While the War on Terrorism dominates affairs of state for the foreseeable future, we must maintain vigilance on domestic policy and not allow this crisis to disorient our thinking. I have several points in mind. One is illustrated by this quote from Benjamin Franklin, which needs almost no explanation: “They that can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.” I would only add that I am highly skeptical of czar-like offices such as that of Tom Ridge’s Office of Homeland Security. I’m not denying that this war has a home front, but it will not be won with internal security, but only by defeating the enemy at its source. Point two is to be reminded that the growth of centralized government at the Federal level and its dominance in our lives, which flowered in the 20th century after being given impetus by Lincoln in the 19th, was primarily initiated and justified by war preparation and execution. Some silliness has begun under the guise of response to, and recovery from, the 9-11 attack (airline bailouts, expansion of agricultural and other distressed business subsidies, federalizing airport security, etc.). Almost anything can be defined to fit the fight against terrorism, repairing damage, or countering recession, and the feeding frenzy is on. The Cato Institute reports that the proposed FY2002 budget includes the largest corporate welfare budget in history, exceeding the $87 billion of FY2001. Are we paying attention?
Essentially, our domestic policy priorities should be intact—reform of Social Security, education, immigration reform—and a few others should be given higher priority, such as permanent tax rate cuts, enhanced defense and intelligence capabilities, and a capital gains tax rate cut. But the war should be no excuse for an expansion of Leviathan beyond our defense needs, which had been overly depleted even before 9-11. In the majoritarian democracy that we have become, the response to the highest anxieties of the people tends to permanently increase the size of the public sector at the expense of the private. This would be a mistake. For all the perceived need for “bipartisanship”, I think it is time for President Bush to reconsider the bipartisan love-fest and fight for sound long-range policy, even if it means a few vetoes. He has the political capital to do so.