The following post was originally submitted for an essay contest for the Ronald Reagan Symposium at Regent University’s Robertson School of Government. It has been modified for publication.
Ronald Reagan’s 1964 speech in support of Barry Goldwater was a breakthrough for American conservatism, though he hardly knew just how important it was. Reagan noted in his autobiography that this speech was one of the most important milestones in his life. His speech seems almost prophetic in today’s political scene. When Reagan made this speech, the country was in a situation where mountainous debt and taxes plagued that nation, a welfare state was being constructed by Lyndon Johnson’s administration, and the Constitution was being broadly violated. It was a situation of the people versus the government, and in the midst of this fight, Americans felt that they were losing their country. Reagan made clear many times in his speech that government uses force and coercion in order to achieve its goals; we find such a coercive state governing America today. The welfare state was one of the major obstacles during the 1964 election season, and Reagan often correlated the welfare state to the deterioration of freedom. This theme of coercion resonates in contemporary politics because it is a key method of operation that the government has employed in the past decade. The current situation must first be analyzed by looking at the major breaches of freedom; looking through the lens of Ronald Reagan’s “A Time for Choosing” address an audience can understand why the theme of government coercion resonates so strongly in today’s political scene.
In the 21st century, the Cold War is over, and there is no one nation that opposes the United States in the global scene like the Soviet Union did in the 20th century. Nonetheless, danger still exists in the world, but this time Americans must look more inwardly to recognize this danger. The government of the 21st century has become the essence of what Reagan was portraying in his 1964 speech; this is why his speech resonates with so many Americans today. Governmental policies in the first two decades of the 21st century directly parallel those of the 1960s in theory; but in practice, the government has evolved into a Leviathan state that 1960s America could never have imagined.
As so aptly stated by Ayn Rand, “The difference between a welfare state and a totalitarian state is a matter of time.” The welfare state is the beginning of a downward spiral. The welfare state creates a dependent-underclass of people in its implementation. Under Franklin Roosevelt, the New Deal began the long road towards the welfare state. Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society of the 1960s was a second step in that direction. One of the main goals of this movement was the elimination of poverty in America; which on paper is a noble goal. The creation of Medicaid under the Social Security Act of 1965 was one of the major mechanisms of this War on Poverty started under the Great Society. Welfare recipients would receive medical care as stated in the Social Security Act of 1965. This is a problem because those dependent on welfare and Medicaid for income and health care became complacent, and have lost the desire to work. If a person can receive free money without working, the initiative to seek work, and to work itself, is utterly eliminated.
This is not to say that there are not people in dire economic hardship who genuinely need assistance; but when employees at the U.S. Department of Agriculture are offered incentives to sign up people for food stamps, a fundamental corruption of American principles has occurred. This is because America was founded upon the principle of individual sovereignty, and the empowerment of the individual to make their way in the world. A welfare state restricts that sovereignty. The restriction of personal sovereignty is the beginning of the end for free market capitalism. The empowerment of a free market becomes out of reach for people trapped in the depths of the welfare state.
A welfare state is the conception of a totalitarian state. A welfare state is the perfect excuse for progressivism, that big government has the solution to the problems of society. When a government believes that individuals do not have the ability to lift themselves out of poverty, that government seizes personal sovereignty and slowly erodes that culture from society. When personal sovereignty is compromised, the slew of big government is then unleashed. There are an estimated 50 million people on some sort of welfare assistance in the United States, a ratio of nearly one of every six Americans. Lyndon Johnson’s ultimate legacy, the War on Poverty has brought nothing but more poverty. Reagan stated in his speech that the welfare state does not release improving numbers because there is no improvement. Fifty million Americans dependent on entitlements is certainly not an improvement.
During the 1964 Presidential race, welfare spending was ten times that of which it was during the Great Depression. Nearly $45 billion was allocated for welfare spending at the time. During the second decade of the 21st century, America sees an even greater ratio of revenue going towards welfare programs; nearly 60% as of early 2013. These people receiving assistance merely are trying to feed their families, and have fallen victim to a ruling class that promises bread and circuses. The American welfare state now holds nearly fifty million Americans hostage. If one votes out a representative, benefits could be taken away. As Reagan pointed out, any criticism of the welfare state draws criticism from the other side, and a straw man is created that portrays critics as being greedy, and having a desire to end payments to those who depend on it. Fear tends to drive these people to vote towards specific candidates, not loyalty. In both 2013 and 1964, the erosion of personal sovereignty was evident through the welfare state. Reagan noted that Barry Goldwater had faith in Americans to make their own decisions. Americans now look for a presidential candidate who believes just that.
With the control the welfare state has over the people’s pockets, the ends of government have become almost boundless. Reagan noted back in 1964 that government bureaus with thousands of regulations cost many Constitutional safeguards. Imagine what he would say about today’s regulators. One such bureaucratic execution occurred recently in Herculaneum, Missouri regarding a lead smelter. Doe Run Co. was the last leading lead smelter in the United States, until it declared that at the end of 2013, it would be shutting its doors due to Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulations. The EPA claims that the company could have simply complied with the new regulations, but the company decided compliance would have placed the company at financial risk, and they, in essence, had no choice but to close down.
Some on the right have claimed that the EPA is attempting to create “back-door gun control.” This would be an erosion of a constitutionally protected right if that was the goal, but the manner in which it was taken would create serious trouble for 2nd amendment advocates such as the NRA. The EPA would more than likely denounce such accusations as being utterly false, and would claim no such goal as to undermine the Constitution. However, the EPA is a subdivision of the executive branch, and given the White House’s attitude towards the right to bear arms, this is a case that must not be dismissed.
