April 12, 2009

THE ROLE OF GOVERNMENT, OR THIS IS TOO HARD OF A POST TO WRITE

So many people did such a good job of answering Sis B's question. I concur with the fundamentals of what they said (and I would settle for a school voucher system any day as opposed to the soup sandwich we currently have.)

Any discussion of what I think the role of government is would have to include talk of rights. I believe we have inalienable rights to life, liberty, freedom of speech, freedom to assemble, etc. Those are rights to be left alone. To not be meddled with. To live and let live. We need a system of government when our community gets too big to handle as an individual, but the role of government ought ideally to be to protect our right not to be meddled with.

My husband and I love watching the series Deadwood. You can see on this show the evolution of government: Jack McCall kills Wild Bill, and then, aw crap, now we have to have a trial instead of just stringing him up. And then maybe it would be a good idea to have a sheriff and so on. You see these people who moved West to be left alone now being forced to create a government of sorts as the community gets bigger. And they downright resent it. Seth and Saul wanted to move West to open a hardware store, so they bought land, erected a building, and started selling boots and pans. They didn't need a permit, they didn't need a building inspection, they didn't have to belong to a guild or pay union dues; they just set to work filling a need in the camp: hardware. Can you imagine what they'd think if they saw what has to be done to start a business today?

I'm not saying life was better in every way back then, but Deadwood illustrates the gradual relinquishing of complete individuality and the loaning, if you will, of some of your rights to an authority. People entrusted the sheriff with their right to life and their right to justice. In return, the sheriff mediated their disputes (most notably between Hostetler and Steve the Drunk. Which was enough to make you wish you didn't live under the rule of law, so you could choke that hooplehead Steve out and be done with it.)

I liked CaliValleyGirl's analogy of government as a home owner's association. We in the United States have entrusted our government with some of our rights. We are too big to defend ourselves individually, so we entrust them with our national defense. We needed a system of interstate roads, so we entrust our motorways to them. But I personally think that what we now entrust our government to do goes way beyond promoting the general welfare.

Broadly speaking, I think the difference between the left and right is that the left wants to entrust more things to the government. I think they see our country as one big family. In my family, I have a crappy little job where I make about $75 per week. My husband makes more than that in a day. But all our money goes into the same bank account, and I am allowed to spend whatever I think is prudent on clothes or yarn or books. My husband does not restrict my spending to only what I make, because we are a family and we love each other. And sometimes I think that the left sees our country as an extension of a family, where the person who makes $75 per week is entitled to the same equality of result as the person who makes $7500. I think that's illustrated by Lileks' Parable of the Stairs story about his tax refund:

“I think the money should have gone straight to those people instead of trickling down.” Those last two words were said with an edge.

“But then I wouldn’t have hired them,” I said. “I wouldn’t have new steps. And they wouldn’t have done anything to get the money.”

“Well, what did you do?” she snapped.

“What do you mean?”

“Why should the government have given you the money in the first place?”

“They didn’t give it to me. They just took less of my money.”

That was the last straw. Now she was angry. And the truth came out:

“Well, why is it your money? I think it should be their money.”

What I see is that James Lileks made that money and he should be able to use it to build stairs to improve his home. But this Democrat canvasser thought it should've all gone into the collective national bank account and then been doled out based on who needed it.

On the same note, after she wrote this post, CaliValleyGirl elaborated on the theme in an email. She wrote:

I mean, imagine you are walking down the street with my dad and you meet someone who asks you for money. And you say sure, and slip your hand into my father’s pocket, take his wallet, take out a $20, give it to the guy, and now you feel good, because you helped that person. But really, YOU didn’t help that person.

This, to echo back to Sis B, is the left-wing mindset that I will never understand. Why should the stair money belong to all of us? Why should anyone be entitled to the fruits of Lileks' labor? And how do people justify taking money out of CaliValleyDad's pocket and giving it away to people who didn't earn it? (A question which, sadly, CaliValleyGirl never seemed to get an answer on.) The United States is not one big collective family with a shared bank account. It was never meant to be that. I don't know why we've drifted towards that; I find it maddening. I don't need to be Deadwood, but I don't want to be what we are right now.

