Politics & Policy

Can the Freedom Nexus Be Saved?

More laws, more regulations, and more lawyers are adding to the systematic loss of freedom in America.

A staunch Republican recently told me that she would not support Mitt Romney for president because of his religious beliefs. Back in 1958 a similar fear existed relative to the Catholic background of John F. Kennedy. The rumors among the fringe political element were that the Catholic Pope would take over the U.S. if Kennedy won the White House. Kennedy, of course, became president, and went on to lead the country without any record of delegating his responsibilities to the Bishop of Rome.

Must loyalty to a cause interfere with the ability, or willingness, of a president to serve the people as both a leader and manager of a free society? In the case of the religious nexus — or the link between religion and government in society — the answer is no. The well-defined separation between church and state in America has wholly lessened the chance that any one religion will challenge the viability of our two-party system.

But what about the freedom nexus, the point at which freedom and government are linked?

In the American tradition, this linkage is crucial — the twain of government and freedom shall meet. Since the American Revolution, we the people have enjoyed an inextricable bond with freedom; the Preamble to the Declaration of Independence makes it clear that the intent of our forefathers was to create a nation of free people.

Critically, the backbone of that freedom is the law — a list rules and regulations first defined by the Founders. As time has gone by, that list has necessarily expanded in order to guarantee our freedoms, and outlaw those so-called freedoms that would infringe on the freedom of all.

But something happened to the freedom nexus along the way. It has changed in nature. As government and its laws have grown in order to protect our freedoms, our freedoms have diminished. Why? As King Midas found out, too much of a good thing can be bad.

Laws are the medium of lawyers, and it’s no surprise that lawyers are attracted to the making of laws. Indeed, as time has passed in this country, the government has become populated with lawyers.

In Congress, the equivalent of the lawmaking major leagues, the locker rooms are dominated by lawyers who are intent on churning out new rules and regulations. If in the details some new laws would advance freedom, others would restrict it. But in the aggregate it is arguable that the addition of any new rule to the mountain of existing laws only moves American society in increments toward less freedom.

The growing number of pages in the Federal Register attests to this regulatory nightmare. In 1987, the register had 49,654 pages — frightening enough. At last count, in 2004, it had 78,851 pages.

If Congress is the lawmaking major leagues, the Supreme Court, populated by the most experienced lawyers in the country, is its association of umpires. But here we have a similar problem: Our judicial umpires increasingly want to swing the bat — to make law rather than interpret it.

And then there’s the president.

Contenders for the presidency are numerous at this early stage of the game, and by early 2008 the field will have narrowed significantly. But take a look at this list of hopefuls as of early July 2007:

The full list of candidates includes some non-lawyers, such as Mike Huckabee and John McCain. But you get the picture. If lawyers aren’t yet running the whole shop, it looks like they soon will be.

Capitalism is exploding around the world and true freedom now permeates more economies than ever before. Yet while America is facing the challenge of competing with these burgeoning economies, more laws, more regulations, and more lawyers are adding to the systematic loss of freedom in America. And if you believe that freedom goes hand-in-hand with free markets, and that free markets are the key to economic growth, you have to agree that our global competitiveness will only slip as our freedoms deteriorate.

Is the freedom nexus beyond salvaging?

Let’s just hope that when the 2008 presidential field whittles down to a final two, that there’s one candidate left standing who will argue for smaller government and a few thousand fewer pages in the Federal Register. When it comes to the freedom nexus in the 21st century, our freedoms will only grow in inverse proportion to the number of laws on the books.

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