With the closing of the last major domestic lead smelter, the price of ammunition is going to rise drastically. Did the EPA not take at least that into consideration before creating this administrative burden? Perhaps it was the goal of the EPA to close the plant, as lead is a toxic substance; but one must take into account the difference between protection, and despotism. These regulatory agencies go almost unchecked in many cases, and businesses and individuals are forced to make choices about where they are to live, and how they even can live in some cases. These agencies place unbelievable burdens on businesses and individuals, so many in some cases that those people have had to leave those places with such regulatory despotism. States like New York and California are seeing businesses and individuals fleeing from due to unbelievably high costs of living, and economic hardship caused by administrative despotism. The governments of those regions claim to be protecting the environment or union workers, but in the long run, the result is an exponential increase in government power over the economy. When the pocket of the people is controlled by the state, authoritarianism becomes inevitable. Government bureaucracy in both Reagan’s and our time always recedes into the role of tyranny by regulation.
The year 2013 has also seen an exposition of dragnet domestic spying by the National Security Agency (NSA). The power of the NSA was drastically increased after 9/11, an event that shook the nation to its core, and would be one of the primary catalysts in the growth of government. Americans find themselves in new kind of warfare, one that cannot be won using conventional means; yet Americans find the U.S. Government using any means possible to combat that threat, with no consideration to Constitutional freedoms or limitations. The NSA has been known for decades to monitor communications, but it was understood that the communications monitored were those of foreign nations, not Americans. A dragnet system has been discovered at the NSA. The phone calls, text messages, and emails of millions, if not hundreds of millions of Americans, are copied and stored in massive data facilities. Recent discovery even shows that the NSA intercepts and installs malware on laptops. All this was done in the name of national security; but what America now finds is that defense of its freedom has become the very cancer that is slowly killing it.
The most dangerous offense of the U.S. government is the erosion of the Constitution through the guise of “national security.” The 4th amendment has been effectually nullified by domestic spying of Americans, and the collection of their personal data by the NSA and other government agencies. Such was the case as well in 1964, with bureaucratic despots’ ability to raid property without a warrant, imposing fines without formal hearings, and seize and sell that property to enforce payment. Today’s 4th amendment shredding has taken an even more dangerous course. With the dawning of a digital age, the government has seemingly wasted no time in exploiting technology to spy on its citizens. The government has completely ignored and thrown out the entire purpose of this protection. The 4th amendment was included in the Bill of Rights because the King of England had issued general warrants, that soldiers could search any person, any place, at any time. Under the United States Constitution, a specific warrant is required marking the person and the place to be searched, and the items to be seized; and only on probable cause shall such a warrant be issued. Yet Americans find themselves appalled at a government agency that bypasses the Court system using general warrants to unconstitutionally track and monitor every citizen in the country. This directly violated the principle of “innocent until proven guilty.” Every citizen is looked at as a potential threat to national security.
George Orwell’s book 1984 was supposed to be a warning, not a manual. Constitutional safeguards have been effectively nullified by unaccountable government agencies. In addition, whistleblowers are often prosecuted as traitors for exposing information related to national security. The NSA has created the ultimate chilling effect on American society, one that could only be obtained through a government with a goal of totalitarian rule. There is no other reason to spy on every American citizen than to establish tyranny. As Reagan noted in 1964, we find bureaucracy violating the Constitution in an unprecedented manner. The manifestation of totalitarian rule is coming to pass as Americans trade freedom for security, another important emphasis Reagan made. If a government agency has the power to invade property on demand without permission, can one claim to be free? Reagan did not think so, and neither do most Americans.
The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) can be seen as the most recent use of government coercion to enforce its will. While the entirety of the law is almost impossible to understand, it has slowly become apparent that it is the ultimate takeover of the entire American healthcare system. Control of the healthcare system is the most effective way to take America by the throat. The thought of the government coercing citizens into buying a good would have the Founders rolling over in their graves (let alone a penalty for not complying with the mandate). The fact that Americans allowed the United States Congress to pass the PPACA on a purely partisan basis baffles the mind of the American patriot. A backlash occurred in 2010 with the election of dozens of very Conservative/libertarian candidates to Congress. However, that backlash has failed to progress in its fullness past that election year. Only with the actual implementation of the law are Americans finding out what kind of ruse this law really is. Charles Krauthammer, a syndicated columnist, has gone as far to say that the implosion of the PPACA could be the collapse of American liberalism (much to the delight of Conservatives). This law has still yet to completely roll out, and only time and elections will tell if Americans are willing and able to vote in candidates who will fight government mandated healthcare.
Reagan noted that the loss of freedom in the United States would be the loss of freedom in the whole world. More and more Americans are waking up to this truth, because no other nation on earth has had the blessings, opportunities, and liberties that the United States of America has historically offered. The fact of the matter is that in the 21st century, the America that was created by George Washington, James Madison, Thomas Jefferson and others is dead. James Madison stated “If tyranny and oppression come to the land, it will be in the guise of fighting a foreign enemy.” This excerpt is the essence of the most important fight for Americans. Government agencies working under the guise of national security and general welfare have eradicated Constitutional safeguards; only a complete restructuring of the entire national security complex and welfare system can the path to Constitutionality be restored. What the situation boils down to is that Americans realize they are at a crossroads, just as they were in 1964. They can either continue down the path of the big, coercive government, or they can choose the Constitution, and leaders who will best uphold that fundamental law. The elections of 2014 and 2016 represent a choice for Americans: freedom under the Constitution or slavery to a Leviathan state. Will America become so weakened that its surrender will be voluntary, as Nikita Khrushchev said? Only Americans can determine that fate with their freedom to choose, which is why Reagan’s speech strikes the heart of so many Americans today.
Watch Reagan’s 1964 speech here, courtesy of the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library: