Nearly five decades after John F. Kennedy inspired Americans to ask what they could do for their country, the new national sentiment seems to be, “Ask what your country can do for you.” In fact, it could have been an ’08 election slogan. How many times did we hear jubilant Obama supporters exclaim how the government was going to pay their mortgage and buy them gas? Unfortunately, they aren’t the only ones hoping to get a pocket full of newly minted change.
Unexpected voices have joined the entitlement choir. It isn’t just the grievance industry who wants politicians to redistribute the wealth from those who have earned it to those who have not. Middle class families and businesses of all stripes have come to feel entitled to other people’s money. They may criticize big government in the abstract but fiercely defend their government loan, farm subsidy, business incentive or government program. To borrow a line from Van Halen, “everybody wants some/ I want some too/ Everybody wants some!/ Baby, how 'bout you?”
The real legacy of the bipartisan accord between liberals and big government Republicans is not the $10 trillion national debt levied on the next generation, but the spread of government dependency to the formerly self-reliant.
Even the once tough pioneer-spirited state of Colorado has been seduced by Washington largesse. Only days after the election, several Colorado business leaders told the Rocky Mountain News how they would like the new president to spread the wealth around. Their Christmas list includes funding for individual homebuyers, money for the state, health care for their employees and, of course, subsidies for their industries. It reads like a conversation between Orren Boyle and Wesley Mouch of Atlas Shrugged.
They are not the only ones. After a $1 trillion bank and Wall Street bailout, Congress is talking about bailing out automakers and sending cash to the states. In the new state stimulus package, Congressman Ed Perlmutter is hoping for energy sector giveaways. Congresswoman Diana DeGette and Congressman-Elect Mike Coffman want cash for infrastructure. Of those interviewed by the Rocky Mountain News, only Rep. Doug Lamborn seems to understand that “giving aid to states and their taxpayers at the expense of placing an equal burden upon federal taxpayers” is a bad choice.
“There are severe limits to the good that the government can do for the economy, but there are almost no limits to the harm it can do,” observed Nobel laureate economist Milton Friedman. The government cannot produce jobs or wealth out of a hat. To give to some through handouts, bailouts, subsidies, and grants, it must take from others. The government burdens entrepreneurs, investors, and consumers, the true engines of a vibrant, free economy, through taxation and regulation and further weakens the dollar through debt spending.
Anyone who lived through the 1970's saw firsthand what government intervention can do. Nevertheless, a new poll shows 72 percent of Americans are looking to the new president to revive the economy. Some 44 percent of Republicans joined nearly all Democrats in this false hope. I’d be willing to bet that a significant percentage of these Americans expect to get a check, a program, a subsidy, or an incentive for themselves, their business or organization.
Proponents of limited government should be worried. We’re counting on the predictable failure of liberal government policies to pave the way for a conservative comeback like they did in 1980 with Ronald Reagan. There is a worrisome difference between then and now, however. Americans nodded when Reagan said, “In this present crisis, government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem.”
Since then too many people have come to see government as their source of hope and have no qualms with being its object of charity. Is America already so far down the road to serfdom that we're forgetting what it was like to be free?
Krista Kafer is a Denver-based education consultant, frequent cohost on Backbone Radio, and regular columnist for Face the State.com, from which this is reprinted by permission.