Democrats are reportedly planning to raise $125 million for a campaign to sell Obamacare to the voting public. Apparently, the idea is that what 50-plus presidential speeches and statements and months of congressional debate could not do can be done by $125 million spent on everything from TV ads to community organizers.
Maybe. But there seems to be a more fundamental problem here. The Obama Democrats didn't set out to produce an unpopular stimulus package, an unpopular health care bill and an unpopular cap-and-trade scheme.
They thought these initiatives would be popular. In their view, history is a story of progress from small government to big government, and as historians of the New Deal wrote, that progress is especially welcome in times of economic distress.
The massive unpopularity of the Obama Democrats' programs suggests that view of history is defective. Let me propose another, starting with the Founding Fathers.
The Founders believed there was a tension between representative government and the right to life, liberty and property. So they wrote the Fifth Amendment to ensure that no citizen was deprived of those rights without due process of law.
In Britain, that tension had been limited by allowing only property-owners to vote. That way, those without property could not elect representatives who would steal from the rich and give to the poor.
In the early years of our republic, that precaution did not seem necessary. We were a nation of farmers, where land was plentiful and labor scarce. The large majority of citizens then considered relevant -- white adult males -- actually owned the land they farmed. There was no danger in allowing all of them to vote, as would become the general rule in the U.S. by the early 19th century, because the large majority owned property.
The definition of relevant citizens in time expanded to include blacks and women. But as Americans and immigrants increasingly clustered in enormous cities, and as large industrial factories employed thousands of low-skill workers, the percentage of property owners fell.
One hundred years ago, most urban Americans rented rather than owned their homes. Many had no bank accounts, and few had significant financial assets. Elites worried that this proletariat might rise in revolution.
In this America, the Progressives argued that the Founders' vision was obsolete. Property rights should be subordinate to human rights. Government should regulate economic activity and "spread the wealth around," as Barack Obama told Joe the Plumber.
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