Like the inexperienced thief who breaks into a home and steals the Xbox, ignoring the Picasso hanging on the wall, establishment Republicans have a hard time with the “get government out of the way” concept they looted from the Liberty Movement and the Tea Party factions of the GOP.

They steal the phrase to vaguely rail against “government regulation” and “government intervention” in our daily lives while ignoring more valuable illustrations of the principle.

Perhaps there is no more stark example than the sex-trafficking legislation introduced in Congress by Republican Rep. Erik Paulsen. Based on Minnesota law, Paulsen’s “Safe Harbor” legislation would treat women caught up in sex-trafficking as victims rather than criminals.

Good legislation? You betcha. But while Paulsen, never one to miss the opportunity to heist a popular trend, is fencing the legislation as a way to combat the evils of sex trafficking, he completely ignores the more valuable lesson hanging right in front of him.

Just whom do victims of sex trafficking need protection from?

Safe Harbor laws protect victims of sex trafficking from their own government more than from the “bad guys.”

It was arbitrary legislation that defined victims of sex trafficking as “criminals.” It was government that enforced laws against victims’ behavior instead of focusing on the truly criminal behavior of sex traffickers who forced them into it. Although Paulsen fails to realize it, his Safe Harbor legislation is simply “getting government out of the way” of helping victims and apprehending the real criminals.

A less dramatic but nonetheless telling example of getting government out of the way to accomplish an obvious good is the Minneapolis City Council’s consideration of relaxing restrictions on “mobile grocery stores.” Many people in urban areas lack access to fresh fruits and vegetables. There are entrepreneurs and nonprofits that recognize the need and are willing to serve it; the problem is that city regulations effectively prohibit them from doing so.

So, we have a problem — lack of access to fresh food in urban areas. We have a solution — individuals willing to sell fresh food from mobile vehicles. But we also have a government entity that says, “Hey, wait a second. We haven’t given our blessing. We haven’t said this is OK.”

Just whom do urban shoppers need protection from?

Yet another example is legalizing the use of cannabis (marijuana) for medical purposes. Minnesota and Wisconsin have both moved in that direction this spring, but only after heavy lobbying, especially by parents seeking help for their children afflicted by seizures.

Once again — just whom did these children and parents need protection from?

In a free republic, patients and their doctors shouldn’t need to petition government for permission to prescribe and accept treatment. In a free republic, the burden is on government to prove a compelling interest before it limits individual freedom, and even then, government’s obligation is to use the least restrictive means of achieving its stated objective. Instead, cannabis produced a harmful side effect — legislative knee-jerk — and its use was banned.

Simply wearing “get government out of the way” on a T-shirt or mouthing the phrase for applause at a political rally is not enough for establishment Republicans expecting to build credibility outside of their base. They need to learn the difference between an Xbox and a Picasso — between popular action and acting on principle.

Safe Harbor legislation that recognizes victims of sex trafficking are not criminals, enabling individuals to meet the need for fresh food in the urban core, and allowing doctors and their patients to determine the best course of disease treatment each mean “get government out of the way.” That, and not the popularity of the causes, is the principle at stake.

It is government we need protection from.


Craig Westover is a Republican activist and writer.