The Left long has tried to persuade Americans that the rise of the Progressive state was inevitable and permanent. Yet a growing body of evidence, from tea parties to increasing opposition to the health-care law, suggests the question has not been settled — at least not by the American people. A recent Rasmussen survey found that 75 percent of Americans are angry about the policies of the expanding federal government, 71 percent view the government as an interest group, and 61 percent believe the government does not represent the consent of the governed.
The debate between the Founders’ constitutionalism and the Progressive paradigm meant to replace it is now engaged, perhaps as never before, in the American mind. Over the next months and years, and the next few elections, the matter will be decided, perhaps definitively, one way or the other.
Either the party of the modern state will unify its control and solidify its centralized model of government, or a new coalition of its opponents — unified by a healthy contempt for bureaucratic rule and a determination to reassert popular consent — will gain control of the political institutions of government and begin the difficult task of restoring real limits on government.
In this choice, all rests on the continuing capacity and resolve of the American people to govern themselves. The test Abraham Lincoln spoke of at Gettysburg, whether this nation based on equality and liberty can long endure, has returned to try our generation.
– Matthew Spalding is director of the B. Kenneth Simon Center for American Studies at the Heritage Foundation, and author of We Still Hold These Truths: Rediscovering Our Principles, Reclaiming Our Future (ISI Books).