Here's the diagnosis of Joseph H. Vanderpool of Rensselaer, as submitted to a recent local newspaper. "The problem with liberalism," he writes, "with all its good intentions, is that it makes average people dependent on government." A few paragraphs later, he repeats himself: "The problem with liberalism is that it disempowers us average people. It makes us dependent on government largess for our physical, social and economic well being and security rather than becoming independent, self-reliant individuals. Furthermore, liberalism creates a gigantic culture of elitist managers, bureaucrats and 'experts' who control and direct every aspect of our lives. We are no longer free, independent individuals, but rather pawns in the games and power trips of these elitists."
It's a good thing that Vanderpool chose to elaborate, since as he went into more detail he revealed the subjectivity of his perceptions. From liberalism's own perspective, it empowers the very people Vanderpool accuses liberalism of disempowering. Modern liberalism seeks a democratic mandate to redistribute wealth to improve everyone's physical, social and economic well being and security. While Vanderpool portrays himself as a "libertarian-oriented individual," his perception of liberal "dependency" is influenced by anarchist distrust of representation. Instead of seeing the people use government as their instrument, he sees them as the tools of "elitist managers, bureaucrats and 'experts'" who are essentially not the people but a separate class. From Vanderpool's perspective, these parasitic representatives "profit and prosper from our tax dollars while we [who?] live in penury."
Vanderpool anticipates and rejects any characterization of himself or other "libertarian-oriented individuals" as "cold, insensitive or heartless." He insists that he rejects liberalism not out of any hostility toward its constituents, but "on the simple pragmatic [ground] that in the long run it doesn't work." It "doesn't work," we can infer, when it generates an elitist bureaucracy that perpetuates dependence while impoverishing taxpayers. He exhorts us to "liberate ourselves" by putting "an end to liberalism and the dependence on government that it fosters." But this is exactly where critics will test his heart, his sensitivity, and his body temperature. If dependence upon government is unacceptable, what becomes of those who can't become "independent, self-reliant individuals" in the current economy? Vanderpool might dodge the question by insisting that not just anyone but everyone can become independent and self-reliant. He might well clarify his position, as I suspect he would, by explaining that all it takes to qualify as an "independent, self-reliant individual" is a job, preferably in the private sector. If so, it's an interesting definition of independence, with the only point of reference being whether or not you're dependent on the government. It would be nothing new, of course; it's the good old "free labor" ideology developed by the original Republicans of the Civil War era to refute the charge that factory workers, etc., were "wage slaves" as dependent on the whims of their employers as chattel slaves were upon their owners. We can go on questioning all the premises of this ideology but it gets us away from the real question people like Vanderpool should answer. If the real choice is between "dependency" and death, whether quick or slow, what do they wish for their fellow Americans?