Thursday, February 28, 2008

Real Hope

It is the hour of change and hope. We need both.

Now, when it comes to hope, there is something I don't mean. I'm not talking about Americans who unfortunately suffer in dire circumstances of poverty or ill-health that have occurred through no fault of their own. We all agree that we have an obligation to help those who suffer misfortune. They are a special case of the requirements of justice, but they are not at the center of controversies about justice and the role of government that we face at this time in our history.

No, what is at issue when it comes to hope is the rest of us, we who are not unfortunate but have our health and therefore, as the saying goes, have everything. We have what we need to pursue and win happiness. We are blessed with personal gifts, be they small or large, be they obvious to all or in need of personal discovery by ourselves. We are blessed with personal relationships with our families, our friends and others in our lives who have their own personal abilities and gifts to offer and bring into our lives, and with whom we can cooperate in creating good lives for ourselves and achieving real happiness by pursuing projects that we freely choose, embark upon, and bring to fruition of our own accord. These gifts are within all of us. Most of us believe it is God who created us with these gifts, but we can all agree that we were created with them.

This is a blessed situation in which we find ourselves. There is no need for any of us so blessed to envy one another, to be covetous of those of us who have achieved the most prosperity and fulfillment. Envy and covetousness are vices because they are based upon the ignorance of the immense value of one's own gifts. God never intended us to be envious and indignant of those of stellar accomplishment while we ourselves have beautiful families, personal talents and middle-class lifestyles consisting of more than one car, convenient electronic gadgets of every imaginable function all around us, and air in our houses heated and cooled to a degree of perfection that our grandparents would find astonishing. God certainly never intended us to whine and moan about the fact that we need to use personal initiative and to practice self-reliance in order to keep our lives the way we want them. No one said it was supposed to be easy. Americans have never been afraid of hard work. The system is not rigged. Happiness by its very nature requires self-reliance because it is one's own pursuit.

There simply is no problem of justice amongst us who have our lives and our health. Only envy and covetousness makes it seem otherwise. This is a lesson as old as the story of Cain and Abel.

If you're an atheist like me, go back if you like and take the God and Bible references out of what I've just said and rewrite accordingly. Express it in terms of good character or common sense if you like. It makes no difference how you express it. It's true.

In a situation as fortunate as ours, what we should hope for is that we can be allowed by our government to fulfill the promise of our gifts. These gifts are destinies of grand and modest orders and all orders in between. They are potentials that we have in virtue of being human. Because we are human, it is self-evident that we have rights to the pursuit of these destinies, rights protected here in the United States of America by foundational documents, The Constitution and The Declaration of Independence, which state that the government's principal duty is to protect each one of us as we go forward in our pursuit of personal happiness.

Since this is what beings such as we should hope for, it is particularly unseemly of us to complain that the rich in this country aren't taxed enough by the federal government, when in fact the rich pay almost all the federal income taxes. Google that. When you see how little the middle class and the poor pay, in comparison to the wealthy, you'll see how absurd it is for any politician to play class warfare in this country, to play us like a pawn against the rich in order to sucker you out of your vote by appealing to our envy and covetousness and ignorance of the facts. We should inform ourselves of the facts about who's paying the taxes, realize that we are blessed, and get over our petty envies and covetousness. They don't become a people as blessed as we.

But we do face an issue regarding the nature of government at this moment in our history. The issue is not how to soak the rich even more and use the money to buy happiness for the rest of us. Absurd as it is to say it, that mindless misunderstanding of the issue - and of American political philosophy - is the fundamental platform plank of many of our politicians. Sadly, this absurdity has become assumed and commonplace in the political debates we have in this country. It's so familiar that we don't even notice that it is there, let alone how shameful it is. The hatred, envy and bombast that show up in those debates as a result have contributed mightily to poisoning our political culture in this country. We cannot move forward as long as we keep arguing about how much more the wealthy should be made to give to others who are already blessed.

