Americans have long had to fight City Hall, but now they have to fight an almost endless list of government bureaucracies at both the state and federal levels. Occasionally, however, the little guy still wins.
On the Central Coast of California, a private citizen named Steve LeBard — operating on behalf of various voluntary civil associations — has led an effort to build a privately funded memorial to America’s military veterans on a small plot of public land at the entrance to Old Town Orcutt. From the spring of 2011 onward, the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) has maddeningly opposed him at every turn, balking at (among other things) the fact that the planned memorial was to include an American flag; that it was to include the words “United States”; and that it was to include the phrase “E Pluribus Unum.”
Now, Caltrans is waving the white flag. It turns out that, when faced with a steady barrage of negative publicity from the Santa Barbara News-Press, THE WEEKLY STANDARD, National Review Online, Fox News, and the Los Angeles Times, Caltrans can be quite reasonable. Of course, most private citizens don’t show the tenacious refusal to be bullied by senseless bureaucratic decrees that LeBard — who served in the Marines and is a Vietnam veteran — has shown, and the overwhelming majority of Caltrans’s affronts to private initiative and common sense are never publicly exposed.
LeBard’s battle against Caltrans is important in highlighting the sorts of government impediments that everyday Americans are up against when they seek to take initiative in their lives. But the larger point is this: One of America’s two major political parties now wholeheartedly believes in the benevolence of the centralized bureaucratic administrative state and the need to expand it at nearly every turn. Take the abundance of new bureaucratic entities that have been created to control Americans’ health care under Obamacare, or this administration’s blocking of efforts to build the Keystone pipeline, or the Environmental Protection Agency’s determination to impose cap and trade by bureaucratic fiat and thereby (in the words of today’s lead Wall Street Journal editorial) “succeed in wiping out American coal-fired power.”
At every turn, the enterprising spirit of an ostensibly free people is being thwarted by the actions of centralized entities wielding largely unchecked powers. To be sure, many of the well-connected know how to game the system (see Jack Lew), but the little guy, and even the big guy who’s in the administration’s sights, usually isn’t so lucky.
Still, how often do you hear the opposing party (the one that lost the presidential election this time around) rail against centralized power and the dangers it poses to liberty — using those words? You want a moral argument for conservatism? Well, you can’t make it very effectively without referring to liberty and its natural enemy — centralized power.
Even in the Obama era, however, there are times when a private citizen fights Sacramento or Washington and manages to prevail. LeBard happily reports in an email, “Caltrans wants all of this to go away. At the [Santa Barbara County] Board of Supervisors meeting [today] the Board will agree to buy the property from Caltrans for $1,500.00.” (The County Board is very supportive of efforts to build the memorial.)
“We will be able to build the Veterans’ Memorial just the way we want to...bronze Veterans’ name plaques on the columns, sponsor plaques on a large boulder, American Flag [at the memorial’s] center, Military flags on the columns, lights, trees, roses, benches, etc....”
In the spirit of ’76, LeBard adds:
“And I get to keep fighting Caltrans to change their policy, to allow the American Flag in Caltrans ‘Gateway Monument’ projects, in towns throughout California.”