I have heard Sean Hannity do man-on-the-street interviews with young people, asking them what people have the right to. Most of them quite readily agree that people have the right to shelter, food, education, transportation, and health care. I firmly believe that the government should grant none of those things as a right. In order for a penniless person to have any of those things, the government has to take Lileks' stair money and give it away. The role of government should be limited to enforcing the laws that protect our inalienable rights: the laws that prevent someone from coming into Lileks' house to steal his stair money, the laws that ensure that the contractor who builds the stairs will face justice if he doesn't fulfill his contract, and the laws that protect Lileks' right to defend his family should anyone step foot onto that staircase to do them harm. The government's role, in my opinion, has nothing whatsoever to do with whether or not Lileks should get to have the stairs in the first place. If he earned the money for them, he gets them; he shouldn't have to relinquish his stair money so that other families can feed their kids or have a house.

Leonard Peikoff says it well in a speech I read back in 2000, a speech that resonated with me instantly and which obviously became a part of my knowing. I didn't realize how closely I'd echoed it nine years later in the beginning of this post until I googled it to quote here:

The term "rights," note, is a moral (not just a political) term; it tells us that a certain course of behavior is right, sanctioned, proper, a prerogative to be respected by others, not interfered with -- and that anyone who violates a man's rights is: wrong, morally wrong, unsanctioned, evil.

Now our only rights, the American viewpoint continues, are the rights to life, liberty, property, and the pursuit of happiness. That's all. According to the Founding Fathers, we are not born with a right to a trip to Disneyland, or a meal at Mcdonald's, or a kidney dialysis (nor with the 18th-century equivalent of these things). We have certain specific rights -- and only these.

Why only these? Observe that all legitimate rights have one thing in common: they are rights to action, not to rewards from other people. The American rights impose no obligations on other people, merely the negative obligation to leave you alone. The system guarantees you the chance to work for what you want -- not to be given it without effort by somebody else.

When I talk about Our Gulch, when I reference Fight or Flee, I am talking about my people. My tribe, as Whittle would say. And the people I want in my Gulch, they all have this same definition of rights. Most people I am friends with have this definition; most of the bloggers I read share it too. It seems to me that we are numerous. So to me, the interesting part of Sis B's question is this:

I think that part of what mystifies me about it is the vast chasm between what I hear regular conservatives saying they believe and the type of government that has been established under the guise of conservativism the past 8 years.

I am equally mystified by this. If everyone I know feels like I do about rights and the role of government, why don't we ever have a government that suits us?

I think the answer lies in compromise. My tribe was mad that Pres Bush was soft on immigration and that he signed the prescription drug plan. Many in my tribe were mad about the marriage amendment as well. I also remember vividly in 2004 when Bush won and said he was going to privatize Social Security. I couldn't believe my ears and was thrilled beyond belief. But it didn't pan out. The federal government is one whopping compromise where no one ends up happy with the result.

And it's not just Republicans who embody this chasm. Remember how Pres Clinton fficial&client=firefox-a">was "the best Republican president we've had in a while"? I am sure Obama supporters are mad that he hasn't completely pulled out of Iraq and that closing Gitmo is "complicated." It's the nature of politics that all presidents are going to govern from the center and end up ticking off their constituents.

Which is why I agree with Mrs du Toit and CaliValleyGirl that politics should be local, and that we ought to live in gulches. Another fundamental belief I have about the workings of government is that it should vary by locality. There should be very few federal laws; most things should be left up to the states, and then you could live in the state that you feel best represents your worldview. It would be far easier to get one of 50 states to suit you than it is to get the entire country to. People pay far too much attention to federal elections and lawmaking.

Towards the end, Sis B adds:

But when this election was done and the Republican party had its collective ass handed to it, my first thought was, "I hope that this allows the party to get back to the fundamentals of its beliefs and that they re-emerge in four or eight years with a strong, coherent platform." Seriously. I want the conservatives to get back to their roots and come back strong.

I don't see that happening.

I think I disagree with her. I think four years of President Obama will be plenty to make people in the center lurch rightward. And I hope we see a resurgence of conservative/libertarian principles on the national stage. I want Republicans to stop their pandering and quit trying to be Democrat Lite. I want to be the party of tough love. I want to be the party of individual responsibility. I want to vote for someone who denies the Democrats their premises. But, you'll remember, I was not a McCain supporter from the beginning. I supported Fred Thompson, who was far closer to my ideal politician than what I ended up having to vote for. Not perfect, but as close as it probably gets. (I don't imagine we could ever get away with President Z.)

So, at the risk of sounding like Forrest Gump, I guess that's all I have to say about that. Sis B has now asked her Democrat readers to explain their side. If you are interested in this exchange of ideas, keep your eyes on this post and the comments.

