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Jewish World Review March 10, 2004/ 18 Adar, 5763

Mark Steyn

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Beware of the fruitcakes in government

http://www.NewsAndOpinion.com |
I'm a small-government guy, so my default position on any issue is that, generally speaking, I'm on whichever side the government's not.

Last week, for example, the government of Nova Scotia announced that it wished to clamp down on newspaper and broadcast usage of words such as "fruitcake", "nutcase", "madman", "kooky", etc, as these terms are hurtful to the mentally ill. To that end, it was offering cash rewards to citizens who reported sightings of these terms in the media. Whatever "hurt" these words do the mentally ill is less than that done to society by a state that polices your vocabulary. So I would urge any Nova Scotian reporters, disc jockeys, weather girls, etc, who read the Telegraph to use these expressions as often as possible - "You'd have to be a nutcase to go out in this weather", etc - and then get their relatives to bankrupt the government's cash-reward budget.

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.

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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
02/23/04: So which would America rather have: Pretty Boy or Long Face?
02/17/04: The Default Democrat from another world
02/10/04: Kerry won't scare any of the big beasts
02/02/04: The Kerry biography: He's risen without trace
01/26/04: Mad Dr. Dean jolts Kerry campaign to life
01/21/04: Undoing the party herd
01/13/04: llIegals the political 'untouchables'
01/05/04: Don't leave Saddam trial to the 'jet set'
12/30/03: Doers and disparagers
12/23/03: Spates of denial
12/16/03: Defiant? He's a Ba'athist who won't bath
12/10/03: Rummy speaks the truth, not gobbledygook
12/02/03: War on terror can't stop with Iraq
11/24/03: It's not Vietnam and Bush is no Kennedy
11/12/03: There is a Cold War between the US and the EU
10/28/03: Muslim paranoia: Enemies made us impotent!

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
10/08/03: Palestinian death cult
09/29/03: Bring on the capitalists
09/22/03: Here comes General Clark, his policies will follow shortly
09/17/03: Don't wait for government protection
09/11/03: Predators aren't looking for peace
09/02/03: This is Hillary's moment — You go, girl!
08/29/03: There are now calls for greater UN involvement in Iraq. Thatís the last thing the country needs
08/26/03: There's only one hyperpower — so everything is our fault
08/04/03: The White Man's Burden
07/29/03: Bill Clinton got this right
06/25/03: It's Mullah time!
05/07/03: What counts is what a guy does when he's not talking
04/30/03: It's named UNSCAM for a very good reason!
04/14/03: Movers and shakers have moved on to the next 'disaster'
03/25/03: Give Saddam credit
03/18/03: 'Eurabia' will have to look after herself
02/27/03: Death wish
02/19/03: The curtain will come down on the peaceniks
02/10/03: Let's quit the UN
02/03/03: Columbia reality-check
01/29/03: Go forth and multiply
01/09/03: America's fake identity crisis
12/31/02: GOP underperforms, but Dems are laughable
11/26/02: A bombing pause --- for 12 months!?
10/30/02: Stop making excuses for Muslim extremists
09/27/02: The more inventively you try to ''explain'' the Islamist psychosis as a rational phenomenon to be accommodated, the more you risk sounding just as nutty as them
08/23/02: Battered Westerner Syndrome inflicted by myopic Muslim defenders
08/09/02: Friends in low places
08/02/02: Armageddon out of here
07/26/02: Enjoy the ''scandal'' while you can, lads
07/16/02: Arafat is toast; Bush knows it --- so why doesn't the rest of the world?
07/10/02: Hey, FBI: So, denial really is a river in Egypt!
06/20/02: A fight to the finish
06/11/02: Rock, royalty a good match
05/31/02: Unless we change our ways ... the world faces a future where things look pretty darn good
05/24/02: Sweet land of liberty: Britain and Europe have free governments, but only in the US are the people truly free
05/14/02: Extreme hypocrisy in the pursuit of 'peace' is ...
05/10/02: The home office of extremism
05/01/02 Slipping down the Eurinal of history: France, the joke is on you
04/23/02 It's time to snap out of Arab fantasy land
04/16/02 Mideast war exposes 'ugly Europeans'
04/09/02 Arafat has begun his countdown to oblivion. Now it's time to crush the Palestinian uprising
03/27/02 The good, the bad and the Gallic shrug
03/20/02 Grand convocation of the weird

© 2004, Mark Steyn