Why Conservatives Get a Bad Rap

In case you were wondering, it is “rap” and not “wrap” or “rep”, I wasn’t sure so I looked it up. Though I stopped looking after one site, so I might be wrong.

I realize that on the surface, the limited government view that most conservatives have seems, how shall I say this, heartless.  Generally we don’t support expanding welfare policies, subsidies or even entire departments within the federal government.

Today I would like to explain why we don’t support these kinds of things in general (though not always) and why that doesn’t mean we are selfish, heartless and lack all compassion for the poor and otherwise unfortunate.

First a little background.  I grew up in a democrat household.  My parents were democrats, and I grew up in a very blue state.  From the time I was a kid I remember my mom saying things like “republicans are for business, democrats are for the people”.  I considered myself a liberal until I moved away from home and learned about some of the issues.  After that I considered myself a republican though I still leaned left on some, but not all, social issues (ie affirmative action, welfare, etc.).  I felt that it was the government’s responsibility to take care of its citizens, but I also knew that the free market and competition were good things.

Then 2008 came.  That year was a nightmare.  The economy tanked, gas prices skyrocketed and “hope and change” were all of the rage.

I didn’t vote for Obama (some of his polices fell under my umbrella of “deal breakers”), but when he won I had high hopes for him.  I really wanted him to succeed and hoped that he would do what he said.  I really wanted him to get rid of corruption, stop the spending and institute common sense policies.

Since then we have only seen things get worse and I wanted to know why.  I started reading up on the politics of the day.  I started studying American history in depth.  I read essays from long gone economists.  I started reading up on the implications of many of the social issues.  I read arguments from both sides and from there was able to determine what my own feelings on the subjects were.

I used to think that the reason nothing ever seemed to get done in Washington was because each side wanted their piece of the action and by the time a bill was signed into law it was so watered down with contrary garbage from the other side (whichever side) that what the bill had started out trying to fix would only get worse.  For example I would say things like “the way the democrats want to fix welfare would work if only the republicans would stop messing with it” and visa versa.

I was so wrong.  The reason why some bills will work and some will not is because one method is effective and the other is counter productive.

Lets continue on with welfare, for example.  Ronald Reagan once said “we measure success by how many people we get off of welfare, not how many people we get on it”.

As it currently stands, a single mother making less than 20k a year can qualify for enough welfare that her standard of living is equivalent to someone making 60k.  If she were to get a raise and bump up to above the 20k mark she would loose her benefits and her standard of living would fall.

With this kind of program what incentive does she have to work hard and get that raise?  Why on earth would she finish school or in any other way better herself, her quality of life or the quality of life for her children?

Might it not be better to, instead of giving her a free cell phone and more places to spend her food stamps, if we were to offer heavily discounted daycare at the community college? Or free parenting and organizational classes?

I don’t support increased welfare not because I think those who need help deserve to suffer or because I’m selfish, but because it’s not effective.  Decreasing the requirements and increasing benefits does nothing to help lift a person out of poverty.  It keeps them reliant on an entity other than themselves for their survival.  It is economic slavery.

I will give you another example.  I support the complete abolishment of the Department of Education.  I imagine a lot of people would gasp and shutter at that statement.  But being against the USDE does not make me against literacy or education in general.

Frederic Bastiat said it perfectly when he said, in his beautiful antiquated language:

…when we disapprove of Government support, we are supposed to disapprove of the thing itself whose support is discussed; and to be the enemies of every kind of activity, because we desire to see those activities, on the one hand free, and on the other seeking their own reward in themselves. Thus, if we think that the State should not interfere by taxation in religious affairs, we are atheists. If we think the State ought not to interfere by taxation in education, we are hostile to knowledge. If we say that the State ought not by taxation to give a fictitious value to land, or to any particular branch of industry, we are enemies to property and labour. If we think that the State ought not to support artists, we are barbarians who look upon the arts as useless.

Against such conclusions as these I protest with all my strength. Far from entertaining the absurd idea of doing away with religion, education, property, labour, and the arts, when we say that the State ought to protect the free development of all these kinds of human activity, without helping some of them at the expense of others, – we think, on the contrary, that all these living powers of society would develop themselves more harmoniously under the influence of liberty; and that, under such an influence no one of them would, as is now the case, be a source of trouble, of abuses, of tyranny, and disorder.” (emphasis added)

I couldn’t put it better myself.  I am against the Department of Education, not because I am hostile to knowledge but because I see the federal government taking control of something that they have no idea how to control.  How can a pencil pusher in Washington know what YOUR child needs to succeed?  How can someone who has never met you know that if every child should follow a prescribed formula then X Y and Z will happen.  Beyond the simple common sense that every child is different and we can’t treat them like a car on an assembly line, the results speak for themselves.

