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Justin Amash: How to Keep the Constitution

It requires transparency and checks, not a national-security state.

By REP. JUSTIN AMASH • September 17, 2013 • The American Conservative

When I entered Congress, I swore an oath to support and defend the Constitution, and I have followed through on that promise. The political elites of both parties don’t like what I’m doing. They have a vision of government that is very different from the vision laid out in the Constitution. As the elites see it, the American people are their subjects, and a benevolent privileged few—standing above the law—must watch over the rest of society.

History and logic show us that no matter how “good” the leaders are, unrestrained government invites corruption and cronyism. On the whole, government power always benefits the wealthy and well-connected at the expense of others. Some of the reasons are just common sense. It costs a lot of money to lobby Washington. Even the best-intentioned government official cannot sort out what’s right when he spends most of his time hobnobbing with one percent of society.

Wherever government power has proliferated, societies have become poorer, crueler, and less productive. The extreme examples are found in Communist states, but we need not look that far. Europe is wracked by economic chaos and civil strife because decades of big government bred dependence, resentment, and division among its peoples. In my own state of Michigan, bankrupt Detroit is a victim of the corruption and failed incentives that accompany too much government.

Those who favor more government power face an uncomfortable truth: the Constitution is a libertarian document, and we in government are sworn to uphold it. Under the Constitution, the federal government’s sole purpose is to protect our liberty, not provide us things. The government protects liberty by defending the nation from foreign attack, maintaining open trade among the states and foreign nations, and pursuing a few other limited functions.

This limited role for the federal government takes courage to embrace. It is easier to keep providing things—using other people’s money and incurring large debts. But that is not what the Constitution allows, and it is not what works. Providing things, where necessary, is for local governments, religious institutions, charities, families, and friends.

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