Why did we think otherwise? That gets back to the fundamental disconnect between America’s national mythology and who Americans are as a people, or at least as a voting majority, in the 21st century. To reprise the Frenchman I quoted in this space a while back, “Americans love Big Government as much as Europeans. The only difference is that Americans refuse to admit it.” And, because they refuse to admit it, they’ve wound up with a uniquely disastrous form of statism — a kind of statism on the sly, in which the zombie husks of private industry are conscripted as the front men for de facto nationalization. As part of the sky-is-falling rhetoric over the soi-disant shutdown, the media warned that, with federal employees furloughed, many American homebuyers would be delayed in moving into their new homes.
Tragic. But how did it come about that government bureaucrats are mixed up in your home closing? It’s bad enough that the feds have a piece of so many mortgages, but it’s far worse that, even if you walk into the realtor’s office and plunk down a certified check for the entire cost of the house, you’re still obligated to comply with all the federal HUD paperwork. In many key areas of life — your home, your health, your bank — Americans now enjoy considerably less freedom of maneuver than Europeans. They don’t think of it like that because it’s statism at one remove. But third-party statism is inevitably more cumbersome, bureaucratic, and expensive — summed up in those commercials for “Medicare supplement plans,” patiently explaining why an already hideously unaffordable taxpayer-funded entitlement nevertheless apparently requires huge additional private expenditures in order to function.
If you blur the lines between public and private as artfully as American statism does, eventually everything becomes the government, and your private sphere is no more genuinely private than those private museums, boat launches, restaurants, and campgrounds ordered closed at no notice by the shock troops of the National Park Service. In South Dakota, the NPS attempted to shut down an unmanned, open-air parking area on the shoulder of the highway to prevent Americans from looking at Mount Rushmore. Apparently, the view belongs to the government and you can enjoy it only with their approval. In the days of absolute monarchy, a medieval proverb nevertheless assured us that a cat may look at a king. But in South Dakota freeborn Americans may not gaze upon their presidents without the permission of the bureaucracy.