Recently, I appeared on a San Francisco radio talk show. I had looked forward to discussing a wide range of topics with the host and his callers. That’s why I had e-mailed a score of my essays to his producer. But I guess nobody bothered to read any of them. Instead, because the host simply introduced me as the author of “Conservatives Are From Mars, Liberals Are From San Francisco,” virtually every caller for the entire hour wanted to know what I meant by conservative as opposed to Republican, and wondered why I insisted that, on most matters, I actually regard myself as a libertarian. Long before the hour was over, thanks to a notoriously low boredom threshold, my eyes had rolled back into my skull and I was gasping for oxygen.
Still, I blame myself for giving incomplete answers to a few of the questions. For instance, I claimed that whereas most people have come to expect the federal government to pay for everything, I feel that the feds should be limited pretty much to waging war and guarding our borders. When I was asked why I felt that way, I don’t even recall what I replied. But what I should have said was that I am not an anarchist who is opposed to all forms of government, but the more localized government is, the more accountable it is to the people. For instance, it’s fairly easy to remove incompetent mayors and corrupt councilmen, but go try to get rid of Barbara Boxer or Patrick Leahy.
When asked if I really believed that if the federal government wasn’t taxing us to death, people would actually take up the slack and give more to charity, I said people definitely would. But I should have gone further. I should have pointed out that, long before there was an income tax, Andrew Carnegie, a personal hero of mine, single- handedly created the public library system in America. Or I could have said that when I was earning good money in TV, I would pay for my mother-in-law to come out for annual visits from Nebraska. But when the jobs dried up, I no longer was able to fly her to L.A. It only stands to reason that the more money people have, the more generous they can afford to be.
Furthermore, it makes no sense to send our money to Washington, D.C., just so the politicians can dole it out as they see fit. For one thing, regular charity groups do a better job of it. Most of the money donated to legitimate charities goes to do what the donors intended. But a huge chunk of the money we send to Uncle Sam is skimmed off to finance bloated federal bureaucracies. When a charity behaves that way, the executive director either ends up being fired or in the poky.
When Americans are flush, they’re the most generous people on earth. Look at the flood of dollars they sent to the survivors of 9/11 even though many of those people were already collecting on life insurance policies. Better yet, think of all the money we kicked in after the tsunami hit a part of the world where many, if not most of the people who were victimized, were Islamics who despise America! And of course, in the wake of Katrina, people all over the country were breaking open their piggy banks.
I’m afraid that too many of us have been bamboozled into buying into the notion that the folks in Washington should be encouraged in their attempts at social engineering. It shocks and saddens me that so many Americans see nothing wrong with the federal government encroaching into every area of our lives. For my part, I don’t want the feds doling out small business loans, overseeing our schools, ruling on abortions, and I certainly don’t want five idiots on the Supreme Court deciding that eminent domain gives the government carte blanche to confiscate our homes and businesses.
Understand, it has nothing to do with whether I agree with what the feds are doing, either. If it’s wrong when I disagree with their behavior, it’s no less wrong when I happen to be in agreement. It has to do with the sort of country this is supposed to be. If I wanted socialism, I would vote for socialists or move to Sweden.
One of my callers, by the way, said she was all for a socialistic government. I asked her why she thought that would be a good thing. She replied that people who had more would then have to share with people who had less. I said that I, along with the majority of people I knew, were in favor of sharing, but once it stopped being done on a voluntary basis, it was no longer sharing, it was communism.
Frankly, I’m afraid that’s where we’re headed. I suppose it began back in the 30s when Roosevelt and Congress got together and created that alphabet soup of federal agencies. Ever since, Americans have grown more and more accustomed to Washington’s usurping individual responsibility. As a result, we have become a nation of brats. We whine when the price of gas goes up, and accept it as our birthright when it goes down. It’s as if we think we have a sacred right to pay the same price for fuel as our ancestors. In the meantime, without a squawk, we pay an arm and a leg for bottled water, $3.50 for a box of movie theatre popcorn, and of course we keep right on buying cars the size of Sherman tanks.
Like teenagers, we expect Uncle Sam to pay for all the essentials, such as health care and housing, while we blithely blow our allowances on such pricey toys as over- sized TVs and cable service, cell phones, DVD players, Nintendo games, and $125 sneakers for the kids.
We even have the attention span of children. We get into a war, and immediately demand to know when it will be over -- like little kids in the backseat incessantly asking if we’re there yet. Can you imagine anybody inquiring of FDR, in 1943, if he had a timetable for withdrawing from North Africa or Italy or Corregidor?
When a caller wanted me to explain how, without federal assistance, New Orleans could be expected to cope in the aftermath of Katrina, I said that catastrophic insurance might have helped. Or perhaps if the state or city had built stronger levees, the entire tragedy could have been avoided. In any case, other cities have managed to rebuild without the federal government staking out ever more turf. Chicago managed to come back from a holocaust, and San Francisco recovered nicely from its earthquake. I am for relying on private enterprise and the generosity of individual Americans. After all, the only money the feds have is what it takes from us. It’s not as if George Bush is writing a personal check on his Crawford account.
Honestly, I don’t know how our parents and grandparents, members of what has been labeled the Greatest Generation for the gallant way they dealt with the Depression and World War II, can stomach us. They have us over for Thanksgiving, and we’re bigger turkeys than the bird in the oven.
That’s what I should have said.