I don't expect very much from Santa Claus these days. I mean, he's been a disappointment over the years. My desires are few--power, money, and fame, that sort of thing--but he's yet to satisfy any of them. So I tried downgrading my requests to world peace and the end of international poverty. But that didn't work either. He still didn't deliver.
This year I tried to be more realistic. I had just a few simple requests. It's been a difficult year so Santa, this would have been a good time to give me at least something that I wanted. But no! It's Christmas Day and I got up early to check under the tree, and nothing.
Top of my list was for Americans to stop confusing politics with morality, law with ethics. Government has an important job: to protect us in the exercise of our rights, which stem from being independent moral agents created in the image of God. The law should reinforce basic interpersonal morality, that is, regulate our interaction with others. Murder, rape, assault, theft, fraud--all of these should be outlawed because they violate people's essential liberties.
However, politics should not devolve to a crusade focused on intrapersonal morality, that is, attempting to make other people better. It always seems easier to fix other people than ourselves, but Jesus warned us to take the log out of our own eyes before trying to remove the splinter from the eyes of others. Law-making should not be soul-molding. Or trying to make people healthier, nicer, politer, cleaner, or whatever other goals we might have for our fellow man (and woman!). Government does a bad enough job protecting us from criminals. Please, Santa, why didn't you make the obnoxious paternalists, national nannies, and social engineers go away?
Second, I asked the Great Gift-Giver to stop any businessman who praises the wonders of free enterprise from ever asking for a special subsidy, bail-out, tax preference, regulatory advantage, or other government privilege. When I first came to Washington and proudly took up an office in the Old Executive Office Building while working as a Special Assistant to President Ronald Reagan, one of my first official visitors was a representative of the energy industry whose opening line was "I am for free enterprise, but ... ."
It was a mantra that I came to hear often. Many business visitors praised the wonders of capitalism but then related, sadly, how his or her industry and especially company had a special need for just a little government help to level the playing field, make up for past unfairness, match foreign subsidies, spark economic growth, overcome outside difficulties, etc., etc. Of course, all hoped that I would resist outrageous efforts by their competitors to secure unfair advantages. But their cause, in contrast, was just, fair, efficient, pure, and right. I really didn't mind the bad policy advice all that much. It was the hypocrisy that was most irritating. It's long past time for Santa to take care of this problem!
Wish number three was that people stop using language that seemingly forecloses debate, especially when they are on the losing side of the issue. Consider foreign "aid." It sounds so good, who can be against it? But, in fact, we have decades of experience with government-to-government financial transfers, which is what foreign "aid" normally is, and the result has not been good. In the main Washington has underwritten authoritarian, collectivist, and incompetent regimes, reinforcing failure and discouraging reform.
Sulfur Dioxide emissions caused quite a stir two or so decades ago when alarmists warned that "acid rain" was destroying lakes and forests across America. How can any normal person do anything but run for cover from "acid rain"? In fact, the federal government spent hundreds of millions of dollars to determine that SO2 emissions weren't nearly as potent as feared, and had only a modest environmental impact. But that didn't stop a congressional stampede to set up a special expensive new program as part of the Clean Air Act.
And then there is President Barack Obama's "Affordable Care Act," which is having the opposite effect. ObamaCare is eliminating inexpensive health insurance options, dramatically pushing up premiums for the young and healthy, and reinforcing the third party payment system which has made American medical care so expensive. A cynic might suggest that administration officials and congressional members knew what was going to happen, but carefully chose the legislation's name to mislead--I hesitate to say "lie" to--the American people.
Fourth, Santa, I asked you to stop people from confusing the First Amendment with free expression. The country has gone agog over the "reality" television show Duck Dynasty and the comments of one of the characters, Phil Robertson. I'll admit that I've never watched the show and don't see the appeal in watching some goofy people goof around in front of the cameras. After all, I live near Washington, D.C.
The A&E network suspended Robertson, but that has nothing to do with the First Amendment, which protects against government suppression of speech. Instead, if I don't like something you say and don't want to work or even associate with you, that is just life. In a free society that should be my right--both of expression and association--as basic as your right to voice your opinion. Of course, your family then can threaten to stop working with me, as Robertson's family has warned A&E. And viewers and potential viewers can decide whether they want to watch or not, which seems to be what most of the country is talking about at the moment. But this battle has nothing to do with the Constitution and the essential framework for a free society.
A separate wish, but highlighted by the Duck Dynasty imbroglio, is that people stop turning every little controversy into a matter of high moral outrage. Why should anyone get excited about what someone on a silly television show says off the set? In a large, complex society like our own, lots of people will believe things and behave in ways which irritate and even outrage us. Life will be better if we generally tolerate the opinions and actions of others.
Of course, not murderers, child molesters, and rapists, and, my personal hate, politicians who want the U.S. to roam the globe bombing, invading, and occupying other nations. But there's no reason to turn the world upside down in response to those who believe ObamaCare will make medicine affordable, consider homosexuality to be a sin, think Republicans are terrible people, don't like atheists or Catholics (or both), make stupid gender-, race-, or ethnic-based remarks, or are generally obnoxious and clueless. You don't like what they said/did? Minimize your contact at work. Avoid them at the Christmas party. Don't visit their barbershop. Refuse to respond to their provocations.
