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Anyone familiar with the Hunger Games series knows this quote. Katniss Everdeen is about to enter the arena to fight for her life, but behind the scenes another fight is catching fire—a revolution against the authoritarian Capitol and its malevolent President Snow.
The tributes, chosen by the 12 districts to represent them in the arena, have one goal: Kill or be killed. Twenty-four go in, and only one comes out. Every year, there is only one victor.
This time, however, the games are different. Alliances are being formed, as tributes who should be enemies are banding together to thwart the Capitol. Knowing who to trust is difficult, so when it comes time for Katniss to enter the arena, her mentor gives her this advice: “Remember who the real enemy is.”
The real enemy isn’t the people fighting with Katniss in the arena; it’s the bloated and wasteful Capitol, led by a power-hungry president who lords over the poverty-stricken districts according to his will.
Our enemy is quite similar. Too strong a comparison, you think? When it comes to our liberty, I don’t think so.
Some people might not like terms such as “fight” or “enemy” when it comes to politics; they prefer a more civil discourse as we seek to “work with our friends across the aisle.” The problem is that our friends across the aisle have been waging a war against the American people for years, shifting the role of the federal government from that of defender of individual liberty to manager of the economy, definer of morality, equalizer of disparity, and provider of security—something it was never meant to be. We have failed to see that this shift undermines the very foundation of our liberty, as government has become less about protecting people and more about protecting its own power.
Too often, Republicans think the enemy—or the “problem”—is bad policies, overspending, high taxes, or a lack of efficient planning. If we can just get the right people to manage the government, everything will be fine. But the problem isn’t management or policies or even the right people. The problem is more foundational than that.
Overspending, high taxes, and inefficiency are mere symptoms of an underlying condition. The real problem is a federal government that has stepped outside the bounds of the Constitution, transforming into something it was never meant to be—something that cannot coexist with liberty.
Our fight, therefore, is not to get rid of government (because it has its proper place), but to reconstruct it so it fits within the parameters set by our Founders. In a sense, we are fighting for government. Good government. The kind of government that promotes liberty instead of undermining it in the name of equality or security.
Ronald Reagan said, “Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction. We didn’t pass it on to our children in the bloodstream. It must be fought for, protected, and handed on for them to do the same, or one day we will spend our sunset years telling our children and our children’s children what it was once like in the United States where men were free.”
Our fight is for liberty, not economic equality, not opportunity, not security, not even prosperity. Our fight is for freedom—first and foremost. Why? Because equality, opportunity, security, and prosperity are meaningless without it. They’re leaves blowing in the wind. They’re only meaningful—and lasting—when they grow on the tree of liberty.
Those who seek to increase the power and scope the federal government or maintain its size might have the best intentions for the greater good, but motivations are irrelevant when it comes to liberty. As Daniel Webster said, “Good intentions will always be pleaded for every assumption of authority. It is hardly too strong to say that the Constitution was made to guard the people against the dangers of good intentions. There are men in all ages who mean to govern well, but they mean to govern. They promise to be good masters, but they mean to be masters.”
We can learn something from Katniss Everdeen: As we enter the political arena, remember what we’re fighting against and remember what we’re fighting for. Remember who the real enemy is. It’s not libertarians. It’s not social conservatives. It’s not the Tea Party. It’s not Ted Cruz or Rand Paul or Mike Lee. It’s those who wish to be our masters. It’s centralized government and anyone who refuses to diminish its size and its scope and who cowers at doing the hard work of returning power to the states and to the people.
“Our country is too large to have all its affairs directed by a single government,” Thomas Jefferson wrote. “Public servants at such a distance, and from under the eye of their constituents, must, from the circumstance of distance, be unable to administer and overlook all the details necessary for the good government of the citizens; and the same circumstance, by rendering detection impossible to their constituents, will invite public agents to corruption, plunder and waste.”
Corruption. Plunder. Waste.
Yes, that is something to fight against, don’t you think? And what are we fighting for? Local governance. Civil communities. Free people.
Progressives believe we need the federal government to provide for our retirement; regulate our businesses; run our schools; dictate to the states about marriage, immigration, and drugs; choose our doctors; gather our personal data; waste our money on pet projects (like shrimp on treadmills); and put our children into debt before they’re even born.
Conservatives believe we need the federal government to provide for our defense, protect our borders, and regulate interstate commerce. Everything else belongs at the local level—closer to the people, where liberty and virtue are nurtured.
The main goal for the GOP should be putting the federal government back in its constitutional place. Whatever the issue, whatever the policy, whatever the program—that should be the goal and that should be what unites us. The tactics might vary, but decentralization has got to be what we’re ultimately fighting for.
For decades, progressives fought for and united around a common goal, and they succeeded: Grow the federal government. Now is our time, if only we seize it: Grow state and local governments by reducing the size of the federal government. That is our common goal. If we unite and refuse to give up, we will succeed just as they did.
In our struggle to save our nation and to restore liberty and the prosperity that comes with it, we need to remember who the real enemy is—anyone who wants to keep the powers of the federal government numerous and indefinite, and the powers of the states few and defined. If we lose sight of that, we will lose our country. We will lose our freedom.