As Republicans continue to wring their hands over last week’s well-deserved trouncing, one of the echoing themes is the idea that people simply want bigger government now-a-days, that they expect the civil state to do more on their behalf.
The Republican Party decided, or at least backed in, to become the party of slightly-less-big-government as a result of the tension between its small-government platform and its thirst for power, which it tried to slurp up through the straw of demagoguery, appealing to people’s nanny-state expectations.
How’d that work? Oh, right.
Anybody who’s ever spent any time with toddlers knows that we are born selfish, ruled by immediate desires, and unable to delay gratification. We take it as a matter of course that others exist to attend to our needs and wants, and consider it a crisis when there’s any delay in satisfying them. If our own impulses lure us into discomfort, we wail until somebody else gets us out of it. With apologies to Hobbes, we enter the world nasty, brutish, and short.
If no one corrects these entitled assumptions, we grow up nasty, brutish, and tall.
Since the so-called Progressive Era, and with escalating intensity, the federal government reinforced this toddler-level sense of entitlement.
Yes, as the perpetrators of the New Deal, the Great Society, and so many other outrages, Democrats bear tremendous responsibility for fostering this sense of entitlement. But they don’t know any better.
As they pad behind the Democrats on the road to serfdom, Republicans know better; at least, that’s the conclusion that flows from all the lip service they give individual freedom and responsibility. And so Republican shame for expanding the nanny state is tremendous.
Okay, but here we are. People just assume a nanny state. It doesn’t matter how we got here, or who’s to blame. It is what it is. Shouldn’t Republicans just keep on giving people what they expect?
No, for two reasons.
First, it’s morally wrong. It is wrong to rob Peter to pay Paul.
Second, it can’t work indefinitely. At some point, Atlas will shrug.
The nanny state will collapse. The question is How? Will it collapse because conservatives step up and provide the moral leadership to correct its underlying assumptions? Or will it collapse because it becomes so big that the few providers are ultimately crushed by the many blood-suckers?
I think there’s still hope for the first. The outcry over Bush’s bail-out and the popular support for Joe the Plumber show that the American people still have a gut for justice. If conservatives step up, and counter the assumptions of the nanny state, with solid, economically sound, historically correct, morally persuasive arguments, we have a chance. (If you doubt the power of moral suasion, ask yourself what happened between 1865 and 2008, to take us from racial slavery to electing the first African American president.)
If not, then the nanny state will continue to mushroom until it collapses under its own weight. And the sufferring will be much, much greater, and the recovery much, much harder to bring about.
We face a kind of Pascal’s wager. We don’t know whether moral chemotherapy will work, or whether the cancer that afflicts our character is terminal. But we do know what will happen if we don’t try it.