But don't try to drive everyone you disagree with from the public square. We all benefit from a diverse, vibrant, and provocative public environment despite the irritations and offenses caused by some. A world turned ever more intolerant, nasty, and threatening by zealous PC police of all sorts will be a truly depressing place. Not to mention that we might end up as victims of the new public Star Chamber as well.
Wish number six concerned "reality" TV. Santa should prevent people from calling it "reality." It would be best for people, as well as Western Civilization, to stop watching it altogether, but I figure I should heed my own call for tolerance and such. So if you want to watch people fighting the odds and overcoming death-defying challenges while surviving in the wild--all the while surrounded by television producers and cameramen--feel free! But stop calling it "reality."
Even if the people involved once were real, as soon as the cameras switch on there is no more reality. Whatever the show, the only genuine reality is ratings. And it is impossible to know how the characters would act if viewers weren't watching and networks weren't paying. Just imagine how you would act if television cameras were recording your every action and comment!
My next wish was far bigger. I've been in Washington a long time, so my fondest, most desperate desire is that people stop viewing government as the institution through which they are entitled to live at everyone else's expense. This one should be close to Santa's heart. In effect, today many people confuse Uncle Sam with Santa Claus, except they believe every day in Washington is Christmas.
I'll admit, I rather like the idea that there's some nice wealthy fellow--or at least someone with a big, productive, and inexpensive work force (admittedly, the North Pole sounds a bit like slave labor, but I'm not going to check!)--who wants to give me my life desires. But when politicians in Washington take on this role bad things happen. Like a $17.2 trillion national debt, endless deficits, $100 trillion in unfunded Social Security and Medicare liabilities, billions in corporate welfare, a bloated military that defends the rest of the world rather than America, and social programs that have become a vast soup line for the middle class.
There's an important role for government, but it should be the framework for a free people to care for themselves. And we should stop clamoring for benefits that we don't want to pay for, instead putting them on the collective credit card for the next generation to pay. These days Americans like to mock Greece, but the U.S. will become Greece unless Americans stop expecting government to give them something--indeed, most everything--for nothing.
Wish number eight was that people who blab about liberty actually support liberty--across the board. Conservatives routinely talk about freedom, yet they traditionally have been in the forefront of campaigns to toss people into jail for having sex different ways, looking at dirty pictures, consuming the wrong substances, and saying inappropriate things. Historically the Right didn't believe the law-abiding should mind if the cops checked their home, car, or person for evidence of criminal activity. And conservatives were particularly insistent that young men shouldn't be able to say no to stupid, foolish wars half a world away cooked up in Washington.
Liberals love to call themselves "pro-choice"--when it comes to sex. But no where else. Government should decide where you work, what you can do, and how much you are paid. Government should decide how you get health insurance, what benefits should be included, and how much you should pay. Government should decide where you live and how much it should cost. Government should decide what you put in your body and how many calories it may constitute. As Ronald Reagan once noted, the Left believes that if it prospers government should ban it, if it moves government should regulate it, and if it stops government should subsidize it.
How about getting people to support freedom for all, Santa? You get to decide your sex life and your work life? Government won't peek into your car trunk or your bank account? You will be free, but held responsible for how you use your freedom. Radical thoughts, I know, but it is Christmas.
I asked for my next wish before, but maybe I haven't been clear enough. Could Santa stop members of the bipartisan war party from calling all of their opponents isolationists? I'm sure there are some real, bona fide isolationists, people who believe America should close itself off from the world, around the U.S. But I have yet to meet any of them.
Today "isolationism" means you don't believe the U.S. should be perpetually at war. You don't believe Washington should waste taxpayer funds on foreign "aid" that really is foreign "hindrance." You don't think the best use of patriotic young Americans' lives is to die bombing, invading, and occupying other nations based on the prevailing whims in Washington. You don't understand why the Pentagon has created a welfare dole for rich allies, like the Europeans, who don't want to be bothered to defend themselves. And, most important, you have the odd notion that stable peace, not perpetual war, should be the American government's objective. Frankly, I am tired of people claiming that internationalism at its best is raining death and destruction down upon other societies.
My tenth and last gift suggestion, Santa, was that you restore a modicum of civility to America's political debate. I've been here a long time and the climate is frankly ugly and unpleasant. Of course, it's important not to pine for some nonexistent past ideal. The early Americans knew how to scorch bark off of a political tree, and there's always been lots of enmity among political opponents. Still, today that hostility permeates all the way down to the grassroots, with politics becoming an ugly red team-blue team contest in which the objective is not only to demonize one's opponent, but to drive him or her out of polite company.
There's good reason to have opposed many of the policies advanced by Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and Barack Obama. But not to have demonized them as people. All had their obvious failings, but none were evil incarnate, despite what one might read in the other team's press. It's possible, hard as it might seem to imagine today, that those who disagree with you do not wish America and the world ill, but simply disagree over means. They may be misguided, even foolish, but are worth engaging with at least a modicum of good will. The first response to any argument with which you disagree should not be ad hominem.
My track record with Santa isn't particularly good, so I suppose I shouldn't be surprised that I didn't get these presents under my tree. But I didn't ask for the impossible--say, peace between Israelis and Palestinians! Come on Santa. Couldn't you have put those slaves, er, elves to work and granted at least a couple of my fondest desires?