We all have people in our lives who influence not just what we believe, but how we think. For me one of those people is economist and author Walter Williams. Dr. Williams is one of a handful of people who have helped shape the way I think about economics, history and government. Lately I’ve been thinking about a point that I have seen him make on several occasions.
I came across this point while reading a collection of Williams’ essays in a book titled Liberty Versus the Tyranny of Socialism. It comes from a February 9, 2005 column in which Williams criticizes then-President Bush for ignoring the boundaries of the Constitution in his proposals for disaster relief. The key point that stuck in my mind comes from this section of the column:
“Today’s politicians can’t be held fully responsible for our abandonment of constitutional government. While they can be blamed for not being statesmen, the lion’s share of the blame rests with 280 million Americans. Elected officials simply mirror public misunderstanding or contempt for constitutional principles. Tragically, adherence to…constitutional values…would spell political suicide in today’s America.”
In a 2011 interview, Williams reiterated the point and shared how this idea, an “epiphany” as he calls it, was illustrated to him in a conversation with the late Jesse Helms, a Senator from North Carolina. As Williams tells it, Helms explained why he supported unconstitutional agriculture subsidies this way: “He said, ‘Walter, I agree with you 100% that these farm subsidies ought to be eliminated.’ But then he asked, ‘Can you tell me how I can remain the senator from North Carolina and vote against them? If I do what you say, I would be voted out of office.’” Williams continues, “Politicians who talk about cutting these programs are going to run into trouble. We have to get the American people, as much as politicians, to respect the Constitution.”Details