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Personal Responsibility Over Political Control

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of
AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster

There seems to be something in strongly held political positions that don't just want to win. There is a strong temptation for the winners to use their government's victory to control and even punish the losers. Not all in either party would suggest such extreme measures, but it seems that the extremes on either side can be tempted to want nothing less than exercising "control." 


Politicians seem to convince themselves in a closely divided country that a slim victory, sometimes less than 1%, somehow becomes a clear mandate for radical change. Naturally, initiating radical changes only enrages and energizes the opposition to rally their base in the next election. The result is a natural, destructive pendulum swing that smashes all who dare to search for something in the middle that might receive more widespread support. 

Attempting to control the masses has always been popular, but seldom successful. A.S. Sussman has been attributed as the author of The Harvard Law: "Under the most rigorously controlled conditions of temperature, humidity, and other variables, the organism will do as it damn well pleases."

Such "laws" are unacceptable to radical politicians, they seemed locked into demanding compliance. It's the modern-day version of "My Way or the Highway!" Even when the choice is possible, they often demand control and move to silence dissent and eliminate options. 

California is facing a continuing drought and a serious water problem. In response, local water companies have imposed overly restrictive rules that defy logic and invite non-compliance. In our area, citizens are allowed to water only on Thursdays with more water than is needed. With highly accurate water meters, it would have been just as easy to establish a water limit for the week and let people determine how best to spread out their allowed water resources. Freedom-loving people treasure choice over control. Unnecessary controls just irritate citizens and invite non-compliance. 


On a national scale, with the U.S. Supreme Court's reversal of Roe vs. Wade, the abortion issue has fired up the extreme advocates on both sides of the issue. Adamant Pro-Choice supporters won't settle for anything less than the right to an abortion up to the day of birth. Adamant Pro-Life supporters do not want to allow any abortion. Both sides have a right to be heard and to demonstrate in support of their position, but the vast majority of Americans value life and yet understand how the choice to abort is complicated. Like most countries around the world, most want some leeway and some limits. Most would like politicians to find a reasonable middle ground because they understand both the challenges mothers face and the value of that baby in the womb. If they don't, they should.  

In the face of the sudden COVID-19 pandemic and the fog of the war to combat the disease, you can understand the desire of politicians to mandate vaccination. Only as more data has become available do we realize that the vaccines were not as effective as hoped, and there are even those who were vaccinated that have experienced severe health reactions. Even with more data on who should take the vaccines and who should not, politicians seem reluctant to relinquish their unnecessary and unscientific controls demanding vaccination. Thousands who have refused to be vaccinated have lost their jobs. Even with support from their physicians, the message was clear-Be vaccinated or pay the price! For liberal politicians, "My Body, My Choice!" may work for abortions, but such sentiments do not apply to vaccination. 


The principle of limiting government control and increasing personal responsibility over one's own choices is relevant to many areas of our lives. Instead of mandating parents to send their children to public schools committed to indoctrinating their children in ways, they do not support, institute school choice letting parents decide what school will receive the public funds for educating their children. Instead of mandating that no new gas-powered vehicles will be sold after 2035, give companies the challenge of creating alternative energy vehicles people will want to buy at a price they can afford. Instead of ending fossil fuel energy dependence, use an all-of-the-above model that supports innovation until better alternatives prove sufficient. 

The GOP is expected to make significant gains in state and federal elections this November. May they learn from the Biden administration's overreach and resist the temptation to consider their victories as a "clear" mandate. Go too far in instituting conservative "controls," and they will be fueling their future reversal. Political revenge is a sweet temptation that always carries a cost. 

The GOP would be wise not to get stuck demonizing opponents and radically changing everything. Instead, focus on getting results most Americans want-a a secure border, fair immigration, a vibrant economy, fair taxes, support of law enforcement, lower crime, less inflation, and an all-of-the-above commitment to energy independence. Listen and encourage input from all sides on important issues. There is a lot more support in the middle than either party realizes. They don't want to be silenced. Value them, and they may very well elect your candidates and keep you in power. 


Terry Paulson is Ph.D. psychologist, author, and professional speaker on Earned Optimism, Making Change Work, Claiming Your American Dream, and Becoming a Conservative Values Voter. Contact him at

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