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.
Personal liberty makes each American citizen a creature of dignity. Obama overlooks this. Though in presenting Congress a $3.9 trillion budget Feb. 24 he insisted that he's not for big government, he is. Consider the vastness of the budget, its far-reaching domestic policies, and much of his background as a community organizer. Clearly, he is a big-government guy. No other American president has been so committed to big government.
Historically, most of our experiences with big government have been unhappy. Big government is expensive, inefficient and, once corrupted, very difficult to clean up. Moreover, once a government bureaucracy has made its judgment on you, whom do you appeal to? With Obamacare, government will decide when and whether you can get that knee replacement. From the clear utterances of the president's health care advisers, namely, Ezekiel Emanuel and David Blumenthal, that knee replacement will depend on such factors as your age and your overall health. If you are too old or decrepit, government will have a more economical place to spend its money. In other words, your health will not be decided by what you want to pay for it, but by government policy. That test you wanted for colon cancer might be denied. You might just be too old. Such decisions are made by the nationalized British system all the time.
Almost any service the government provides can be more efficiently and effectively provided by private enterprise. The most striking example is the inefficiency of the money-losing U.S. Postal Service, which has been swept aside by the Internet and by such private carriers as UPS and FedEx. Government is not even very effective in its efforts at regulation. Consider the recent failures of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac and at the Securities and Exchange Commission.
There is another unappreciated failing of government. It politicizes everything that it touches, including the simplest human relations. Agreements that ought to be arrived at voluntarily or through the rule of law are arrived at by lobbyists or thanks to the political power of your group -- ethnic, economic or otherwise.
One of the little-noted projects of the government health care reforms being considered on Capitol Hill today is the channeling of health care money away from the elderly and toward community services and drug and alcohol rehabilitation. Equal rights before the law is all well and good, but it is political favor and political power that matter when big government is making your decisions for you.
That is why so many Americans have opted for freedom from government. We recognize that the free society is the most humane ... and the most productive.