Monday, March 17, 2008

Obama's Sob Story

I bought some campaign buttons and a sign from the Obama people, so now they send me mailings. In the recent one, Obama responds to the charge that he is "eloquent but empty." In refutation of this charge, he offers three stories. One concerns a little old lady who wants change so badly that she mailed him a money order for $3.01 and a Scripture quote. Touching, you'll agree.

The other two are sob stories of people suffering in this nation of poverty and despair. (Obviously, he's entirely in agreement with his wife in being ashamed of our country.) What interests me about one of the stories in particular is that I have heard it before...more than once. I have seen only a few Democratic debates, but I have heard Obama tell this story twice, and now here it is again. Clearly, the campaign find that it strikes a chord with Democratic audiences. I' don't get it.

There's nothing empty about the call for affordable health care from the young woman who told me she spends the day in college, works a night shift, sleeps three hours and still can't pay her sister's medicine bills.

How does this involve the federal government? Her problem is not the government's failure to arrange affordable health coverage. Her problem stems partly from unwise decisions she is making. She is trying to do too much at once. If, for some reason, she is having to take care of his sister (who is presumably an invalid since she is unable to pay for her own medicine), she should not also be trying to study full time in college. These are decisions all of us face all the time.

Furthermore, where is the rest of the family? I know that the Democratic party believes that the nanny state should provide for all the benefits that family relationships (so unreliable) used to provide, but the rest of us still recognize that if there is a sister in need there are usually parents, grandparents or other relations who can step in and assist. If this woman's situation is so desolate and unusual that she is the only family to which this poor sick sister can turn (and there's no church to assist?), then she should certainly not be offered as justification for a massive new government entitlement.

But Barack Obama thinks that this story will win votes with the American people, that we will rise up in anger against the brutal system that allows people to find themselves in this situation, regardless of what choices they have made to get themselves there.

The Democrat Distinctive

This appeal--that Obama would make it and that the party faithful would buy it--illustrates an important difference between the two parties. Democrats believe instinctively that if there is any human suffering, it is the proper responsibility of the federal government (not just any level of government, mind you) to provide a remedy. Neither families, nor markets nor voluntary associations can be trusted to provide an adequate remedy. They are all either too selfish to address the matter honestly, or either insufficiently committed or inadequately equipped to follow through on the task. Only the public authority can be trusted, and they trust public authority without question. It is by definition public spirited, and it's adequacy for the task is only a matter of funding.

Consider the panic with which Democrats react when Republicans suggest letting young workers invest some of their social security money in the stock market. "Risk!," they cry. If people invest their own money, they'll lose it. But you can trust the government. Never mind that the whole system is on the verge of bankruptcy. Even if it only a few people who might blow their nest egg (unlikely), Democrats see that as justifying centralized government control of the entire system for everyone.

Consider also what a conversation stopper is any suggestion that a consumer driven health care system might be the best way to serve the public. They draw in voters with the rhetoric of choice, only then subtly to maneuver the system into a single payer, government run system. Never mind that the existing government run systems, Medicare and Medicaid, are vastly expensive and which, if universalized, would bankrupt the country.

For the Democratic party, facts from experience are irrelevant. Democrats are driven exclusively by moral sentiments uninformed by practical considerations. It is their fierce egalitarianism. Better everyone a slave than that anyone is ruined by the imprudent exercise of liberty. Better that everyone is equally poor than that anyone is left behind while others prosper. This approach has kept them out of the White House since 1968. The exceptions were Jimmy Carter (1977-81) who squeaked in on account of Watergate and Ford's pardon of Nixon, and Bill Clinton (1993-2001) who ran as a "New Democrat" in opposition to these ideological excesses.

The Republican Opportunity

Far from being the great uniter of these United States of America, Barack Obama would be perhaps the most statist liberal candidate for president we have seen in almost half a century. John McCain shouldn't have a problem playing that angle all the way to the White House.

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