You don't often get to ask senior Democrats whether things have got about as far they they can go.
But on Monday, July 6, 2009, Michael Medved got to ask liberal Democrat Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA) whether there was a point where government had got too big.
Politicians know how to dodge "when did you stop beating your wife" questions like that, but still, Waxman's answer was telling.
He first said that he believed in free enterprise, that business ought to be as free as possible, subject of course to government regulation. People ought to be free to do what they wanted--particularly in private life.
But some people had it easy, while people without all the assets of intelligence and education had to struggle. Government had a duty to help them. He mentioned treating people with dignity.
So Rep. Waxman was conceding the basic American narrative, but slipping in the need for a safety net to provide dignity for those less fortunate.
The next question could be, well, Congressman, we are spending a trillion dollars on government health care, and 900 billion on government education, and everyone says there's still a problem. So have we got about as far as we can go?
I believe that there is an opening here for conservatives. Waxman is admitting the basic modern moral order, described by Charles Taylor as freedom, benevolence, and the affirmation of ordinary life which dates from the Reformation. But he also wants the lefty addition to that menu, also described by Taylor: equality, dignity, solidarity, and creativity.
Conservatives want to help the less able and the less fortunate. We just don't want to do it by force. We believe in equality, but not equality enforced by government programs and subsidies. We believe in dignity, but we don't believe dignity is created by quotas and by hate speech laws. We believe in solidarity, but not the faux solidarity and astroturf grass-roots conjured up by government-subsidized activist groups like ACORN. We believe in creativity, but not in tenured sinecures at government universities.
This is the ground, I believe, that we should capture in our cultural and political war with our liberal friends. Liberals have great and noble ideas. But they use the wrong means to implement them.
If you try to implement your ideas as government programs you will corrupt yourself and you will fail. Government is force; it is a crude and brutal instrument. If you want to create a society of sweetness and light, of noble souls filled with the spirit of equality, dignity given and received, a brotherly and sisterly solidarity, and curious, talented people, then you've got to put government and political power in the background.
Because as soon as you unleash government power you create inequality. You corrode peoples' dignity. You break up the web of solidarity. And you cramp creativity.
And that is a lesson our liberal friends don't want to learn. Because they've learned to love their power and their influence. And power and influence has become more important to them than equality, dignity, solidarity, and creativity.