When Legislators Go Too Far

The Arizona immigration crackdown is just another example of the loss of legislative restraint by all political parties.

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There once was a time when government in America generally erred on the side of caution. The unspoken rule mirrored the oath taken by physicians: "First, do no harm."

Echoing that sentiment, then-presidential candidate Barack Obama said in 2008 that sometimes it takes a scalpel to address a problem instead of using a hatchet. With spending, that meant paring a budget of unnecessary costs. With legislating, that meant enacting laws that address a problem without overreaching and creating a bigger problem--one that impacts the core beliefs of our nation.

There were times when the legislative version of the Hippocratic cath was ignored for the sake of personal gain or societal prejudice. Instances of personal kickbacks or discriminatory initiatives have been a part of our nation's past at the state and federal levels. Fortunately, over time we corrected many of those mistakes and turned toward a truer sense of justice, one that overcame the overreaching efforts of government and laws that served near-sighted goals.

Today's legislators have adopted the wrong lessons from our nation's history as they deal with many of the lingering problems that their predecessors failed to master. Instead of seeing that large problems must be solved in small, sensible steps, our leaders today are rapidly dooming us to repeat the errors of our past legislative ways by overstepping their bounds with wide-sweeping laws.

This tendency to enact overreaching legislation is not a partisan phenomenon. For example, Tea Partiers and Republicans have an easy target in the Obama administration. Any presidential support in 2008 for a tempered approach toward legislative solutions to major financial and social problems was gone once Democrats implemented a 2,000-page, oft-misunderstood health care reform package based on partisanship alone.

Many from the political right will also argue that the president's approach to stimulating the economy and bailing out major American carmakers in 2009 are examples of drastic legislative measures taken when more modest and less expensive options were available. They also argue that Republicans--traditional advocates for smaller government--would have never taken on such expansive legislation to address the challenges we face today. They argue that this liberal approach to writing overreaching legislation is the reason populist protests have cropped up since early 2009.

Yet, the calls for legislative restraint should not be solely directed to the left. Republicans have not resisted the urge to splurge legislatively, either. It is just that their legislative overreach focuses on other matters. For example, Arizona's controversial law on illegal immigration overreaches socially in a way that is just as dangerous as the perilous legislative moves at the federal level that put us in fiscal peril. Just as President Obama was criticized for too much government expansion in addressing the financial crisis and health care reform, Republicans have shown a lack of legislative restraint to the point of violating civil rights.

Republican legislative excesses have been used by left-leaning distracters to bolster their case against conservative leadership. Conservatives distrust the Democrats' ability to exercise fiscal restraint and often view Democratic proposals as opportunities to inhibit personal freedom. At the same time, liberals distrust Republicans' ability to maintain legislative restraint on the issues of homeland security, often seeing moves to "secure America" as opportunities to inhibit personal freedom with legislative overreach as well.

If conservatives can accuse the Obama administration of leaning toward socialism in its attempts to repair our economy (charges we have seen from the political right), it is also fair to note that some recent Republican legislative moves are leaning toward fascism or nationalism in their efforts to keep Americans safe (as has been pointed out by the political left). The fact that both sides are being accused of going too far too often suggests that both sides have forgotten to "... first, do no harm..."

In truth, "Taking Back America" must incorporate a return to legislative restraint on both sides of the aisle, regardless of the problems that our leaders confront. Most problems do require a scalpel to address, not a hatchet. That is true of issues like the Great Recession, health care reform when medical costs are skyrocketing, and illegal immigration in a border state. No social need in our great nation or partisan desire of a legislature should be greater than the fundamental tenets of our country. That was a belief that many American politicians forgot in the past, often to the dismay of our ancestors. It is crucial that we revive that belief today before the overreaching "long arm of the law" goes too far in impacting our future, much to the dismay of our descendents.