Socialism, Bush Style

Compassionate conservatism always was a fraud, but just how straightforward a fraud it is can be seen from recent statements from Bush Administration officials.

Why was it a fraud to start with? Because government cannot-'yes, literally, cannot'-be compassionate toward people with other people's money. You, I, our friends and neighbors can be compassionate, in the sense that we can consider some people's misfortune, even bad choices, and reach out to them with our help, be this money or some service we could offer. That's compassion. But when we see such misfortune and go out to rob a neighbor and hand over the loot to those in need, that isn't compassion, conservative, liberal or any other kind! It is criminal-'maybe we ought to dub it 'criminal 'compassion''!

In recent days the Bush Administration has been making plans to spend other people's hard earned-'or what if simply luckily obtained--money on, as Wade F. Horn, Ph.D., Assistant Secretary, Administration of Children and Families (Department of Health and Human Services), refers to it in a letter to my local newspaper, 'to support couples in their desire to form and sustain healthy marriages.' Some people around the country have criticized this measure as yet another robbing-Peter-to-pay-Paul scheme that is plainly immoral. In this instance, however, we have the good fortune of Dr. Horn telling us why the Bush Administration believes in this program.

He tells us first that troubled couples, and their children, can very well benefit from receiving professional help from counselors. This is true enough, although he gives no evidence for it. Still, perhaps that is simply common sense-'if professionals really know their stuff, they can give some helpful advice. Of course, it is still up to those getting the advice to apply it, and there is no guarantee for that. So, despite such help, people may still mess up their lives.

But let that go. Dr. Horn adds that people who lack sufficient funds may not be able to obtain the help they need from professionals. True enough'-another reason that many people should wait with getting hitched and, especially, with producing children. One has the responsibility to prepare for such things, including economically. If you cannot afford to bring in professional help when you need it, you should wait until you can afford it or do without.

But then Dr. Horn goes on to line up the Bush Administration with out and out socialism. He tells us, 'Don't low-income couples deserve the same chance to build and sustain healthy marriages as more affluent ones?' So, government must provide, no?

This is a devious question. 'Deserve' can mean this: 'Would it not be something valuable to them to have such help?' Yes, it would. But it doesn't follow from that that other people may be coerced to provide the help to them. There are zillions of things that would be valuable for people that they just cannot afford, and in order to get these things, they are not justified to rob others.

But perhaps 'deserve' means, 'Should these folks not be receiving help from others?' Well, here the answer isn't that easy. Some might-'if they did everything reasonable to gain the funds themselves and lost it, say, in an earthquake. But say they lost it gambling? Or overspending? Or they never earned enough to start with but decided to get married and have children anyway? Do they deserve the help? Perhaps, in a rare case, but generally not. And what about their children? Their lot, first of all, is the fault of the parents, not the taxpayers of the USA. And there are charitable organizations to turn to for help with children. Unless special considerations apply, leave the parents to fend for themselves'-they made their rickety marriage bed, now they must lie in it.

Of course, even when they do deserve help, it is not from government they deserve it, but from friends and relatives and voluntary agencies established to provide such help with the support of those who give of their own free will. That is being compassionate, not what the Bush folks and Dr. Horn propose, which is phony compassion and criminal, to boot.

More generally, there are inequalities all over the world, as well as at home, that simply may not be erased by force of arms. I am less handsome than Robert Redford-'but don't I deserve a happy love life, too? Alas, if I am unable to attract the ladies as Robert does, shouldn't the government make sure this imbalance is fixed? No. What about vacations or schools to which our kids go-'the better off can afford those while the less well off cannot. Is it the role of government to even all this out?

No, not any more than it is the role of the referees at athletic contest to make sure everyone comes in at the finish line together, or that no team ever beats another.

Law enforcement agencies exist to make sure we do things peacefully, without trampling on each other's rights, not so as to try to make sure everything turns out to everyone's full satisfaction. The resulting all powerful state will soon manage not to satisfy anyone at all--just recall what happened in the good old Soviet Union.

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Tibor R. Machan's picture
Columns on STR: 70

Tibor Machan is a professor of business ethics and Western Civilization at Chapman University in Orange, Calif., and recent author of Neither Left Nor Right: Selected Columns (Hoover Institution Press, 2004).  He is a research fellow at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University.