In my youth, I always had a strong faith in those who were chosen to lead. I felt confident in the character of Pope John Paul II and Ronald Reagan, as well as Sparky Anderson managing the Cincinnati Reds’ “Big Red Machine.” And while my faith was occasionally tested by events like Watergate, there was always a general confidence that our leaders were good people trying to do the right thing.
But now, it’s no wonder Americans don’t trust their government anymore.
Our Founders originally entrusted “we the people” to safeguard America’s newly established liberties. The Declaration of Independence says that “Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God” entitle the people, not the government, the right to governance. As we see today, there’s a reason that the federal government and its army of bureaucrats were not granted this sacred responsibility.
Don’t get me wrong, I came of age politically under the shadow of Watergate. Nixon’s misdeeds were a shocking breach of the public trust that vaulted many into a modern age of cynicism. It was a time when our core faith in public institutions was fundamentally challenged.
Yet, even as a teenager in the 1970s, I recognized our leaders had done wrong. But just as importantly, I understood that those who did wrong were held responsible, and we witnessed a standard be set. Going forward, perhaps naively, I hoped government officials would be honest and therefore trustworthy. I hoped for leaders like Harry Truman who felt that “the buck stopped” with them.
A decade later, President Reagan governed on the phrase “trust but verify.” This holds true to the Founders’ original design for our government, with three branches that act as a series of checks and balances on each other, working to safeguard the American people from the overreach or abuse of power by one branch.
Now, it seems to be markedly different. Today, we are facing serious breaches of the public trust, each uniquely disarming. The IRS is targeting Americans for their political views and the Department of Justice is labeling journalists as co-conspirators, simply for exercising their First Amendment rights.
We in southern and southwest Ohio take pride not only in hard work, but honest work. These current scandals fly in the face of the very principles and ethos we stand for and live our lives by. They insult the values of our military men and women, who take up arms to defend this country.
We face a government so vast that those who are in charge now claim that full accountability is impossible. They claim that government is too vast to hold accountable! Every day, I am working to find ways to make government smaller, more efficient, more streamlined, and more responsive to hardworking taxpayers. But we cannot let the very people who support and promote the rampant growth of government to then abdicate any responsibility for scandals that are produced within this bureaucratic sprawl.
We are at the point where an unannounced, unplanned, and largely unconstitutional fourth branch of government has taken root. Dominated by unelected bureaucrats, these federal departments and agencies are churning out rules and regulations at an unprecedented pace. According to one study, federal agencies finalized nearly 3,000 rules and over 60 major regulations in 2007. That same year, Congress enacted 138 public laws.
To this end, one of the first bills I cosponsored upon being sworn in as a member of Congress was the REINS Act, H.R. 367. This bill increases accountability for and transparency in the federal regulatory process by requiring Congress to approve all new major regulations. No longer would bureaucrats in the fourth branch go unchecked, and the Constitutional balance our Founders deliberately drafted would be restored.
These current scandals do not just challenge our right to a free press or a non-political tax code; they harm the very notion of our trust in government. These breaches in the public’s trust extend beyond the here and now: the IRS will never quite be trusted, journalists will have a heightened suspicion of the feds, and the public will second guess official narratives.
Every coin and every bill we use bears the phrase “In God We Trust.” Sadly, today our trust tends to stop there; I don’t recall hearing “In Government We Trust” very often. We can never give up the constant vigilance required to safeguard our liberties and restore our trust in government. I will not give up on the goodness of the American citizen, and the possibility of responsibility and trust.
Brad Wenstrup represents Ohio’s Second District.