Tom Patterson: Is Limited Govt a Spent Force

Are Americans backing away from their trademark commitment to limited government? “Limited government“ isn’t a sexy catchphrase. But it is the enabler of the principles and policies that have made our American experiment in self-government a success.

Limited government implies a positive vision of society in which each individual has the freedom to manage their own life choices, where merit and hard work are rewarded and where the opportunity to join the good life is open to all. 9591371_orig

Human failings are recognized. None are allowed to fall too far, but personal responsibility, to the limits of one’s ability, is rightly expected of all. Government is restricted to those duties it does best and which can’t be accomplished otherwise.

That’s not the government we have today, of course,. A powerful government that takes our money and regulates our lives has robbed us of our economic vitality and enfeebled the mediating institutions of society, like churches and families. As we have seen, if the government provides care for the young and the aged and performs the functions families and communities once took upon themselves, the bonds are naturally weakened.

Yet Americans since the New Deal have become increasingly convinced that government is an effective solver of social problems. Today, large numbers of millennials admire socialism in spite of its history of producing poverty, oppression and death.

Maybe that can be ascribed to a simple failure of education. However, even among Republicans a recent study showed only one in six considered smaller government and lower taxes a priority. Candidates favored by such voters have mostly failed since the days of Ronald Reagan as Phil Gramm, Steve Forbes and Fred Thompson have all lost decisively in Republican primaries, in spite of qualifications far exceeding the eventual winners.

Disinterest in the discipline of fiscal conservatism has inevitable consequences. We now have our second president – one from the Left, one from who-knows-where – who appear indifferent to any present or future consequences of the federal debt and aren’t about to undertake any heavy lifting to do something about it.

On the contrary, at a time when we desperately need to strengthen our economy and lift the heavy hand of government, both the socialist Sanders Left and the Trump administration are pushing for…mandatory paid maternity leave for both genders! It’s the same old story, Big Government knowing better than businesses themselves how to structure benefit programs. Meanwhile, businesses get hit with a hidden tax, politicians take the credit and jobs become more scarce.

Our taste for more government and less liberty has led to a doubling of the national debt, from 35% of GDP to 77% and rising over the last decade. No candidate campaigned for this, voters didn’t demand it. Liberty recedes if there is no resistance, as Thomas Jefferson told us.

The urgency of addressing this blight on our future now can hardly be overstated. The likelihood is great that the next Congress will be unwilling to produce the massive momentum shift still necessary to stop our decline.

For starters, any tax reform must be designed to produce economic growth, even at the expense of other priorities. Business taxes must be cut, with any revenue loss offset by eliminating special interest deductions like mortgage interest and non-federal taxes. We have to stop the bleeding in our social programs with an eye to maintaining a true safety net while avoiding welfare and disability programs that complete successfully with work.

We must reduce the overbearing role of government in medical care with a system of catastrophic insurance and medical savings accounts, subsidized when necessary.

Finally, like it or not we must address entitlement spending, especially Medicare and Social Security. Common decency requires leaving something on the table for future generations with moderate but potent reforms like raising the retirement age.

This is no time for liberty conservatives to forsake their values. Rather than treating the problems caused by Big Government with yet more government, we should emphasize making the benefits of economic freedom available to all Americans. We must never neglect the poor and truly vulnerable, but limited government is still the key to empowering individuals to lead lives of worth and dignity.

Tom Patterson: Whatever Happened to Color Blind

The Wall Street Journal told recently of an Illinois school principal who informed his teachers they would “continue on our journey of equity” by splitting into “affinity groups” based on racial identification at their weekly staff meetings. By this means faculty members would be able to “explore and affirm aspects of their identity”, presumably in lieu of discussing school business or their students’ academic progress. “Staff that identifies as individuals of color will meet in Room 226…”

Perhaps this season of celebrating “goodwill to all“ would be a good time to ponder the apparent demise of America’s vision to create a colorblind society. Why has “colorblind“ become controversial as a goal when 50 years ago we cheered Martin Luther King‘s passionate dream of a day when his children could be judged by the content of their character rather than the color of their skin?

But today, racially segregated faculty meetings are no big deal. Americans have grown accustomed to formal, approved racial divisions.

Colleges now feature Black student unions and separate graduation ceremonies. Legislatures divide themselves into Black and Hispanic caucuses with exclusive membership and separate agendas. Major cities like Los Angeles feature whole sections where Whites aren’t welcome. Elsewhere, the cultural appropriation police are relentless.The Boston Museum of Fine Arts sponsored “Kimono Wednesdays” in which visitors could try on a replica of the kimono worn by Claude Monet’s wife in the painting “La Japonaise”. The authentic kimonos were manufactured in Japan specifically for the purpose, yet the museum was widely vilified for cultural insensitivity and racism.

Asian-American “activists“ protested with signs reading “Try on the Kimonon. Learn what it’s like to be a racial imperialist today!“ Even when the museum relented and designated the kimonos for viewing only it was criticized for inviting a “creepy Orientalist gaze“.

An Arab-American author accused Caucasian women who enjoy belly dancing of “white appropriation of Eastern dance“. A Daily Beast writer accused pop star Iggy Azalea of committing “cultural crimes“ by imitating Black rappers. The novelist Catherynne Valente was criticized because her novel “The Orphan’s Tales“ referenced folklore from several cultures including Russian while she wasn’t Russian.

