Monday, July 23, 2007

Hard times in Freedonia - As expected during tonight's CNN/YouTube Democratic presidential debate, Hillary made her every utterance in the third draft, Barack bespoke his profound unreadiness for prime time (by the way, it is becoming more apparent that he is positioning himself to end up on Hillary's short list for Veep), Mike Gravel and Dennis Kucinich demonstrated themselves to be entirely unhinged, and the other candidates continued to fade into irrelevance. There were no real surprises as far as the performance of each candidate is concerned. When the polling is conducted over the next few hours and days, Sen. Clinton will only have solidified her lead amongst the Democratic field of dreamers.

For my money, the surprise (shock really) comes from what I learned about the folks who share this land with me. Judging by the questions that were presented to the candidates, my fellow Americans seem to me to be overindulged, under-occupied and myopically concerned with how government can be bent to meet their needs, however personal. Whether the issue was reparations for descendants of African slaves, gay marriage, universal health care, (or health care for illegal aliens), Americans - as represented by the great unwashed of YouTube - are ready to be pandered to. The distressing thing about it all is that so many people were ready to lay claim to the wealth and liberty of others in order to address their personal needs. (The questioners seem oblivious to the fact that their wealth is subject to confiscation and their rights to abridgment in order to service the desires of others.)

In as much as this represents the Democratic base, they may well be the root of their own party's ultimate undoing; one hopes that the damage can be confined to the Left. But it is a sad thing to realize how far the Democrat base has strayed from JFK's admonition about what
we can do for our country versus what our country can do for us. President Kennedy's counsel has now been turned entirely on its head; more than a few Americans ask first what can be done for them with no regard for what they can do for their neighbor or their nation. This attitude results from a longer-term trend that has been abetted by politicians in general, and liberal politicians in particular: namely, a decoupling of rights from responsibilities. (To be sure, Democrats are surely earning the moniker of the "Gimme-dat" Party.)

When Americans demand universal health care as a "right", no concomitant obligations - such as observing prudent dietary restrictions or engaging in regular exercise - seem to spring to mind readily. Similarly, as African Americans agitate for reparations for slavery, no thought of foregoing affirmative action, welfare or other transfer payments occurs to those who would readily take yet another check from the government. It is this derangement from previously accepted norms of relations between the government and the individual that threatens to make peons of us all. If history is any guide, there is no slaking a central government's appetite for power once its citizens have yielded their vigilance for comfort.

So what are we to do in light of this rising tide of electoral egocentricity? The answer is far from obvious, but a simple solution would be for conservatives to preach, teach and live the ideals of informed and enlightened self-interest. We would do well to remind our fellow citizens that the power of government is a poor substitute for the will and ingenuity of the individual, as government is at best a blunt instrument. But just as important, conservatives must be seen as implementing "constructive application of principled restraint" on the encroachments of both individuals and special interests. It is beyond debate that the Republican-controlled Congress often appeared to be more beholden to lobbyists than for the common man. As long as Republicans are viewed in this light, our "up by your own bootstraps" message will fall on deaf ears.

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