Jewish World Review March 5, 1999 /17 Adar 5759
(http://www.jewishworldreview.com) THE UNEXAMINED LIFE is not worth leading, and the unexamined government is not worth having. Yet we live in an age when lawmakers plod through their business without asking even basic questions about what they think or do.
George Orwell once complained, "We have now sunk to a depth at which restatement of the obvious is the first duty of intelligent men." The epithet applies here.
The Washington establishment worships a series of assumptions that deserve, but seldom receive, thoughtful review.
These axioms have inspired the executive branch of our government to butt into everything, from children's car seats to other people's wars, often without sanction or permission. While exuberant administration officials feel like gods, they treat everybody else -- including Congress -- like props.
Fortunately, a few politicians are shaking the foundations this year.
Steve Forbes has struck a pose of consistent iconoclasm since his last presidential bid. (I'll devote a column to him soon.) But the most eye-catching rebels are Jesse the Governor Ventura and Pat Buchanan.
Both guys can communicate. They can stand in front of a factory and look as though they belong. They can pop a vein over perceived injustice. And they can laugh in a way that seems both easy and inviting.
Most importantly, they carry ready supplies of skepticism. Start with Buchanan. Pat once was a free-trader. He now swims with the protectionists.
He once served a president who masterminded the most dramatic increases in federal power this century (Richard Nixon); he now speaks eloquently about the tyranny of Big Government.
He's at his unfashionable best when talking about America's role in the world. He understands that the United States has bartered away some of its sovereignty through pacts with the aforementioned international community.
To take the most egregious recent example, the Clinton/Gore administration wants to put our economic fate in the hands of global environmental bureaucrats by means of the so-called Kyoto Treaty.
It also has begun sending young men and women into war zones -- Bosnia, Iraq -- ostensibly in response to pleas from outsiders. When asked why our troops must go, the administration tells us who dialed the international 911 call, not how we would suffer if someone else carried the fight.
Unfortunately, Buchanan mistakenly carries the crusade for sovereignty into the realm of trade. While I think his economic views are defeatist and wrong, they're not stupid. He is our most thoughtful protectionist and our most compassionate. He took time last week to visit a steel mill in Weirton, W.V. The mill, tucked into a valley bordering the Ohio River, has struggled for years to stay alive. Members took over when the unions and companies wanted to bag out. They created new products and niches. Yet when they asked Democrats and Republicans not to sock them with bad regulations, they got nowhere. Only Buchanan listens.
Now, to Ventura: He shocked Minnesota last week by recommending that "every fourth year (the legislature) not be allowed to make new laws." He wants honorables to spend that quadrennium pruning unwanted statutes and passing only emergency bills with expiration dates. This is refreshing because it is obvious. Bad government persists because bad statutes do.
Ventura delivered his first State of the State Address on March 2, and seasoned it with memorable maxims: "The role of government is to do only what the people cannot do for themselves. ... We can't legislate against every stupid thing people will do. ... The State of the State is jeopardized by this weak notion that taxpayers must step forward to provide nearly unlimited resources to anyone who faces adversity, who lives with circumstances they brought about through their own decisions, or who lives with consequences of choices to act illegally."
He lectured legislators: "Do the right things. Vote your conscience, not your caucus."
He told his staff, "Tell the truth so you don't need a good memory."
You get the idea. Although there's plenty to quibble with -- Ventura opposes school choice and supports the harebrained idea of rail transit -- voters love his war on conventional wisdom. The state had the highest voter turnout last year, aided by legions of young men and women who cast ballots for the first time.
Similarly, Buchanan generates special passion within his flock by ladling out big doses of defiance and disestablishmentarianism. Even when Buchanan and Ventura are wrong, they dispel the torpor that has settled over American politics. They ask basic questions. They make elites snicker, then squirm.
Best of all, they remind us that the essence of
effective democracy is a good fight, even over things we take for
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