Opinion | Morgan Liddick: Good governance and the soda Gestapo
Special to the Daily
So here we are. Decision day, when — since we are not Louisiana — we discover who we have selected as our political leaders. And despite the grumbling that this has been a campaign about nothing, devoid of big ideas and heavy on the smear, this was another in a series of pivotal contests.
Do not doubt that for the past decade we have stood at a fork in history’s road, wringing our hands and vacillating about the course our country will follow. It’s like the Rocky Horror Picture Show’s song: just a hop to the left, and then a step to the right.
Politicians don’t help. As a class they are fearful of ideas and untrusting of their constituents’ ability to process a thought deeper than “my opponent’s a lying liar …” Which is both revealing and shameful: we need a long and comprehensive discussion about our country, its character and its future.
Our alternatives are framed by two great goods: Equality and liberty. For more than half our nation’s history, liberty prevailed as our organizing idea. People were free to do as they wished; “equality” had to do with expanding the electoral franchise, access to the justice system and the ability to become as economically unequal as one’s talents, labor and luck allowed. There were alternative viewpoints — people who argued that the government should do more than provide security and a framework for people to realize their aspirations. But they were a small minority.
With the rise of the progressives around the turn of the 20th century, the preference for liberty began to fade and equality was slowly redefined to mean roughly similar outcomes for all. “Fairness” entered the political lexicon and began its insidious work. We have trod that road for over 100 years, arriving at a point where many people find it unremarkable that a government gives a sixth of its citizens money it has taken from the more productive because that’s “fair.” Or demands that employers violate their religious beliefs so that their employees may receive services the government deems appropriate. Or determines how large a soda one should be able to buy. We have come to the point where some at least nod in agreement with the looney idea that business owners neither create their enterprises nor hire people.
We know where this path leads; we’ve seen it before. It doesn’t matter whether one recalls Rome’s bread and circuses, the Second French Republic’s ruinous efforts to provide “employment for all,” or the late unlamented Workers’ Paradise, on whose rubble Vladimir Putin is now building his Neoczarist fantasies. When a majority of people receive government cash for their living, they become petitioners and dependents, not citizens. The political class which dispenses this paternalistic largess gains power and prestige, eventually overmastering the population which is reduced to penury and serfdom. Think of it as an achieved ideal: the rough equality of universal misery. This is a dark road, indeed.
For the past several elections, conservatives have argued for the other path: returning to an emphasis on liberty. In some ways this may be more in tune with current sensibilities — provided we are honest and consistent. If getting government out of the bedroom, or decisions about one’s body is desirable, then why not remove its money — and thereby the power to intrude — from the same venues? Yes, all of it. If “bailing out banks” is evil, then why not remove the banking regulations that necessitated the bailout? Let badly-managed banks and other businesses face the results of their incompetence; equally, let an applicant judged a bad credit risk not be funded in the name of “service to a non-traditional borrower.” The latter may be “fair” to the individual recipient, but not to the citizenry which must bear the price of that folly.
The idea that more money and bigger government is the answer to every question has had its day; more of the same will only make its wrong-headedness clearer. Tighter budgets would mean the Centers for Disease Control would have to decide if it wanted to develop a cure for Ebola or fund studies of drunken monkeys and obesity’s link with homosexuality. Clearer thinking about the wisdom of allowing government control over our lives would not mean the demise of the state that guards our borders, but might trigger the withering away of the soda Gestapo.
“We’re from the government, and we know what’s good for you” is an idea whose time has come — and gone.
Morgan Liddick writes a weekly column for the Summit Daily News.
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