One of the fundamental instincts of policymakers during any crisis is to grow government. Government programs expand, agencies assume new powers, and sometimes whole new agencies emerge as policymakers try to prove that they have acted in face of the crisis. The coronavirus pandemic is no different.
This pandemic is a serious public health emergency that demands the attention of federal policymakers. But some high-profile Democrats want to go further, seeing the pandemic as a “tremendous opportunity” to “restructure” government in their image. They use the pandemic to push for single-payer healthcare, mail-in voting, the “Green New Deal,” universal income, and other wish list priorities for today’s left.
As we encounter these efforts to expand government, we must resist them. When government grows, individual liberty suffers.
Our liberty, articulated in the Declaration of Independence and enshrined in the Bill of Rights, is the most fundamental element of American life. For over two centuries, it has empowered our free exchange of ideas and fueled our engines of innovation. It has propelled the American dream and contributed to the most vibrant economy in the history of the world.
We must always protect freedom and defend against any encroachment on our liberty. This vigilance is especially necessary in the current fight against a new enemy that has brought increased government control into our everyday lives.
The coronavirus pandemic has already stripped us of some of our most basic liberties. Governments have directed the public to stay in their homes, they have forced small businesses to close, and they have restricted how we can interact with each other. While these steps are sometimes necessary, we always need to be concerned about restrictions on individual liberties.
The coronavirus pandemic reminds us that big-government controls dictated by government officials on both the national and local level can be the greatest threat to the future of our liberties and freedoms. This potential government overreach has been on display recently.
os Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, for example, encouraged citizens to tattle on neighbors they believe are violating the city’s stay-at-home order. Garcetti boasted that “snitches” would “get rewards” if they reported businesses or people acting in a manner that the government deemed “nonessential.” The mayor’s office has sent the Los Angeles Police Department to 144 of more than 500 “nonessential” businesses that have failed to follow the stay-at-home order. At least four businesses have already been referred to the city attorney’s office for misdemeanor filings.
On April 3, Google announced that it would offer user location data to federal government officials tracking the coronavirus. Google would provide the government with data about locations, movements, and the places people have visited. This new technology will have Big Brother to pry into our every move. This is frightening, and people are right to be concerned about it.
And on April 4, in my home state of Ohio, a local prosecutor gave the approval for police to arrest Ohioans for violating the state’s stay-at-home order and indicated that he would charge them with a felony. The prosecutor went so far as to say that if he were governor, he would send in the National Guard to keep people from exercising their First Amendment rights to worship in church.
These three examples show that our liberties are always at risk from an intrusive government, especially under the guise of actions intended to protect us. We’ve seen this story before.
In 2013, in the name of enforcing “social welfare” guidelines, the IRS targeted conservative nonprofit organizations for expressing their beliefs about political issues. Without nonprofit status, many of these groups lost donations and ceased operations.
In 2016, in the name of fighting foreign influence in our elections, the FBI illegally spied on the Trump campaign. And we learned not long ago that the FBI’s FISA abuses were even more widespread and systemic than we had previously thought.
In a letter to his wife Abigail in 1775, John Adams wrote that “liberty once lost, is lost forever.” We must remember his warning during these trying times. While the government has a role to play in preventing further contagion, it must exercise its power with the utmost caution.
We cannot allow the cure for the coronavirus pandemic to be worse than the problem. Although this pandemic is serious, we must not forget our most basic liberties. If we do not protect these liberties from government overreach, we will likely lose them forever. Vigilance, now more than ever, is paramount.
Jim Jordan, a Republican, represents Ohio’s fourth congressional district in the U.S. House.
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