The government is oppressing me, so I want more government

How the government treats the people.

You may have seen the photo above. It was taken during a protest at UC Davis, when police tried to get Occupy protesters to move. They decided that the best course of action would be pepper spray these peaceful protesters. Here’s an idea: just let them protest, and eventually they will move on their own.

As a tea party supporter, I want to point out that my political goals (more on that in a second) are in many ways not aligned with the Occupy protesters. But I condemn police brutality, and I support the right to peaceful protest.  I would also point out that this is not an isolated incident:  many other cases of police brutality are displayed clearly here.  The Constitution clearly protects the freedom of assembly.

The reason the Constitution protects freedom of assembly is that the government the colonists faced in the 18th century did not support the freedom of assembly.  With a keen eye to the natural rights of life, liberty and property, the colonists felt that their liberty was being assaulted by an oppressive British government.  The British government was less oppressive than most others at the time, but for these colonists certain rights were inalienable and non-negotiable, and they stood up for their rights in ways most of us continue to admire today.  But many of us do not realize that all man-made governments are oppressive unless they recognize natural rights.  So, calling on more government to solve the problem of oppressive government is a bit like an 18th century doctor using leeches to heal an internal hemorrhage.

It is the partnership of government and the private sector, corporatism, that has created our current mess.  Bailouts are only granted to corporations with political connections.   Politicians will not bail out companies where they have nothing to gain.  So, if your concern is Wall Street corruption, you need to blame a)the corrupt politicians (ie, the government) who vote for the bailouts along with b)the bailout-accepting Wall Street millionaires sipping their lattes while you cannot get a job.

The solution should be obvious:  do not allow the government to bail out anybody.  If you make bad investments, your business will fail.  This creates a level playing field with true equality of opportunity.

So, let’s say your problem is equality of result, meaning there are just too many rich people who are not giving their money to the poor.

If you think rich people should give more money to the poor (and I do), you really have three choices.

1)You can exhort them to give more to the poor.  (This has actually worked over the years:  think of all the rich people who have left their fortunes to good causes, from the Fords, to the Nobels, to the Rockefellers and people like Bill and Melinda Gates who are alive today).

2)You can convert them to the Gospel, and many will have a change of heart and start tithing, giving fast offerings and contributing to other charities.

3)You can use the government to force them to give money to the poor, or they will be put in jail by people carrying guns, ie, the government.

Unfortunately, many people in the Occupy movement seem to think that number 3) is the best choice, while I tend to favor number 2 first and foremost and number 1 occasionally.  But the problem is that once you empower government to do things like take money from greedy rich people, it is only a matter of time until that same government starts pepper spraying and beating up protesters.

The purpose of good government is to protect life, liberty and property (D&C Section 134:2).  Government should protect the country from foreign invaders, protect private property from thieves (the police), protect people from fires (the fire department), set up a civil court system so people can settle disputes in a peaceful manner, and protect people from harming other people and punish those that do (the police and criminal courts).  If people want to hold a peaceful protest, the policy of a good government should be, as much as practical, to leave them alone and allow them to protest.  My personal opinion is that in most cases protesters will go away if you allow them to express themselves.

I hope we can agree that protesters who are violent or who are destroying property need to be stopped.  So all police action is clearly not abusive.  But the police need to take extra care not to allow themselves to violate the liberty of people who want to peacefully demonstrate.

But here is the problem with big government: it becomes less accountable to the people is supposedly serves.  Good government, on a limited, local level, will hopefully be open and responsive to citizens in the community.  It is difficult to imagine the local sheriff of a small town beating up the people he sees every day at the coffee shop.  But big government, with huge bureaucracies in far-away capitals, inevitably creates distance and resentment between citizens and public servants.  Big government public servants lose touch with their constituents and forget who is paying their salaries.  This is why the clerks at the DMV and the federal government offices are usually so bored, inefficient and hostile:  they have forgotten that you are the customer and the boss.  And when you give big government employees guns, and then ask them to carry out tasks involving security, they very often make huge mistakes (think Waco and the Branch Davidians).

It is true that government oppresses you.  It oppresses you by taking your money and spending it on useless wars.  It oppresses you by setting up massive bureaucracies that lose touch with constituents.  And it oppresses you by creating a culture where police pepper spray peaceful protesters and shoot them with rubber bullets.  But the solution is not more government, it is less government, the kind that keeps within the confines of the Constitution.

