The Conservative Reform Game

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Here we go again. The reform game. In the wake of the federal government’s disastrous response to Hurricane Katrina, Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff is unveiling “reforms” that will ensure that such federal disasters never happen again.

Yawn! Just more standard conservative “reform” claptrap.

This is par-for-the-course conservatism. Engage in the never-ending game of criticizing federal paternalistic programs for being “inefficient” or for having “waste, fraud, and abuse” and then calling for “reform,” always in the perpetual but futile quest to make such programs succeed.

Another example of this standard conservative reform nonsense is a recent op-ed entitled “The Junkets You Fund” by noted conservative columnist Michelle Malkin which appeared in the conservative newspaper the Washington Times. In her article Malkin detailed millions of dollars of taxpayer-funded “waste, fraud, and abuse” in federal junkets, those nice “spring break-style trips,” as Malkin calls them, that congressmen and federal bureaucrats take at U.S. taxpayer expense.

Guess what Malkin suggested needed to be done to solve the problem. You got it: “Reform.” Just cut out the “waste, fraud, and abuse” from these federal junkets. Why, Malkin even shows us where to start!

Yawn! Just more standard conservative “reform” claptrap.

Conservative think tanks love the reform game too because they know that by calling only for reform, rather than elimination, of government paternalism, a steady and perpetual stream of donor money is guaranteed to flow into the organization. Donor-funded studies, and then calls for reform. And then again, more donor-funded studies and more calls for reform. The game is never ending because the paternalistic program never goes out of existence and, therefore, is always subject to being “reformed,” no matter how many times it has been “reformed” in the past.

At the risk of belaboring the obvious, if the paternalistic program were abolished, there would be no more need for studies or calls for reform and, therefore, no more need for solicitation of donations to fund more studies and more calls for reform.

And so donations continue to stream in to conservative organizations from well-heeled conservative donors who hope to see the fulfillment of their lifelong dream before they die — just one paternalistic federal program that has been “reformed,” that doesn’t have any more “waste, fraud, and abuse,” and that works. When it comes to reform of paternalistic programs, hope springs eternal within conservatives!

It’s also as if conservatives have a battered-spouse-syndrome relationship with the federal government, which might well be described as their “daddy-god,” given the paternalistic, even god-like, role that conservatives have relinquished to it. “Oh, it’s true that our federal daddy-god has failed us once again with Hurricane Katrina, just as he failed us on 9/11, and just as he’s failed us in Iraq. But we can’t lose faith. Our daddy-god loves us, means well, and takes care of us, especially with retirement, healthcare, education, grants, subsidies, loans, and protection from the terrorists. He’ll be nicer, more responsible, more competent the next time. We just have to keep worshiping and believing — and reforming.”

Is it any wonder that conservatives get so upset when someone has the audacity to criticize the federal government or its paternalistic programs, either at home or abroad? Why, in the mind of the conservative, such criticism constitutes disrespect, even blasphemy! Their federal daddy-god just needs a bit of “reform” — that’s all.

Government paternalism is one of the things, of course, that distinguishes libertarians from both conservatives and liberals. Unlike both conservatives and liberals, we libertarians don’t worship the federal government and we don’t want it taking care of us. Unlike conservatives and liberals, libertarians believe that the federal government has no more business taking care of people who suffer natural disasters than it does taking care of people who are elderly, sick, poor, or terrified.

Unlike conservatives and liberals, we libertarians believe in ourselves, in others, in freedom, and in the free market. That’s why we have no interest in reforming paternalistic programs. We just want to end them, along with the thousands of departments and agencies that administer them and the ever-burdensome taxes that fund them.

February 21, 2006

Jacob Hornberger [send him mail] is founder and president of The Future of Freedom Foundation.

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