“The poor” have been one of the principal flails the Left has wielded against the Right for over a century. Innumerable policy initiatives have been called for and justified under the rationale of “helping the poor.” They go by other names, now and then: the “disabled;” the “structurally unemployed,” the “historically marginalized;” the “homeless;” and so forth. But underneath the labels is always the implication of personal economic insufficiency, which renders them dependent upon the charity of others.
I have no doubt that in a nation of 340 million persons, most of whom are here legally, there will be some who cannot, for reasons beyond their personal control, meet their own needs and the needs of others for whom they’re responsible. Yet the American welfare state of today is so generous that the federal definition of “poverty” – the condition that qualifies one for federal assistance – applies to households that many Europeans of the working and middle classes would envy.
A great libertarian economist, Nobel laureate Friedrich Hayek, has argued that an advanced society must make some provision for the relief of genuine need. In his book The Constitution of Liberty, Hayek declaims thus:
In the Western world some provision for those threatened by the extremes of indigence or starvation due to circumstances beyond their control has long been accepted as a duty of the community…. The necessity of some such arrangement in an industrial society is unquestioned—be it only in the interest of those who require protection against acts of desperation on the part of the needy.
So let us stipulate that “something must be done.” But let us not descend to this farce:
- Something must be done.
- This is something.
- Therefore we must do this.
(As an apocryphal professor once said about a paper submitted by an apocryphal student, “This is so bad it’s not even wrong.”)
The other historically important rationale for governmental intervention into the economy is the Marxist notion of “the exploitation of the workers.” This proceeds from Marx’s absurd notion about “surplus value.” He argued that the difference between what production workers are paid and the market value of the goods they produce, less some obvious allowances for production costs, properly belongs to the workers and not to those who employ them for wages. That they don’t get the “surplus value” in their pay packets constitutes “exploitation.” Some very smart people have signed onto this lunacy, often under the shibboleth of “equity.”
Any time you hear someone prattling about “exploitation,” the ghost of Marx is cackling in the distance.
But all that is prefatory. My real subject this morning is that celebrated former Congresswoman and presidential candidate, Miss Tulsi Gabbard.
I like much that I’ve heard about Tulsi Gabbard. She’s friendly, gracious, and approachable. She speaks well, is willing to treat with her political opponents as people with rights and interests they naturally want to defend, and looks great in yoga pants. That’s a lot of political assets, especially in these times.
We in the Right have longed for opponents who’ll treat us with respect for our intelligence and our positions. Such persons are largely absent from today’s conversation. The appearance of one such is cause for a modest celebration. But let us not forget that what starts in a friendly, let-us-reason-together fashion need not end that way.
Miss Gabbard’s political stance remains tilted well over to the left. She supported Bernie Sanders for the Democrat nomination for president in 2016. Whether anyone has asked for her opinion of the Usurper Regime’s economy-destroying policies, I do not know. Given her previous stances, I’d guess that she’d heavily qualify any criticism she might have for them.
Nevertheless, here’s a snippet from her speech at CPAC 2022, which ended just recently:
“So as long as we’re committed to this foundation of freedom that’s enshrined in our constitution and our Bill Of Rights, we can recognize our differences and work together based on that common ground,” Gabbard said. “Coming from that common foundation of freedom we can overcome the great obstacles and challenges that we face, but if we are not committed to this freedom that is so clearly spelled out in the Bill Of Rights, we are doomed to fail as a country.”
“Unfortunately, we have too many Americans including leaders in positions of great power in our country who are not at all committed to upholding the Constitution, we have many Americans who don’t even know that the Bill Of Rights are,” she added. “They think free speech is something that should only be left to those who agree with them saying ‘hey, you know what, if your speech offends me or if it offends anyone, then you should not be allowed to say it.’ This is where we are as a country.”
“We have too many people in positions of power whose foremost responsibility is to protect our freedoms and uphold our God-given rights, and yet they are the ones who are actually trying to take these rights away from us,” she said. “This is the biggest threat to our country, it is not coming from some foreign country, it is coming from power elites here at home and their co-conspirators in the mainstream media and the security state who are working to undermine our freedoms from within.”
So she’s good on freedom of speech, but has anyone asked her about her socialist policy positions lately? She’s easily the most genial Democrat around, so it shouldn’t be an occasion of hazard. How does she rationalize her attachment to policies that have produced impoverishment and persistent dependency every time they’ve been tried? Is it “for the poor?” Or would we hear a bit of reheated Marxism about “the exploitation of the workers?” Or would she say something else, something I can’t even imagine at this hour of the morning?
Herein lies the second stage of the aisle-crossing adventure.
Conversation between political adversaries is important to our Constitutional republic. (Note the “our,” please. I’m not talking about Hope here, as much as I wish I were.) But to be constructive, conversation must proceed from a foundation of mutually agreed premises and principles. People who differ dramatically at the level of premises and principles hardly speak the same language.
Miss Gabbard spoke eloquently of America’s Constitutional basis and the principles it enshrines. Let’s assume that she was entirely sincere about it all, rather than just putting on a good show for the CPAC crowd. As the fundamental principle enshrined by the Constitution is that of “the supreme law of the land,” how would she defend government interventions into the economy that are nowhere authorized by the Constitution? Such interventions are part of Bernie Sanders’s platform, which she endorsed. Would she claim that the approval of Congress, or of the electorate, would be sufficient to sanctify it? If she were to recur to that ancient argument of tyrants, “necessity,” could she defend that based on the objective conditions which she characterized as constituting the necessity, and the conditions that have followed such measures in other places and times?
This is not mere polemics, nor is it an attempt to disqualify a gracious woman from receiving our respect. It’s about what it’s possible to achieve in a cross-aisle conversation. There must be agreement on fundamentals – individuals’ rights and responsibilities; the proper sphere of government; the sinister nature of alliances between governments, and between a government and private organizations – before positive outcomes are possible. In the absence of such agreement, differences are insoluble. Yea verily, even when our interlocutor is as well-mannered and gently spoken as Tulsi Gabbard.