The Corner


It is a real burden not to cite every other paragraph spoken from the stage as a vindication of my book, The Tyranny of Clichés (or, for that matter, Liberal Fascism). Over and over again the Democrats spout, to paraphrase De Tocqueville, clear-but-false ideas. The overarching one of the whole convention: Government is the only thing we all belong to. Such bogus appeals to unity and community as a justification for activist government drive me batty. That’s what Elizabeth Warren’s speech was all about and countless other lesser luminaries as well. Here’s Bill Clinton’s soundbite of the night: “You see, we believe that ‘We’re all in this together’ is a far better philosophy than ‘You’re on your own.’”

According to this, and countless other formulations, the choice is binary. Large, ambitious, government action or dystopian anarchy. It’s as if the only thing keeping us from raping and pillaging defenseless widows is the government. This, to borrow one of Clinton’s favorite phrases, is a nakedly false choice. Despite all of the b.s. we hear about the Randian captivity of the GOP, no Republican makes anything like that argument. What is it about liberals that makes them think all that stands between them and total Road Warrior–style anarchy is a bloated, inefficient, government in Washington?

UPDATE: What the Heck, from Tyranny:

 Logically, the idea that “government is simply the word for those things we choose to do together” is an obvious fallacy. We do many things together, some of them involve the government, most don’t. An estimated 111 million people watched the 2011 Super Bowl. Weren’t we as “together” for that as we are for, say, an OSHA hearing on the efficacy of toilet flush regulations?

Even if you allow for poetic license, this idea is a mess. We aren’t all employees of the government, and so we don’t all do what the government does together. We do all benefit together from a few things—a very few things—the government does, such as: ensuring the health of the water supply, enforcing the rule of law (broadly understood), and defending America from foreign enemies. But we don’t really do those things to- gether, do we? Consider the military, one of the few national institutions truly intended to serve all Americans equally. Military service clearly is not fulfilled by everyone, even if everyone pays for it. Indeed, one of the reasons we honor the fallen on Memorial Day and those who served on Veterans Day is precisely because we don’t all do it together. Those who wear the uniform carry the extra load so the rest of us don’t have to. The Korean War Memorial that reads “Freedom isn’t Free” might be more accurate if it said “This Freedom brought to you by the Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marines”—but it’s too hard to make that rhyme in a Toby Keith song.

And even when considering those very few things that benefit everybody, or nearly everybody, it’s a misunderstanding of our form of government to suggest that they are good or worthwhile because everybody agrees on their merits. We do not have a system of government that de- pends on the consent of everybody. In fact, no system ever has the consent of everybody, but plenty of systems have claimed they have support from everybody and have tried to prove it by killing anybody who disagreed.


We have a system of government that depends on the consent of the majority of citizens. And even then, majorities do not always win the day—nor should they. We have a Bill of Rights and a Supreme Court precisely so that the majority cannot always win. At least theoretically, the majority cannot revoke my freedom of religion, speech, or association. 

 It cannot take away my property nor rescind my right to bear arms. Now, obviously, in practice the majority can sometimes do these things, but only for reasons that pass various constitutional tests. But those tests are invariably applied when at least someone disagrees enough to go to court to complain.

More to the point, when Barack Obama or Barney Frank say that government is just a word we use for those things we all do together, they’re doing so inevitably to make the case for spending money on things: entitlements, high-speed rail, Head Start, windmills, teacher sal- aries, mohair subsidies, whatever. And it is hardly the case that we’re “all in it together” when it comes to paying for these things. The average person on Medicare gets three times more out of it than they paid in.1 The rest is carried by other taxpayers, living and unborn. Sixty percent of households get more from the U.S. government than they pay into it. 


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