“Suppose you were an idiot, and suppose you were a member of Congress; but I repeat myself,” wrote Mark Twain more than a century ago. It’s safe to assume that the troubling phenomenon of the low information lawmaker is nothing new. However, given the unprecedented size and scope of the federal government with its $3.8 trillion budget, more 163,000 pages of regulations covering every facet of life, and drones on command, the cost of ignorance is higher today than in Twain’s time.
Case in point: earlier this week Congresswoman DeGette of Colorado told an audience that if high capacity firearm magazines were banned their number would decrease over time. She was under the impression that firearm magazines are disposal, kind of like soup cans. You can only use them once. That she’s wrong on this point wouldn’t be so worrisome if she wasn’t the lead sponsor of a bill to ban such magazines.
The gaffe isn’t as spectacular as say Georgia Congressman Hank Johnson’s contention that the island of Guam could capsize or California Congresswoman Maxine Waters’ assertion that a tiny cut in federal spending would cause 170 million people to lose their jobs (there are only 155 million US workers). But whereas these mistakes are sad but harmless, Congresswoman DeGette’s misimpressions about firearms could impact American’s Second Amendment rights to self-defense. Her counterparts in the Colorado statehouse recently passed a similar magazine ban and President Obama has federal gun control in his sights.
This is the same Administration that claimed the Affordable Care Act would reduce the cost of health insurance premiums not cause them to rise each year. There seems to be a pattern here of pushing legislation based on faulty assumptions.
The trouble with a large, centralized government is that low information lawmaking negatively impacts everyone. Power amplifies error. The nation’s founders, who knew a thing or two about misuse of authority by knowledge-challenged rulers, established a form of government based on federalism whereby power is divided among federal, state, and local governments and the people themselves.
When decisions are made at the state or local government level, the impact of lack of foresight or outright ignorance is contained. Chicago’s strict gun laws and sky high murder rate, while tragic, end at the city’s borders. Massachusetts’ rising health care costs under Romneycare, the model for Obamacare, were previously just the state’s problem. People who didn’t like paying more and getting less could move out of state. Now there’s no escaping the folly of a low information Congress.
Returning power from the federal government to states and local governments would reduce the impact of flawed public policy. We must go further. Decisions big and small from the form of self-protection to the size of the soft drink, from health care coverage to light bulb wattage, should be made by individuals. We should experience the consequences of our individual choices be they foolish or wise. That’s what being free is all about.
The trouble with low information lawmakers isn’t so much their ignorance; it’s their ability to make those decisions for us.
Krista Kafer is executive director of the Colorado’s Future Project. This op-ed originally appeared at A Line of Sight