The Universal Notebook: Rand Paul and the 'nanny state'

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In the wake of controversial health-care reform, we’re hearing a lot of complaints from the conservative right about America becoming a “nanny state,” a country in which the government provides a cradle-to-grave safety net for its people.

Sounds like a great idea to me. Most other developed nations already do.

Why wouldn’t a compassionate people want to make sure that every citizen has a place to live, food on the table, a decent education and access to affordable health care? As I understand it, the conservative arguments against the nanny state are that we can’t afford it and that it destroys individual incentive. Nonsense.

If the United States can’t afford to take care of its people, no country can. It’s not a matter of money; it’s a matter of will. Most other developed countries provide universal health care because they are willing to be taxed at much higher rates than Americans are. And don’t go complaining about the national debt. It’s half what it was following World War II and you didn’t hear anyone whining about burdening our children and grandchildren with the cost of that war.

When people crow that a social security system destroys individual incentive and initiative, I think of the Danish photographers who are among the best photojournalists in the world. They are all products of state-run schools and they all enjoy a modest guaranteed income. They are the best in the world because they don’t do it for the money, they do it to make a difference and, yes, to make a name for themselves.

Unless you are opposed to (and willing to give up) Social Security, Medicare, veterans benefits, pensions and public education, you have no business complaining about a nanny state.

Even as America reels from a crippling financial crisis and a devastating environmental disaster – both caused in large part by lack of federal regulation – we actually hear conservatives complaining about too much government power and regulation. You want to see what unfettered free-market capitalism gets you, take a look at the slime on Wall Street and oil slick on the Gulf of Mexico.

Self-reliance and personal responsibility are commendable virtues, but when you make a religion of them, as Tea Party Libertarians do, you end up having to take untenable and unethical positions. Rand Paul, the Kentucky senatorial hopeful who has become the poster child for the Tea Party, for instance, was forced to admit recently that he doesn’t believe the Civil Rights Act of 1964 should apply to privately owned businesses, even if they provide public accommodations. In order to uphold his Libertarian principles, he has to defend racism and discrimination.

So when I hear Paul announce that “We’ve come to take our government back,” I know just what he’s talking about. He’s talking about taking America back to segregation, back to unchecked industrial pollution, back to the exploitation of labor, back to robber-baron capitalism, back to poor houses and pauper’s graves.

No, thank you, Dr. Paul. I’ll take the nanny state. And unless you’re prepared to stop accepting Medicare and Medicaid payments, you should, too.

Sidebar Elements

The Universal Notebook is Edgar Allen Beem’s personal look at the world around him.