Jonah Goldberg
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"Extending benefits" means paying the unemployed more than they paid into the unemployment system. (The money Chukalas paid into that system -- his money -- ran out long, long ago.) In other words, this is direct assistance from the federal government, which actually means direct assistance from taxpayers, which means Chukalas is really asking for money from complete strangers. Moreover, he thinks all of the moral equities line up on his side of the argument, and that there shouldn't even be a discussion about where the money comes from or any talk of paying it back.

Chukalas is a moral philosopher compared with many of the C-SPAN callers these days who simply demand "their money." By what math is it their money, I wonder, given that 60 percent of Americans get more from government than they pay in taxes.

Now I know this all sounds terribly harsh, and, truth be told, I do not think the government should consider benefit extensions to be loans. Nor do I think it's a slam-dunk argument that such aid should be cut off. This is not a normal downturn.

But I do think this illustrates how fuzzy our thinking is about the role of government. Comparing government to a wealthy brother or sister is, simply, a category error. Can you get a gift or loan from your relatives by shouting, "Give me my money!"?

It turns out, perhaps not coincidentally, that President Obama shares Chukalas' outlook.

On countless occasions he has said that his central vision of government is to fulfill the Biblical mandate to be "my brother's keeper, my sister's keeper." Health care reform, for instance, was an effort to meet this "core moral and ethical obligation."

Leave aside that the Bible does not tell anyone to be their brother's keeper (the phrase appears once, when Cain sarcastically tries to dodge a murder rap from God). It is just plain weird that anyone thinks we should all view government as a Big Brother.

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Jonah Goldberg

Jonah Goldberg is editor-at-large of National Review Online,and the author of the forthcoming book The Tyranny of Clichés. You can reach him via Twitter @JonahNRO.
 
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