Politics & Policy

Feeling Good vs. Doing Good

Paved with good intentions.
Leftists feel good about themselves even when their policies fail. The Right shouldn’t follow suit.

There is a question that all of us need to ask. How we respond makes all the difference in what type of life we lead and what type of world we make.

That question is: Does an action feel good or do good?

Let me give three areas of examples: personal life; the Left; and, most recently, unfortunately, the Right.

In the personal sphere, many parents, especially in this last generation, have done what feels good rather than what does good.

#ad#It feels good to give one’s children what they want, but it rarely does good. It feels good to build children’s self-esteem — giving them trophies for no achievement, for example — but when the self-esteem is unearned, it doesn’t do good. It feels good to provide one’s adult children with money and other material benefits when they should be providing for themselves, but it doesn’t do good. And it feels good to coddle children rather than discipline them. But, same deal: It’s not good for them. 

In the social and political spheres, feeling good rather than doing good has characterized virtually every left-wing policy.

Liberals feel good (especially about themselves — remember, the Left founded the self-esteem movement) when they promote race-based affirmative action. Given the centuries of suffering blacks endured in America, it feels good to change rules of admission in order to have more blacks attend more prestigious colleges. The problem is that these policies have done considerably more harm than good to blacks (and to society). The black dropout rate at many colleges is much higher than that of non-blacks; and many black students feel resentful while at college, believing that, because of affirmative action, they are frequently not regarded by other students as equals. But to progressives, none of that matters. What matters is that they themselves feel good.

For more than half a century liberals have felt good (again, in large measure about themselves) while giving ever-increasing unearned benefits to poorer Americans. That these policies have led to an unprecedented percentage of Americans dependent on — and often becoming addicted to — state handouts in no way disturbs progressives, because these policies make progressives feel good.

Looking at the welfare state, we find another example of the left-wing propensity for feeling good. Over the long run, the welfare state must fail, as it’s doing in nearly all of Europe. But creating such a state and doing so by “taxing the rich” feels good, even while it doesn’t do good. There simply aren’t enough rich people. Likewise, there are not enough young workers to support retirees. But giving away money — especially when it’s someone else’s — feels good.

The Affordable Care Act, aka Obamacare, is a classic example of feeling good rather than doing good. Progressives feel good about insuring uninsured Americans. That the government would begin to take over another one-sixth of the American economy; that the law consists of 2,500 pages (and its regulations already run into an additional tens of thousands of pages); that this is the first piece of major American social legislation to be passed without one vote from the opposition party; that doctors and hospitals will be paid less; that more doctors will retire or take only private patients; that medical devices needed for Americans’ health will be further taxed; that companies will relegate vast numbers of workers to part-time work — none of this matters. What matters is that progressives feel good about the ACA.

And now, sadly, we have witnessed this most seductive human frailty — feeling good as opposed to doing good — within the conservative movement, the movement that prides itself as placing doing good before feeling good.

Republicans and conservatives achieved nothing — and did themselves substantial harm — when the House passed legislation that demanded the defunding of Obamacare as a condition of further funding the government and perhaps even raising the debt ceiling.

I have not read a convincing argument on behalf of these tactics. But I have read polls showing that the Republican party is held in lower esteem than at any time in its history.

And any Republican who dismisses such polls ought to recall that the polls, not wishful-thinking Republicans, were right in predicting that Obama would win reelection.

Conservatives who supported the doomed repeal-Obamacare-tactic argue that it, and Senator Ted Cruz’s filibuster, brought national attention to Obamacare’s deficiencies. In reality, it only brought attention to the Republican party’s deficiencies.

The primary reason for this tactic was that it made many conservatives feel good: “We need to stand up for what we believe,” even if we know in advance that it will fail to accomplish the stated goal. Bismarck, father of the modern welfare state, is credited with saying, “Politics is the art of the possible.” His side seems to understand that better than ours does.

My fellow conservatives fell into the very human — and very leftist — trap of asking what feels good rather than what does good. In politics, the only thing that should feel good is winning.

Dennis Prager is a nationally syndicated radio talk-show host and columnist. His most recent book is Still the Best Hope: Why the World Needs American Values to Triumph. He is the founder of Prager University and may be contacted at dennisprager.com.

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