The UDSE as we know it started under Jimmy Carter in ‘79.  Since then we have seen our dropout rates increase as the United State’s ranking the world has plummeted.  The average amount spent per student varies by each state but the amount of money thrown at the schools seems to have absolutely no bearing on the results.

I believe that the county, town or even the family level is the best way to ensure a child gets the best education possible.  The federal government receives the vast majority of it’s money from the states and from the people.  I see no value whatsoever to sending our money to Washington to have them send it back to us in the form of “aid” or “grants” with massive amounts of red-tape stapled to it.  It would be better to keep it where it originated in the first place and not deal with the hassle of federal guidelines (which, as No Child Left Behind has proved, only harm the students).

That, in a nutshell is what conservatives believe.  Problems should be handled at the smallest level of government as possible.  If it can’t be fixed within one family then expand to the next level, then on and on.  If we did that than far fewer tax dollars would be taken from people’s paychecks because the federal government wouldn’t have to pay for so many programs.

Obviously there are some things that have to be handled at the federal level.  National defense is the first thing that comes to mind.  Immigration is another.

I know that you are wondering about what my thoughts are for when people just need a hand up when they are having a hard time.  What if there is a natural disaster or someone looses his/her job?

Again, I think it needs to be handled on as small of a level as possible.  If your neighbor is struggling the first thing he should do is reach out to his family and if you know he needs help him in any way you can.  Helping your neighbor doesn’t always have to involve writing a check (a check is rarely what is needed anyway).  Take his family dinner.  Offer to watch his children while he and his wife job hunt.  Mow his lawn, help cut and stack firewood.  Just be his friend and listen to him.

It is your job to help those in need, not the government’s.  If his need is more than his family and neighbors can bear, help from churches and other private charitable contributions should be the next source.  Government assistance should be the very last place he should look.  And frankly if we were doing our job in helping our neighbors as we should, the government wouldn’t need to.

The biggest problem I see with welfare is can be summed up in the famous line from A Christmas Carol.

“…a few of us are endeavouring to raise a fund to buy the Poor some meat and drink, and means of warmth. We choose this time, because it is a time, of all others, when Want is keenly felt, and Abundance rejoices. What shall I put you down for?”

“Nothing!” Scrooge replied.

“You wish to be anonymous?”

“I wish to be left alone,” said Scrooge. “Since you ask me what I wish, gentlemen, that is my answer. I don’t make merry myself at Christmas and I can’t afford to make idle people merry. I help to support the establishments I have mentioned—they cost enough; and those who are badly off must go there.”

The “support” Scrooge is speaking of is nothing more than his paying taxes.  Dickens tells us all too well what happens to a person when his only form of “charity” is the taxes that he pays.  We all know that paying our taxes isn’t charity.  When we want to help AIDS victims, or support clean water in Africa, or send money to those suffering in Japan after the tsunami, we don’t send money to Washington!  Real people who are not stooges of the current administration do NOT ask to be taxed more when they want to help others!  We give it to the Red Cross, our churches or to other humanitarian agencies.

Federalizing welfare dehumanizes those in need.  “I don’t need to help, surely they qualify for food stamps.”  When we don’t feel responsible for the hungry on the street then they become like the pile of clothes at the bottom of the stairs… we don’t see them anymore.

In 1877 Grover Cleveland (a democrat)  vetoed a bill to send $10,000 to Texas to buy seeds after a drought had ruined several crops.  Cleveland said:

I can find no warrant for such an appropriation in the Constitution, and I do not believe that the power and duty of the general government ought to be extended to the relief of individual suffering which is in no manner properly related to the public service or benefit. A prevalent tendency to disregard the limited mission of this power and duty should, I think, be steadfastly resisted, to the end that the lesson should be constantly enforced that, though the people support the government, the government should not support the people. The friendliness and charity of our countrymen can always be relied upon to relieve their fellow-citizens in misfortune. This has been repeatedly and quite lately demonstrated. Federal aid in such cases encourages the expectation of paternal care on the part of the government and weakens the sturdiness of our national character, while it prevents the indulgence among our people of that kindly sentiment and conduct which strengthens the bonds of a common brotherhood. (emphasis added)

After this speech Cleveland asked the American people to volunteer to send what they could to support the struggling farmers.  The people, with “the bonds of common brotherhood” were able to send ten times the amount that congress had originally asked for.

