Many say that the recent presidential election debacle verged on a constitutional crisis. Looking back at last year’s events, let’s apply some perspective. Take a moment and examine what the real crisis is.

Americans are forced to pay for an ever-expanding welfare state, primarily through the burden of taxation. They are taxed in proportion to the degree of their success; in short, success is punished precisely because it is success.

By “welfare state” I don’t simply mean charity programs for unwed mothers and the like. That’s the least of it. The true welfare state includes the corporate welfare state, in which businesses apply political clout to attain subsidies or exemptions from government regulations that their competitors do not enjoy. It means using the force of government to advance your enterprise, rather than the honest and non-coercive cleanliness of the marketplace.

America started out as an essentially laissez-faire capitalist society, in which government left business entirely alone: no favors, and no restrictions, except against fraud or contractual violations, of course. The myth is that the growth of Big Government contained capitalism and kept it from becoming irrational. The truth is actually the opposite. The economy only continues to flourish as much as it does because of the remnants of freedom and capitalism that are still with us.

Today’s current economic expansion, for example, is largely due to the Internet and high-tech marketplace: a market which, at least initially, enjoyed no government regulation because it did not exist.

While it’s true that Republicans pay lip service to the notion of limited government, there’s little reason to believe that they possess the will or the ability — especially after this election mess — to effect any real reductions in taxes, regulations and other violations of individual rights.

President-elect Bush, in fact, wants to expand the role of government in education and medicine almost as much as the Democrats do. Expect to hear from Mr. Bush very soon, for example, on the so-called virtues of prescription drug benefits forcibly paid for through taxes, and the alleged need for the federal government to “improve” education by expanding the public school system still further.

It remains to be seen what Bush’s true philosophy of government is. His actions will speak the truth. Towards the end of the presidential campaign, he did say some good things — such as the need to leave people alone and get the government off their backs. But did he mean them? Or was he simply trying to shore up his core base?

If you value a limited government both in the economic and the personal realm, you must brace yourself for possible further intrusions in both of these areas over the next four years. If you value your life and if you enjoy self-respect, you should prepare to fight these intrusions on principle.

The true constitutional crisis in our country is an ongoing one: it’s the crisis of an ever-expanding government which acts as if its citizens are little children rather than grown adults. In the end, though, the fault for this lies more with the people than with the politicians. The politicians are merely giving the people what they request.

The best news may be the incredibly divided government we now have. This much maligned divisiveness in government may be the thing that saves us for another few years. If Democrats and Republicans fight it out over the next four years, then they can’t raise our taxes and regulate us any further — in our personal lives or our economic lives.

Long live divided government! At least until politicians learn the right ideas, and seek to dismantle the welfare-regulatory state once and for all. In the meantime, let them hurl insults at each other. The rest of us can remain somewhat free to produce and enjoy life.

Those American founders, many years ago, knew what they were doing.