Jim Beam Fundamentally Misunderstands Modern Conservatism
Readers of this site should understand that its publisher does not necessarily agree with everything its contributors post here.
This morning, Jim Beam’s column serves as a perfect example.
Carrying a headline “Be careful what you wish for,” it’s a paean to government and a warning that if you eliminate government you won’t like the vacuum that results.
Our national government’s primary duty has been to defend this country in times of war. It has also established a better life for its citizens in many ways, helping most of them enjoy one of the world’s highest standards of living. But there is more.
Food is inspected for our protection, even though the government sometimes fails to do an adequate job. We are educated at public expense. Our working conditions have improved because of fair labor laws. Automobiles and drivers are licensed for our safety. Roads are built and maintained by government.
Social Security helps protect older Americans economically. Government regulates utilities and means of transportation. It guarantees bank deposits. Law enforcement agencies protect us from harm. Fire departments protect our homes and other property.
The list goes on, but you get the message. And when government drops the ball, the media is there to hold it accountable.
We could address, on a point-by-point basis, how Beam is wrong for idolizing the government’s responsibility for keeping us safe. But before we go there, it’s worth mentioning that he opens his piece by quoting what he says is the conservatives’ lament…
“I just want the government out of my life.”
Beam allows that government overreaches, amid a piece which lionizes the role it plays in our lives and traces the history of the country’s founding.
But he conflates two things 21st century conservatives would not accept, and he’s going to catch a great deal of flak not just here but elsewhere for it.
Namely, this – the role of government established by the Founding Fathers is a very different one than Beam is touting in his piece.
Yes, the constitution provides for the public maintenance of roads, and yes, law enforcement has always been seen as a proper function of government.
But Social Security? “Fair labor laws?”
Absolutely not. Many of the things Beam touts as government benefits for which we should all be grateful are part of the Progressive project of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. And Progressives were, by and large, hostile to the constitution the Framers bequeathed on us.
Woodrow Wilson, U.S. President from 1913-1921, outlined that hostility in a 1908 treatise called “Constitutional Government in the United States”…
“No doubt a great deal of nonsense has been talked about the inalienable rights of the individual, and a great deal that was mere vague sentiment and pleasing speculation has been put forward as fundamental principle. The rights of man are easy to discourse of, may be very pleasingly magnified in the sentences of such constitutions as it used to satisfy the revolutionary ardor of French leaders to draw up and affect to put into operation; but they are infinitely hard to translate into practice. Such theories are never ‘law’; no matter what the name or the formal authority of the document in which they are embodied. Only that is ‘law’ which can be executed, and the abstract rights of man are singularly difficult of execution.”
And a bit more…
“Political liberty consists in the best practicable adjustment between the power of government and the privilege of the individual. And the freedom to alter the adjustment is as important as the adjustment itself for the ease and progress of affairs and the contentment of the citizen.”
Wilson’s theory on government and its limits, which has been the theory the American Left has applied on the subject ever since his time (and even before his presidency), is that no absolute limits may be permitted where the perceived efficacy or need of public benefits to be provided by friendly politicians is at issue.
And the limits expressly laid down by the Framers are to be perverted or ignored.
That’s how a clause in the Constitution empowering Congress to “To regulate Commerce with foreign Nations, and among the several States, and with the Indian tribes;” meaning that Congress would be responsible for making sure that state governments didn’t engage in unduly protectionist legislation that would gum up the economy of the nation, has become a catch-all justification for any bill Washington can pass.
Modern conservatives see that not only has government overreached, it has done so on a massive scale, bankrupted itself and is rapidly bankrupting our society, and no longer has the consent of the people to overreach further. And it isn’t just modern conservatives who recognize that this overreach is putting the country in decline.
For example – food inspections aren’t inherently a monstrous idea, but when the government steps in to make criminals out of kids operating lemonade stands or farmers who sell raw milk, or when a web app allowing people to get together for dinner parties with strangers for a price threatens to bring the heavy hand of the law down on all involved, it’s hard to tout the regulators as safeguarding our rights and our safety.
Public education? The richest and most powerful country in the world has, increasingly, Third World educational performance in its public schools. Meanwhile, home schoolers have kids doing advanced calculus at 12 years old and our private schools are the best in the world. We are increasingly less safe and less excellent as a society due to the abysmal performance of the government in this realm.
Fair labor laws? Technology and innovation have done more to promote the position of labor in this country than laws ever did. The Left constantly argues that conservatives want to drag us back to the 1880’s every time proposals are made to get the government out of the workplace, but this is a completely false choice. We don’t have an Industrial Age society anymore, and the 19th century horrors we’re warned about – 11 year olds working as coal miners or 80-hour work weeks in sweat shops – aren’t even remotely economically possible in this day and age. Nobody would hire 11-year olds to work in coal mines because the exposure to liability would be prohibitive. And when there are Help Wanted signs all over the country because unemployed Americans won’t take blue collar jobs, who really thinks the sweat-shop business model is viable on a large scale?
Social Security? It’s a Ponzi scheme and a ripoff. Almost any investment vehicle will generate a better return than the 12-15 percent of your income paid to the government in return for an IOU to be redeemed at amounts set by politicians at some future date. And Social Security prevents the building of net worth in communities who badly need it; as an example, see the black community where a black man will pay into Social Security for his entire adult life and then, if he hits the average life expectancy for a black American male of 68 and dies having collected only three years of Social Security, all the money he paid in is gone. Unless he has a spouse who can receive those benefits, and only 54 percent of black men aged 65 and up in America have spouses, he can’t pass those benefits to anybody if he dies. Passing benefits to his kids, in a community which badly needs to pass wealth from one generation to the next, doesn’t happen with Social Security – so that 12-15 percent of his income ends up with some white lady in the suburbs who lives until she’s 90.
Government regulation of the means of transportation? Bang-up job they do with public transit and the airports, no? Prior to 1964 most mass transit systems were privately owned and made a profit; now, mass transit is a colossal money-loser across the board and all we hear is how antiquated and broken our air travel system is – and not without reason; most people don’t know that GPS navigation isn’t yet in widespread use among our air traffic control systems. To call government performance in this market spotty is to be charitable.
It might not be understood in so many words, but modern conservatives and libertarians are starting to understand that government as it’s currently practiced in America is obsolete and utterly ineffective, and that an Information Age society is going to require a governmental model which looks a lot more like the one the Framers bequeathed us than what the Woodrow Wilsons of the world imposed on us.
Beam perhaps hasn’t recognized that he’s singing an old and increasingly unpopular song. But his last verse is likely to bring him the most grief…
Those of us in the news business have dedicated our profession to protecting the interests of citizens. That is why this newspaper, for example, reported on serious driving violations by a local federal judge. After the judge was first charged by city police with a minor offense, the charges were upgraded to first offense DWI.
The American Press took on illegal gambling in the 1940s and 1950s that thrived because of non-existent law enforcement. The newspaper has exposed political corruption on a number of occasions. It covered serious labor violence in the mid-1970s that helped pass a right-to-work law.
The American Press is one of Louisiana’s better newspapers – but in this day and age, can anybody really hold the mainstream media up as watchdogs dedicated to holding government accountable? Where is the widespread media outrage over Fast and Furious, Benghazi, the IRS scandal, Obama’s continued alterations of his health reform law by executive fiat and countless other examples of waste, abuse, fraud, incompetence and lawlessness?
There was a time when Beam’s column would have been well-received. In 2014, amid what looks like societal decline brought on in large measure by bad government and worse media, this isn’t that time.
And yes, we would like for the government to get out of our lives.