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Jewish World Review Sept. 28, 2001/ 11 Tishrei, 5762

Larry Elder

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Consumer Reports

Self defense is job one -- "WELL, I just think that you're painting a horrible picture of what we're about," said Senator Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., in response to the question I asked last week.

My question that provoked such an indignant response? "Senator," I said, "I heard one of the news anchors ask a politician the following question, 'Do we have enough money for the billions of dollars we need to spend in order to improve our security and for all the domestic programs?' Doesn't this suggest that our priorities are wrong and that we ought to put at the top of the list the protection of American people and property, and perhaps we're spending far more money on social programs that should be done and could be done by people themselves?"

The government's failure to prevent the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks against this country suggests an upside-down sense of priorities. Where did we find President George W. Bush at the time of the first strike? Why, he busied himself reading to elementary school kids in Florida. One fondly recalls former President Ronald Reagan who, recognizing that the role of education belongs to state and local authorities, campaigned in favor of shutting down the Department of Education.

The federal government now spends about 7 percent of the nation's overall education budget, a function outside of the federal government's power, yet a role the president seeks to expand. Never mind that President Bush's own Education Secretary, Rod Paige, recently admitted government's failure, "We've spent $147 billion on federal government programs. Why is it ... that 70 percent of inner-city and rural fourth-graders cannot read?"

But isn't the No. 1 responsibility of government to protect us against our foreign and domestic enemies? Americans already work until July just to pay all federal, state and local taxes. What about this "horrible picture of what we're about"? Spend our money and your energy defending us, leaving virtually every other function to the states or to the individuals themselves.

Yet, during the 2000 presidential campaign, both candidates pledged to "save Social Security," a federal government scheme that, yet again, promises more than it delivers. Again here, as with education, the government promises more than it delivers. JWR columnist Doug Bandow, a senior fellow at the CATO Institute, a the freemarket think tank, says, "Social Security can't be fixed. It is the largest and most expensive Ponzi scheme ever created: It pays for benefits for today's retirees by taxing today's workers, and promises to pay for their benefits with future taxes on tomorrow's workers. This pay-as-you-go system will collapse early (this) century, thanks to demographics: More people live much longer, and so collect more."

Again, why should taxpayers provide education, health or retirement benefits for the able-bodied and the able-minded, especially given the post-Sept. 11 heightened domestic and national security needs? A government limited to its narrowly prescribed constitutional duties makes defense priority No. 1, leaving money in the pockets of consumers, who then decide how and on what to spend their own money.

This brings us back to Sen. Boxer. Government's grab of the taxpayers' wallet now stands at a post-World War II high. Yet, to the senator, her party, and many Republicans, American taxpayers can continue to grow the government, and spend more on defense, without crying, "Uncle!" In fact, Sen. Boxer's complete answer went as follows: "Well, I just think that you're painting a horrible picture of what we're about. We're the greatest country in the world, and, in fact, we have always, always, made sure that defense was No. 1. What we have not done was to focus on terrorism, and we have failed in that regard, and yes, we need to do that. But do we have to educate our children and make sure that we find a cure for cancer, and Alzheimer's? You bet. So the answer to that is: We are the greatest nation on earth and if we turn away from that, then the terrorists will have won."

Wow. A government that not only educates our children, but also finds a cure for cancer and Alzheimer's?!

President Abraham Lincoln once offered up this dreary nightmare vision of American hard work and personal responsibility: "There is not, of necessity, any such thing as the free hired laborer being fixed to that condition for life. ... The prudent, penniless beginner in the world labors for wages awhile, saves a surplus with which to buy tools or land for himself; then labors on his own account for awhile, and at length hires another new beginner to help him. This is the just, and generous, and prosperous system, which opens the way to all -- gives hope to all, and ... energy, and progress, and improvement of conditions to all."

My, my, Abe, what a "horrible picture of what we're about."

JWR contributor Larry Elder is the author of the newly released, The Ten Things You Can't Say in America. (Proceeds from sales help fund JWR) Let him know what you think of his column by clicking here.

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© 2001, Creators Syndicate