In many ways, our great country is now at a crossroads. Will we continue to build on the values that helped to make us great, including a reliance on our native ingenuity, creativity, and work ethic? Or will we get soft and look evermore toward bigger government to take care of us?
Today we are facing daunting challenges to our economic way of life. So it’s naturally important for our general feelings of economic confidence to believe that government is “doing something” positive about the situation.
But this also brings upon us the risk that we, and the government, will see government as the solution to all of our problems. And that is a dangerous course to take for our future, and for the future of our children.
Alexis de Tocqueville, after his famous tour of the United States in 1831, drew attention to this problem when he said that people are constantly excited by two conflicting passions: they want to be led, and they wish to remain free.
So people strive to satisfy both at once, and that leads to irresolvable problems. Then de Tocqueville said that democracy would eventually collapse when the people’s elected officials finally learn that they can bribe the people into voting for them with the people’s own money.
We are close to that situation today. It is time for us to be aware of this fact and to take action to ensure it doesn’t happen. How can this be done?
First, we must understand that government is not the answer to our problems. In fact, as stated by President Ronald Reagan, in many ways government really is the problem because it tends to destroy private initiative.
Second, we must not accept mediocrity or laziness — in anyone or anything, beginning with ourselves. I once had a clerk who had a handwritten sign on her desk that said “If it’s to be, it’s up to me.” This means, among other things, that if a system or a government program is not working, it is up to us to fix it.
For example, if you think a television program is harmful for your children because it shows too much violence or sexual content, don’t rely on government to act. Monitor what your children watch, and turn off the television if the program is unsuitable.
Let’s also work to get government and its never-ending laws more out of our lives. For example, employers don’t hire people just so they can discriminate against and harass them for racial, gender, or sexual-preference reasons and then fire them.
That makes no sense in real life. In fact, in almost every wrongful termination case, the employers have already “passed the test” by hiring those employees.
So we should change our laws to allow an employer to fire any employee within the first year of two — for any reason at all.
What would be the result of changing this employment law? More of these protected classes of people would have jobs. Today, if an employer gets sued for discrimination, that employer, whether found liable or not, is likely to think: “Who needs it? Why should I take a risk in the future by hiring such a person?” But if a period of immunity existed to see whether the employee was able to be productive, even if he or she didn’t work out, the employer would not be deterred from hiring someone similar in the future. The current law actually works against equality in employment.
There is a story that, at the close of the original Constitutional Convention, Benjamin Franklin was asked what type of government the delegates had agreed upon for our country. He responded: “A Republic, if you can keep it.” Our founding fathers established for us a government ruled by law but based on the individual — “We the People” as the sovereign.
But each of us must do our part. If we don’t vote and oversee government, some special interest will.
As Anne Frank wrote in her diary, which became a literary classic: “A quiet conscience makes one strong.” She is right.
We need that quiet conscience now. We must rely on ourselves and our innate abilities and ethics to overcome our problems of today. And we must not give in to the false but seductive allure that the answer lies with the all-knowing and all-protective government.
If it’s to be, it’s up to me.
James P. Gray is a retired judge of the Orange County Superior Court and the author of “Wearing the Robe — the Art and Responsibilities of Judging in Today’s Courts.” He can be reached at www.JudgeJimGray.com.