I recently posted a blog discussing my great disappointment with President Obama’s full-on class warfare. A long series of comments ensued with my uber-liberal cousin Dan. The comments strayed very far from the original premise of my blog and I know that neither of my 2 readers ever read the comment section so I decided to turn this conversation into a separate post.
The comments covered a lot of ground, but quite circuitously rediscovered the difference between a liberal and a conservative (as always I avoid using the nearly interchangeable terms democrat and republican). Given the policy failures of the current administration, I think it’s worth highlighting this central difference.
I lived in New York for 24 years. In that time, I saw lots of people who were in desperate straits. I lived among them for the early part of my time in NYC. As I made more money through my career, I was willing to pay taxes that would go to improve those people’s lives, for two reasons: first, and this is the selfish one, when their lives are better, they don’t menace my own life. And second, I believe in helping those who need help. This is what I don’t understand about the Republican desire to make government perform way fewer services. When the society is filled with people who are not miserable, we all have better lives. There will always be people who need food stamps. Do you want to say fuck ‘em, or do you want to give them food stamps so they don’t mug you? Personally, I go for the food stamps. Will some people abuse the system? Yes. That’s life – you can’t make a frictionless system. It’s still worth it to me, both morally and selfishly (I don’t like being mugged).
I found this to be one of the most enlightening views of liberalism I’ve seen in a long time. A liberal sees a beggar (I think “homeless person” is the more politically correct term) on the street corner and thinks, “The wealthy should pay more taxes so the government can give that poor guy some of their money so he can be just a tiny bit wealthier. He’ll never be rich, but maybe he can buy some new shoes or a decent meal.” As he’s thinking this, the liberal further thinks, “Thank God I’m a liberal because if a conservative saw that poor fellow, he would just want to cling to his money and watch that guy suffer.” Dan tries to make the point that the conservative’s attitude may even be self-defeating because the homeless person is a drag on society and maybe even a danger to his wealthy family.
Conversely, the conservative sees the homeless person on the street corner and thinks, “We need a strong economy with low unemployment so that poor guy can get a job, work, feel good about himself, support himself and his family, eat not just the one meal the government might provide, but a lifetime of meals paid for with his paycheck, wear not just one pair of shoes the government buys him today, but have a lifetime of comfortable footwear, purchased with his own paycheck.” The conservative further thinks, “Thank God I’m not a liberal because the liberal would just want to take $1000, give it to the federal government, who would piss away $800 of it on waste, fraud, abuse, and inefficiencies, and give $200 of it to the poor homeless guy, for whom it would last a week.”
These are two very different and largely irreconcilable views of the role of government in our lives. The primary difference is that the conservative has data on his side. When President Obama spent $1 Trillion (with a “T”) on “stimulus,” allegedly to help the economy and provide jobs for the unemployed, he promised us that unemployment would never rise above 6%. It now stands at 8.3% and rising. But, 8.3% unemployment doesn’t begin to tell the story of the failures of liberalism to provide for those in need over the last 3.5 years. The way the unemployment rate is calculated, it doesn’t count those who have been looking for work and given up. It only counts in the numerator those actively looking for a job. The Obama economy has been so bad for so long now that many have given up trying. The actual rate, if you include those who have given up looking in the numerator, is closer to 15%.
And, worse, the unemployment rate for African Americans is 14.4% right now, almost double the rate for the country as a whole. The unemployment rate for all teens is 20% and for African American teens is a staggering 40%. This is, at least in part, a result of the liberal insistence on raising the minimum wage. When you raise the minimum wage, guess how employers respond in a tough economy? They hire fewer people. Duh.
So, with our first African American president in office, we have almost 15% of African Americans who are looking for a job unable to find work and there’s basically no hope for young African Americans just trying to enter the workforce. I’m not trying to make this about race, but I concede that I’m puzzled as to why any African American would vote for a president who has driven the African American teen unemployment rate up to 40%! Ditto Hispanics as the Hispanic teen unemployment rate is 30.5%.
I feel like I’m rehashing old ground here, but then again this president is rehashing old and failed policies. In 1996, a democrat president, Bill Clinton, enacted substantial welfare reform. He understood that ending the cycle of government dependence was the only hope for welfare recipients. As Arthur Brooks discusses in a recent WSJ Op-Ed piece, when the government dole was taken away and welfare recipients were forced to look for work, their lives improved. As Brooks concludes in his piece,
The central insight from welfare reform is that people flourish when they earn their success, and this requires real market work. They escape poverty – and they live dignified, better-ordered lives. They don’t just move out of welfare; they move up from dependence on the government.
Yet, my cousin Dan says “As I made more money through my career, I was willing to pay taxes that would go to improve those people’s lives.” There’s just one little problem with that. While it might make Dan feel better, it simply doesn’t work and never has. Bill Clinton recognized that. Yet, Dan would prefer to take more money in taxes, further slow the economy, keep unemployment high, and make it more difficult for the homeless person to find a job and climb out of this never ending cycle of poverty and dependence. This is not and has never been a successful policy. If you don’t believe me, ask Bill Clinton. There’s a reason he grits his teeth when he talks about President Obama.
So, when Dan says he doesn’t understand the Republican desire (I assume he’s using that word as a surrogate for conservative, which I don’t agree with, but I digress….) for government to perform fewer services, the answer is simple. It is because we care deeply about those in society who are being left behind, who don’t have a job, who can’t currently support themselves and their families, or afford healthcare. We envision a vibrant and growing economy with a low unemployment rate, one where teens of all races entering the workforce for the first time have a fighting chance to find employment and launch their own self-supporting careers. That’s very different than the liberal vision of never-ending government dependency and it’s one I’m proud to hold.