December 8 2011
In his speech in Osawatomie, Kansas, the President's caricature of the conservative vision for America was basically this: Everyone fends for himself.
I'm glad that Charlotte has already pointed out how ridiculous it is to suggest that personal responsibility is a bad thing... but I want to add my two cents about "fending for ourselves."
Have you ever wondered why so many free-market advocates ...highly coincidentially... also advocate for strong families and a strong civil society? In the recent years of economic hardship in our country, it's been easy to focus on the economic side, to breathlessly repeat ourselves over and over: Get government out! Push government back! And this has been the right response, considering government's expansion into new areas and new roles - to the detriment of our nation's anemic economic "recovery."
But if I could speak with the President about what my "simple" philosophy really is, I would tell him that it includes three things: economic freedom, individual responsibility, and a strong civil society.
You see, we aren't really "fending for ourselves," and that's the beauty of it. I don't mean to suggest some kind of Elizabeth-Warren-style guilty debt to a faceless, anonymous community. I'm talking about honest-to-goodness, you-know-it-when-you-see-it compassion. It happens everyday in the way we relate to each other, and it starts... in the home.
The base unit of society is the family unit, and that's why strong families are important - not only to keep people out of poverty - but to raise healthy, happy, capable children who can also achieve self-sufficiency one day. (And what's more, they'll turn around and care for their aging parents in the future!)
I'll admit though, that it's a fantasy to think everyone in the U.S. can get along happily with their family members. Families are often broken apart. Tragedy strikes, and sometimes people are left alone. This opens the door to a good discussion about government's role in providing a social safety net, but that safety net is never a replacement for friends, churches, community groups, neighbors, charities, and the many voluntary relationships that comprise society. In fact, today the government "safety net" is very different from charitable giving in civil society, and you can read more about that in our December policy focus.
As government grows its role in our lives, it interferes not only with the way we do business, or the growth of jobs in the economy. It also crowds out the very important presence of community groups. It fuels animosity between the social classes. It makes it harder for families and communities to make decisions at the most decentralized level. Civil society can be a rich, strong web of associations among people, but it is weakened when government tries to perform functions that should be left to the community of citizens.
It's the mission of the Left to promulgate a false choice between one-man islands of self-sufficiency and a community where everyone shares with each other. They just don't mention that the sharing in their model is forced (and therefore not compassionate). And they don't mention that the best alternative is really a strong civil society, where families and communities can know each other, love each other, and occasionally (voluntarily!) serve as the first safety net during times of trouble.