The Supreme Court recently sent shockwaves through the federal bureaucracy. Then on Independence Day, as if possessed by the Spirit of ’76, a federal judge put into place a temporary injunction against the government colluding with social media companies to silence law-abiding citizens. These decisions all add up to a firm assertion, one might even say declaration, that restraint – the governing principle advocated for even by the founding generation’s “big government” crowd – is still the backbone of our society.
The advocates for a stronger central government in 1787 were legends – James Madison, Alexander Hamilton, and John Jay – making the case that a loose confederation of states simply couldn’t hold together. Their vision seems quaint now. Their arguments for just enough government to unify the states without infringing on individual liberty would, today, be pilloried as hateful, regressive and, in the words of today’s left, Ultra MAGA by progressives who see government as the only solution to address a laundry list of demands.
For one, progressives demand that government police social media not only for illegal behavior, but for mean things being said. Madison, Hamilton, and Jay faced people saying mean things about them too. While not explicitly spelled out in the Federalist Papers, I think their take on mean people saying mean things can be summed up as favoring a “sticks and stones” approach.
The government championed by the founding fathers means to protect freedom, not to arbitrate it, choose sides, or otherwise limit personal liberty. Our Declaration of Independence was made by the colonies to separate from England, but it was also made on behalf of the people against tyranny however manifested — including from the government the founders intended to create out of the ashes. The Constitution sought to mold that ideal into workable government.
Social media would be a better place if people read Madison, Jay, and Hamilton’s Federalist Papers before commenting about politics and government on social media. But it’s not a requirement, and there’s no right that protects citizens from being subjected to mean words. Our system provides for free speech, and demands government restraint just as much as it favors individual liberty. The Courts’ decisions reinforce this at a time when the connection between today’s government and the intent of the founders is growing tenuous.
First, the court struck down affirmative action in college admissions. The 14th amendment’s Equal Protection Clause protects everyone from discrimination based on race, sex, ethnicity, religion, etc. At some point the left decided that wasn’t good enough. Government became the only answer. Freedom isn’t the goal, they say. Equality is the goal. They get to define equality and arm the government squash dissent and force corrective action (that is, “good” discrimination) upon its people in its name. The Supreme Court rightly sided with Madison, Jay, and Hamilton.
The court also re-affirmed free speech under the First Amendment. The government, the court ruled, cannot force a private citizen to hold or promote a view. If you don’t want to make a wedding website for a couple because of your closely held beliefs – you don’t have to do so. If the Kaepernick Bakery doesn’t want to make a Betsy Ross flag cake, it too has the right to refuse. The beauty of the federal court’s social media injunction is that we can even call business owners names on social media and the government can’t stop us. Another win for government restraint.
Finally, the court ruled that the President can’t ignore Congress. Congress requires students who take loans to pay them back. Joe Biden sought to bypass Congress and transfer much of that debt from the students to taxpayers. The separation of powers is a pretty fundamental concept in our system. President Biden would defend his position as necessary to help indebted college graduates, but it’s not necessary. Working within the bounds of the Constitution — practicing restraint — is necessary.
The problem with a big government ideology is that there are endless real and perceived injustices which seem to justify a governmental response. People using social media to attack others are bad people. Restraint isn’t easy. It’s natural to want to do something about it, to use the government as a proactive tool — often a hammer. Each individual act by the government is an isolated strike on a nail in the name of equality, the little man, or whomever else is deemed the beneficiary. Taken together, it’s government-run-amok and it sets us on the dark path towards tyranny.
The Federalist Papers were written by three guys in favor of just enough central government. We’re way past just enough today with self-labeled blue-ribbon, inter-agency commissions built to justify whatever it is the government is trying to do. Or worse yet, unelected bureaucrats and federal law enforcement seeking to collude with social media platforms to limit speech without even trying to make a case for it being right. We should be thankful for Federal Judges and the Justices of the Supreme Court, but we need even more Madison’s, Jay’s, and Hamilton’s today; or perhaps another Jefferson to write a new declaration – of restraint.
Matt Dole is a communications consultant.
The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of the Daily Caller.