It may surprise the liberal or even moderate readers that one of my favorite songs starts out with the words “everyone needs compassion.”
The last two weeks, I’ve struck a nerve with my discussion on the detrimental effects of extended unemployment benefits. I will stick by my conviction on this; long-term unemployment benefits do far more harm than good. Some thought I was being too harsh on the unemployed.
My point is not to beat up those who are not working or even those who seem less willing to work. Instead, it is to discuss the government’s role in creating an entitlement society. We now have 60% of the country as a net beneficiary of the federal government. That means 60% are receiving more in direct benefits than they are paying in taxes.
Further, we hear that certain kinds of work are demeaning or beneath someone. As a person who’s probably spent more time in manure than wearing a tie, I will say there is no type of work that is beneath not working at all.
When George Bush was running for President in 2000, he used a phrase “compassionate-conservative.” I hated that phrase then and I hate it now. For far too long, conservatives have allowed the discussion on the social safety net be cast as a discussion on how compassionate you are as measured by how much government money you are willing to allocate to various social safety net programs.
Under this definition of compassion, conservatives are always on the defensive. I understand how this happens. It is easy for liberals and the media to sell their ideas. I mean, who can’t sell free? They offer “free” healthcare, housing, schooling and many other freebies from the benevolent government. They even offer consequence-free living. If something goes wrong in your life, it is likely because you are a victim of someone.
I’ve never understood why we have not been more articulate about why we are against so much of the government “safety net.” It isn’t because we are not compassionate. I have never been against helping those in need. Most true conservatives I know have never been against helping those in need. In fact, study after study has shown that conservatives give materially more to charity than liberals. This is even true when taking church donations out of the equation.
I see my fellow Rotarians, a group that is likely more conservative than liberal, consistently giving to local schools as well as international poverty programs. By the way, the schools I’ve seen helped in Cedar Rapids are not the well to do schools, but the most poverty stricken. I also see many of those Rotarians acting as “lunch buddies” or big brothers or big sisters to youngsters from broken homes.
So, I, and most conservatives, are all for HELPING the poor. We simply have a different idea on how that help should be provided. This is not a minor point though, in fact, it is the most important point. How the poor are helped plays a far bigger role long term on whether they are ever truly able to break the bondage of poverty. In fact, much of the help offered by the federal government in many ways encourages that poverty. That is where liberals and conservatives disagree. It is also where conservatives must start making their point, or we risk our very way of life in the United States.
The reason conservatives are against the expanding government safety net is that it does more harm than good. We have tried using progressive philosophies of government driven wealth redistribution for 45 years now. When Lyndon Johnson announced his Great Society program in 1964, poverty was roughly 15%. In the 45 years since, we have spent trillions of dollars and have countless government agencies dedicated to fighting poverty and the result is that poverty has stayed between 12 and 15% the entire time.
The best argument for the Great Society is that it didn’t make poverty worse, it just wasted trillions of dollars to simply keep the status quo. By the way, from the late 1950’s until 1964, the US poverty rate had its biggest decline in modern history, all of this BEFORE Johnson’s Great Society. Further, if you dig below the surface, you find that the Great Society has resulted in far worse than simply wasting the money, it has destroyed families.
Unfortunately, the timing of the Civil Rights movement, which was a great movement and fits very well with the conservative mentality that values the individual, was so close to the timing of Johnson’s Great Society that many see them as one in the same. The truth, however, is far different. What the Civil Rights movement gave on one hand, dignity and value to every individual, the Great Society took away on the other hand.
Ceding our basic responsibilities of raising and providing for a family to the government has destroyed families. The old saying that idle hands are the devil’s workshop has proven itself correct time after time. Because the government has taken the role of the father in so many families, it has allowed the father to become less important to the family.
Unfortunately, many men then spend their time and energy chasing less noble pursuits. The end effect is skyrocketing out of wedlock births across all ethnicities, but particularly acutely among African-Americans.
With this loss of responsibility has come a devaluing of family and human life in general. We now have third and fourth generations of government dependency. Supposedly this has all been done in the name of compassion. As painful as it is, we instinctively know that it is our duty to raise our children to leave home and become independent members of society.
We know they will have a much better life long-term, if we allow them to suffer from their mistakes short-term. Of course, we’d like to help them every time they stumble. But, we love them too much to not allow them to learn from their mistakes. For so many, the federal government, in the name of compassion, has become the parents of its citizens. But, instead of raising those who look to the government for their daily bread to become independent, the federal government creates ever increasing dependency. For most, the federal government doesn’t help in the long-run, instead it destroys lives and families.
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