In a heated exchange during the first Republican primary debate, former Vice President Mike Pence went after Vivek Ramaswamy for his previous comments that “a president can’t do everything.” Pence rebuffed Ramaswamy, calling him a rookie, before proclaiming that the president’s responsibility covers up to and including “every crisis facing America.”
I found it odd that Pence took umbrage with Ramaswamy’s comment, considering he claims to be a conservative constitutionalist. By the letter of the law, a president cannot “do everything.” Our government was explicitly crafted to prevent that from happening.
You could argue that Pence’s argument was purely semantics and isn’t worth overanalyzing — it was just hyperbole. I disagree.
The Republicans on stage were not debating the greatest college football roster of all time, nor were they arguing about the veracity of the Big Mike Obama conspiracy theory. They were making their case for becoming what was, and still may be, the most powerful person on earth. I don’t think asking for a little precision of language is too much.
And it wasn’t just this one moment between Pence and Ramaswamy. During the past few election cycles, most presidential candidates campaign on broad agendas, promising to improve every facet of your life through some government intervention. Gone are the days of “Ask not what your country can do for you – ask what you can do for your country.” Nowadays, it’s the exact opposite, with extravagant political promises bordering on bribery becoming ever more common. For example, remember when then-candidate Joe Biden promised $10,000 of student debt relief if elected? Find that one in the Constitution.
People complain about American politics and politicians all the time, but what we don’t want to admit is that it’s our fault. The rhetoric and political landscape that we loathe exists because it wins – we elect it.
Our Republic creates a sort of free market regarding ideas and political beliefs. Politicians work overtime, finding what people want and campaigning on those things. If someone is in office, it is because a great number of people somewhere wanted him.
Our body of political leaders acts as America’s mirror. A 2023 CNBC survey found that 58% of Americans live paycheck to paycheck. Is it any surprise, then, that our elected leaders don’t mind running up the deficit each year?
If we want real change in this country, we must start at the individual level. So many of the issues facing our nation would be addressed if we made a concerted effort to live morally and conduct ourselves ethically. This isn’t anything new, either. “Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious People,” John Adams famously opined. “It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.”
James Madison, the author of our Constitution, agreed, writing that self-government requires “sufficient virtue among men.”
The dirty little secret about freedom is that it is hard and often scary. Being free to choose our leaders and the direction our country takes means that we must make the right choice or bear the consequences. If we as Americans do not have the discipline and wherewithal to govern our own lives effectively, forgoing short-term pleasure for long-term gain, exercising bravery, making the right decision when it is difficult, denying our greed, and a whole host of other things, how can we expect our leaders to behave any differently?
We cannot, nor should we, expect our leaders to solve most of our problems. There are legitimate roles for the government to play, but I would argue that it is better to tackle most problems as individuals organized through voluntary association. That is real self-government, not just casting a vote every couple of years.
The problem is that many hear the siren song of politicians and big government promising a safer, easier, fairer world run by them. History tells us these promises certainly go unfulfilled, but they are, nonetheless, enticing offers. To counter this destructive temptation, we must vigorously promote an ethic that soundly rejects those notions and celebrates hard work, rugged individualism, frugality, and the rest of the Judeo-Christian tradition. Only when our culture turns will our politics follow.
The views and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the policy or position of 1819 News. To comment, please send an email with your name and contact information to Commentary@1819news.com.
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