take what doesn’t belong to you, not even when you want to do good things with it. It is wrong to steal.”

And they believed that a private act of immorality — stealing — taking what doesn’t belong to you to help another — could not be converted into a moral act by running it through the legislature.

Americans’ antipathy to stealing, private or public, throughout the 19th century, was the reason our ancestors said no to such things as Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, public schooling, Meals on Wheels, and the like. Government programs that took money from one person in order to give the money to another person were denounced as evil and immoral.

Thus, throughout the 19th century, Americans were free to accumulate unlimited amounts of wealth, for there was no taxation on income. They were not forced to assist the elderly, the poor, or anyone else. Everyone was free to decide for himself what to do with his own money. And the massive accumulation of capital and the enormous extent of voluntary charity did more for those at the bottom of the economic ladder than any government program in history. (See Part II of this series.)

In the 1930s, without even the semblance of a constitutional amendment, American society moved in an opposite direction. Franklin Roosevelt decreed that from that day forward, it would be the guiding principle of government in America to take money from those to whom it belonged in order to give it to others who Roosevelt said deserved it more. (See “FDR and the End of Economic Liberty,” Freedom Daily , August 1991.)

To ameliorate people’s conscience, Roosevelt told them not to worry: America’s system of freedom was not being changed, but rather being saved. It was the beginning of what would become a dark and sinister life of the lie that the American people and their descendants would live for the rest of the century.

At first, Republicans opposed Roosevelt’s New Deal, primarily on moral grounds, but also on economic ones. They said it was wrong to steal, even when it’s done to help the poor and needy. And they continually warned of the disastrous economic consequences that would result from the abandonment of moral principles.

But gradually, Republicans threw in the towel. They recognized that the American people liked this new way of life — a life of plunder, immorality, debauchery, stealing, and welfare dependency. They realized that opposition all too often meant electoral defeat. Faced with the choice of prevailing at the polls or sticking to their moral principles, Republicans chose the former.

So, Republicans began seeking office with proposals on how to make the welfare state more efficient. Their campaign slogan became: “We believe in free enterprise, welfare reform, and regulatory reform. We’ll reduce the waste, fraud, and abuse of government programs, but we promise you that we will never dismantle them.”

Thus, election after election, no matter who was in office — Democrat or Republican — the cancer of the welfare and regulatory state grew exponentially. And the only ones left to sound the warning of what lay ahead were the libertarians.

In 1944, Friedrich A. Hayek published his famous book, The Road to Serfdom . Hayek was a libertarian. (One of his most famous essays is “Why I Am Not a Conservative.”) He would go on to win the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Science. His book outraged both Democrats and Republicans.

Hayek warned: If you continue traveling this road — the road to the New Deal — the road to the welfare state — the road to the regulatory society — the road to the bureaucratic government — the road to serfdom — you will be pursuing the same philosophy — the same programs — as the totalitarian countries that you profess to oppose.

Democrats and Republicans recoiled in anger. “How can you suggest that we favor socialist and fascist economic beliefs and policies? they asked. Why, look at all the governmental controls that we have implemented in order to save free enterprise.”

The expansion of the welfare state continued throughout the 1950s. Then, there was a great leap forward with Democrat Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society programs. Richard Nixon, a Republican, showed how an expansionary tax and regulatory system could be used to go after political enemies. In the ’70s and ’80s, Democrat Jimmy Carter and Republicans Ronald Reagan and George Bush did what Democrats and Republicans had been doing since FDR: promising , during electoral campaigns, “smaller” government and tax, regulatory, and welfare reform and then expanding the welfare-state programs after the election.

And the results? They were predictable, at least by the libertarians. Everywhere in the world you look today — Cuba, Russia, China, North Korea, Sweden, England, and the U.S. — the welfare state is in crisis.

Social Security? Busted. Oh yes, every election year, both the Democrats and the Republicans go out of their way to say: “There’s a trust fund. You put your money into it. It earns interest. You have a right to get it back.” At least the young people — the “Generation Xers” — are realizing what libertarians have recognized for decades. It’s been a lie since the very beginning. There is no trust fund, and there never has been. Social Security (which was copied from the German socialists and became a hallmark of the Nazi system) is simply a stealing-and-transfer program. In the name of goodness, money is taken from those to whom it belongs (the young and the productive), and the loot is distributed to those to whom it does not belong (the elderly and the nonproductive).

Medicare and Medicaid? Busted. Health-care costs are soaring. Doctors everywhere are disgusted with their profession. The quality of health care continues to diminish. National health care (which was copied from the German socialists and became a hallmark of the Nazi system) is another gigantic welfare-state failure.

