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Cal Thomas: Shutdown a chance to reflect on government

  • Tribune Content Agency
  • Published Wednesday, Sep. 25, 2013, at 12 a.m.

President Obama pledged to end partisanship, but instead has exacerbated it. He recently accused House Republicans of being extortionists for opposing an increase in the debt ceiling and wanting to defund Obamacare.

Dictionary.com defines extortion as “the crime of obtaining money or some other thing of value by the abuse of one’s office or authority.” Republicans should fling the extortion label back at the president, who wants to raise the debt ceiling, threatening to curtail many government operations if the GOP doesn’t surrender.

Obama once held the opposite position about debt and ceilings. In 2006, when George W. Bush was president, Sen. Obama said: “The fact that we are here today to debate raising America’s debt limit is a sign of leadership failure.” Really? What, then, does it say about his leadership now?

As president, Obama has increased our debt and reliance on foreign governments to finance his fiscal policies. Are they any less reckless than when he was complaining about the fiscal policies of the Bush administration? If $16 trillion in debt isn’t enough, what is? The sky is no longer the limit. We’re now in financial deep space.

“Americans deserve better,” concluded Obama seven years ago. We certainly do, but we’re not getting it from him – just more debt, more intrusive and regulating government, and less liberty.

A government “shutdown,” which is technically not going to happen as some departments and agencies will continue functioning, should not be seen as bad, but something potentially good. Like the sequester, which forced government to spend a little less of our money, a government shutdown, if properly framed by Republicans and conservatives, might be a taking-stock moment.

Republicans might use a government “shutdown” to urge citizens to reflect on government’s proper role and why Washington has become so dysfunctional. They could propose the government “reopen” built on a new (really old) foundation: the Constitution.

This new constitutional government would have limited and enumerated powers beyond which it would not be allowed to stray. Courts would be a passive, not an active, body. The elected Congress would pass legislation, and the terms of its members would be limited by tradition and, if necessary, by law.

The preservation of liberty would be government’s primary concern, and all powers not specifically delegated to the federal government would again be reserved for the states and individuals (the 10th Amendment). While we’re rebuilding, how about a requirement that every American read and understand the Constitution? Immigrants who wish to become citizens are quizzed on it. Why shouldn’t natural-born Americans be as well?

Dysfunctional government is bringing us closer to the choice faced by signers of the Declaration of Independence: “When in the course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the laws of nature and of nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.”

Those causes are abundantly clear. It may be time to consider separating ourselves from what the framers might have regarded as a government foreign to them, which has led to the extortion of its citizens.

Cal Thomas, a columnist with Tribune Content Agency, appears in Opinion on Wednesdays.

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