Saturday, May 28, 2011

What do seat belts and antsy 5 year olds have in common?

Yesterday started like every other day. After performing the morning routines I got into my car, backed out of the garage and instinctively reached over my left shoulder for the seat belt, pulled it across my chest and heard the snug “click” as it became operational. This has not always been so. When I was a teenager I drove a 1966 Volkswagen beetle which had no working seat belt…among the many non-working things it didn’t have. Once I got married my wife hounded me about my seat belt usage until it finally became second nature. Now I wouldn’t dream of going anywhere in a car without a functioning seat belt. But on this particular morning my car radio was ablaze with warnings about a new State Police initiative called “Click-it or Ticket”. Yes, my all-knowing, all caring government was giving me fair warning this Memorial weekend eve that if I was caught not using my seat belt, there would be hell to pay. “Cops nationwide are clamping down!!”..the commercials warned. “It’s the LAW”!! And just then in a flash of clarity it occurred to me. This is why the United States of America will NEVER get its financial house in order.

Some government agency somewhere had decided to devise a national advertising campaign to bring attention to the fact that law enforcement would be lying in the tall grass of interstate highways all over the country looking to catch us not using our safety belts and if we knew what was good for us we better buckle up. Our government then went to considerable expense ( advertising ain’t cheap ) to remind us that failure to wear a seat belt is now against the law. So now I must add seat belt usage to the list of 39,678 other routine details of my daily life that now has fallen under the scrutiny of my government.

All crimes have victims. If I fail to use a seat belt and have an accident that causes avoidable injury then I and I alone am the victim. My fellow passengers aren’t affected. The guy I hit wasn’t affected because I wasn’t wearing a seat belt. He was hit because I was frantically trying to change the channel of my radio to avoid yet another annoying commercial warning me to Click-it or Ticket! So, why is not wearing a seat belt illegal? What business is it of the government whether or not I wear a seat belt? Under what provision of our Constitution does the authority for such a law reside?

You may say..but Doug, this law is for your own good! The government is using public policy to promote your general welfare. Maybe if there’s the threat of a fine people will be more willing to do the right thing. This law will “save lives”! Suppose I don’t want saving? Am I not allowed to make a stupid decision that doesn’t hurt anyone else? If the government is so concerned with saving my life why don’t they come into my house, go through the fridge and throw out all the crap I eat that’s full of fat and sugar? No..wait. Lets not give them any ideas.

Now, lets get back to our fiscal nightmares and my epiphany. The reason we are doomed is simply this. For every personal liberty loving crank like me there are 7 or 8 of my fellow citizens who are perfectly fine with handing out citations to seat belt rebels. They applaud , indeed, demand that their government “do something” about every problem that society encounters whether large or small, grave or trivial, cost be damned! Don’t believe me? On my commute yesterday after the seat belt ad came news that Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius has found 500 million dollars of our money to fund a new program called…wait for it… the Race To The Top Early Learning Challenge. Among other issues the program will deal with “5 year olds who cannot sit still in a Kindergarten classroom” Ms. Sebelius noted expertly , “because if a 5 year old cannot sit still it is unlikely that he or she will do well in Kindergarten” The only thing sadder to me than the utter sophistry of that statement is the price tag of her foolishness. We will spend half a billion dollars to get the ants out of juniors’ pants. That’s half a billion dollars that we do not have. But not a peep of protest comes up from the American people because it will be cast as a program that’s..”for the children”. The simple fact is that over the years we have become accustomed to the notion that there isn’t a single problem facing us that can’t be tamed by the application of a government program. If we lack the will to end the small outrages like seat belt laws and billion dollar “why can’t Johnnie sit still boondoggles” we have no chance at entitlement reform. Poor Paul Ryan probably never dreamed that he would be depicted in campaign commercials literally pushing a wheelchair bound grandma over a cliff all because he had the audacity to ask the question..”How in God’s name are we going to be able to pay for Medicare in 20 years if we don’t fix it?” Unless and until the American people rediscover their love of liberty, Democrats will always win the spending argument. I’m not optimistic.