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About Geoff B.

Geoff B graduated from Stanford University (class of 1985) and worked in journalism for several years until about 1992, when he took up his second career in telecommunications sales. He has held many callings in the Church, but his favorite calling is father and husband. Geoff is active in martial arts and loves hiking and skiing. Geoff has five children and lives in Colorado.

17 thoughts on “The government is oppressing me, so I want more government

  1. I think there is a type of government you are missing, and the kind the protesters would like to see more of. In many countries like Canada and France, there are protests constantly. It’s a noisy, complaining culture of continual protest and striking. Usually it’s for more government protection or intervention. Yet, there is practically no police brutality, and yet they have very large socialist governments by American standards.

    So I’m not sure if there is a clear connection between governments being more bureaucratic and involved, and being more brutal. I think brutal governments are a different type all together, and they can belong to countries that are both strongly socialist or capitalist. I think police brutality is an aspect of government culture, not size.

  2. Nate, in many ways Canada has a greater free-market economy than the US does these days. Companies can drill for shale oil and transport it without ridiculous complaints from environmentalists; the budget deficit is very small compared to ours; they have privatized air traffic control while we seem to think it must be run by the government; there is no government secondary mortgage market (Fannie and Freddie) so banks act more responsibly.

    Anyway, “Europe” is a diverse concept, and each country has its own culture. Many people tend to see them all as “more socialist and less heartless” than the U.S., but such generalizations are much too vague. If your model is Switzerland, with a balanced budget, a free-market health care system (with govt subsidies), a very wealthy and peaceful society, than, OK, I am with you. If your model is, say, France, with a huge budget deficit, huge corruption, corporatism with massive mixing of government and “private” companies, a virtually nonexistent entrepreneurial culture, I would say it is not a model I would like to emulate.

    When looking at “socialist” Europe, people tend to forget that we in the US spend a massive amount on “defense,” which includes defending Europe and most of the rest of the world. This means that countries like France spend a lot less on defense than they would otherwise, and they direct this extra money into handing out goodies to workers, a very, very large percentage of whom either work directly for the government or work for companies (like Airbus, France Telecom, etc) that have government ownership. What many people don’t realize is that if you can’t work for the government or one of the quasi-governmental companies, you are condemned to a lower-class lifestyle by France’s system that you seem to like so much. In the U.S., at least until recently, you could start your own business and find a way around societal barriers. In France, not so much.

    In any case, we would all like to think that government can be “good government.” I think on a local level, government is usually “good government.” I simply disagree that big governments creates anything but oppression, in one way or another.

  3. Nate, the key is the focus of the government and people. If they have the same focus (re: socialist programs), then protests only move forward the desires of all.

    That said, the goals of both Tea Party and Occupy Wall Street are opposite the desires of government today. Both want a change in government that government is not willing to do. Government is happy receiving bribes from big corporations in exchange for bailouts and handouts to the big boys. They are not interested in either reducing government, or changing government so it helps out the “99%” and punishes the 1%.

    The problem with government promoting one group over others, it creates class divisions and warfare. It also creates an uneven playing field. Finally, one no longer has a government “of the people, for the people, and by the people.” So, in this sense, the demands of Occupy Wall Street to switch the players around as to who receives gov money and who does not, is likely to be as bad as the demands of crony capitalism (big banks, etc) to get a leg up on everyone else.

    The only real fair thing is for government to be greatly reduced. It all people have to work for themselves, take their own risks, but also have their own freedom, there is less chance of government action like this. Right now, I see the big banks as the modern equivalent of the robber barons of the late 19th century. They had government in their pocket, as well. They used government forces to break up unions with force.

    We need to have a government that establishes the peace, while maintaining freedom at its maximum possible level. This means peaceful assembly should be allowed without pepper spraying kneeling students.

  4. In many ways Europe/Canada have better captalism than we do. And China in some senses are the best capitalists. Perhaps the last.

    I think the old way of describing economies just doesn’t work anymore, which is why it’s hard to call Obama a socialist. He leans that way in certain instances when it suits him, but the new paradigm seems to be to have a hybrid form of bureaucratic/socialist/capitalist, etc.

