"It's almost as if the president and his party really are bent on promoting a welfare state and then thinking about ... our free enterprise system second," Cantor said. "And their emphasis ... has been in trying to promote programs of economic redistribution. And if you hear them speak, it's always about 'everybody should pay their fair share.' And I think the difference is, we believe everyone should have a fair shot."
Indeed, Cantor's remarks succinctly describe the different worldviews of liberals and conservatives.
Liberals, who think of themselves as more compassionate than conservatives, are always trying to come up with programs and policies that even out the differences between individuals. Liberals want to take a bigger chunk of money from those who earn more because they are harder workers, are brighter or more skilled, have invested more in education, or just happen to have been born into a wealthy family. And liberals want to use that money to create programs to help those who are less fortunate. Our federal income tax system is based on this principle.
Conservatives, on the other hand, aren't as concerned about evening out inequalities between individuals and would rather encourage individuals to pursue their own interests, for better or worse. Most conservatives believe that government should not penalize hard work, risk-taking and success by insisting that government take a larger share of the fruits of those efforts.
But with the advent of the modern welfare state, conservatives have been on the losing end of the policy debate when it comes to providing government assistance to a growing portion of the American population. And the money to pay for those programs is coming from a shrinking portion of our population. According to the latest figures available from the Internal Revenue Service, nearly half of all Americans pay no federal income tax, and that proportion has been on a steady rise for decades.
Given these dramatic disparities between worldviews, it's hard to imagine how a divided government is going to achieve the budget cuts promised in the debt-ceiling compromise or rewrite tax laws that nearly everyone agrees need to be reformed. And an election year is probably the environment least likely to produce satisfactory results.
So what can we expect from the new congressional committee set up to tackle these issues? Not much, which means that the mandatory budget cuts agreed to in the compromise are likely to be the best we can hope for -- along with a hefty tax increase when the so-called Bush tax cuts expire. And when that happens, liberals will have won the day once again.
The $1.2 trillion in mandatory cuts required if Congress doesn't accept the recommendations of the new bi-partisan committee come mostly from cuts in military spending and payments to Medicare providers. That's assuming that the committee can even come up with a plan. What these cuts don't do is tackle the entitlement infrastructure, which is what is threatening to bankrupt the country.
In 2008, the American people chose the liberal worldview by electing Barack Obama and large liberal majorities in both houses of Congress. By 2010, Americans were having second thoughts and gave conservatives a large majority in the House of Representatives. In 2012, voters are going to have to decide whether to complete what they started in 2010 and elect a conservative president and Senate or default to the liberal position of 2008.
With so many Americans now on the receiving end of the greatly expanded welfare state, I'm not sanguine about the prospects of the conservatives winning. But if we don't change course soon, liberals may find that there is little American wealth left to redistribute to anyone.
Linda Chavez is the author of "An Unlikely Conservative: The Transformation of an Ex-Liberal."