I’m having a VERY hard time not just throwing blockquote tags around this 2016 Myron Magnet classic and swiping it entire.
We have lost the government we learned about in civics class, with its democratic election of representatives to do the voters’ will in framing laws, which the president vows to execute faithfully, unless the Supreme Court rules them unconstitutional. That small government of limited powers that the Founders designed, hedged with checks and balances, hasn’t operated for a century. All its parts still have their old names and appear to be carrying out their old functions. But in fact, a new kind of government has grown up inside the old structure, like those parasites hatched in another organism that grow by eating up their host from within, until the adult creature bursts out of the host’s carcass. This transformation is not an evolution but a usurpation.
What has now largely displaced the Founders’ government is what’s called the Administrative State—a transformation premeditated by its main architect, Woodrow Wilson. The thin-skinned, self-righteous college-professor president, who thought himself enlightened far beyond the citizenry, dismissed the Declaration of Independence’s inalienable rights as so much outmoded “nonsense,” and he rejected the Founders’ clunky constitutional machinery as obsolete. (See “It’s Not Your Founding Fathers’ Republic Any More,” Summer 2014.) What a modern country needed, he said, was a “living constitution” that would keep pace with the fast-changing times by continual, Darwinian adaptation, as he called it, effected by federal courts acting as a permanent constitutional convention.
Modernity, Wilson thought, demanded efficient government by independent, nonpartisan, benevolent, hyper-educated experts, applying the latest scientific, economic, and sociological knowledge to industrial capitalism’s unprecedented problems, too complex for self-governing free citizens to solve. Accordingly, he got Congress to create executive-branch administrative agencies, such as the Federal Trade Commission, to do the job. During the Great Depression, President Franklin Roosevelt proliferated such agencies, from the National Labor Relations Board and the Federal Housing Administration to the Federal Communications Commission and the Securities and Exchange Commission, to put the New Deal into effect. Before they could do so, though, FDR had to scare the Supreme Court into stretching the Constitution’s Commerce Clause beyond recognition, putting the federal government in charge of all economic activity, not just interstate transactions. He also had to pressure the justices to allow Congress to delegate legislative power—which is, in effect, what the lawmakers did by setting up agencies with the power to make binding rules. The Constitution, of course, vests all legislative power in Congress, empowering it to make laws, not to make legislators.
As these agencies have metastasized, they have borne out not a single premise that justified their creation, and their increasingly glaring failure has drawn citizens’ angry attention to them. Expert? As a New Deal congressman immediately recognized with shock, many of those who staffed the Administrative State were kids just out of law school, with zero real-world experience or technical knowledge. Efficient? Can-do America, which built the Empire State Building in 11 months and ramped up airplane production during World War II from 2,000 in 1939 to nearly 100,000 in 1944, now takes years of bureaucratic EPA busywork to repair a bridge or lay a pipeline, and who knows how many businesses never expand or even start because the maze of government regulation is too daunting and costly to navigate? Only last year, EPA “experts” fecklessly stood by as workers under their supervision accidentally dumped 3 million gallons of toxic wastewater into the Colorado River, and the agency vouchsafed not a word of warning to downstream Colorado and New Mexico officials for an entire day before the poisonous, fluorescent-orange flood hit them. Over at Veterans Affairs, those who’ve fought for their country die in droves while waiting for medical care. But what’s the problem? asks agency head Robert MacDonald blithely. After all, at ever-popular Disneyland, “do they measure the number of hours you wait in line?”
Ensuring the citizens’ health and safety? Where is the Food and Drug Administration as counterfeit medicines and medical supplies from China infiltrate our hospitals? As for the infamously dysfunctional Transportation Security Administration, its Keystone Kops’ regularly reported inability to spot journalists carrying banned weapons onto airplanes, while they are too busy fondling travelers’ private parts or undressing grannies, is a standing national joke—on us. We lost our constitutional safeguards for this?
We didn’t lose ’em, exactly; we gave ’em away, sitting back and watching passively as, gradually, they were stolen one after another after another.