Robert Knight

WALNUT CREEK, Ohio-Out here in Amish country, an island of tranquility amid America’s frenetic culture, news of the titanic power struggle over ObamaCare in Washington seeps in like unwanted flotsam. You catch glimpses of it when tourists check their iPhones or overhear people talking about it over their shoofly pie and coffee.

The U.S. Supreme Court is about to rule on the law’s constitutionality, and it’s far more important than it should be. That’s because Americans already have ceded too much power to government at all levels.

Think about it. A nation of more than 310 million people is waiting with bated breath on nine people in black robes. How did this happen? Well, long ago, America made a deal with the devil. Here’s how it works.

“I’ll give you free rein to engage in any vice you want, from illicit sex to drug abuse,” the devil said. “All you have to do in return is allow government to grow exponentially to run every other aspect of your lives. And I mean every aspect, right down to which light bulbs you can buy and who makes life and death medical decisions.”

So, over the last half century, Americans took the bait. In the name of individual freedom, people who knew better shed the Christian-inspired restraints that allowed civil society to flourish. And government grew.

Activist courts took a wrecking ball to laws that discouraged divorce, bankruptcy, adultery, homosexuality and pornography. Americans also had been softened up for more big government by the Depression and two world wars.

Another big factor was the decline of the influence of churches, as Darwinians mistook science for religion, assailed the notion of a Creator, and made sure that institutions – especially schools – adopted this view. Many churches retreated from the culture in the face of the modernist assault.

“You are the salt of the earth; but if the salt loses its flavor, how shall it be seasoned?” Jesus asked in Matthew 5:13. “It is then good for nothing but to be thrown out and trampled underfoot by men.”

It was not for nothing that several of the Founders said that constitutional liberty is possible only for people with a biblical worldview that respects human life and fosters personal responsibility.

The perfect storm arrived with the advent of mass media. Television replaced community activities as people became isolated from family and neighbors. Like a cute little bear cub, TV seemed harmless at first, reflecting American values in programs like “Leave It to Beaver” and “The Andy Griffith Show.” But the cub soon morphed into a hungry monster that ate everything in sight, making Sheriff Andy Taylor obsolete and transforming Mayberry into a never-was myth. One of the saddest outcomes is that so many young people think that TV’s “The Waltons” and other depictions of close families and communities are an unattainable fantasy or anachronisms like Amish bonnets and buggies.

It used to be that you had to go to the big city to get corrupted. Smut and prostitution were confined to the seedy side of town. But television, videos, movies, and the Internet brought smut to even the most isolated hamlets, ensnaring men who grew accustomed to using women rather than cherishing them.

As personal responsibility faded, more people became enchanted by government’s siren song of dependency and entitlement. Do you remember the pony-tailed guy who asked the signature question during a televised presidential debate in 1992? He defined the American people as “symbolically the children of the future president,” and asked the candidates how they were going to “meet our needs.” He could be the poster child today for ObamaCare.

For most of America’s history, the social and political culture cultivated virtue and discouraged vice while affording hitherto unimagined human liberty. But the nation’s flaws – most strikingly slavery – have become the media and educational narrative, not the exceptions to the American Dream.

The mystic chords of memory can be revived and strengthened, but it takes conscious effort. When he was a teenager, our first and greatest president, George Washington, compiled a list of do’s and don’ts that promote manners, because, he explained, personal vices have public consequences.

Rule #109 in Rules of Civility is: “Let your recreations be manful, and not sinful.” Contrast that with remarks that Rep. Barney Frank of Massachusetts made a couple of years ago to CNSNews.com:

“I would let people gamble on the Internet. I would let adults smoke marijuana; I would let adults do a lot of things, if they choose.” Well, okay. The law is not a nanny. But here’s the devil’s deal again. Personal vice abets government power.

Mr. Frank has worked tirelessly to expand federal power through higher taxes and abominations such as ObamaCare and the Dodd-Frank financial regulations. Mr. Frank wants the government to have even more power over people’s money, jobs and housing because of a lack of personal responsibility on some people’s part:

“… Allowing them total freedom to take on economic obligations that spill over into the broader society, or have a house in a neighborhood -- which when they go bankrupt becomes a fire hazard for their neighbors … the impact goes well beyond the individual."

Mr. Frank is right about that much. Greed and irresponsibility affect others. But so do other vices that don’t seem to bother Mr. Frank, such as sex outside marriage, drug abuse, gambling, divorce, abortion and indolence. They all give government an excuse to grow bigger to pick up the pieces. It’s devilishly effective.

Despite all of this, Americans are not without hope if we return to first principles and heed Washington’s advice about the danger of unbridled impulses: “In all cases of passion, admit reason to govern.”

We must hope and pray that at least five Supreme Court justices employ reason to put a brake on the ObamaCare express that could take America past the point of no return.

Then we need to rebuild America’s culture from the ground up. You don’t have to be Amish to understand that personal responsibility is indispensable to a self-governing society.


Robert Knight

Robert Knight is an author, senior fellow for the American Civil Rights Union and a frequent contributor to Townhall.