Every day I see another poll stating support or opposition to policy positions. Some times they are being mentioned by major media -- Fox News, the Washington Post, Newsweek Magazine -- or other source. Other times they are being promoted by major organizations; groups who are for or against guns, groups that are for or opposed to socialized medicine, people who want tax increases and those who want to dump tea because of them. Today, polls dominate public policy debate. I believe that those who live by the polls -- especially people who claim to support liberty -- will die by the polls.
• If a majority of Americans support a massive increase in taxes, do tax increases become a good thing?
• If a majority of Americans want to severely limit access to firearms, is that a good thing?
• If a majority of American want to socialize medicine, should we be supportive of it?
Invariably, polls that do not support "our" position are dismissed as distorted, skewed towards certain population groups, or are simply wrong. It is not the numbers that are wrong, it is the idea of using polls to drive policy debates that is the problem.
Polls are the tools of demagogues and purveyors of mob rule. Polls are tools used by the majority and are designed to bring the minority, or the one, "in line." One of my favorite quotes on the subject is from Ayn Rand who said, "The smallest minority on earth is the individual. Those who deny individual rights cannot claim to be defenders of minorities." The Founders attempted to make a country in which individuals ruled and the elected officials served to protect them (and not “provide” for them).
Our federal government was designed to do very little at all. Its primary objective was to protect individuals from other individuals and our nation from adversaries. Its seventeen enumerated powers in Article I, Section 8, gave the federal government a very modest agenda, with the vast majority of power being deferred to the states and (more importantly) individuals. Furthermore, the Founders created a convoluted form of government that made change difficult to achieve. This was not by accident, but design. While the so-called "French Republic" started years after ours, it has had five different governments over the last two hundred years. The British boast of a "Constitution," but that is simply the evolution of law over centuries. Our Constitution was intended to mean something. It was meant to make government small, but strong. It provided the separation of powers -- the Legislative, Executive, and Judicial branches -- for the primary objective of making it difficult for laws to pass. It was meant to hinder, not foster, change. Our office of the President differs greatly from the Prime Ministers of Europe. The latter are mere extensions of the legislative branches and are meant to facilitate change. The former is meant to represent the interests of all the people and often resist the legislative agenda.
Our Constitutional Amendment process is so daunting; we have only had 27 amendments approved since 1789. Since that time over 10,000 amendments have been introduced and any where from 100 to 200 have been offered annually for the last several years. Of those 27, ten of them were ratified with the Constitution (they are our Bill of Rights) and were a prerequisite for the document being approved. Seventeen amendments over 200 years demonstrates a government adverse to change.
The Founders were opposed to most "change" when it came to government, because such was virtually always done at the expense of individual freedoms. Those who do not share such values continually discount the delays in our founding documents and often try to legislate through courts and bureaucracy. I, for one, believe it is time to go back to the principles that have worked and are found in the Constitution and not public opinion polls.
Kevin Price is a syndicated columnist whose articles frequently appear at ChicagoSunTimes.com, Reuters.com, USAToday.com, and other national media. Kevin Price is Host of the Price of Business (M-F at 11 AM on CNN 650) and Publisher of the Houston Business Review. Hear the show live and online at PriceofBusiness.com. Visit the archive of past shows here.