David Boaz Gets It Half Right

by Pejman Yousefzadeh on July 5, 2009

I am sure that there are plenty who will think that this post only serves to reflect my political biases, but while I agree with Boaz’s argument that the Founders would have been appalled by the policies of the Obama Administration, I disagree with the contention that they would have been appalled by John McCain’s foreign policy suggestions.

Nothing has happened since the days of the Founders to bring discredit to the belief that “that government is best which governs least.” If anything, the case for small government has only been strengthened. When the number of pages of regulations in the Federal Register nearly number 70,000, one can hardly make the case that the size of the federal government is too small, or that we do not have sufficient regulations. Bureaucrats always find a way to grow government, but given the size it has achieved, it is easier to cut government than it is to grow it. And cutting the size of government is a necessity. The growth of government has hardly brought about any good results; fiscal stimulus has turned out to be a massive disappointment–thanks in large part to big government’s inability to plan out the economy, the decision to bail out failing companies interferes with the very creative destruction that is needed to ensure that the American economy remains vibrant, and we are creating budget deficits that stretch out as far as the eye can see, and make a mockery of anything resembling a sound fiscal policy. By the time the Obama Administration comes to an end, any fair-minded person will have to come to the conclusion that the Administration’s example and actions will have validated the need for small government.

Oh, and by the way, the case for small government is written into the Constitution itself; check out Art. I, sec. 8 sometime, and you will see that there are very clearly defined powers for Congress that also serve as boundaries for the exercise of Congressional authority. Beyond those boundaries, acts of Congress should properly be viewed as unconstitutional. If Art. I, sec. 8 does not serve as a codification of small government, I don’t know what does.

When it comes to the Founders’ vision for American foreign policy, and their basic calls for non-interventionism, however, Boaz is wrong to suggest that the Founders’ beliefs have relevance in the present day. First off, unlike the case for small government, there is nothing in the Constitution codifying a non-interventionist foreign policy. Secondly, non-interventionism made sense when America was an infant nation, relatively weak, and needing to ensure that she didn’t excite the wrath of Britain (her mother country), or France (her key ally in the Revolution). But since then, America has grown astonishingly powerful, possessing military, economic, and diplomatic strength the likes of which no nation has ever held in its grasp. In the past, we had to be non-interventionists because we didn’t have the ability to throw our weight around. Non-interventionism was the only practical foreign policy option we had. Things, to say the least, are different now. And as a consequence, if America adopts a non-interventionist stance, she will only leave a power vacuum in the international community, one that will be filled by Russia or China, whose interests are oftentimes antithetical to American foreign policy goals. America’s commensurate loss of standing and the ability to wield power relative to that standing will be detrimental to our ability to pursue and achieve our aims abroad.

So, Boaz has it half right when it comes to his post. He is certainly right to criticize Obama for going against the Founders’ wishes, and the express dictates of the Constitution when it comes to the size of government. But he needs to recognize that the Founders’ stance on foreign policy is not codified the way their stance on small government is, and that the increase in American power since the founding demands a foreign policy different from the one that the Founders’ advocated. Indeed, I dare say that if the Founders saw how America bestrides the world, they too would have advocated a different foreign policy stance.

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