Gary is an author, trial lawyer, Mequon-area resident and town of Cedarburg supervisor. He is a columnist for the News Graphic and writes for several Wisconsin area magazines and is a national columnist with The American Thinker and PJ Media. He lives with his wife, Lisa, and has three sons ages 18 to 28. Gary won Ozaukee County in his bid for the Wisconsin Assembly's 60th District in 2011, but came up just 58 votes short.
Of all tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It would be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron's cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience. – C.S. Lewis
Liberty is the state of being a person within society free from restrictions upon one's way of life imposed by authority. The right to this thing called liberty is a truth which our founding fathers considered self-evident. But it is gradually and inexorably being eroded away and lost at the hands of ever-expanding and intrusive federal, state, and local government control, without any social benefit in return. If we don't wake up to the undeniable loss of liberty we are witnessing in our times, we will wake up one day to find ourselves the victims of a well-intentioned tyranny.
From time immemorial, if a man was hungry, he would go to a lake and fish or plant crops and eat. Less than a century ago, these simple acts became subject to a license from or regulation by the government. It seems rather innocuous, but this act of government meant that man was slightly less free than he once was. Building codes sprang up, and man could no longer live in a dwelling of his own construction, taking away yet another freedom. Many of the poor could not afford to build shelter for themselves that met the building code, so a lack of housing for the poor became a problem necessitating government intervention. Zoning laws soon followed, meaning man could not build his home or business wherever he owned property. Such restrictions reduced the amount of available land for certain activities and eventually drove up the cost of real estate beyond the means of the poor. Soon came the day when government saw a need to provide housing, giving it the power to decide whom could live where.
To support a growing government in our lives, income taxes sprang into existence, resulting in more loss of liberty and enslaving free people to work for their government the first five months of the year. During the New Deal, the federal government began seizing control over the national economy, the supply of money, agriculture and even the prices of goods. Government began telling man what he could plant and even began paying some farmers not to plant at all. During the Great Society "a chicken in every pot" sounded like a good idea for the poor, but the poor became victims of the very government they believed was helping them. The university systems became subsidized and education too became influenced by government.
Despite this massive loss of liberty, most Americans drive to work every day either believing they are just as free as our founding fathers were or not caring if they aren't. Three million federal bureaucrats determine how much liberty you will have when it comes to everyday things such as bicycling, horse riding, driving cars, boating, flying; farming, gardening, eating; building, business, trade, commerce, travel, housing; local education, university education, job training; working, hiring, compensation, benefits, working hours, working conditions; buying, selling, trading, transporting; transfer of funds, inheritance; trucking, highways, railways, waterways; camping; lending, borrowing; use of land, fishing, hunting, mining; use of alcohol, drugs, and firearms. As more and more data is collected—through phone calls, credit card receipts, social networks like Facebook and MySpace, GPS tracks, cell phone geolocation, Internet searches, Amazon book purchases, even E-Z Pass toll records, one day soon it will be possible to know not just where people are and what they are doing, but what and how they think. A recent poll reveals that an amazing 32% of Americans believe they are not free to speak their minds without fear of punishment. A full 34%, including 20% of Democrats, are worried about the retribution that could come over whom they associate with. After all, hate crimes punish people not for what they do – but for what they think.
All government actions, whether taxing income, instituting tariffs, controlling prices, regulating businesses, or subsidizing agricultural production, reduce our liberty to some degree. Some loss of liberty is necessary for maintaining the social order on which other liberties depend. Traffic laws, sanctions against criminal activity, and the requirement to pay enough taxes to pay our police and maintain our highways are some that come to mind. However, beyond some minimum level the loss of liberty begins imposing huge costs without any offsetting social benefits.
Twenty years ago, Rush Limbaugh warned that environmental extremists had targeted the SUV for termination. He sounded a clarion warning against and noted the irony that in America – the land of the free and the home of the brave – we would need an organization such as the Coalition for Vehicle Choice, a non-profit organization with more than 40,000 member groups working to preserve Americans' access to safe and affordable cars and light trucks. Limbaugh was publicly mocked as a scare-monger and a conservative extremist unjustifiably spreading a fear of big government. Unfortunately, time has proven Rush Limbaugh correct.
The Coalition for Vehicle Choice has been listed as one of the "bad guys" in the whacky world of environmental extremism at Democrats.com. Cars and trucks are at the top of the leftist hit list. Special interest groups’ attacks, particularly on the SUV, have spurred lawmakers to dictate the type of cars and trucks available for consumers in the new energy bill by mandating increased vehicle gas mileage. To meet the proposed increase in the corporate average fuel economy (CAFE) standard of 35 miles per gallon by 2020, vehicles will inevitably become smaller and lighter. Consumers and small business owners who need or prefer bigger and safer vehicles will have fewer choices as manufacturers struggle to meet new government fuel mandates. As a result, the freedom of consumer choice will be greatly diminished and the unintended consequences of good intentions once again raise their ugly head as auto makers are doomed to failure when our government tells them to produce cars that Americans don't want to buy. But the loss of personal liberty at the hands of a Goliath government doesn't stop with cars.
