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Unasked Questions

February 6, 2001

Last night I listened to a radio panel show about President Bush’s tax cut plan. The questions the panelists debated revolved around whether “the country” can afford big tax cuts now.

Well, I can afford one. How about you?

What struck me about the discussion was that nobody mentioned the taxpayer’s rights or whether the taxing power is already being abused. Such topics just didn’t come up. And these panelists weren’t all liberals and socialists. One was a noted libertarian, another a prominent conservative. These champions of the taxpayer accepted their opponents’ tacit premise that there is no limit to what the government may take from the taxpayer, if the government “needs” the money.

Have you ever heard a liberal object that the taxpayer is already overtaxed? No, because anyone who said that would, almost by definition, not qualify as a liberal. Even though most of us work several months per year to support the government, liberals never specify the point at which the government would be, even hypothetically, taxing at a rate that amounts to imposing “involuntary servitude.”

Liberals never tire of denouncing slavery, by which they mean private-sector chattel slavery. They have no great objection to the virtual enslavement of the taxpayer. The bibulous playwright Brendan Behan once said: “There is no such thing as a large whiskey.” To a liberal, there is no such thing as a big government. There is hardly such a thing as an illegitimate function of government.

Of course there are things liberals don’t want the government to do, but these are matters of preference, not principle. Liberalism may speak of a few “preferred freedoms” — freedom of expression, sexual freedom, and so forth — but these are arbitrary. It recognizes no principled limit on the size and scope of the state.

[Breaker quote: Always 'more,' never 'enough'] This fact is apparent in the liberal attitude toward the U.S. Constitution. The Constitution is supposed to define the powers of the federal government — authorizing some powers, which are enumerated, while reserving all other powers to the states and the people. This means that the first question we should ask when a new law is proposed is: “Does the Constitution allow the federal government to do this?”

But this basic question is seldom raised. By liberals, never. They argue that the Constitution forbids the government — at both federal and state levels — to do certain things, but these are purely arbitrary limits dictated by their own agenda, not by the Constitution itself. The Constitution plainly forbids federal gun control, but liberals ignore that; it says nothing at all about abortion, but liberals insist that it protects abortion.

The ad hoc constitutional “right” to abortion, of course, never occurred to any student of the Constitution in the first 180 years of its existence. But as soon as abortion became part of the liberal agenda, it made a sudden debut as an anomalous constitutional imperative.

Which brings us to a few other questions liberals never ask. When would it be wrong to kill a fetus? When does the fetus feel pain? When would the agony it feels during abortion warrant laws protecting it? Even some liberals, faced with grisly late-term (“partial-birth”) abortions, concede that there may be some limits; but this concession has had to be wrung from them. They didn’t volunteer it. And most liberals still support even the cruelest abortions.

Conservatives rarely force liberals to specify just how far they would push their desires for more government power, higher taxes, and general limits on personal freedom. At what point would they be satisfied? In what kind of society would liberals become conservatives — in the sense of contented defenders of the status quo? What would a liberal utopia look like? Just how would it differ from outright communism?

Like the fisherman’s insatiable wife in the fable, liberals have a new wish every time their latest wish is granted. Conservatives should make them spell out their principles and ideals. Instead of doing this, conservatives allow liberals to pursue incremental goals without revealing their ultimate destination.

So, thanks to the negligence of their opponents, liberals control the terms of every debate by always demanding “more” while never defining “enough.” The predictable result is that they always get more, and it’s never enough.

Joseph Sobran

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Copyright © 2001 by the Griffin Internet Syndicate,
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