Having Your Cake
The Lexington Herald-Leader wrote an editorial this week that captured a sense of what is going on in the Tea Party and in conservatism generally:
In fairness, many of us are guilty of wanting the benefits of something — whether it’s board certification or full campaign coffers — without paying the price.
Like the Gulf Coast residents who want government off their backs, until a hurricane or oil spill comes along.
Or the Farm Bureau that wants government off the farm, except for the mailbox which is always open to subsidy checks.
Or politicians who rail against out-of-control spending but show up to take credit when a ribbon is cut or oversized check presented.
Or all the rest of us, who resent the chunk of change that government extracts from our pockets but want smooth roads, good schools, police and fire protection, national security, personal security in old age, free markets governed by laws, student loans, flood walls, lakes and parks and the list goes on.
The Tea Party movement, of which Paul is both a leader and beneficiary, feeds the comforting illusion that we can have all we’ve come to expect from government without paying for it.
The Tea Party is not alone in feeding this illusion. The libertarian philosophy, when blended with the reality of governing, has created the modern conservative movement (outside the evangelical Christians – the Tea Party of the 1990s).
Ever since Reagan used the anti-tax revolt started in California to restore the GOP to its “rightful” place in Washington after Watergate and the disaster of Carter’s Administration, conservatives have spent the last three decades feeding the notion that the government can cut taxes without sacrificing public services.
Consider the results of that decades-long project: financially stable and unemployed senior citizens demand that we get the government’s hands off their Medicare but that we do all we can to repeal the “socialized medicine” of allowing poor young people to buy private insurance that may not cover as much as what poor old people get.
And now, we’re seriously talking about ways to trim government spending federally when the recession, which still hasn’t really ended, has been exaserbated and the stimulus made less effective because of the same spending cuts being made on the state level.
The libertarian approach to government is a fine idea in the abstract, and it has the beauty of simplicity and consistency that few other ideologies this side of communism and fascism can offer. But the problem with using libertarian rhetoric to promote ill-libertarian policy agendas is that we have created a country of petulant children-adults, who say they want to lose weight but rather than reaching for water, they reach the sugared soda; rather than reaching for a nice salad, they reach for a gallon tub of ice cream and chocolate sauce.
Their intentions sound good, but the policy is where it matters. And even then, going on a diet when your doctor has diagnosed you as anorexic is more than a little absurd.
We need an honest, adult conversation about where the country is headed. The problem is the Republicans in Congress and running for Congress just aren’t wanting to listen.