An Opportunity "Waste"-ed?

Thursday, April 12, 2012

The president of the Council for Citizens Against Government Waste, Thomas Schatz, holds that, for the GOP to "shrink" government, it needs to "re-frame" its arguments. His rationale and stated goal (read on), being half-right, are worse than wrong:

The president will also deflect his liabilities by blaming "the rich" and selling the idea that the nation just needs more and bigger government programs to solve all of our problems. He will also argue, as he has done for years, that the spending cuts being promoted by Republicans will hurt seniors, children, and everyone else in between. His campaign will bring out dozens of "real people" who may have lost health care coverage, had to go off of food stamps, or lost their jobs due to some greedy corporation that cares more about profits than people. These conceits will be copied by Democratic congressional candidates.

Republicans have always found it difficult to respond to such misinformation, and lose even more ground when they start using big numbers or talk about eliminating entire agencies. Democrats are good at making their arguments personal; Republicans need to do the same.

Polls consistently show that taxpayers believe that more than half of the money they send to Washington goes to waste, but no one wants "their program" to be eliminated. The way to achieve the goal of reducing the size and scope of government and still win the votes of people who benefit from federal spending (essentially everyone) is to promise that the government will get better, not bigger. In other words, more people can obtain the benefits they need and deserve from the government if duplication and overlap are eliminated.
Yes. A politician who wishes to win on a promise of greater freedom should and must help individual voters understand on a personal level why that is a good thing. But no. Crafting one's arguments to pander to the entitlement mentality or to the misconception that waste is the major sin of the nanny state is not the way to win and to have a mandate to do anything once in office -- other than haggle over how to continue looting the productive, "planning" the economy, and dictating more and more details of our personal lives.

Even if accounting figures lived up to the common idea that half of all government loot is "wasted" (read: used for purposes other than the original excuse for taking it by force), what kind of alternative is Schatz proposing here? I, for one, do not find the inspiring the idea of a government that takes my money, issues me orders, and punishes me for made-up crimes -- even more efficiently.

That said, a GOP that truly valued freedom would not just re-frame its arguments, it would do the heavy lifting needed to make those arguments real. (For one thing, it would quit talking about making government "smaller" and start talking about restoring it to its proper scope.)  What would this look like? Many Republicans like or take inspiration from the works of Ayn Rand, and so I think the course recommended by Don Watkins of the Ayn Rand Institute on the occasion of her birthday is a good example:
A political movement truly shaped by Rand's ideas would not flinch, as Republicans and Tea Partiers do, from charges that it is the mouthpiece of the rich and the mean-spirited. It would declare that it is a movement for all producers, proudly embracing the innovative rich, the ambitious poor, and everyone in between. If you earn your wealth through production and voluntary trade, a Rand-inspired political movement would affirm that it is yours by right.

And instead of looking at programs like Social Security and Medicaid only from the recipients' point of view, a Rand-inspired political movement would point to the great injustice committed against those who are forced to provide retirement and medical care to others. It would ask: by what right does the government seize wealth from some people so it can dole out unearned rewards to others? Nothing, it would declare, is more mean-spirited than depriving an individual of his property and liberty.
This would entail not merely questioning the assumption that the needs of some justify criminal behavior by the government, but promoting freedom as a value. Granted, this approach is harder than dragging up grateful recipients of government loot and relying on the mistaken and unchallenged premises of the voter, but isn't making America free again worth the effort that it will require?

-- CAV


4-13-12: Corrected a typo.

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