The Trust-Us-We’re-Here-to-Govern-You Gap

by Martin Harris

For those of us still burdened with inconveniently-long memories, the first major breach of Vermont-voter trust-in-government came during the Dean Davis gubernatorial tenure (1969-1973) when, after repeated campaign-trail reassurances pledging no-sales-tax, he chose to enable and endorse one anyway. There have been somewhat-similar prediction-reversals in the private sector –think the electric-power industry at the time of Vermont Yankee going on line (1972) predicting that Reddy Kilowatt’s services would soon be “too cheap to meter”’ or the computer industry’s IBM concurrently foreseeing a never-in-private-homes future for personal devices; but the argument has been made that impersonal technological event-history, not ambitious politician promise-renege, were the so-called (a little Leftist lingo, here) “root cause”.

Without getting into all the slowly-emerging historical facts regarding the Prez 28 pledge to “keep us out of war” for Wilson’s second-term campaign (the US entered WWI after the Lusitania, recently revealed to have been carrying not just American tourists but American munitions to England, and then seven more arms-ferrying (but “neutral”) merchant ships were torpedoed by German U-boats) or the “I hate war” neutrality pledges of Prez 32 (the FDR pre-knowledge of the Pearl Harbor attack is still being argued) or even the Gulf-of-Tonkin mis-representations of Prez 36, there’s not much defense of politician-credibility even attempted any more; subject-avoidance or -change is preferred. It’s still not considered Politically-Correct (or socially acceptable in Gentry-Left circles) to recite specifics of, say, the 1913-16 Progressive promise that top marginal rates for the then-new Federal income tax would “absolutely never” rise above 7%. By 1918, the top marginal rate was 77%. And that’s why it was quite unusual for National Rifle Association VP Wayne LaPierre to declare so openly, recently, his mis-trust of government, Federal or State, to honor any agreement not to use “background check” data to create a gun-registration (and then-confiscation) data-base.

The above four-plus-one outlines the basis for the public skepticism which has underlain the failure of tax reform proposals aimed at a high-deductible consumption tax replacing the income tax : no one believes, any more, that the IRS 1040 raison-d’-etre would, like the Cheshire Cat, slowly fade away, just because it was so promised. It didn’t in Europe, which now has both value-added and income taxes. And it underlies the difficulties of the latest efforts at immigration reform: the solemn promise of Simpson-Mazzoli in 1986, that a one-time amnesty for three million illegal aliens would be accompanied by rigorous border control. It never (by politician intent?) was, and still isn’t. Sometimes the public foresees the planned policy-reversal ahead, and pre-emptively rejects it: that was the case for the Land Capability Plan component of Vermont’s Act 250, in the early ‘70’s, which was solemnly pledged by its authors never to be used for detailed development control, but was ridiculed to death by a then-skeptical electorate anyway as a surreptitious move to “State-wide zoning”. Sometimes the policy reversal is already in place, which explains why “background-check” data for gun purchase, pledged to be destroyed after use, weren’t. They were the basis for the now-notorious street-address map publication, showing all gun owners in New York’s Westchester and Rockland Counties. And sometimes the posted-policy reversal is a flagrant, albeit unenforced, defiance of existing law, which explains why a number of large cities (think Chicago, New Orleans, and the District of Columbia with nationally-high hand-gun-use rates) have been “banning” hand-guns even though the Supreme Court, five years ago, denied DC (and, by extension, other cities) such authority. Even with such contradictions, overt commentary is rarely voiced, which makes the LaPierre distrust-of-government moment-of-candor all the more unusual in the never-ending Second Amendment debate.

That’s because both the Progressives, who employ armed guards while arguing against similar but do-it-yourself protection for their intellectual inferiors, and we non-inner-city types who own the most long guns and commit the fewest crimes with them, have been curiously restrained in making the historical and rhetorical points. The Progressives follow their talking-points script, re-defining gun ownership around hunting, target-shooting, and (infrequently) personal protection, while systematically ignoring the resistance-to-government-tyranny thesis of the Founding Fathers, not overtly, but by refusing to acknowledge or even mention it. Surprisingly, Second Amendment supporters follow a somewhat similar script, with quite-rare and –restrained reference to the Jeffersonian-Hamiltonian-Madisonian advocacy of an armed citizenry furnishing the essential cautionary balance to any governance-over-reach tendencies. Not one of their frequently-referenced quotes contains any mention of duck-hunting, target-plinking, or castle-doctrine. The NRA’s own monthly journal features “The Armed Citizen”, a multi-page description of recent incidents wherein citizen self-defense worked, and almost never contains comparable discussion of the Founding Fathers’ governance-restraint intent. Even the more outspoken Gun Owners of America has chosen to refer to Second Amendment intent in generalized and non-specific terms of “citizen freedom” rather than engage in direct reference to its “citizen restraint on government tendencies” original-design purpose. Such drawing-room manners – the quietly-understood rules of civilized debate preclude any too-specific and-overt challenge of the opponent’s discreetly unspoken principles—bring to mind Herbert Hoover’s Secretary of State Henry Stimson, who in 1929 closed the Department’s Code [breaking] Office (no CIA, then) with the explanation that “gentlemen don’t read each others’ mail.” History subsequently dictated otherwise, which explains why, shortly after the US entry into WWII, the Office of Strategic Services was established to do just that.

Even so, the “gentlemens’ code” isn’t dead. Case in point: the Fed’s century-long record of US currency management for (Constitutional purpose) “regulating the value thereof”. Until Congressman Ron Paul broke the fact-barrier and was the first to describe how, since 1913, the Fed has, by currency-printing, reduced the purchasing power of the dollar by 96%, it was a not-to-be-spoken-in-polite-society subject. Even today the painful stats are fairly rarely (and the underlying purpose, never) mentioned. So, maybe, Wayne Lapierre is now, to the Second Amendment, what Ron Paul was to Article 1 Section 8: in Star Trek fashion, going where no one has dared go before.