The withdrawal of Tom Daschle from consideration as health and human services secretary has been deemed a blow to the new Obama administration—both to its stated goals to enact health-care reform and to its claim that it will put an end to "business as usual" in the nation's capital.
But there's something else revealed in the Daschle story: the increased influence and power of our governing elite.
Mr. Daschle and the rest of the new governing class were the subject of a recent Wall Street Journal editorial. According to the Journal, the real offense was not Daschle's failure to report and pay taxes on a car and driver. It wasn't even what it calls an "embarrassment of riches." According to the Journal, these are a "typical story," and more to the point, "the result of the liberal ideology"—an ideology, I should add, that is embraced by many in both political parties.
The "liberal ideology" the Journal is referring to is the "massive transfer of power and wealth now underway from the [entrepreneurial] private sector to the political class." Technocrats who live off the government while in office and outside. How massive is this transfer of wealth? Health care in the United States is a $2.5 trillion industry—the size of France's GDP.
As a result of this proposed intervention in the economy, the Journal writes, "politicians and their staffers can make or break fortunes by slipping a rider into a 'must pass' bill or dispensing billions of dollars in subsidies to favored constituencies."
It's part of an all-too-familiar pattern in Washington—making lots of money advising industries like the health care industry and then being selected to regulate the industry.
This power gives men like Daschle and others in the governing class a sense of entitlement to match their new status. What's a "disappointing mistake" like not paying taxes compared to the "the moral necessity of getting universal health care?"
It's the triumph of pragmatism over principle.
Now I've got to acknowledge that I supported the original Wall Street bailout program because I feared that global markets were about to collapse. In hindsight, I see now that I may have made a mistake.
What we need is a prudent, not a panicky response to the economic downturn, especially not one that enables government to go where it doesn't belong.
After all, it was Western Christianity that changed the way people thought about governance. The idea that there are limits to the sovereign's power over his subjects is a distinctly Christian one. It became particularly clear during the Reformation that there were aspects of life over which the king had no legitimate authority. The Reformers called this "sphere sovereignty"—every sphere carrying out its own responsibility before God.
These limits on state power, as sociologist Rodney Stark tells us, weren't limited to church matters. Christianity insisted that "the state must respect private property and not intrude on the freedom of its citizens to pursue virtue."
Times of crisis shape a nation's destiny. And this time of economic crisis is no different. We either demand limited government as our founding fathers envisioned and as Christian tradition upholds, or we, as a panicked people, give up more and more of our liberties to a governing class that is all too willing to accept our acquiescence.