    I’d almost describe European and perhaps Canadian markets as a Transactionalist/Socialist/Corporatist solution. They protect their big businesses because they are focused on jobs for their citizens. Whatever you say about these nations, they are more concerned with unemployment than anything else. They’ll employ people doing inefficient things, but the goal is as much employment as it is green jobs, etc. So in Canada it doesn’t surprise me the oil drilling or lumber-jacking would win out.

    They also blend a bit of what I’d call Transactualism. To pay for its inefficient systems (which lean socialist in principle but not always in practice) they resort to letting you do a lot of different things if you’re willing to pay for it — and be taxed for it. I think the old way of thinking was to confiscate the means of production and have the state claim it belongs to society (socialism).

    The new way is to have the state claim businesses receive special benefits from the state and charge them extra taxes and use this additional revenue to (supposedly) benefit society.

    So it really doesn’t surprise me to see some more pragmatism where additional transactions & jobs are available for the Canadians or Europeans even. We’re seeing this trend as well in the USA, but we always lag a bit behind on the road to tyranny/serfdom. Of course, I could be entirely wrong in that quasi prophetic prediction and perhaps some LDS are right that this is just the road to a kinder utopian society.

    (holds breath)

  5. Chris, good comment overall, as usual. The problem with the “transactionalist/socialist/corporatist” solution is, as I explained, that it actually decreases equality of opportunity rather than increasing it. If you have ever traveled to Europe, you should go to the Muslim slums surrounding Paris. What you will find is that nobody is starving and that most people have cell phones, TVs, etc. But they have minimal opportunity of bettering themselves, and zero opportunity of ever becoming wealthy. So, they live in a state of boredom and resentment, hardly the kind of “utopia” you mention. If we wanted a state of bored comfort, we would have stayed in the premortal existence and not taken a chance on this often-dangerous terrestial home. We came here because we want a chance at least at something more, and the European welfare state does not offer that.

    It is also worth pointing out that the T/S/C model is not sustainable economically and can only exist because the US is paying many of the defense costs. We are likely to see a major decrease in the European welfare state during our lifetimes.

    What truly brings happiness is having the freedom to make mistakes and learn from them. Learning how to be self-sufficient and self-reliant should be our goal. And once you are self-reliant, you can then help other people. There is no happiness and no fulfillment in spending your life receiving a government check.

  6. Geoff,
    I definitely agree that the current model can not be sustained economically. But I do not have hope the major decrease will come (peacefully) unless people turn to Christ first.

    Just as in the days of old, I think of society repents and turns back toward Christ (and this might not even mean embracing all of the gospel as the missionaries present it, but just on the path in that direction) then we can avoid the precipice. If not, I fear we are going over the edge of defaults, riots, chaos, and finally wars. I’m not sure how you can “take” the welfare check away, or even take the various subsidies away from a people devoted to a life of selfishness-thru-spending and not have societal chaos ensue (in the absence of civic and moral virtue).

    I feel we’ve walked away from several decades of prophetic prediction (regarding free enterprise, charity, etc.) and pleading that the only way to return is a change in our moral outlook, not merely our policies and procedures. I’m happy to vote for Paul if given the chance, even though he is flawed in many areas. But I’m really depressed when I consider our options. I suppose that is as it always is when you get right down to it. There is no hope without Christ at the end of this life, and there isn’t much hope for a long term society without Christ during this life either.

  7. But holy cow that sounds too depressing so I’ll try to add a ray of light. If people can look to God and live as he would have them do, we have hope. If we can recognize that Christ, who had all power, was willing to meekly bear the burdens of others and devote his life to become sanctified, we have hope. If we can think about Jesus dying on the cross, not for his sake, but for ours, as the ultimate example of how none of us is justified, then there is hope. Turning away from sin and looking upon our neighbors, the criminals, the prostitutes, the strippers, the soldiers, the terrorists, etc. as sons and daughters of God, with a divine potential, then we will not use our fellow man to get gain or pleasure. The world can be changed if we can each learn of, pray for, and internalize that pure love of Christ which looks for the best in others and seeks to expand it in them and ourselves. If we can be filled with charity toward all men, and have unceasing virtue, then we can stand confident before God, and we will be blessed in ways that will truly make a more perfect society.

    Without these things, I fear at best, we’re just kicking the can down the road. At worst, the end of the road is on the horizon.