For additional reading about the role of government from people whose brains work far better than mine, check out Mrs du Toit's The Day Liberty Died (via Amritas) and den Beste's Citizen Soldier.

Posted by: Sarah at 11:32 AM | Comments (11) | Add Comment
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1 Funny, I would label myself a "liberal" - note the lack of capital letter. This is the best definition I could find as to why that word fits: favorable to or in accord with concepts of maximum individual freedom possible So I don't feel that Sarah's view of government is all that different from mine. Let folks do what they want to do - don't impose your religion, don't tell me what marriage means, don't go crying to Washington over what happens in your backyard, take care of your own business, etc. Seems to make sense to me. I find it curious that most people who deride liberals seem to believe that all of them want the government to do everything for them - some certainly do, but not all of them. Many people label themselves "liberal" because they want to be left the hell alone by other people. Frankly, I don't see the Dems or the Republicans supporting this ideal at all. Both are pretty far from it. Granted, maybe that's our fault. We make hunger, education, finance and all types of other social/personal issues a political issue and what can a politician do about them short of legislating and making it a Washington problem? Great post - thanks

Posted by: Sarah's Pinko Commie Friend at April 12, 2009 02:55 PM (4bitt)

2 Pinko -- I have seen many bloggers that I consider on "my" side use the small-l liberal designation. Like in a "taking it back" way.

Posted by: Sarah at April 12, 2009 03:10 PM (TWet1)

3 As in, "its cool, I'm taking it back!" ? Nice

Posted by: Sarah's Pinko Commie Friend at April 12, 2009 04:23 PM (4bitt)

4 Pinko -- I just knew you would get my Randal reference... Incidentally, I should've commented about your last paragraph. Excellent point. Why do we focus so much on social issues during the campaign: I don't want the government hand on any of those things. So what I want to know is this: Do you think Obama's "leaving people the hell alone"? I know you favored him over McCain; are you happy about his policies so far? Because to me, taking the reins of the banks and car companies is pretty freaking far from leaving us alone. I think it's a major entwining of government and business. What do you think?

Posted by: Sarah at April 13, 2009 02:44 AM (TWet1)

5 Excellent post Sarah. It's hard to explain each of our individual belief systems but I think you and CVG did an excellent job of it. People seem to forget about states rights and how they were the foundation of everything. If you want to live in state that honors gay marriage then you can move to one that does. However people don't want to be uprooted from their own community, so they just attempt to change their communities collective mind. If the community doesn't like that idea then the person might say well let's make it a national law, so then I don't have to be inconvenienced by moving. I consider myself conservative but have some very socially liberal ideas. I believe in a woman's right to choice to control her own body. I believe that all children in our country have a right (yes, strong word I know) to a decent education and free health care. I don't mind my taxes going to pay for education and health care because in the end it makes our country stronger and more competitive in a global market. Some conservatives don't agree with me and that's ok. I respect their opinions because they are educated on the issues or have strong moral beliefs. Which brings me to a point. One of the reason's I dislike Liberal ideology even though I am slightly liberal myself, is that most of the people I speak with don't seem entirely clear on what they believe. It's just seems to be this blanket idea of everyone should be taken care of. Everyone has a right to everything to make them comfortable in life. This ideology is something that seems to be fostered in the PUBLIC school system. Which is why so many people these days choose to home school. If the liberal side doesn't want prayer in schools because of the 'separation of church and state' (NOT a RIGHT granted in the constitution by the way, but read as an INTENTION by Thomas Jefferson in a letter he wrote) then quit stuffing another ideology down the kids throats. It's an idea of entitlement that bothers me. No one ever said life was going to be fair. The other thing I take issue with is the vitriol that is spewed by both the liberal and conservative sides. Name calling won't help. The original post asked for no name calling, however there was still a jab at the other side when she said that 'But when this election was done and the Republican party had its collective ass handed to it,' I call bullshit on that. Obama received 52.9% and McCain received 45.7% Hardly a landslide sweetheart. I don't think Obama is going to have 8 years of governing. He has shown so far that he does not in fact have the experience needed for the job. He election galvanized many conservative-lite people into becoming more involved in their local governments and say, no more, lets change this.

