Yesterday, my colleague Rick posted a little satire piece on Democrats that provoked a lot of discussion. And by “a lot,” I mean almost 100 comments. (No, I’m not jealous. Really. Honest. Promise. Lousy rat bastard…)
Anyway, in the comments, the partisan bickering started flying fast and furious. Some of it in jest, a lot more with a bit of mean-spiritedness, but still remarkably enlightening. I found myself looking at the counter-list put forward by “JeremyP” and giving it a hell of a lot of thought.
The link gives JeremyP’s full list, but I’m going to take out the ones that I found had a common theme:
I voted Republican because I think my taxes should make wealthy people wealthier than than being used to make my community a better place.
I voted Republican because I’d much rather my tax money go toward making bombs than bread.
I voted Republican because I hate socialist institutions like public parks, schools, roads, the police, fire department and EMTs, food safety standards, NASA, the FDA, etc.
I voted Republican because I think that corporations are much better at everything, like making safe cars that don’t need to be recalled every year, spinach that’s free of deadly bacteria, and insulation that won’t cause cancer in thousands.
I voted Republican because I was so angry and I didn’t know why – so it must be the Democrats’ fault. The free market would never screw us all over in favor of a higher profit.
I voted Republican because I see nothing wrong with dropping $30,000 on a new car that wastes energy so I can drive past that homeless shelter and food bank and laugh at the losers who can’t hold down a job.
I voted Republican because I was born in to a position of privilege and desperately want to hold onto my social advantages. Those damn Mexicans need to be deported … they’re starting to act way too much like we white people.
Again, I edited JeremyP’s list. He had four others that didn’t fit as well into my thesis here. Feel free to follow the link to see the ones that didn’t make the cut.
The common element here is that they all have a break in their chain of logic, a single presumption that has not been borne out by experience, a demand for a leap of faith that is just not supportable by history.
And that is the unshakeable faith in the government to keep its promises and bring about the ideal results.
That is a very tenuous chain of logic, one that is almost never borne out by practice.
Start with the observation that there are inequalities in life. Some people are more successful, wealthier, healthier, than others. That is indisputable.
From there, make the leap that the inequalities are unfair. That there is something about them that is unjust. That in order for some to have come out better, that it must have been at the expense of those who came out worse. That’s the first flawed assumption.
If there is an injustice, then it should be addressed. That’s inherent in our social contract. But should it be the place of the federal govenment to address every single injustice?
That is the second flawed assumption. Some injustices simply aren’t part of the federal government’s responsibility. Some of them are better resolved at the state or local level of government, or by some other body. The community, acting collectively. A private board. A religious institution. For example, if my neighbor is being a rude, obnoxious jerk to the neighborhood, then we — as a neighborhood — can exert social pressure on him to mend his ways. We might get the guy’s minister in on it. As a last resort, we’ll call the cops. But we don’t need the state or the federal government to pass a law telling this guy to stop being a jerk.
But suppose that the issue is such that the federal government (rightly or wrongly) sees it as worth addressing. Will they throw their considerable weight behind the “right” side?
That’s the third flawed assumption. For example, let’s look at the current argument about “reforming” the financial markets. The liberals say that for too long the government has enabled Big Money to get away with murder, with enabling them to commit rampant fraud and abuses, to line their pockets at the expense of everyone else. In other words, the federal government was backing Big Money and enabling them. And for some time, that’s been the case. Will getting the government to simply change sides really make a fundamental difference? Or will it just last as long as the government stays on the “right” side?
OK, so we get the government to intervene in the matter, on the “right” side of the issue. What will the government do? What kinds of laws will it pass, and what kinds of penalties will it enact? Will that actually resolve the injustice?
That’s the fourth — and worst — flawed assumption.
The federal government is a very, very blunt instrument. It has, essentially, two tools in its toolbox to compel obedience: jail and fines. If you cross the federal government, it can take away your possessions and your freedom — or, in some cases, your life.
Money is the most frequent tool. If you do what it wants you to do, it gives you tax breaks and exemptions — which translates into “lets you keep more of your own money.” If you don’t, then it imposes taxes and fees and penalties and duties and fines and whatnot to discourage your behavior.
My favorite example is the “luxury tax” from the Clinton era. In order to raise more money, Clinton and the Democratic congress passed a hefty tax on high-end luxury goods, in particular yachts valued above a certain level. The reasoning was that anyone who could afford such fancy toys could certainly afford a tax on top of the price, in order to get them to pay their “fair share” of the tax burden.
Funny thing how that worked out. Instead of simply shrugging and adding on to the check, the rich stopped buying their yachts in America. They started buying and registering them in the Caribbean and other places outside the United States.
And with the market for American-made luxury yachts suddenly drying up, American boat builders suddenly found themselves without much of a market for their highest-profit products. So they started cutting back, laying off workers and the like. Those workers were highly-skilled craftsmen in a highly specialized field, so their skills didn’t exactly transfer into other jobs.
So, in the interest of “social justice” and “getting the rich to pay their fair share,” the federal government damn near destroyed an entire sector of industry, ended the jobs of hundreds of non-millionaire skilled workers, shipped a whole business out of the country. Those were the UNINTENDED consequences of their action.
As far as the INTENDED consequences? The “luxury tax” was a complete and utter bust, never once generating anywhere near the projected revenue. And the rich? They learned that they could get along just fine without “buying American.”
Read over Jeremy’s list again. And see how they are all based on the presumption that the federal government’s primary duty is to enforce Jeremy’s idea of social justice. His penultimate point says it so well:
I voted Republican becase I see nothing wrong with dropping $30,000 on a new car that wastes energy so I can drive past that homeless shelter and food bank and laugh at the losers who can’t hold down a job.
To Jeremy, it is absolutely onconscionable to buy a car with your own money, that meets what needs and desires you have, and then appreciate that you have achieved a measure of success in life that is better than some others. No, to Jeremy, it seems, if anyone is miserable, then all should be miserable. And being a jerk definitely has to be a federal offense.
It’s reminiscent of the old definition of socialism: “the equal distribution of misery.”
Re-reading Jeremy’s comments, it’s clear that he’s young, and probably in college. He’s probably never had to file his own taxes, never gotten a check from a full-time job and seen just how big a bite the government takes before he even sees it (according to one of my own recent pay stubs, I work the first ten minutes out of every hour for Uncle Sam). So he’s young and idealistic, all full of great ideas and notions of Justice and Fairness and Equality, and convinced that if only he could get the government to enforce his ideas, everything would be all sunshine and roses.
I don’t think I was ever that young.
The world would be a better place if it worked like Jeremy thinks it does, and how he thinks it should. Pity we’re stuck with this far more imperfect world.