Jewish World Review March 10, 2004/ 18 Adar, 5763
Beware of the fruitcakes in government
That's my basic rule: whatever the problem, the government's a bigger one. Those cultists at Waco may have been a bit kooky (whoops), but they didn't deserve to get immolated by Janet Reno's stooges. If she'd opened fire on a gay bathhouse instead of a Branch Davidian compound, you'd never have heard the end of it from the media Lefties.
It's the same with Martha Stewart. Martha may, indeed, be a bitch, though she's always been rather droll and charming to me (I once baked her a cranberry pecan pie with lattice crust). But, even if she were as mean as she's painted, even if (as the government of Nova Scotia might argue) her use of fruitcake is hurtful to the domestically feeble, I'll take her and her entrepreneurial energy over some deadbeat regulators any day. Martha, it seems, will be going to jail for telling a lie. Not in court, not under oath, not perjury, but merely when the Feds came round to see her about a possible crime. They couldn't prove she'd committed a crime, so they nailed her for lying while chit-chatting to them about the non-crime. And for that they're prepared to destroy her company.
It's true that it's an offence to lie to the Feds. But, as my New Hampshire neighbors Tom and Scott, currently in my basement stretching out a little light carpentry job to the end of the winter, are the first to point out, the Feds lied to the public about Waco and Ruby Ridge (another bloodbath) for years. If the Feds can lie to the people, why can't the people lie to the Feds? Lumping Martha Stewart in with Enron and Worldcom is the most pathetic overreaching on the part of the authorities: unlike the other "corporate scandals", Martha's business isn't a flop or a fraud; it made a hugely successful contribution to the economy until a bunch of government bureaucrats decided to target it for demolition.
Another example: the US budget deficit. Every time I go to hear a Democrat presidential candidate, they're huffin' an' a-puffin' about George W Bush and the "deficit". Deficit this, deficit that. Whatever happened, they sneer, to the "fiscal conservatives"?
Well, I'm a conservative, and I don't need any qualifying adjectives. My objection isn't to the deficit, it's to the big wasteful government programs that lead to the deficit. If the Dems wanted to balance the budget by cutting the spending, I'd be the first to dance up and down shaking my pom-poms. But they don't. They want to balance the budget by raising taxes, which is no help either way. I think deficits are morally neutral. If I go to the bank and ask them for a loan to buy a house, they'll look kindly on me. If I ask for a loan because I fancy a three-in-a-bed sex romp with two high-class hookers, they'll suggest I wait till I get my Christmas bonus. The portion of the deficit caused by Iraqi reconstruction is analogous to the house loan. Most of the rest - Bush's prescription drug plan for pampered seniors, the mohair subsidy, funding for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland - is analogous to the hooker blow-out. This spending has no plausible claim on the Federal Treasury: it would be objectionable even if Bill Gates personally wrote a cheque to cover the entire deficit. It's the expansion of the state that's wrong. The funding of it is secondary.
Which brings us to foreign policy. This last week has offered studies in two approaches to nation building. In Iraq, an interim constitution was signed yesterday. It's not perfect, though it's a good deal less imperfect than the European constitution and for the Middle East it's a remarkable document. But it's amazing to me the way the western media interpret disagreements as a bad sign. Wouldn't it be a worse sign if there were no disagreements? If Bush just faxed over the final draft and everyone signed it? The haggling and the stalemates and the trade-offs are the healthy sign.
By comparison, consider Haiti. John Kerry, in quite the most stupid observation of his campaign, insisted that Bush should have sent in the troops to Haiti to prop up President Aristide - or "Father Aristide", as Kerry likes to call him, defrocking notwithstanding - because the Holy Father was "democratically elected". After a fashion. But so what? Charles Taylor, the recently retired head wacko of Liberia, was also democratically elected. The tinpot thugs of the world have got very good at being just democratic enough to pass muster: they kill a lot of people, they hold an election for the benefit of the IMF, and then, when the international observers are gone, they pick up the machetes and resume where they left off. The problem in Haiti is that the necessary conditions for civil society don't exist. Fetishising Aristide's "election" appeals to Kerry's reflexive belief that government is the be all and end all. But it isn't.
The top-down approach in Haiti failed. The bottom-up approach in Iraq might fail, too. But, if it works, it's because the administration recognizes that it's not just about installing a government but about seeding a free society. In a healthy state, government is merely the icing, not the fruitcake (well, except in Nova Scotia).
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JWR contributor Mark Steyn is North American Editor of The (London) Spectator and the author, most recently, of "The Face of the Tiger," a new book on the world post-Sept. 11. (Sales help fund JWR). Comment by clicking here.
03/01/04: It's the war, stupid
10/28/03:The CIA scandal is important not because it put an agent's life at risk it didn't but because it shows that US Intelligence is either obstructive or inept