Posted by: Mare at April 13, 2009 03:55 AM (TWet1)

6 Tomorrow I will be sending out my first quarterly estimated tax payment for this year. I am self-employed, so I self-deduct my taxes, and actually notice how much of my money is being siphoned away. And what struck me was that my federal tax payment was nearly 10x that of my state tax payment. And I thought how wrong that is…it should be the other way around. Why are we sending so much money to Washington, when supposedly Washington’s job is to send it back to us? Why don’t we keep it in our states, and send a minimal amount to the federal government? I just don’t get it. Mare, I agree with you on the public education thing, but I would argue that it's not a right. I would say, like you did, it's just a smart thing to do as a nation and makes us stronger. A good education takes care of a lot of problems...problems we still have in this country, so I feel we are failing ourselves in that way, because we aren't giving public school children that good education.

Posted by: CaliValleyGirl at April 13, 2009 05:20 AM (irIko)

7 I know 'right' is a strong word in this case. But my thought process is that the system already exists. We are already paying for it. Ultimately if we want people to take personal responsibility for their own lives and not need the help of the federal gov't then we must give them the tools to succeed. Education is the key to that. And I used the word 'decent' very specifically. It does not have to be perfect. It has to get the job done to prepare kids for either college, the military or a trade. What they do after that is up to them. Then again, education is not a something guarnteed in the Bill of Rights. Just my 2 cents, your mileage may vary

Posted by: Mare at April 13, 2009 06:53 AM (y9A8i)

8 I know 'right' is a strong word in this case. But my thought process is that the system already exists. We are already paying for it. Ultimately if we want people to take personal responsibility for their own lives and not need the help of the federal gov't then we must give them the tools to succeed. Education is the key to that. And I used the word 'decent' very specifically. It does not have to be perfect. It has to get the job done to prepare kids for either college, the military or a trade. What they do after that is up to them. Then again, a right to an education is not something guaranteed in the Bill of Rights nor do I think we need an Amendment to make it so. Just my 2 cents, your mileage may vary

Posted by: Mare at April 13, 2009 06:54 AM (y9A8i)

9 "So what I want to know is this: Do you think Obama's "leaving people the hell alone"? I know you favored him over McCain; are you happy about his policies so far? Because to me, taking the reins of the banks and car companies is pretty freaking far from leaving us alone. I think it's a major entwining of government and business. What do you think?" Well, I don't really know what to think about government intervention in business/economy. As a business owner, I believe pretty strongly that perception is reality in the market. So I sometimes feel (perhaps selfishly) that whatever it takes to turn people's attitudes around makes me happy. Granted, the idea of giving money to failed businesses bugs me a ton. I'm not sure how I feel about him so far. Know this, I don't consider this guy the second coming. I think that most people can agree that he is an "interesting" fellow. I like him (hey, I like McCain too) and I'm interested to see what he does. I like the fact that he hasn't rushed the pull out in Iraq, because I'm not in favor of leaving till the job is done. Granted, I'm not sure that anyone agrees on what "the job" is anymore. But I think he'll temper some of the issues that liberals are wrong about. But I also think he believes he or policy can "fix" everything. I don't believe for a second that the government (or either party) is responsible for the housing industry debacle - I blame the banking industry pure and simple. Now, they didn't cause it, but can they fix it? And if they can, what precedent does that set going forward? I think that most of us want the American Economy to be strong, and I don't have enough economic education to believe that the free market will automagically right itself for the best without interference. So to answer your question, I don't really know. If it works then I'm happy as a business owner. As a felow armchair quarterbacking the oval office I feel more inclined to complain about the intentions but admit that I don't have the expertise to provide a better answer. I still like Obama, I think its interesting to see how he'll deal with his early-term issue. I thought Bush did a great job with 911, even if I thought he botched some other stuff. But 911 was something that could be handled "right" and he was in a position to do something. I'm not sure that the president should be doing something at all, or whether or not the president has a "right" thing in his arsenal at all. I would have been interested to see what McCain would have done with regards to the economy. I'm not regretting my choice of vote yet (with regards to the economy anyway). does that backpedal make any sense?

Posted by: Sarah's Pinko Commie Friend at April 13, 2009 01:28 PM (4bitt)

10 Oh, to actually have a party of tough love and individual responsibility. If we are ever able to make that the entire platform of the republican party, I will be thrilled.

Posted by: Leofwende at April 13, 2009 07:49 PM (28CBm)

11 For examples of just how intrusive government threatens to become in day-to-day life, see my regulating absolutely everything thread...also this. Not to mention the whole CPSIA debacle.

Posted by: david foster at April 14, 2009 03:04 AM (ke+yX)

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