McCain and Palin, plucky foes of spreading the wealth, must have known that such spreading is most what Washington does. Here, the Constitution is an afterthought; the supreme law of the land is the principle of concentrated benefits and dispersed costs. Sugar import quotas cost the American people approximately $2 billion a year, but that sum is siphoned from 300 million consumers in small, hidden increments that are not noticed. The few thousand sugar producers on whom billions are thereby conferred do notice and are grateful to the government that bilks the many for the enrichment of the few.
Conservatives rightly think, or once did, that much, indeed most, government spreading of wealth is economically destructive and morally dubious -- destructive because, by directing capital to suboptimum uses, it slows wealth creation; morally dubious because the wealth being spread belongs to those who created it, not government. But if conservatives call all such spreading by government "socialism," that becomes a classification that no longer classifies: It includes almost everything, including the refundable tax credit on which McCain's health care plan depended.
Hyperbole is not harmless; careless language bewitches the speaker's intelligence. And falsely shouting "socialism!" in a crowded theater such as Washington causes an epidemic of yawning. This is the only major industrial society that has never had a large socialist party ideologically, meaning candidly, committed to redistribution of wealth. This is partly because Americans are an aspirational, not an envious people. It is also because the socialism we do have is the surreptitious socialism of the strong, e.g. sugar producers represented by their Washington hirelings.
In America, socialism is un-American. Instead, Americans merely do rent-seeking -- bending government for the benefit of private factions. The difference is in degree, including the degree of candor. The rehabilitation of conservatism cannot begin until conservatives are candid about their complicity in what government has become.
As for the president-elect, he promises to change Washington. He will, by making matters worse. He will intensify rent-seeking by finding new ways -- this will not be easy -- to expand, even more than the current administration has, government's influence on spreading the wealth around.
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