Burt Prelutsky

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.