WASHINGTON -- A few weeks back, at the dawn of the Obama administration, I was at dinner with a very bright woman of middle years who calls herself an independent. She found the new president very engaging, but she was alarmed by the music in the air: a government takeover of Detroit, a $700 billion government bailout of the banks, a $787 billion stimulus bill, a cap and trade bill that would add perhaps $800-$2,000 to every family's tax bill, and a massive health care reform now estimated to cost $1 trillion over the next decade. For the past 30 years, most of them good economic years, the federal bite into our gross domestic product has been just less than 20 percent. Calculating the cost of Obama's spending, it could be 28.1 percent this fiscal year, a peacetime record!
My dinner companion was alarmed. She was not simply alarmed by the bills our president and his Democratic colleagues were ringing up on the Hill. My friend, the independent, was alarmed by something much more important: the cost to our freedoms. As I believe she put it, "The question here is our liberty." Increasingly, thoughtful Americans understand the Obama era in these terms. With the government suddenly looming so large in the life of every American, it is time for us to consider what is a singularly American possession: individual liberty. The Founding Fathers created a government that was uniquely solicitous about individual liberty. With the federal government so deeply involved in our health care, our banking, our manufacturing and the many targets of its $787 billion stimulus program, it is time to think about your liberty vis-a-vis the government bureaucrats who are about to minister to you.
Ronald Reagan's modern conservative movement began thinking about the loss of individual liberty to government encroachment a half-century ago, thanks in part to the wake-up call from Friedrich Hayek, delivered in his indispensable book "The Road to Serfdom." Hayek believed government is a threat to freedom, enterprise and the rule of law. Later, another vigilant advocate of personal liberty, Frank Meyer, came along and became a major figure for American conservatives, propounding the exhilarating argument that freedom is essential to mankind. Freedom, he wrote, is the "essence of (man's) being," for without it, a citizen cannot be moral, by which he meant cannot choose good over evil. Meyer believed freedom is at our essence because God put it there. God gave us freedom to choose -- good over evil, art over schlock, a knee replacement over a Botox treatment.