No More Sand Castles in Santa Monica
by Josh Hedtke | UCLA
Recently, two Los Angeles news articles caught my eye. The first concerns a yacht, free boat tours and taxpayer money. The second concerns frisbees, not being able to throw them and the curtailing of the fine art of sandcastle making on the pristine beaches of Los Angeles County.
A short summary of both:
1. The port of Los Angeles apparently owns a 73-foot “boat” that it uses to take people on free tours of the port. Last year it spent $300,000 on captains, deck-hands and fuel. This year, the port plans to spend $689,000, $489,000 of which is federal stimulus money, to fit it with new engines because the old ones no longer meet California emissions standards.
2. The “Board of Supervisors” of the Los Angeles County Department of Beaches and Harbors has issued a new ordinance requiring citizens to obtain permission from lifeguards in order to toss a Frisbee or football on L.A. beaches between Memorial Day and Labor Day. The ordinance also makes it illegal to dig a hole in the sand deeper than 18 inches.
Why is this relevant, aside from my new inability to construct sand jacuzzis or bury my cousins? It’s actually about more than just sand and boats.
The current L.A. County Port Leader, Beach Supervisor or grain-of-sand counter has undoubtedly worked very hard to obtain his or her position, and has probably held it for a while. Once the public servant finally attains a position of high importance, it’s only natural for him or her to want to go quickly to work and do things he or she thinks will improve the quality of life for Los Angeles citizens. And if he or she is there for a while, the official must continuously think up new projects and legislative measures to work on in order to retain an air of legitimacy in his or her office.
This all doesn’t seem so bad on the surface. After all, public servants are simply working hard at their chosen vocation. They’re passionate about their careers and truly care about the citizens of L.A. But there’s one big problem: the passion for doing public service cannot be separate from the drive to lead a “successful” career.
I don’t know how things were in the olden days, but it seems like the idea that government should be doing certain things and not others has gone out the window. In almost no circumstance have I seen federal or state officials really approach public policy issues with the mindset of “is this something we, the government, should be doing?” And as a result of the absence of this mindset, we get laws that prohibit us from digging holes.
Therefore, I’ve come to conclude the most attractive candidate in today’s political climate is one who practices restraint and exhibits real, not just nominal, reverence for the Constitution. Such candidates/officials are quite rare, and those that do fit the bill are so few they don’t have the power to change the face of politics. But perhaps if we’re to really change the way we’re governed, we should focus on the skeleton, rather than the face of politics.
The face is always changing: ‘Bush singlehandedly ruined our nation, so Obama will singlehandedly un-ruin it.’ ‘If we could get Ron Paul in there, maybe he could shake things up.’ I know this is oversimplifying by narrowing things to the office of the President, and I also know it’s impossible to take the human aspect out of government. But I believe one way to fix our system is to revert back to the skeleton that allowed for all this muscle to grow: the Constitution.
If anybody gave a damn about the Constitution anymore, laws that make it illegal to dig holes would be made unconstitutional by the courts. The recent repeal of California’s Proposition 8 (prohibiting gay marriage) shows the courts still think it necessary to apply the Constitution to some issues. But that’s not enough. Americans need to start demanding constitutional accountability for every single politician in office and every single bill that’s signed into law. If we don’t, hypothetically, President Obama might end up using an executive order to declare an impotent Congress an enemy of the state.
My point is, in order to fix the system that no longer serves its people, we need to revert to strict adherence to the Constitution. The alternative clearly isn’t working; the whole idea of the “elastic clause” (“The Congress shall have Power – To make all Laws which shall be necessary and proper for carrying into Execution the foregoing Powers”) has been crucially misinterpreted and fecklessly abused. Politicians pass thousands upon thousands of laws every day simply because they can. Politicians tell us when to throw a frisbee and decide which bank will be bailed out because they, for some ungodly reason, have the power. But I know how we can usurp that power.
We can start by demanding excellency from every one of our statesmen. By that, I mean constitutional restraint and respect for the 235-year-old institution they serve. We can demand the Constitution play a much bigger role in our politicians’ decision making. We could demand every elected official tattoo the Preamble to his or her forehead, so when he or she makes a deal with another politician, neither of them can avoid the law of the land glaring at them from a sweaty cranium.
This is a lot to throw out there, I understand that. I also understand there’s no magical way to instantly undo years of ill-advised governing. But there are some things we can do: tell a friend about liberty, blog about the pitfalls of government, use Facebook and Twitter to spread your ideas. The passion for liberty and government accountability is infectious, and I believe it has the potential to change the world.
Patrick Henry once famously remarked: “Give me liberty or give me death.” As long as death by frisbee remains a non-issue, I’m hoping we might all be able to buy into this mentality.Josh is from San Diego