The (New) Ugly American

The regime we live under—the regime of the United States Constitution—began with a set of clear understandings. One was that the federal government was to be the servant of the people. It was to be confined to the specific powers the people "delegated" to it, pursuant to the general welfare and common defense of the United States. If it exercised powers the people had not delegated to it, it was "usurping" power and committing "tyranny." A federal government was, of course, a compact among the sovereign states, as opposed to a "consolidated" or centralized government that was itself sovereign.

Few Americans understand this kind of talk today. Words like "delegated" and "consolidated" are known only to people who set out to build more powerful vocabularies. You can hardly explain the difference between "federal" and "consolidated" government to the products of modern American education, because when they hear the word "federal," they assume it means the same thing our ancestors meant by "consolidated." For all practical purposes, "federal" is just a fancy synonym for "big."

The idea of restricting government to "enumerated" powers—a written and finite list—is equally alien to today's American. The only remedies he can think of for big government are term limits and...

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