None of your business

Posted: Mar 09, 2006 12:04 AM

Americans move fast. We dream, plan, and build all in the blink of an eye. At times, our pursuit of progress consumes us; we get so caught up with making things bigger or better that we forget about making things right. Funny thing about progress though, it doesn’t mean much unless you’re going in the right direction.

Are we going in the right direction?

Well, no. But the good news is we can right the course by getting back to basics - by asking questions about the proper role of government in America. That’s why I teamed up with my good friend Ed Feulner, President of The Heritage Foundation, to write a book called Getting America Right: The True Conservative Values Our Nation Needs Today.

Our blueprint is simple: six practical questions that every citizen and every policymaker should be asking and answering about every government action or policy that comes up for discussion. A quick overview of the questions:

1. Is it the government’s business?
2. Does it promote self-reliance?
3. Is it responsible?
4. Does it make America more prosperous?
5. Does it make us safer?
6. Does it unify us?

Over the coming weeks, I will be writing columns addressing these six questions. We’ll begin at the top—because it’s no coincidence that 'Is it the government’s business?' is number one on our list.


Most Americans don’t expect the federal government to stay altogether out of their lives. Simply put, we accept that there are certain things that the federal government should and must do.

As conservatives we think those "shoulds and musts" are important, but few: primarily, providing for the common defense and providing the basic infrastructure necessary for interstate commerce.

A good example: In 1956, the federal government footed 90 percent of the $27 billion bill to begin building the interstate highway system. The result was a breathtaking network of highways connecting America’s major population centers—a boon for U.S. commerce and defense. That alone, however, does not justify federal involvement. But in the 1950s there was little choice other than to turn the construction of highways over to the federal government—the job was simply too big for states and localities. That is no longer the case today. State and local governments are perfectly capable of dealing with issues such as congestion and other minor transportation problems, thus begging an important question: Is highway funding still the federal government’s business?

If the 18.4-cent per gallon federal gas tax is any indication, the feds still have a firm grip on highway funding. That explains why the 2004 highway bill was chock full of wasteful spending. In Alaska, some $200 million was allocated for two bridges; one would link a small town with an island a mile offshore that has fifty total residents; another would run from Anchorage to a small port that has one regular tenant.

I live in California and so am already saddled with all sorts of taxes and fees. The last thing in the world that I want to do is see my taxes used to pay for a Bridge to Nowhere. But that’s the predicament we’ve put ourselves in: We pay exorbitant federal transportation taxes, but only a tiny fraction of that money is used to pay for new roads. Instead, opportunistic politicians in Washington, DC allocate the money for outrageous special interest projects.

This should come as no surprise.

Give the federal government an inch, and they’ll take a mile. That mile will then be operated less efficiently and at a higher cost than ever before. That’s how a once worthy and necessary government function devolves into an unjustifiable financial boondoggle.

This nonsense is hurting our country. And it’s time we start doing something about it.

We can no longer sit idle and allow government to do whatever it pleases. Our Founding Fathers laid out a specific role for the federal government—and they left the rest to states and localities where competition, creativity and innovation thrive. But we’ve got a lot of work to do, because it’s not just politicians who are abusing power and curbing individual freedom. Judges are in on the act, too.

Consider the ongoing case of Louis Anzalone of Long Branch, New Jersey.

Mr. Anzalone, 89, is an American patriot who served his country admirably in World War II. He has lived in the same working class beach home in Long Branch for over 44 years.

Throughout his working years, Mr. Anzalone always looked forward to a time when he could retire with a pension and a debt-free home.

Shortly after Mr. Anzalone’s retirement, however, his former employer went out of business, and he lost his pension. Still, he had his home—or at least he thought he did.

But then the city of Long Branch targeted Mr. Anzalone’s home as part of a "blighted" area in need of "revitalization." That’s bureaucrat-speak for taking private property away from everyday Americans to make way for swanky condominiums and townhouses along the New Jersey shore. 

City officials don’t seem too bothered by running an 89 year-old man out of his family home. In an appearance on "Hannity and Colmes" last month, Long Beach Mayor Adam Schneider said, "They [Mr. Anzalone and other home owners] can’t stay in their houses now. The legal fight is going to take place. I believe they’re going to lose."

Schneider is right to think that the law is on his side. Last year the Supreme Court ruled in Kelo v. City of New London that the government could seize private property, and then shift that property to private interests.

In a memorable dissent against this ruling, Justice Sandra Day O’Connor wrote, "The specter of condemnation hangs over all property. Nothing is to prevent the state from replacing any Motel 6 with a Ritz-Carlton."

Knowing that, Mr. Anzalone can’t sleep too easy at night.

Times like these can make the little guy in America feel awful lonely. Government grows and abuses its power; the courts, once thought to be the protector of individual rights, seem poised to help government consolidate power.

It feels like there’s nowhere to turn.

But there is a way out, and it rests within each one of us. That’s the message behind Getting America Right: We must turn toward one another, and unite to hold our government accountable to We, the People. It starts with asking tough questions; and sometimes it requires telling government, 'It’s none of your business.'