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Taking the Long View

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A few months ago, I was golfing in Maryland, and I happened to get paired with a member of the Maryland General Assembly.

I had covered Maryland politics at one time, so we did a few “do-you-knows” as the round progressed. We settled on one hapless lawmaker who had switched from the Democratic Party to the Republicans after he lost a primary, only to lose again in the general election.

“You have to give the voters a little credit,” my golfing partner said. “They do pay attention.”

He makes a good point. We don’t give voters enough credit. This is particularly unhelpful for those of us on the right because our case for political leadership depends on them paying attention. It depends on prudence, restraint, taking the long view over the short. We should embrace these characteristics, trumpet them on the stump. We should give the voters credit for knowing the gravy train has to end soon.

A couple of things got me to thinking about this over the past week. One is the steady drumbeat of columns from the left criticizing the forced-austerity programs under way in much of Europe. It’s not working, they say. Unemployment isn’t falling. The economies are not growing. We must restore Keynesian spending or risk upheaval or worse.

The other is the news, which has the left all atizzy, that President Obama’s Department of Health and Human Services has certified an abstinence-only program in South Carolina as sufficiently effective and responsible to receive federal funding.

Let’s take the austerity question first. How is it not working? Government spending is being slashed. Thousands of bureaucrats are being laid off. Services and benefits and other products of the nanny state are going by the wayside. That’s what is supposed to happen.

The idea is not to produce instant economic nirvana. That’s been tried, using the government’s checkbook, and it has not worked.

The idea is to restore the government’s books to the point government can keep its promises. Think of it this way: You go to college. Your dad gives you a credit card and tells you to use it only to cover necessities and perhaps a pizza on Friday night. By the end of your first month in school, you have financed three of the biggest keggers in the history of college and, in the process, maxed out the card.

Your dad shows up the next weekend and collects the card. This is him imposing an austerity program on you. His goal is not to make it so you can immediately return to financing keg parties. It is to teach you to live within your means.

The anti-austerity forces say, “Pump in some money now, get things going again, then put us on the fiscal diet we know we need.” Only, it doesn’t work that way. The party that pushes for this can’t and won’t then campaign on the theme of, “Now, let’s get our books in order.” It’s going to say, “We saved you by increasing government spending.” That idea about restoring fiscal order doesn’t get revisited until the next crisis.

As for the abstinence-only program, I have swapped emails, comments and tweets with a variety of people this week who criticized the president for allowing this program to receive federal funds. The Nation wrote about it, and an online petition has been launched to convince President Obama to remove the program.

It’s the usual litany – abstinence-only doesn’t work; kids are going to “do it” anyway; best to show them how to do it safely and to provide birth control pills, condoms, etc. I made the case I usually make: Government doesn’t tell kids to smoke only light cigarettes or drink only wine coolers or do only “light” drugs, such as marijuana. And fewer kids do these things as a result.

But a number of commenters took me to task on this. They said sexual urges are natural – as opposed to drinking, smoking, doing drugs, etc. – and we should not discourage people from acting upon these natural urges. Even kids in high school. One person told me only sociopaths would think the urges of high schoolers to have sex should be suppressed.

So, in other words, as I’ve long suspected, the left opposes abstinence-only education not because it doesn’t work but because it does. People can be persuaded to hold off on sex until they are emotionally and financially prepared. They can respond to practical as well as moral appeals. They can think about it, want to do it, but restrain themselves. They can take the long view because they are not animals and thus slaves to these urges.

But the point is, how short-sighted can you be? How can a thinking adult believe sex among high schoolers is a desirable outcome?

Perhaps that is what we should talk about from now until November. It’s our vision of restraint, of taking the long view, of recognizing there will be a future and we need to prepare, versus theirs of spend it all now so Sandra Fluke can have free birth control, every high school can be equipped with a “love room” so students can act on their urges and we can continue to mindlessly finance the longest, most expensive kegger in the history of mankind without consequence.

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