Davy Crockett give us another excellent example on how true charity should be.  The widow of a distinguished navel officer was in need of funds.  Several members of the House of Representatives stood up to give speeches about how well her husband had served his country and that in return the federal government should take care of her.  When they were finished with their words Crockett stood up and said

“Mr. Speaker – I have as much respect for the memory of the deceased, and as much sympathy for the sufferings of the living, if suffering there be, as any man in this House, but we must not permit our respect for the dead or our sympathy for a part of the living to lead us into an act of injustice to the balance of the living. I will not go into an argument to prove that Congress has no power to appropriate this money as an act of charity. Every member upon this floor knows it. We have the right, as individuals, to give away as much of our own money as we please in charity; but as members of Congress we have no right so to appropriate a dollar of the public money… I do not wish to be rude, but I must be plain… We cannot, without the grossest corruption, appropriate this…We have not the semblance of authority to appropriate it as a charity. Mr. Speaker, I have said we have the right to give as much of our own money as we please. I am the poorest man on this floor. I cannot vote for this bill, but I will give one week’s pay to the object, and if every member of Congress will do the same, it will amount to more than the bill asks.”

He was later confronted by a follow representative who wanted to know why he was being so heartless.  Crockett told him the story of the tongue lashing he received from a constituent when he was running for re-election.  Crockett had voted to send money to relieve victims of a local fire.  The farmer said to Crockett:

There are plenty of wealthy men in and around Washington who could have given $20,000 without depriving themselves of even a luxury of life. The Congressmen chose to keep their own money, which, if reports be true, some of them spend not very creditably; and the people about Washington, no doubt, applauded you for relieving them from the necessity of giving by giving what was not yours to give.

Crockett was a changed man after that confrontation.  From that point on he was determind not to allow congress to overstep it’s bounds.  Those boundaries were put in place for a reason.  He then pointed out to his representative friend who had wanted to send the widow relief:

“There is one thing now to which I will call your attention. You remember that I proposed to give a week’s pay. There are in that House many very wealthy men – men who think nothing of spending a week’s pay, or a dozen of them for a dinner or a wine party when they have something to accomplish by it. Some of those same men made beautiful speeches upon the great debt of gratitude which the country owed the deceased – a debt which could not be paid by money, particularly so insignificant a sum as $10,000, when weighed against the honor of the nation. Yet not one of them responded to my proposition. Money with them is nothing but trash when it is to come out of the people. But it is the one great thing for which most of them are striving, and many of them sacrifice honor, integrity, and justice to obtain it.”

I didn’t know much about Davy Crockett other than that he died at the Alamo and has a pretty peppy theme song.  After reading this story, Davy Crockett is officially one of my heroes.

Grover Cleveland and Davy Crockett knew what I know.  That it is OUR job to take care of the poor and the destitute.  It is OUR job to give a hand up to those in need and it is OUR job to teach them how to fish.  No good can come from giving away someone else’s money.  No good can come from not stretching ourselves and strengthening the bonds of common brotherhood with our fellow Americans.  It is the natural order of things for us to love whom we serve.

I don’t support social programs of this sort, not just because they are ineffective but because it is not the natural order of things.  We are meant to take care of each other and love each other and yet there are eleven cities in this country where it is essentially against the law to feed the homeless.  Those providing relief to others in need are being fined, penalized and regulated to the point where they can no longer support those who need it.

THAT is what happens when we allow the government to take over what is OUR responsibility.

I’m not foolish enough to think that we can cut off all welfare and other aid at the drop of a hat.  That would be heartless and disastrous because a lot of people depend on those things.  However expanding these programs is wrong.  Currently the unemployment is the exact same rate as it was when Obama took office (see why here) and yet 60% more people have enrolled in the food stamp program.  So either they are expanding the program or they are lying about the unemployment numbers.  You can’t have it both ways.

We should slowly cut benefits.  Reshape things in a way that makes it less profitable to stay out of work for long periods of time.  Encourage savings so when hard times come, they will have the funds necessary to sustain themselves until they can find another job.  Make work requirements realistic and, you know, WORK (none of this “reading a self-help book qualifies as work nonsense).  Welfare should only be for the truly destitute and disabled.

For more info and a better understanding of what conservatives believe on taxes and limited government, read That Which is Seen and That Which is Not Seen by Frederic Bastiat.

Next time I will try and explain why the free market is the most compassionate economic system in the world.


5 Comments Add yours

  1. Heather B says:

    Yet another FANTASTIC and dead-on post!


  2. Courtney says:

    We are obviously cut from the same mold; it must be the name. I share the same thoughts and sure wish I was as well read. Think you’ll post a reading list anytime soon. I just read “Courage” by Glenn Beck- so good, so enlightening and frightening… we must prepare physically, emotionally, spiritually, mentally for the changes ahead- time is speeding up.


    1. Courtney says:

      Good book. My favorite is still Arguing with Idiots :)


  3. Michelle says:

    I LOVED this. I’m so glad I found your blog today. You now have another follower. Thank you for explaining this so clearly. It’s one of those things I strongly believe, but have never quite had the right words to explain. You NAILED it. Thank you. By the way, I’m also an LDS Air Force wife. :)


    1. Thank you Michelle! It’s comments like yours that gives me the courage to continue to write things like this :) Nice to meet another comrade in arms :)


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