Bereishis 5773 -- Mary Sue Needs a Job, Not Just Our Sympathy; Time for an All-Out War
by Jonathan Rosenblum
October 12, 2012
Mary Sue Needs a Job, Not Just Our Sympathy
Just about everybody was outraged by the video in which Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney was heard telling rich donors that the 47% of Americans who don't pay any federal income taxes constitute a group of dependents who will vote for Obama no matter what. But the responses of conservatives were considerably more interesting.
Liberal commentators contented themselves with the same partisan cheerleading with which they've embarrassed themselves since they first felt a tingling in their legs over the advent of Barack Obama – e.g., Romney's a gaffe machine, Romney's gonna lose, Romney's out of touch. It was left to conservatives to subject Romney's remark to a probing empirical and philosophical refutation.
That they were willing to do so prior to a fateful election, in which Romney is running against an incumbent whom conservatives view as a nice-looking incompetent, at best, speaks well of contemporary conservatism and its respect for principles. Liberal commentators, with the one exception of a column in the Washington Post by Richard Cohen critical of Obama's foreign policy, act as if any criticism of the president that could hurt his re-election chances is treasonous.
Irwin Seltzer, in the conservative Weekly Standard, took apart Romney's 47% figure on empirical grounds. The non-taxpayers, he noted, include servicemen in combat zones, retired workers living on social security, and those who pay no taxes because of the earned income tax credit – aka, the negative income tax (one of Milton Friedman's big ideas) – designed to encourage working. Over half of those who pay no taxes are workers who do pay highly regressive payroll taxes, but don't earn enough to pay income taxes. And, in point of fact, about 35% of those who pay no taxes are expected to vote for Romney. In short, the 47% hardly constitutes the neat division between Obama-supporting "takers" and Romney-supporting "makers."
Romney's analysis missed an important point. Vociferous supporters of the big government welfare state are not only the poor recipients of its benefits but also the educated elites who run it, and who constitute the most effective lobby for the perpetual growth of government. Those elites may have brought the most solidly Democratic states – California, New York, and Illinois – well beyond the point of bankruptcy, but they themselves have benefited quite nicely from the growth of government. (Public sector employment is the one area of expansion under President Obama.) The same week as Romney's remark, census data revealed that seven of the ten richest counties in the country are in the Washington D.C. metropolitan area – i.e., the counties with the heaviest concentration of federal government bureaucrats. If one has above average intelligence and no entrepreneurial or other wealth-creating skills, government employment is ideal.
MICHAEL GERSON, a former speechwriter for President George W. Bush and one of the fathers of "compassionate conservatism," took aim in the Washington Post at the shallow libertarianism of Romney's remark, and noted other strands of conservatism – Catholic, evangelical, Burkean – that would never dismiss the poor as just "takers," with no claim to governmental concern. (Gerson did admit that given Romney's deep faith, enormous charitable giving, and record of personal help to those less fortunate, it is doubtful that his own views owe much to Ayn Rand, so beloved by certain "pimply adolescents.")
Gerson shares the story of Mary Sue -- parents divorced early on; deserted by her mother; beaten by her stepmother; early life spent in and out of juvenile detention centers; burned with cigarettes by one boyfriend; currently living with another man, with children by two other women – a story described by Harvard sociologist Robert Putnam as "depressingly typical" of America's working class. He asks whether Mary Sue's story can really be explained as one of lack of personal responsibility.
Well, yes and no. Gerson's sympathy for Mary Sue is both understandable and commendable. Let us stipulate that we begin life from very different points, both in native abilities and the families into which we are born. Those fortunate enough to be born to parents with the emotional and material resources to invest heavily in helping them develop their talents should be ever mindful that they were born on third base; they did not hit a triple.
Nevertheless, the refusal to take personal responsibility helps guarantee that Mary Sue's offspring will recapitulate her awful start. Theodore Dalrymple, the leading chronicler of the British underclass and a former prison psychiatrist, has met many Mary Sues. They almost uniformly speak of their lives as something that just happened to them, and rarely recognize their situation as the result of repeated bad choices. The inability to take personal responsibility is definitely part of their issue.