Let’s be clear. There are instances of cultures exploiting each other, such as literal theft of artifacts or intellectual property or making references that are mocking and meant to injure. But this rage over sombrero wearing crosses the boundaries. It’s looking for trouble where there is none.

Ethnic groups coming into contact with each other have long adopted customs and artifacts that they admire or find interesting. It’s more often a compliment than an insult. Western civilization has contributed clothing, literature and rock music, among other things, to the rest of the world. Yet some radicals contend that even making tacos is inherently exploitative.

Let’s see if we can crack the code. If ordinary Americans actually get along pretty well in their daily lives, it is crucial for the political Left, now committed to identity politics for the survival of the Democrat party, to convince us that we are divided into victims and oppressors.

Senator Kamala Harris of California crowed in 2016 that Democrats “won incredible victories by embracing our diversity and rejecting the politics of hate”. But is it really fair to focus only on the candidates’ identity? Isn’t it possible that the Sikh, the lesbian and the transgenders who won office were simply deemed qualified? On the other hand, did all the Rust Belt voters who voted for Obama in 2012 and Trump in 2016 suddenly turn into racists?

Maybe voters have more than racial identity on their minds when they go to the polls. Maybe, like Dennis Prager says, it really is a libel to say that Americans today fundamentally, intentionally oppress minorities. Maybe we would all be better off if all Americans were to accept and find the best in each other rather than to wage cultural warfare.

America isn’t perfect, never has been, never will be. But the interest of all Americans are more alike than different. We all want jobs, strong families, opportunity for all and a prosperous future together. History suggests that the consequence of separatism in a multicultural state is misery and strife.

Tom Patterson: Private Charity

Bernie Sanders once announced, “I don’t believe in charities“. He dislikes the “fundamental concept“ of private citizens subbing in for government by helping those less fortunate or donating to causes they find worthy.

Sound like a cCharity-Jarrackpot? Many thinkers on the left agree with him. Eduardo Porter of the New York Times wrote that private philanthropy is “unaccountable to society“ because it is “unfettered by democratic controls and dictated by the preference of donors“.

Rob Reich of Stanford complains of the unfairness of donors earning gratitude when in fact they are nothing more than a “plutocratic voice in a democratic society“. “Philanthropy, if you define it as the deployment of private wealth for some public influence, is an exercise of power“.

Citizens trying to help others often run into resistance from officialdom. As recounted by Michael Tanner of the Cato Institute, an Elgin, Illinois man during a recent cold spell invited homeless people into his heated basement. But local officials shut him down, citing code violations that could “potentially“ result in inadequate light and ventilation or insufficient exits. You must admit those spaces underneath the bridge are well ventilated and have plenty of exits.

In Atlanta, people providing food to the needy got hit for “unlicensed operation of a food service establishment“. Many cities prohibit or limit sharing food in public. Organizations ministering to unwed mothers or runaway teens often encounter unreasonable zoning restrictions.

But those who believe charity should be left to the big boys-government-ignore the lessons of history that private sector charity dollar for dollar is far more effective than government in helping fellow humans. There’s a reason that America’s modern welfare system, the original Great Society, has failed to reduce poverty or to improve income inequality, in spite of the trillions of dollars well meaning Americans have poured into these programs.

Government provided entitlements are ineffective in changing the behaviors and mindsets that are the root causes of poverty. As the word suggests, entitlements are regarded by the beneficiaries as a right and entail no responsibility to improve or change.

In practice, government benefits often work to keep people mired in poverty. Single mothers typically receive benefits on the condition that they don’t get married or take a job. Their poverty is enabled and extended by government’s “help“. No wonder the results are so dismal.

Private sector charity is based not on entitlement but on personal compassion. Private philanthropies aren’t bound by bureaucratic and legal restrictions. They have a long history of conditioning the help they offer on giving up drugs, going to work and adopting other constructive lifestyle changes. Private charities may also use religious approaches to social problems which for many are powerfully and positively inspiring.

There is another key difference between government and individual philanthropy. Administrators of government programs want them to grow. Success is measured by the number of individuals in the programs. Many programs have significant budgets for marketing and recruitment.

Private sector charities measure success not by the size of the caseload but by the lives they are able to impact and the people they help to self-sufficiency. Long-term dependency is avoided if at all possible.

The great divide in modern politics is not between conservatives and liberals, terms which have been tortured out of any distinct meaning. It is between statists and individualists.

Statists believe that government rightly owns us and all that we possess. The only legitimate power is that of the collective. One’s political legitimacy derives solely from group membership. Individualists of course beg to differ.

Attitudes toward philanthropy, like so much else in public life, sit atop this chasm. Thus arises the indignation that an individual philanthropist would be allowed to exercise “power“, even in a good cause, since he illegitimately stole it from government in the first place. As Ted Kennedy explained long ago, it is government through “tax expenditures“ that rightly decides how much income each of us are permitted to keep.

Few would argue that charity can replace all government efforts to help the poor. But America has a long and glorious history of people successfully helping people. We would all be poorer if we forsake that heritage.