We all know that there are numerous politicians who, upon hearing me say what I've just said, will tell us that my kind of talk is an attempt to hoodwink us and that we ought to be outraged at it. These are politicians who will stoke our fires of envy all the more and attempt to sucker us into rejecting what we know to be true and accepting an absurdity instead. The absurdity, again, is this: that the political philosophy we should cherish in this country is that the government's job is to take money from the rich and use it to purchase happiness for the rest of us. You should make up your own mind whether those politicians have given you a reason to vote for them and accept this absurdity, or whether they've done nothing more than to appeal to your envy and resentment. Go ahead and think about it for a while. It's a simple matter. If you decide to side with the politicians who play one class of the blessed off of another, if you're a healthy American blessed with a precious life and you still want the government to take even more money from your boss and give it to you just because your boss is rich, then there is no need for you to read further.

If you're still with me, then let us consider, What is the issue we face if it isn't how to select the next tactic in class warfare and set the next tax increases? While government is meant to protect us, and also help the unfortunate amongst us, the problem is that government can threaten us, as well. Government is supposed to preserve our blessed lives and solve problems that threaten them. But unfortunately, government has a tendency to become the problem instead of solving the problem.

When government begins to provide for us we begin to lose our willingness and ability to provide for ourselves. It also ruins our economy with its waste. There's your trouble, as mechanics say.

When government gets big, we start demanding that it provide medical care for us instead of making sure the economy and the legal and regulatory environment are such that hospitals and insurance companies can put the money we give them into taking care of our health, rather than into bureaucracies and nuisance lawsuits. Absurdly, we demand that a fat, bloated, and dysfunctional health insurance system be given more power and responsibility over our health, or even more absurdly, that the government that caused the bloating and dysfunction be promoted to manager of the very system it broke.

When government gets big, we start expecting not to have to rely on the nuclear family to raise our children to stand on their own two feet and discover their own gifts. We expect instead that the government will provide money to take the place of these families and babysitting to take the place of real parenting.

When government gets big, we start being reluctant to manage our own retirement planning. We instead demand that a government bureaucrat, who has already spent most of our retirement contributions and who refuses to invest any of the money in anything but a savings account with almost no interest, will magically be able to provide for us when we grow old.

When government grows as bloated as ours, it begins to ruin our economy instead of staying out of our way, feeding its addiction to spending and bloating by printing more money, driving down the value of the dollar, and taxing American businesses so heavily that they are driven overseas just to drive the value of the dollar down even more as we succumb to our horrendous trade deficit.

When government grows as bloated as ours, it grows its debt to the point that those to whom the bill will come, our children, will be saddled with an unjust and unshoulderable burden. This is theft from children. We're out spending our kid's inheritance. Worse, we're letting politicians pour it down the drain.

The government wastes money as easily as it uses it wisely. We are much better at using our own money efficiently. A bigger government means more waste, more of our wealth down the drain, a worse economy with fewer opportunities for us to find our happiness.

The issue we face is how to shrink our government, not how to grow it fat with the money we imagine the rich owe us. The rich don't owe us, and the government can't make us happy. We can find our own happiness by pursuing happiness on our own, by discovering the individual talents and gifts each of us has. The injustice we are grappling with now is the injustice we do to ourselves by tolerating a government that is too big, too fat, and by its very nature unable to provide happiness to us.

Real hope lies in the discovery of a way to turn the behemoth of government around, shrink it, and get it out of our lives. Real hope lies in a vision of an America in which government protects us, helps the unfortunate, and otherwise stays put of our way. Real hope lies in seeing that LBJ's Great Society turned out to be not great and in resolving to stop it before it gets any worse. Real hope is an individual matter of a person's own vision of the potential that lies inside him and his own determination to pursue his own happiness by developing that self-chosen potential by relying on himself, his friends and family, others in his civil society, and on the protection of government. Yes, we can. But hope is also a political matter of creating a government that is consistent with keeping that hope alive. Current American government is sadly not that kind of government. We need change. Each individual has a duty to himself to get involved in the politics of producing a smaller government that does just what it should and not all the shameful and absurd things that our government does now.

This is the real hope for change. Yes, we can.