Rejecting Power

Our Founders never expected politicians who avoid power.

There comes a dreaded time in the life of nearly all American parents: when it's time for one's teenager to get a driver's license.

Any sane parent worries about all the "Faces of Death" clips we see on the news of stupid teenagers who drive like maniacs or get drunk and kill themselves.  Even when perfectly sober and sober-minded, piloting a motor vehicle is a hazardous activity.

When we were that age, though, the process of obtaining the actual license was straightforward: Swing by the DMV and grab a copy of "Rules of the Road"; talk Mom and Dad into taking you driving in progressively more challenging situations; then, after a while, visit the DMV again for a ten-question multiple-choice test and a short, nervous drive with an examiner.  Congratulations, you're grown up!

Not anymore.  For one thing, it now seems to be illegal for a teenager to get behind the wheel, even with a parent, until you've taken multiple full-length courses and gotten a learner's permit.  Then, you have to do a bunch more driving and courses, carefully logged, before you can apply for a license - complete with certified parental permission.  You don't actually get your license at the DMV anymore either - you have to hear a lecture from an actual judge, in court, about the dangers of driving.  Then they hand over the license... to Mom and Dad, who can give it to you (or not).

It's a well-known fact that experience in driving increases safety.  Anything that compels new drivers to be under the monitoring of someone wiser for a while will save lives.  And the principle of requiring Mom and Dad to sign off on progress is also a good one.

But your humble correspondent happens to be in full support of this effort, and is fairly competent at researching on the Internet.  Even so, the hoops to be jumped through are so complex, interlocking, and poorly documented, as to present an infuriating challenge - not just for the kid, but for the adult.  One of the course modules even admitted the truth - teens driving is dangerous, so while they can't actually ban it, they want to make the process so onerous and discouraging as to effectively prevent all but the most disciplined and determined teens from accomplishing it.  Statistics show that this scheme is working.

They could just drive without a license as illegals do, except that they'd get in more trouble.

Unresponsive Government?  Or Not?

The first reaction is that this is just another example of an oppressive, freedom-destroying regulatory state.  And that may be so.

On the other hand, parents of teenagers tend to be in their prime earning years.  Many of them are involved politically and most of them vote.  They also have friends with slightly older and younger kids, so word of the nightmarish, ever-changing process should get 'round.

If parents were truly as angry about it as was this writer, there'd be a political pushback, and the process would be changed to something more tolerable.  There's no sign of that happening - just a few months ago the legislature made it even more complex and time-consuming than it was before, so recently that none of the online references had an accurate explanation.  Yet Google didn't find outraged parents screaming about it on any of the many parenting blogs.

Given that the dog isn't barking, we have to consider a more worrying possibility: that this Byzantine regime actually does reflect the desires of most parents.  They want the law to be hard, expensive, and time-consuming on both them and their teen.

Who would possibly want that?  Someone who does not want to take the responsibility of saying No.

Father Knows Best?

When my grandmother was ready to get her license - at 14 - she hitched a ride into town and went to the sheriff's office.  The sheriff said, "I know your daddy, and if your daddy thinks you're ready to drive, you're ready to drive."  He filled out and signed her cardboard drivers' license and that was that.

Obviously that degree of informality wouldn't work today, but it illustrates an important principle: Back then, it was generally assumed that parents were involved and that their approval for a license was all that was required, because parental approval meant something.

Today, parental approval and involvement is still required by law with multiple signatures and personal attendances at time-consuming ceremonies.  No teen is getting their license without the full knowledge and cooperation of at least one parent, it's simply impossible.

Aren't there easier ways to accomplish this, though?  Why add all the complex steps and obstacles?

The sad possibility: Suppose many parents would like to say No, but don't think they can, even though they have the legal authority to do so - or, put another way, aren't willing to put up with the expected yelling and screaming from their entitled brat.

What's easier?  Saying No, and dealing with a sulky immature nagging teenager for months or years until they've finally grown up enough to be considered ready to drive?

Or saying, Of course you can!  Just figure out all the legal requirements, save up the hundreds of dollars, jump through all the hoops...  By the time they've done all of that, they'll be grown up, or at least a bit more grown up, without blaming Mom and Dad for the interminable delay!

The current teen driver's license process reflects a culture of parents abdicating their responsibility to exercise authority over their own children, and passing it off to a government which, they know by experience, will be completely unresponsive to any complaints or protests.  They want government to impose the authority that they, themselves, find it inconvenient or impossible to exert.  In so doing, they pile a heavy burden on parents who do want to accept the responsibility and are prepared to exert authority, by stripping them of the right to make their family's own decisions.

It's Contagious!

Our Founders famously set up our government riddled with checks and balances to ensure that no one locus of government became all-powerful.  The states strive with the Feds for power; Congress, the President, and the judiciary struggle over who can do what.  All up and down the system, individuals try to increase their own power at the expense of someone else.  The idea was that, with everyone fighting over power, nobody would get too much of it.

What happens, though, when those in power decide that they don't really want the responsibility or the blame?  When they'd rather pass their authority off onto someone else who can take the heat?

That's why the Supreme Court has become the last word in so many of our political debates.  SCOTUS justices never have to run for office; they don't have to answer to the people since once on the bench, they're there for life.  They have full-time bodyguards and almost never give interviews.  To most Americans, they are invisible most of the time - yet they can overrule laws passed by the elected representatives who do answer to us at the polls, and all too often create new laws out of whole cloth based on personal whim.

Why didn't Congress pass a bill legalizing abortion in the 1970s, or decreeing homosexual "marriage" more recently?  Politicians knew there'd be backlash at the polls, so they preferred to have the Court do the dirty work.  Legislators on both sides can do nothing more than pontificate about our most serious issues - and what's worse, nobody expects them to anymore.

Our Founders would have been appalled and astonished at this result.  Who doesn't want power?  What sort of politician willingly, nay eagerly, gives up power to judges or bureaucrats?

Why would the states tolerate the Feds telling them what their school, welfare requirements, and marriage laws, must be?  It seems that our leaders want to be heads of state - figureheads - rather than heads of actual government.

As with driving laws, it all comes back to the voters.  We have politicians who won't attempt to lead because we elect people like that - or at least we did until Mr. Trump came along.

What becomes of a country whose people prefer that the big decisions be made by remote, unaccountable autocrats?  Eventually those who accumulate actual power will grow tired of the inconvenience of sham elections and the reality will be revealed: an aristocratic monarchy.

And maybe that's the kind of spineless people we're becoming.  After all, in a democracy, we get the government we deserve - in our families as in our halls of supposed power.  As for politicians who are fine with evading the responsibilities that come with power - we guess they're only in it for the money.

Petrarch is a contributing editor for Scragged.  Read other articles by Petrarch or other articles on Politics.
Reader Comments

I'm helping my grandkids get their license and a few things have changed since I went through the ritual 50 or so years ago. First, high schools don't do drivers ed anymore. Its gone the way of Home Ec, pays ed, and Shop. Seems like the money allocated to these things are now funding big time pensions and union's political contributions. The substitute is now now a $600 " rules of the road " one week course. There is a test at the end that must be passed to get the learner's permit. For 6 months after that your drive with an adult ( yes grand dad's are OK). THEN another test and the license .
Since I spend my summers in a Blue State , it feels more like they are making work and generous compensation for their friends and fellow travelers. The old coach who use to run the High School
drivers ed program now runs the $600 " rules" course. Yes I'm sure that there is some evasion of responsibility by local elected officials, but it seems more like an extension of the Dependency State. If you want this nice cushy job, keep your friends in office.

July 18, 2018 8:05 PM
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