It's Gray Area: How much government is too much government?

The following question is meant to be practical, not philosophical, and your answer is important.

Do you want unlimited government?

That would mean that government would effectively take responsibility for deciding and controlling all aspects of our lives. Honestly, I don't think I have ever encountered anyone who wants that.

One reason of course, is that unlimited government doesn't work. For example, the governments in China, Cuba and the former Soviet Union took away many personal freedoms, but they still had some limitations on government, and even then their systems were stagnant.

If you agree with me so far, I am asking you for a favor. Ask yourself what limitations should be placed on government. Then think seriously about the issue and write down your answers.

This fundamental political issue gets almost no attention from most voters or the media, but it literally defines who we are politically. And, furthermore, it means that we cannot vote intelligently either for or against any candidates unless we know what their views are on this critically important issue.

A good place to start is to focus on what the Founding Fathers decided. This can be found in Article I, Section 8 of the Constitution, which says that the federal government is delegated the power to establish such things as a common currency, a set of rules to regulate commerce with foreign countries and also among the states, immigration into our country, a military, and court system to protect us from others and from ourselves. I am not one of those who believes that the original intent of the Founding Fathers should control our interpretation of the Constitution, but it is a good place to start.

Importantly, your review of the Constitution will not disclose anything that gives power to the government to control or even affect things like education, healthcare or drug policy. In fact, since the 9th and 10th Amendments specifically state that unless powers are delegated in the Constitution to the federal government, they are expressly reserved for the People and the states.

Nevertheless, ever since the Franklin D. Roosevelt's presidency, agents of federal, state and local governments have continually expanded their power. And, along the way, these agents have often themselves become a privileged class. Have you noticed?

For example, just after Lee Brown was appointed to became the first drug czar for the Clinton administration, I went to Washington, D.C., with a former police chief of San Jose who had previously been a mentor for Brown and took him out to dinner at a popular steak house. The purpose behind this effort was to attempt to convince Brown to help change our nation's drug policies to be more health-related and less punitive. (We failed.)

He showed up for the dinner in a large limousine, and the chauffeur waited outside with the engine running. Was that an appropriate use of our taxpayer money?

As another example, recently the Los Angeles Times reported that several senior officers in the military are living in villas and other mansions both in our country and abroad, complete with gardeners and cooks, all at the expense of the taxpayers. The Times also reported that many workers for the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power are taking more than their allotted 10 ten days of sick leave with pay per year. Ten days of sick leave are a lot, and some were taking 20 or more! Is anyone in control of the public coffers at all? Are there no limits?

Not to be outdone, the Orange County Register recently reported that a magician who traveled with a rabbit for his hat trick was required to have a disaster plan to protect the rabbit in case of emergency situations like fire, flood, tornado, loss of air conditioning, ice storms or power failures. And this plan must be submitted in writing! Do you think the government's powers to require such plans should be more limited?

Now, don't get me wrong. Without a doubt, we need governments, and, yes, there should be a safety net to provide for the general welfare of our people. But even so, outside of those enumerated powers set forth in the Constitution, government should be the last resort instead of the first resort. So if that is your belief, you probably join us in being a Functional Libertarian.

Similarly, if you believe the government should be limited, such that it can have no programs to snoop on us with drones from the skies or gather phone, travel or credit card information without a judicial warrant, you probably fit the same mold.

I do not mean to turn this column into a high school civics lecture. But this is important stuff, and no one seems to be even thinking about it. And this failure has to a large degree contributed to our losses of freedom, prosperity and equal opportunity.

So, please, ask yourselves, your family and friends, and, especially, anyone that you would consider voting for, the question of what limitations should be placed upon government. After all, it's our future, and it's also our country!

JAMES P. GRAY is a retired Orange County Superior Court judge. He lives in Newport Beach. He can be contacted at

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