Monday, February 18, 2013

The Welfare State is Here to Stay?

Get a grip conservatives, writes Heather Wilhelm in her review of Peter Berkowitz's Constitutional Conservatism.  The welfare state is here to stay.  What conservatives -- libertarians and social conservatives -- need to do is propose how to reform it.

The easy response to that is Peggy Lee's.  Is that all there is?  All we can hope for is a little fiddling at the margins of big government?

But that pessimistic outlook ignores the difference between morality and politics.

Politics is the art of the possible, and right now politics is a contest of voting for free stuff.  And who can ignore the lure of the free stuff?  Not conservatives.  Conservative Carrie Lukas recalls the temptation of subsidized pre-school:
I lived in one of those celebrated European cities, Vienna, Austria, for two years, during which time they created a city-wide subsidy for  “preschools”...  When I no longer had to pay almost anything for my 4-year-old daughter, I signed her up for a longer day to make it easier on me.  I also enrolled my 2-year-old for the mornings.
So now the Obama administration is proposing not just universal pre-school but a jump in the minimum wage from $7.25 to $9 per hour.  Who  couldn't benefit dropping the kids off or from more money at an entry level job?

The RedState guys propose that conservatives act like a wrecking crew, by proposing an even higher minimum wage--especially for fast-food and nail-salon workers--to teach those suburban moms a lesson.

But they only show that right now, "free stuff" rules, and so conservative politics must continue to dance around the disaster that is welfare state politics, trying to limit the damage.

"Real change," requires more than politics.  It requires a moral revolution, the kind of revolution that led to the American Revolution and the end of slavery.  That is what it would take to enroll the folks that I call "people of the marginalized self" into the ranks of the People of the Responsible Self.

In other words, welfare moms have to believe that having a child out of wedlock is a damning sin, because it ruins their child's life.  Middle-class Americans have to believe that breaking up is a damning sin because it utterly demoralizes their children.  Laid-off middle-aged workers have to believe that it is a damning sin to come up with a back ailment and get on Social Security's disability program instead of sucking it in and taking a job with less status or accepting a cut in pay.

People don't think that stuff up and change their lives on their own.  Instead they get swept up in the hysteria of a great moral movement, like the Great Awakening of the 1740s, and the Civil Rights movement of the 1950s and early 1960s.  Think about gays all suddenly deciding that the most important thing in the world is gay marriage.  Where did that come from?

The thing about moral movements is that, although they are led by leaders, you can't turn them on and off like a light switch.  They answer the demands of the age, the inchoate feelings of the multitude that something is wrong with their lives.

But once you've got a moral movement on the march, then the politics is easy.  But that time is not yet, so that's why Peter Berkowitz is probably right.  Conservatives need to do the right thing, for now, and nibble around the edges of the welfare state.

But some day, come the revolution...

1 comment:

  1. "But some day, come the revolution..."

    All bark and no bite for decades. Republicans are sitting in their armchairs waiting for someone to start the revolution, while expecting someone else to get the ball rolling. Why are conservatives so scared?