Your Government Is Not Responsible For You

January 12, 2002

Posted at Free Republic, TruthUSA,
Razormouth, Friends of Liberty and Patriotist

Retired basketball star Charles Barkley was never one to run from controversy. Perhaps his most controversial moment came not on the court or in a run-in with the law, but in a Nike commercial from 1993. I do not remember the exact script of the commercial, but it went something like this:

"I am not a role model. I am not paid to be a role model. I am paid to wreak havoc on a basketball court. Parents should be role models."

Plenty of athletes serve as fine examples for children. (Barkley was not one of them.) There is nothing wrong with children having healthy role models, whether these people are presidents or power forwards. But no one can have as much influence on children as can their parents.

I have said a lot of nasty things about our current president's policies. While he is undoubtedly a better person than his predecessor -- this is not an achievement -- it is absurd to expect the president, or any public official, to serve as a substitute for a good parent. Public officials cannot raise your children for you.

A recent letter published in the Denver Rocky Mountain News states, "In many ways, Sept. 11 has given the nation a new desire to look honestly at ourselves. Let us, in this new year, resolve to truly do just that. Let us also resolve to support godly, highly moral representatives in the election just 10 months away. We can turn Colorado around if we have the will."

Oh, if it were only so simple.

To be sure, sending godly and moral folks to do our bidding for us in our statehouses and on Capitol Hill is preferable to having other folks do this job. However, even the most moral public officials are only capable of a very few things. Welfare does not only exist in the form of a check from the government. It also exists in the perception that the government is "doing something" about a particular problem.

Whenever we ask the government to "do something", we are asking that the government make somebody or some group of people do something. Education, crime, health, drug use, etc., cease being matters of personal responsibility and become matters of "public policy". Individuals, parents, and families are never to blame when something goes wrong; instead, the blame is shifted to that amorphous entity known as government. If only the right people were in charge and passing the right laws, the cliché goes, we would not have all these problems.

Someone once quipped that one of the sad ironies of communism was that, "When everybody owns everything, nobody owns anything." A sad feature of more polite tyrannies is the popular notion that if the government does not do something, then no one must be doing anything. Another is that when "society" is made responsible, then none of the individuals who comprise this society are responsible. (While we are in the business of quoting quips, someone once said of a well-known socialist, "He loved humanity, but he could not stand people.")

Anthony Lobaido, an old friend from college, once wrote a great column for World Net Daily entitled "The Inaugural Address You'll Never Hear." In it, he gave a long litany of things that no new president can do. No president can make us honor our marriage vows, do our homework, eat a balanced diet, restrain our sexual appetites, etc.

George Washington once stated that "Government is not wisdom, it is not eloquence. It is force." Liberals and big government conservatives (i.e. the only kind that ever get elected nowadays) have almost identical menus of items that they would force us to do, and then have us feel good that the world a better place because they are forcing us to do so much. No matter how incompetent government may be in addressing a particular issue, it is well nigh impossible to disabuse people of their fantasies about the competence of government.

Conservatives have traditionally hated the welfare state. But then, George W. Bush proposed making churches agencies of the welfare state. Now welfare is just fine with them.

Conservatives screamed bloody murder when Bill Clinton proposed higher federal education spending and further federal intrusion into this realm. But when George W. Bush signs "the most sweeping education reform bill in 25 years" he is a hero.

Conservatives hated gun control when Bill Clinton and Ted Kennedy proposed it. On September 11, almost 4000 people died because hijackers were free to take over four airplanes full of disarmed, defenseless passengers. In the aftermath, did Dubya allow passengers to exercise their personal responsibility to defend themselves? Did he even offer us any choice in the matter? No-o-o-o-o-o-o-o. He wanted us all to feel warm and fuzzy and comfortable and secure. Now you cannot even take a set of nail clippers aboard a plane.

Nail clippers! Never did anyone think that bad old Clinton would so recklessly disregard the Second Amendment. Sure enough, good new Bush has done just that -- and conservatives worship the ground this guy walks on! (And remember also: you are either with the Bush-Ashcroft-Ridge crowd, or you are with the terrorists. Heaven help the child who criticizes the post-September 11 agenda.)

The socialist mentality is so firmly rooted in America that nobody is responsible for anything anymore. If you are poor, it is the government's fault. If your children are 17 years old and still functionally illiterate, it is the government's fault. If your son is a dope head, putting new folks in office and building more prisons will change that. If your daughter is tarting around with anything that produces testosterone, she'll stop if we just elect the right folks.

If you are a stewardess whose throat is about to be slashed by a terrorist using the jagged metal edge of a torn-in-half soda can as weapon, don't worry. Be happy. The right folks are in charge and they are "doing something" about your safety. Just feel good that they are there to help you and forget about the real-life implications of their policies.

Last May, President Bush's 19-year-old daughters ran afoul of the law when they were caught drinking after using fake IDs in order to enter an Austin night spot. Three things are significant here. First, if this is the worst thing the Bush girls ever do, then Dubya and Laura are probably fine parents. Second, Dubya got off the sauce 15 years ago, thereby setting an example for folks everywhere in the thrall of Olde Demon Rum. Third, and most significant, if the president cannot instill in his own daughters respect for laws that supposedly shore up our morals, how can he or any politician possibly instill morals in 290 million people?

Get ready. The lobotomizing ritual of election season will soon be upon us. Between now and November, we will be deluged by folks purporting to be able to solve all our problems. Curiously, the words "solve" and "problems" do not appear in the Constitution. The Founders knew about history and about human nature. They knew that government could not solve our problems and therefore forbade the federal government from even attempting to do so. (It is absurd to think that government at any level can solve your problems.)

As my friend Anthony says in the conclusion of his classic column, "The president cannot make the needed change in our national direction without your help. The answers won't come from the White House. They will have to come from your house." Between now and November, let us be wary of any politician hawking "new ideas" as solutions to your problems. Let us instead rely on the old idea of self-government, which means exactly what it says: restrain yourself, take responsibility for your actions, and look inward rather than stateward for the real solutions to your problems.

Freely Speaking: Speeches and Essays by Doug Newman

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