We’re doing it wrong. Mr. Franklin’s republic is slipping from our grasp.
Liberty activists who are hoping for a November wave election to rebuke big government progressives and turn things around, pointing us to a happy, small government future are sailing on a doomed ship. Electing “the right” politicians is necessary, but overrated.Government’s tentacles will keep growing and squeezing tighter unless citizens up our efforts and bring new skills and weapons to the fight.
Long, painful experience should have taught conservatives something crucial: The fight doesn’t end in November; it begins in November, for several reasons. First, politicians tend to disappoint. Most big talking, small government candidates go wobbly faster than a Weeble on the San Andreas Fault. There aren’t enough serious, smart, prepared electeds to make up the difference. But most critically, lawmakers are becoming less powerful than bureaucrats and regulators.There’s been a decade’s long shift of power away from legislatures toward the regulators and bureaucrats who fill executive branch offices and agencies.
This trend prevails from Washington DC to city halls across the nation. The IRS, EPA, and other agencies show their dripping disdain for fair play with ordinary people and businesses. Equally troubling, they exude contempt for Congress and its efforts to oversee and rein in their abuses. It’s similar locally, where city managers and staffs, district superintendents and curriculum specialists, all exercise far more control over city and school activities than do the citizens who are elected and nominally empowered to steer the ship.
The wheels of government never stop turning. Important decisions affecting our lives, opportunities, and choices are made by career public employees who aren’t very interested in seeking out for their subjects’ opinions. This problem, though, also creates an opportunity for activists to get more directly involved in self-government in order to check the bureaucracy and also help improve electoral politics at the same time. Agency actions generally happen in an administrative process with rules that provide for public comment. There are lots of chances for people to speak directly to their government to support or oppose policies.
Most days of most weeks, there are regulatory rule-making hearings to flesh out and implement new laws, school board meetings, city and county board meetings, open public comment on proposed federal rules and regulations, and legislative hearings on proposed bills. (The need to lobby government to be sure includes the need to lobby legislators on the bills they consider). Virtually all such proceedings invite public input. It’s critical for more active citizens to think beyond parties, candidates and campaigns, and to jump into the grinding gears of government in motion.
Voices from the self-interested public class are always there, pushing policy and tax dollars in a public-heavy direction. Regulators need to hear more input from citizens as tax payers, parents, small business owners, recreationists, property owners, energy consumers, gun owners. Liberty activists need to look past the November sweepstakes and stay in the fight year round.
Raising the volume of a voice for liberty in the workings of the bureaucracy has important implications and also promises beneficial political effects.Activists will have to expand their vision from hitting the phone banks and knocking doors for candidates, to becoming more engaged in the issues they know and care about. This will also require serious grass roots organizing to help promote greater direct involvement, and to train people in the needful skills.
Such a movement would find and cultivate effective advocates to jump into the fray: To testify at committee hearings, answer questions knowledgeably, make clear and strong points in a 3-minut public comment forum, or write persuasive letters or position statements.More hands-on involvement with government and a louder voice for liberty would have several healthy effects: It frees activists from the constraints of partisan politics. A plumber testifying against a misguided plumbing rule participates as an expert, an affected worker or owner, not as a partisan cheerleader. Likewise, citizens pushing for sound policy at regulatory and legislative hearings help keep their elected officials accountable and under healthy pressure to stick with their campaign values instead of throwing in with the insider, go along crowd.
There is peer pressure on party activists to support the party team. When the Mayberry Republican Association visits the state capitol, it is a dedicated promotional organization—our team against theirs. And that’s how officials receive its input. But when Jane Business Owner or Joe Parent visit the capitol, they are there as citizens concerned about specific issues.
Focusing on policy issues over party solidarity makes it easier to invite other voices for liberty to join the effort, because it’s more comfortable to ask friends and colleagues to speak up for common interests and specific purposes they care about. It’s not an invitation to become a true blue Republican, but to talk common sense relating to public issues. The invitation is to fishing buddies, fellow doctors, landscape workers, roofers, financial counselors, to speak up on a matter that affects them.
To be clear, this is not an argument to ignore party affiliation during election season. As Denver radio host and columnist Mike Rosen points out, the majority party controls the agenda and what bills get passed. Rather, I’m arguing that in addition to effective partisan politics in November, liberty activist need to engage the government in its house on the issues they care about the rest of the year. We’ve fallen short compared to Team Government and the Left.
There’s every hope Republicans—with many conservatives--will enjoy a strong election. After that, bureaucracies from Washington to Peoria will do their best to ignore citizen resistance and continue feeding the government beast. Winning that battle will take skilled citizens who care, prepare, and show up for the fight.