There are a couple of fascinating rhetorical trends in our political discourse today. Politicos and pundits of various stripes now routinely accuse fiscal conservatives and the Tea Party of political violence.
Opposition to raising the nation's debt ceiling was characterized as "hostage-taking." Refusing to bow to Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton's demand for tax increases was a kind of "terrorism."
Entwined with such assaults, many have urged the need for government to "function" or "work" for the people.
The sum of these sentiments is the assertion that fiscal conservatives hold back a benign government from doing its job.
A recent example was the Star Tribune's editorial opposing a proposal by Rep. Steve Drazkowski, R-Mazeppa, to amend the state Constitution ("Don't raise bar for state tax increases," Sept. 7).
It would require a 60 percent legislative supermajority to raise taxes. How could our state function under such a requirement? Perhaps we should first consider: What is government's proper function?
Majority rule is a process, not a purpose. It is a means, not an end. If the function of government is to provide 51 percent of the people with whatever they want, then the remaining 49 percent are bound to the majority's whim.
There's a word for government by whim. It's called tyranny. It matters not whether it is a tyranny of a majority or a tyranny of one. Either way, it is anathema to our true governing principle -- individual rights.
Too often in our political discourse, the nature of taxation -- force -- is downplayed or completely ignored. Taxation is the seizure of wealth. Yet efforts to restrain taxation are frequently regarded as hostile, as if wealth belongs to the state by right and individual property claims are some mystic chicanery.
Government ought not "function" to any whimsical end. Government should function only when its aim is proper, only when it protects individual rights.
A majority casts no voodoo by which government acquires the right to steal. It is therefore proper for the minority to hold some clout. Impasse is welcome when "progress" tramples rights.
In its argument against Drazkowski's proposal, the Star Tribune evokes the specter of California, a state which until last November required a 67 percent vote of its Legislature to enact a budget. California is renowned as a fiscal disaster, and we are led to believe their supermajority requirement was to blame.
Of course, California's situation was and is distinct from Minnesota's. Requiring a supermajority to raise taxes is substantially different from requiring a supermajority to pass a budget. The thresholds also are remarkably different, 67 vs. 60 percent.
Furthermore, many of California's fiscal woes stem from spending its Legislature has no control over, the result of copious constitutional amendments which dictate spending priorities.
Minnesota started down that path in 2008 with the Legacy Amendment, codifying a sales tax rate into the Constitution and dedicating the revenue to projects of dubious importance.
The Star Tribune Editorial Board rightly opposed placing the Legacy Amendment's tax-and-spend bias into the Constitution, and now opposes what it sees as a no-new-taxes bias.
However, unlike the Legacy Amendment, Drazkowski's supermajority proposal does not dictate either taxes or spending. It only raises the threshold for increasing taxes.
Be that as it may, the larger point remains. Government's mandate is not to "function" at any cost. Impasse, gridlock and shutdowns are not inherent evils.
They are the inconvenience known as representation. That's the tricky thing about consent -- when you don't have it, you reach an impasse.
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Walter Hudson, of Farmington, is chairman of the North Star Tea Party Patriots