The Corner

What Difference, at This Point, Does It Make?

The media are enamored of what they perceive as Hillary Clinton’s witty riposte to Senator Johnson during the Benghazi hearings. Conservatives should employ the same question as often as possible. It’s more appropriately directed at the following:

‐The War on Poverty. $15,000,000,000,000 has been spent by the federal and state governments on 122 separate welfare programs since 1964, according to a Cato analysis. The poverty rate in 1964 was 19 percent and falling. Nearly 50 years later, the rate is still more than 15 percent and climbing. What difference, at this point, does trillions in welfare spending make?

‐The Department of Education. The department was created in 1980 for the express purpose of improving U.S. students’ academic performance. Since then, per pupil K-12 spending has increased (in constant dollars) from approximately $6,000 annually to $12,500. Hundreds of billions have been spent by the department since 1980, yet the scores for the nation’s 17-year-olds on the National Assessment of Educational Progress — called “the nation’s report card” — have remained unchanged, and U.S performance is slipping relative to other nations. What difference, at this point, does the Department of Education make?

‐The Stimulus. The Obama administration promised that if Congress passed the $814,000,000,000 stimulus, unemployment today would be 5.2 percent. It’s now 7.8 percent, and as noted by James Pethokoukis, had millions not dropped out of the job market the unemployment rate today would be 10.7 percent — nearly three points higher than when the stimulus was passed. What difference, at this point, did the stimulus make.

‐Head Start. The program was created in 1965 to, among other things, improve the cognitive performance of poor kids. Hundreds of billions have been spent on the program, but recent studies show it does nothing for the cognitive abilities of kids enrolled in the program, with any transient benefits disappearing by the time the kids reach third grade. What difference, at this point, does Head Start make?

‐Affirmative Action. A multi-billion dollar apparatus supports affirmative action in education and hiring. One of the ostensible purposes is to increase minority participation in higher education. When affirmative action was banned in California, however, black college graduation rates rose and studies show that elsewhere, black law students who are admitted pursuant to affirmative action are two-and-a-half times less likely than their white comparatives to graduate, six times less likely to pass the bar exam, and 50 percent of affirmative action admitees are in the bottom 10 percent of their respective classes. What difference, at this point, does affirmative action make?

‐The Department of Energy. The department was created in response to the oil crisis of the Seventies when the U.S. imported 35 percent of its oil. The department’s purpose was to make the U.S. energy independent. Since its creation the department has spent hundreds of billions of dollars and has 109,000 employees and contractors. Average U.S. oil imports over the last 15 years, however, have been above 50 percent of consumption. What difference, at this point, does the Department of Energy make?

The 1994 assault-weapons ban, cash-for-clunkers, Solyndra-style green-energy loan guarantees – the list of governmental policies and programs favored by the political class to which Mrs. Clinton’s question may be directed is prodigious. 

The question should be asked at every opportunity, but most often on the floor of the House and Senate. Good intentions, buying votes, moral vanity, and political inertia are not acceptable answers.

Peter Kirsanow — Peter N. Kirsanow is an attorney and a member of the United States Commission on Civil Rights.

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