The founding of our country was mired in a battle over the strength of the federal government. Hamilton became the center of a strong mercantile federal government, and Jefferson fought for very limited federal government. It is ironic that Jefferson is considered the father of the Democratic Party.
The balance has been a challenge but our national history has been a progressive shift to a stronger federal government. The three biggest moves n that direction were:
The War Between the States decided once and for all that the United States was not a voluntary confederation of states where one state could freely withdraw. While the states rights issue has become synonymous with civil rights there is more to it. Even the civil rights issue, however, established the idea of moral purpose as a justification of subverting the prerogative of the states.
The income tax gave the federal government access to the private wealth of its citizens. Many are amazed to realize that we had no permanent income tax until 1913 (we had a small temporary one during the Civil War). We somehow managed to win the war of independence, the War of 1812, The Indian Wars, the Civil War, reconstruct the South, build the transcontinental railroad, acquire and settle land to the Pacific, grow to a world power – all without an income tax.
While the original income tax seems paltry by today’s standard, it gave the government America’s growing wealth. It thus alleviated the need to make choices based on funding limits. Many believe this income tax was the lubricant that allowed us to get in involved in foreign affairs and wars.
The Great Society under Lyndon Johnson established the Welfare state as we now know it (Some may originate this with FDR and the New Deal). This established the power of the federal government to take money from one person and give it to another. It also dramatically furthered the idea of the federal government to become the moral equalizer. This extended beyond civil rights to education, welfare, health care and any other moral imperative that the federal government thought was being neglected.
Obama’s radical budget is an extension of a long history of the growth of federal power. In a financial crisis it seeks to solve every major problem at once. Since America has grown and prospered through these major federal power shifts, our President may feel comfortable that we will grow and prosper though his changes as well.
Those of us concerned about the huge growth in government proposed under Obama may seek the warnings of catastrophe during these other shifts.
Will Obama’s growth in Federal Power be just another phase in our country’s history, or does it risk the death of the golden goose?