29 September 2010

Another Republican Pledge: Indoctrinating Self-Reliance

Cal Thomas gives thumbs-up to the Congressional Republicans' "Pledge With America" in his newest column, but still finds something lacking in the campaign document. While he calls it "a refreshing reminder of the founding philosophy," Thomas misses any discussion of voters' role in reforming the country, apart from voting Republican. Had he read more closely, he might have noticed the bit I saw about our obligation to adopt different standards for judging candidates, choosing between them based on whether they promote "opportunity" and liberty, not whether they bring home the bacon to constituents. But Thomas isn't interested in how we vote, apart from the obvious partisan angle, as much as how we live after the 2010 elections. He observes a Republican promise to conduct a "responsible, fact-based conversation with the American people" on fiscal issues, but that seems to strike him as a little dry. He wants to know "what is expected of us?" but he knows what he expects.

As reactionary politicians in the middle of a populist moment, Republicans pander to perceived resentment of elites allegedly telling the rest of us how to live. As a partisan columnist promoting Republicans, Thomas usually sticks with the program. This week, however, he makes it clear that, as far as he's concerned, Republicans themselves need to tell the rest of us how to live.

Too many Americans have been riding the gravy train called 'entitlement' for too long and it is about to derail. Republicans should make weaning them from dependence on government a patriotic duty and the essence of liberty. Focus on those who have overcome poverty and let them serve as examples of what others can do. Let's talk about individuals demonstrating more responsibility for their lives and ensuring their own retirement, with Social Security returning to the insurance program it was originally designed to be: a safety net, not a hammock.

Thomas wants Republicans to instigate a cultural counter-revolution against eighty years of decadent entitlement.
Since the New Deal, there has been an unhealthy relationship between government and the people that has harmed both. But like illegal drugs, there would be little supply if the demand were not high. The idea that people are incapable of taking care of themselves and their immediate families would have been foreign to our Founding Fathers. What too many lack is not resources, but motivation. Remind politicians of the stories from our past and present about people who overcame obstacles, start teaching these stories to the kids in our schools.

Thomas is a typical reactionary who has complained often enough about indoctrination in public schools and elsewhere yet proves here that he objects not to the concept but only to the content of indoctrination. Since "all public policy is founded on an underlying philosophy about humanity and the world," good government and good citizenship would appear to depend upon the indoctrination of the right (or "Right") philosophy. While Thomas doesn't speak officially for the Republican party, he can be presumed to represent constituents who would like the GOP to implement the indoctrination program he recommends.

I can't say too much more about Thomas's agenda because, given the limited space of a column, it appears to be incomplete. For instance, he doesn't say what people should do when obstacles prove less surmountable than those overcome by his unnamed historical heroes, or what individuals or families should do should the vicissitudes of the economy and the Market leave them without security for their retirement. He doesn't explain why dependence upon a government of one's own making is so objectionable, or why the most likely alternative -- dependence upon private, unaccountable employers -- is so preferable. We can infer a moral preference for self-reliance based on a belief that Peter shouldn't be compelled to support Paul, but why the idea of mutual aid as an obligation of citizenship should seem unpatriotic to Thomas is unclear, just as it seems difficult to reconcile his insistence on self-reliance as the essence of public morality with his avowed Christianity. He seems readier to write off misery as the just desserts of irresponsibility than Jesus was, and more ready to hold up the wealthy as models for emulation than "the Master" ever was.

Until Thomas clarifies his views, perhaps in the course of a "responsible, fact-based conversation," I'll have to work under the assumption that he'd have the Republican party teach Americans, through the media and schools, that "every man for himself" is the highest moral principle and that "compete or die" is the supreme law of the land. Whether Republicans themselves propose to do this is a point of concern for Thomas. The possibility that they'd do so is a point of concern for us all.

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