What’s the matter with the Democrats? The Capitol Hill Democrats, in this present case?
Yes, I know. Partisanship: That’s what a question of this kind has smeared all over its face: raw, rank preference for capitalist, fascist Republicans over people-loving, small species-affirming Democrats.
But if we can step back from rhetorical excess for a moment, the question deserves at least a tentative answer. What is it about the Democrats — those on Capitol Hill, and their comrades in the media? What do they see about the just-passed tax bill that reduces them to intellectual incoherence?
Speaking of partisanship…
As everyone has surely heard, Nancy Pelosi gave an anti-tax bill Philippic, sprinkled with oratorical gems like “monumental, brazen theft from the American middle class,” “moral obscenity, unrepentant greed,” and “Frankenstein monster of loopholes and special interest giveaways.”
All this, in opposition to legislation intended to increase general prosperity by increasing incentives to work and invest. Not only doth the lady protest too much — she demonstrates fabulous inability to grasp the essentials of an economic system founded on freedom to risk, to dare, to innovate. That her party lets her get away with it is, by deputing her its congressional spokeswoman, is more most disheartening still.
Democrats used to exhibit some respect for free enterprise essentials: wandering off sometimes into the wilderness of government regulation but amenable, when prompted, to legislative acknowledgement that the striver and dreamer at your house may be a lot smarter than the bureaucrat trying to pick his pocket. Numerous Democrats in 1981 collaborated with Reagan Republicans in effecting supply-side tax cuts that lifted the economy from stagnation.
Where now are their counterparts? Pursuing lines other than politics, is all one can say. Minority leader Pelosi would as soon, seemingly, let them go on as they are, lest her party re-associate itself with the creed of economic growth.
The Democratic fixation on high taxes rather than on economic incentives is worth remarking. It bespeaks a preference for control over freedom, supervision over tolerant permission to let people try and evaluate new things. The party knows best, by Mrs. Pelosi’s reckoning, and that of other leading Democrats. The party knows better than entrepreneurs, present or would-be; better than the people who do the hiring and the market research and the testing and the succeeding and the failing — the normal marks of capitalism.
Democrats used to understand these matters, even if they talked more frequently than Republicans about their heart for the needy and downtrodden. In 2017, Democrats have come in some evolutionary fashion to posit that the spread of general prosperity can’t be relied to make everyone as equal as Democrats now believe fairness requires them to be.
It is true that complaints about inequality go back at least as far as the Roman republic. Take a look at revolutionary France, post-1789, to see the dreadful lengths to which adamant belief in equality could drive those committed to ending it. Off with their heads! — and so forth. The Declaration of Independence puts equality in the forefront of human concerns. Lincoln, in the Gettysburg Address, picked up on and embroidered the matter, which turns out, on close inspection, to be human, therefore not the invention of the Democratic congressional caucus.
The Democratic innovation for now is equality as a winning political issue, its meaning defined by whatever Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer can get by with saying. Which is a lot, with the media squarely behind them, disdainful of conservatives, ready to bend into bizarre shape any idea that conservatives advance — including commitment to individual freedom.
That brings us where we are today. One of our two major parties can be understood as apathetic, if not hostile, to the idea of life lived outside government scrutiny. Mrs. Pelosi’s party has ceased to trust the same people whose votes the party craves and seeks. A fine irony! And not a pretty one if you have the mildest hopes for liberty as a commitment once regarded as larger than any political party, to say nothing of a party leader with a tongue like a cat o’ nine tails.
William Murchison is at work on a book about restoring the balance between liberty and order.
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