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Why Is This Election Close? Big Government and Delegated Virtue



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Over at Powerline, John Hinderaker has penned a much-discussed post asking “Why Is This Election Close?” The economy is in miserable shape, and “hope and change” is a punchline, but tens of millions of Americans are still clinging to the Democrats:

I am afraid the answer may be that the country is closer to the point of no return than most of us believed. With over 100 million Americans receiving federal welfare benefits, millions more going on Social Security disability, and many millions on top of that living on entitlement programs — not to mention enormous numbers of public employees — we may have gotten to the point where the government economy is more important, in the short term, than the real economy. My father, the least cynical of men, used to quote a political philosopher to the effect that democracy will work until people figure out they can vote themselves money. I fear that time may have come.

He continues:

I am afraid the problem in this year’s race is economic self-interest: we are perilously close to the point where 50% of our population cares more about the money it gets (or expects to get) from government than about the well-being of the nation as a whole. Throw in a few confused students, pro-abortion fanatics, etc., and you have a Democratic majority.

I think Hinderaker is right, but he understates the extent of the problem. Big government is attractive not merely to those receiving benefits, but also to idealists on the other end of the economic spectrum. For them, big government represents delegated virtue — it’s a way to take care of the poor, the elderly, the disabled without, you know, actually doing anything yourself. During my total-immersion days in the heart of the liberal establishment (Ivy League law schools, Manhattan law firm, Center City Philadelphia non-profit), I encountered hundreds of liberal idealists with a bulletproof sense of moral superiority even as they did nothing of consequence to actually serve their fellow man. For them, “advocacy” was service, higher tax rates were charity, and the actual poor and sick were rarely in their proximity.  

For some time, the Democratic party has been the party of the bookends: with Democratic support strongest amongst the poor and uneducated, generally declining with income and education, but then reemerging at the highest education and income levels. It’s a coalition of economic dependents and their “virtuous” caretakers.  

The uncharitable, self-congratulatory liberal elite has pulled off one of the greatest P.R. con jobs of all time. They’ve successfully sold to millions of Americans the idea that religious conservatives — those most likely to volunteer their time and give their money to help those less fortunate — are uncaring, greedy, haters.

Moral superiority without sacrifice: It’s a seductive lifestyle.



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