  8. On the matter at hand: From what I’ve see and read so far the students were illegally blocking an entryway and disobeying a lawful order to move. There was an angry crowd surrounding the police and outnumbering them by a great deal. The police officers’ rules of engagement allowed them to use reasonable force to effect an arrest. If it wasn’t pepper spray it would have been at the very least phsyical manhandling and could have been even more like using bataans or tackling, all with the threat of additional violence from the mob of students forming. So I think the police were completelty correct here.

    I get extremely annoyed at whiny hippy protestors that think they can disobey the law and ignore police officers lawful orders and then complain about the comparitively mild manner in which they are arrested. Other modern nations such as China and Syria simply shoot their protestors. Many others get their heads cracked open, and American history is full of such examples from the past. Some pepper spray in the course of an arrest is hardly “excessive”.

    And some might say: “well if its nothing why don’t you take it?” I have been pepper sprayed, tear gassed, and tased during my Marine Corps training. It is uncomfortable, which is the point because it makes the subsequent arrest easier, but not excessive in the course of an arrest. And calling them “thugs” is offensive.

  9. Morgan D, your viewpoint is definitely worth hearing, and I’m glad you expressed it. I think it is worth remembering that it is completely valid for police to be used to protect private property. In some of the OWS protests, the protesters have damaged private property, and it is appropriate for the police to respond against that.

    However, in this particular instance the police acted stupidly. As I said above, they could have just let these people have their protest and they would eventually have gone away. Even if you take the view that they were being provocative and looking for a fight (and this HAS happened with some OWS protesters who are looking to re-live the ’60s), in this case, the police allowed the protesters to get just what they wanted, ie, a case of police brutality that creates more sympathy for the OWS protesters.

    I have been tear-gassed several times as a reporter covering demonstrations in Latin America. It is no fun at all. When you get tear-gassed, all you want to do is run away from the gas because you can’t breath and your eyes itch and burn severely. It the most severe cases, it seems to me that it is a better tactic than shooting rubber bullets and beating up people. It works to disperse unruly crowds. But I feel we need to err on the side of caution. Let people demonstrate and get it out of their system as long as they are peaceful. The vast majority of time they will go home.

  10. Is preventing passage of cars, emergency vehicles, and pedestrians by blocking a street considered peaceful? I don’t know if that is true in the UC Davis case, but I know it’s happening elsewhere. When a “peaceful” protest starts infringing on the rights of others, I think pepper spray is an absolutely appropriate tool. It’s a far cry from Tienanmen Square tactics. And I’m very uncomfortable with the term “police brutality” used so loosely in connection to these protests. From what I’ve seen, read, and heard, the police haven’t gone far enough. Hence, the evaporating support for the OWS cause.

  11. The Constitution grants us a right to peaceful assembly. The reasoning given here by some to justify using pepper spray (and I have been pepper sprayed before in military and in Indiana Dept of Corrections, where I work), works against Constitutional protections. This same excuse was used to use police dogs and rubber hoses on Dr Martin Luther King jr and other peaceful demonstrators, because they were “blocking the Selma Alabama bridge.”

    Really? People block a sidewalk, and we’re going to douse them with pepper spray? Why not contain them, keep others away from them, until the peaceful protesters tire, have to pee, or whatever, and then gently arrest them or let them go.

    Freedom cannot be taken away by government goons, or we all lose our freedom.

  12. No one has a right to blockade streets or sidewalks. The idea behind “peaceable assembly” is meetings, marches, and picket lines, not harassing the general public.

  13. Protesters blocking the streets in Seattle, causing 3+ hour traffic delays while the cops sit idly by at the Mayor’s behest. Public safety issue? Yes. Get the pepper spray ready.

  14. No one has a right to blockade streets or sidewalks. The idea behind “peaceable assembly” is meetings, marches, and picket lines, not harassing the general public.

    Fortunately the general public was not harrassed and no streets were blockaded in the UC Davis campus incident. You will recall that the police were called in to clear a few tents from the quad and not to disperse a non-existent blockade. As for the spontaneous “blockade” of the campus sidewalk (i.e., a circle of about 50 sitting students bisected by a sidewalk), it didn’t stop the 35 police officers from simply stepping over it in order to get a better shot with the pepper spray.

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