David Strom

The Bush Administration has discovered what liberals have known all along: the Constitution is a mighty comprehensive document, giving the federal government powers over the minutest aspects of our lives.

Case in point: apparently Bush & Co. have discovered that there is a right to miniature golf defined in the U.S. Constitution.

That’s the upshot of a new set of rules updating the Americans with Disabilities Act being released for public comment this Tuesday. Other new rights include easier access to light switches in hotel rooms by moving them 6 inches lower, wheelchair lifts in courtrooms to provide easier access to the witness box, and wheelchair lifts to provide easier access to stages in auditoriums. And the miniature golf courses? Soon at least half the holes will have to be easily wheelchair accessible.

It is, of course, utterly ridiculous that such things are matters of federal regulation. Unfortunately, it is not innocuous.

Not too long ago most Americans believed in at least the concept of limited government; more recently at least conservatives and most Republicans did. But now it seems that only a few libertarians still feel bound to even consider the possibility of limits to federal powers before proposing the imposition of ever more burdensome rules from Washington.

It may seem strange at first to see great danger in the latest proposed extension of federal power. After all, who could object to making the world a better place for the disabled? And that is what these rules are intended to do.

But intentions don’t matter in the real world. Consequences do.

And as a consequence of the Bush Administration’s new proposed regulations, the federal government is now asserting a legitimate interest in the design of miniature golf courses, the placement of light switches in hotel rooms, what is broadcast when on stadium scoreboards and video monitors, and a whole host of other, equally trivial aspects of our public and private lives.

If such minute matters of our daily lives are of legitimate concern to federal regulators, it becomes hard to see just what isn’t legitimate fodder for federal regulation.

The new ethos driving the expansion of government power appears to be: as long as government officials have (or can assert) good intentions then they should be granted unlimited powers to achieve their goals.

The founding fathers, of course, would have found this attitude puzzling, to say the least. First of all, they would have considered it ridiculous to simply assume good intentions on the part of anyone in power, and they would have deeply distrusted the idea that even well-intended expansions of power wouldn’t be dangerous. The only sane form of government, in their view, would be a greatly limited government with powers constrained to those absolutely necessary to protect our natural rights. And those rights, we can safely say, don’t include a right to unobstructed miniature golf.

Americans are becoming more and more accustomed to the idea that government should have power to do “good” things, not just those things necessary to defend our lives and liberty. And as a consequence of this gradual shift in attitude our freedoms are more at risk every day.

Again, consider these new rules being proposed by the Bush Administration: in order to achieve the well-intended goals of making the lives of the disabled a bit easier they will be requiring, on pain of federal fines or prosecution, millions of private individuals and businesses to spend billions of dollars to comply. Because when it comes to federal regulations, the simple rule is comply—or else.


David Strom

David Strom is the President of the Minnesota Free Market Institute. He hosts a weekly radio show on AM-1280 "The Patriot" in Minneapolis-St. Paul, available on podcast at Townhall.com.

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