M.D. Harmon: Liberal "fairness" puts us on the road to ruin


As I read the news this week, I’m starting to get nostalgic for 1968: I see cops in Chicago trying to control protesters who are raging around the city destroying property and violating the public peace.

In this case, it wasn’t a Democratic national convention plagued by anti-Vietnam protesters screaming “Dump the Hump!” in opposition to Hubert Horatio Humphrey’s nomination (Triple-H, a former Minnesota senator and Lyndon B. Johnson’s vice president, lost the election to Richard Nixon, in case you don’t recall, or, for that matter, don’t care).

This time around, it’s a bunch of “peaceful, idealistic” Occupy rioters objecting to a NATO summit in the hometown of President Obama, which is also the city from which he is running his re-election campaign.

And the Occupiers are promising to do the same thing, only more so, when the party’s national convention rolls around this year in Charlotte, N.C., a city which may be wondering if inviting the Democrats was really a good idea.

Of course, after the state’s vote approving an amendment nailing the door shut on same-sex marriage, plenty of Democrats are wondering the same thing.

Are these demonstrations a case of the “more things change, the more they remain the same,” as the French proverb has it? Or, George Santayana’s “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it”? Or, more likely, Karl Marx’s “History repeats itself, first as tragedy, and then as farce”?

The latter seems the most fitting because the Occupy movement has dissolved into its lowest common denominator: leftist rage that society hasn’t leveled itself into a Marxist morass. (Yet.)

In that, it does have a tinge of a reprise of 1968, with admiration for socialist economic views substituting for admiration for the Stalinist North Vietnamese regime, but with the ideological sources being the same for both groups. Plus le change, plus la meme chose, indeed.

What’s on the Occupiers’ excuses for minds is a quintessential leftist meme, however, and that is the idea of “fairness.” We see this reflected in Obama’s speeches about taxes, in which he says the nation’s richest groups do not pay “their fair share” (having the top 5 percent of earners paying 59 percent of income taxes isn’t enough, I guess — though it makes you wonder what would be).

And we see it here in Maine, where Republicans have passed a new budget that in their view is far more in accord with the economic constraints a small, not-very-prosperous state in a weak national economy, must labor under.

For that, they are taken to task for the crime, in progressive eyes, of targeting Maine’s limited financial resources on those who need them the most, while trying to prune able-bodied, healthy people off the government’s spigot.

In that “get off the couch” effort, Gov. LePage and lawmakers are merely bringing a system that has been run by overspending Democrats for decades into line with the practice of most other states, who are far less “generous” — that is, spendthrift — than we are.

Albert Brooks, president of the American Enterprise Institute, said in a column in the most recent National Review that conservatives often have the most factual and logical arguments on public policy issues and still continually lose the battle for public opinion.

That’s true, he said, even though 70 percent of Americans routinely tell pollsters that the “free enterprise system” offers the best solutions for our problems. (That tracks polls in which about 70 percent of the population describes itself as either conservative — 40 percent — or moderate — 30 percent — with only 20-25 percent claiming to be liberals.)

Nevertheless, left-wing economic programs continue to win majority support, with people flocking to the defense of the current unsustainable forms of entitlements like Social Security and Medicare by up to 70-80 percent margins.

Why the disparity? Brooks says people just don’t see the disconnect between market-based ideals and the statist responses that, if pursued long enough, will destroy the free-enterprise system.

They are deaf to evidentiary arguments because the benefits of government transfer payments haven’t (yet) brought the system to the point of collapse, as they have in many European nations such as Greece, Spain, Portugal and Italy.

Brooks says conservatives have to shift their argument from a general, results-oriented logical debate to one based more heavily on moral outcomes of specific government programs.

How do liberals counter moves made to put programs on a more solid fiscal footing? By focusing on a few needy individuals who, they say, “suffer because of these hard-hearted conservatives’ cuts!”

Brooks calls this “redistributive fairness,” in which those who are presumed to have benefited more are taxed at higher rates to pay for the “needs of the less fortunate.”

He says that what conservatives need to do is to emphasize “meritocratic fairness,” the idea that people who work hard and reap the fruits of their labor deserve to do so.

So, when a rapacious government confiscates a taxpayer’s hard-earned money for its own priorities (which often involve enriching bureaucrats and other government workers as much or more than the supposed “beneficiaries” of their confiscated largesse), that’s not just inefficient, it’s unfair and immoral.

How would that work in the coming political campaign in Maine, in which Republicans will be trying to maintain their current control of the Legislature in order to consolidate and expand the reforms they have begun to introduce?

Consider the reporting of the current state budget, described this week as “cutting 50,000 people off basic health care” (State Sen. Justin Alfond, D-Portland) and something that adversely “impacts everybody in the state of Maine” (Sara Gagne-Holmes, executive director of Maine Equal Justice).

Mainers need to hear, and hear often, that Maine taxpayers (the “invisible man” of news reports on this issue) are bearing the cost of having the third-highest percentage of people on Medicaid in the nation.

They also need to hear often that the state’s tax and business climate ratings are among the poorest in the country.

They need to be told that people who work hard for their money are the ones who have the principal claim on how it should be spent, not some distant bureaucrat or politician operating from an ideological perspective that involves getting as many hands into a wage-earner’s wallet as possible.

Brooks makes that case in directly moral language: “Will voters agree to stop stealing from their children, even at significant cost to themselves? The truth is, we don’t know. What we do know is that the old appeals do not work — and have never worked. Conservatives fist-bump about winning elections, but meanwhile America is on a path to being a country whose citizens work six months of every year just to pay for a government they don’t want or need.”

Bring that picture into sharper focus for the average voter in terms that move away from numbers and are recast in human terms, and conservatives may be able to do more than win elections.

They may also be able to turn this state and nation away from its current road to ruin and back onto the only possible path to prosperity.

M.D. Harmon, a retired journalist and military officer, is a free-lance writer. He can be contacted at

About M.D. Harmon

M.D. Harmon, a retired journalist and military officer, is a freelance writer and speaker. He can be contacted at:

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