As government takes greater and responsibility for individuals, they arguably take less responsibility for themselves. According to figures compiled by Nick Eberstadt of the American Enterprise Institute, annual government transfer payments grew a hundredfold between 1960 and 2010. Entitlement transfers to individuals grew 727% over the same period, putting America well on the way to becoming another unsustainable European welfare state.
But as the modern welfare state has grown ever more generous, it has given rise to a growing underclass, perpetually falling further behind. Six hundred thousand Britons under 26 have never worked a day in their lives. Many have never eaten a morsel of food or worn an item of clothing paid for with money earned. The result of living as wards of the state is not gratitude, but an ever growing sense of entitlement and burning anger that results from the degradation of a life paid for by others. Both were amply on display in last year's riots and looting across England.
Black economist Walter Williams writes that as a youth in Philadelphia, he would sleep overnight in his cab. Doing so today would be suicidal. Ten to twelve murders is an average weekend in Chicago's ghettos.
Even while acknowledging the overwhelming disadvantages with which many children start life, there is no way to put a child born to a single, teenage mother, on an equal footing with those born into stable two-parent families, other than to remove him from his mother at birth. And even that would likely prove too late. In any event, no free society can do that.
Throwing money at the underclass has not provided, in most cases, a ladder of escape. Only strong familial values, such as determination and discipline, make that escape possible. But as government transfer payments have been transformed from a safety net to a way of life, however, those values have become increasingly rare.
More than sympathy, Mary Sue needs a job. Earning a living remains the best way of gaining a feeling of control over one's life. Unfortunately, unless she qualifies to become a government bureaucrat, such jobs are ever rarer. The highly regulated, heavily indebted Western European welfare states are characterized by economic stagnation and sky-high unemployment among younger workers, and America is increasingly aping Europe in this regard.
That, I presume, is the point Mitt Romney was trying to make, however, "inelegantly." Or at least the one he will be making until election day.
Time for an All-Out War?
Washington Post columnist David Ignatius reports on a recent simulation exercise recently run a the Brookings Institute's Saban Center for Middle East Studies, pitting former top U.S. officials against prominent American experts on Iran. The simulation demonstrated how easily both sides misunderstood the other's "limited" responses as something more, causing a quick escalation into a full-scale American attack on Iran's nuclear installations and coastal defenses and an Iranian decision to bleed America.
Ignatius views the results as a cause for dismay. I see them as a ray of hope. My different response obviously derives primarily from the fact that I live in the country most immediately threatened by Iran. But I would argue, drawing on the arguments of David Goldman, a brilliant and contrarian analyst, that America too is better served by a military confrontation with Iran, before the latter goes nuclear, rather than down the line, just as millions of lives would have been saved had the allies confronted Hitler at Munich, when they were still militarily stronger, rather than appeasing him.
The common view is that an attack on Iran, by either Israel or the United States, would destabilize the Middle East and trigger an all-out war. Goldman's view is that the Middle East is already highly unstable, but things are currently headed in a negative direction from the point of view of American interests. An all-out war would reverse most of those trends.
At present, Iran is headed for nuclear weapons. Iraq, from which the last American troops have been withdrawn, is falling into the Iranian orbit. Europe and Japan view the United States as having abandoned its commitment to protecting the flow of Middle East oil by failing to stop Iran from gaining the means to threaten all its neighbors. They are turning to Russia for their energy needs, thereby strengthening Russia and weakening Saudi Arabia. The latter is also vulnerable to Iranian incitement of Shiites in its oil rich eastern provinces. Egypt's Moslem Brotherhood government will be increasingly tempted to play the anti-American Islamist card to distract attention from its lack of money to provide food or gas, and has already tilted towards Iran.
In this context, a major setback for Iran, besides increasing the possibility of regime change, also serves the long-term strategic interests of the United States.
Related Topics: American Government & Politics, Iran, Social Issues
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