A few years ago, the New York City Board of Health voted to adopt the nation's first city-wide outright ban on the use of trans-fats in restaurant cooking, a self-proclaimed "victory" for Mayor Michael Bloomberg and his activist health commissioner, Thomas Frieden. But the measure – which is spreading to other cities – is an unwarranted and impractical intrusion on the free market and personal liberty. Government mandates for caloric content of foods are also proliferating.
Attacks on American liberty are everywhere, and the government food police are out in full force. The same State and federal agencies which allow smoking have set out to criminalize the sale of raw milk. San Francisco has banned Happy Meals. Government doesn't understand that it isn't what you eat, it's how much you eat that affects obesity and causes health problems. It's only a matter of time before they regulate that too. Entire states are telling private businesses that it is illegal for them to allow private citizens to smoke in their establishments. Helmets, seat belts and other safety precautions are not merely recommended for use – citizens are ordered to use them under threat of criminal prosecution. Even the PATRIOT Act legitimizes the notion that if we give up certain freedoms, government will keep us safer.
It's hard to believe this could happen in America, but many schools across America have now begun to ban homemade lunches. At Little Village Academy on Chicago's West Side, homemade lunches are not allowed without a written medical excuse. The students must eat the food served in the cafeteria. School officials say their intention is to protect students from their parents' "unhealthful food choices" and that it is better for the kids to eat the food the school serves. At Claremont Academy Elementary School on the South Side of Chicago, officials allow packed lunches but literally confiscate any snacks loaded with sugar or salt. Missed in all of this, of course, is the fact that any school that bans homemade lunches also puts more money in the pockets of the district's food provider, Chartwells-Thompson. The federal government pays the district for each free or reduced-price lunch taken, and the caterer receives a set fee from the district per lunch.
Apparently, however, not even the school lunch food being forced on families is safe from tyranny. Chocolate milk is the latest victim. Last year Fairfax County and Washington, D.C. schools banned chocolate milk from elementary school lunch rooms because of the high fructose corn syrup which is used in the processing of the classic children's lunchtime drink which has for generations has been served in cartons alongside white milk. The ban went into effect despite appeals from nutritionists charging that changing sweeteners makes little dietary difference if the total calorie content stays the same. Schools have also banned soda, Cheetos, candy cigarettes, pogs, spanking, pictures of Jesus, and even black, white, and red clothing.
Even the ordinary light bulb – unchanged since invented by Thomas Edison in 1879 – is now under attack. Politicians and activists have invaded our homes by mandating the replacement of the classic and extremely functional incandescent light bulb with more expensive and highly dysfunctional compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFLs). With the recent passage of the energy bill, government will phase out the old bulbs and force consumers to purchase only the federally-approved CFLs, even though they cost ten times as much and emit far less light. CFLs also contain the toxic element mercury, which means they may require special means of disposal and require a haz mat team should they break. Even the right to buy a simple light bulb has been taken from us.
Washington has also invaded the liberty of private education by nationalizing all college student loans. An ever-shrinking number of colleges remain free from federal control. However, if these colleges now accept federal dollars through student financial-aid programs, they would have to also accept federal control over their curricula. Buried in the mountains of federal legislation surrounding the new $8 billion "Early Childhood" program which imposes federal standards on pre-K programs are 53 seemingly innocuous words: “From the amount appropriated to carry out this section, the Secretary is authorized to make competitive grants to, or enter into contracts with, institutions of higher education, philanthropic organizations, and other appropriate entities to develop, evaluate, and disseminate freely-available high-quality online courses, including instructional materials, for training and postsecondary education readiness and success.” If you blinked, you would have missed it, but with these words the federal government has seized a significant amount of control of our nation's state institutions of higher learning – already cesspools of liberal and socialist indoctrination.
The passage of Obama-inspired health care reform took from all Americans another huge chunk of liberty and provided very little in return. With one stroke of a pen, for the first time in history, Americans were mandated to buy a product – health insurance – or face a fine. Parents were allowed to wait until their children are seriously ill to buy health insurance coverage, and the insurer couldn't set the premium according to expected medical services. Health insurers announced they would stop writing such policies and the Department of Health and Human Services became God with the power to relent and waive the rule for certain companies. Government reached deep into the balance sheets of private insurance companies and ordered them to spend no less than 85% of revenues in benefits. Some among us applauded. When the bill passed, Representative John Dingell's (D-MI) was quoted as saying: "It takes a long time to do the necessary administrative steps that have to be taken to put the legislation together to control the people."
Much of the cost of our loss of liberty at the hands of government is not as obvious as with Obamacare. Day by day, decisions on how we live our lives are increasingly shaped by government. Liberty is rarely lost all at once. It is nibbled away at bit by bit, each loss of freedom justified by an ever-increasing nanny-state as a supposedly intrinsic social good. Like the frog in the boiling pot, liberty is eroded away so slowly that we hardly notice it happening. Ben Franklin once said, "Any society that would give up a little liberty to gain a little security will deserve neither and lose both." How right he was.