Public schooling. Busted. Even the most ardent proponents of public schooling (which was copied from the German socialists and became a hallmark of the Nazi system) will tell you that after a hundred years of experimentation with the minds of young people, the system “needs reform.” Being themselves products of the public-school system, they cannot fathom the possibility that central planning, especially in education, is inherently incapable of ever working.

And look at the beloved wars that Democrats and Republicans have waged against the American people for so many decades.

The war on poverty. Busted. Even its biggest supporters never tire of telling us how many poor and homeless people there are after thirty years of warfare.

The war on drugs. Busted. Every election year, Democrats and Republican candidates for office stand with DEA officials to announce a new record drug bust, as if that is supposed to show progress after eighty years of warfare.

The war on bigotry. Busted. Racial bigotry, especially at BATF barbecues, pervades America.

And who can deny that Americans have become weak, dependent wards of the state, terrified that their welfare opium — Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, public schooling, and the like — might be taken away from them? We have the strongest government in history; but the result is that Americans are among the weakest people in history. They lack the intestinal fortitude to kick their governmental habit and overthrow the tyranny of the welfare state; and their courage is exercised vicariously through their government’s foreign wars. (“We” kicked butt in the Persian Gulf.”)

What is sad is how both Democrats and Republicans refuse to take individual responsibility for the evil, immorality, and destructiveness that they and their parties have wrought on the American people.

Ask a Democrat: “Do you take responsibility for the families you have destroyed with the welfare narcotic? For the mind-set of welfare-state dependency that afflicts most Americans?”

He will respond: “Of course not, because my party and I meant well.”

Ask a Republican: “Do you take responsibility for the evil and destructiveness of your beloved war on drugs? The murders, gang wars, unsafe streets, muggings, burglaries, robberies, and thefts because addicts are having to pay exorbitant black-market prices to sustain their habits? The governmental stealing from innocent people that DEA agents and sheriffs are calling ‘asset forfeiture’?”

He will respond: “Of course not, because my party and I meant well.”

What is even more pathetic is how Democrats and Republicans look for scapegoats. The most popular one today is, of course, immigrants. “If it weren’t for all those illegal aliens, we wouldn’t have problems with our welfare system,” the Democrats and Republicans often tell us.

And their joint approach toward immigrants exemplifies what Hayek said would happen if this road to serfdom were traveled.

Did you ever think you would see the day when Cuban people fleeing communist tyranny would spend a year and a half of their lives in an American penitentiary? Did you ever think you would see the day when Cuban citizens were freer under Fidel Castro than under an American president?

Thirty years ago, in one of their beloved foreign wars, both the Democrats and the Republicans sent 60,000 of my generation, including some of my schoolmates at Virginia Military Institute, to their deaths in Southeast Asia. Their rationale: to save the South Vietnamese people from communism.

Did you ever think you’d see the day when U.S. military personnel would be working mano-a-mano — hand-in-hand — with Cuban communist military personnel in the forcible repatriation of Cuban citizens back to communist tyranny? The day when an American bayonet and M16 would be put into the gut of Cuban women and children to force them onto a Cuban communist vessel for involuntary transport back to communism?

And remember — this comes from a Democratic president and a Democratic party who “love the poor, the needy, and the disadvantaged” through their support of the welfare state. And remember — this comes from a Republican contender and a Republican party who talk about the Bible and how Jesus said to love thy neighbor as thyself.

This is the end of the road that Hayek was talking about — the mind-set that sees nothing wrong with any of this. The mind-set that sees nothing wrong with government officials gassing innocent women and children at Waco, Texas. The mind-set that sees nothing wrong with government agents shooting a 14-year-old in the back and his mother in the head as she held her baby in her arms at Ruby Ridge, Idaho. The mind-set that sees nothing wrong with government agents, under color of “law,” robbing innocent Americans on highways and in airports all across the land.

In the 1994 congressional campaign, the three Republican “revolutionaries” — Newt Gingrich, Bob Dole, and Dick Armey — promised a new American revolution. Having examined previous revolutions in American history, let us now examine the Republican “revolution.”

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6 | Part 7 | Part 8 | Part 9

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    Jacob G. Hornberger is founder and president of The Future of Freedom Foundation. He was born and raised in Laredo, Texas, and received his B.A. in economics from Virginia Military Institute and his law degree from the University of Texas. He was a trial attorney for twelve years in Texas. He also was an adjunct professor at the University of Dallas, where he taught law and economics. In 1987, Mr. Hornberger left the practice of law to become director of programs at the Foundation for Economic Education. He has advanced freedom and free markets on talk-radio stations all across the country as well as on Fox News’ Neil Cavuto and Greta van Susteren shows and he appeared as a regular commentator on Judge Andrew Napolitano’s show Freedom Watch. View these interviews at LewRockwell.com and from Full Context. Send him email.