I was aghast the other day when I read this piece about a potential bailout of troubled homeowners. The article describes people, often with six-figure incomes, whose mortgages are now higher than the value of their homes. They are upper-middle class, they live in large homes and own several cars, and Senator Chris Dodd (D-CT) is now asking that my tax money (and yours) be used to rescue them from their own bad decisions.
On this score, the conservative notion of personal responsibility and dealing with the consequences of one’s actions is absolutely right. These are not people who were duped by shady loan practices, but well-educated individuals with good jobs who exercised bad judgment. Liberals who say that no matter how foolishly people behave the government is there to bail them out are going too far.
There is another conservative position that I’m starting to warm to as well: doing away with campaign finance reform. This is an issue that conservatives feel so strongly about that it is McCain’s biggest Achilles Heel among hardcore Republicans. The Supreme Court has made it clear that limiting people’s contributions to campaigns is essentially a limit on free speech, and therefore a violation of the 1st Amendment.
Most attempts to limit private money in politics are meant to prevent the rise of politicians who, bankrolled by the wealthy and powerful, are able to outspend and outcompete all their rivals. There is also the fear that politicians will be bought off by big money, which will sway their votes. On both scores I think these fears are unwarranted.
The internet has almost completely negated the advantages of big money in politics; millions of small donors can now help candidates raise tens of millions of dollars a month (just ask Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, and even Ron Paul). It is true that with unlimited contributions the uber-wealthy can surpass these amounts, but the law of diminishing returns keeps this advantage well in check; there’s only so much that money can do in any campaign.
With regards to the corruption that money brings to politics, this is where an active citizenry comes in. If there is evidence that politicians are trading votes for contributions from big business, or selling out the public interest for the interests of the few, then it is our responsibility to vote them out of office. Again, in the age of the internet, it is easy for almost anyone to get detailed information on candidates’ positions and records. Americans watch television an average of four hours a day: plenty of time to better inform ourselves about politics and our elected officials if we so choose. If we do not choose, and if those officials abuse the public trust, then we have only ourselves to blame. We get the government we deserve.
There is a strong need for government regulation and assistance in many facets of our lives, but conservatives are correct when they insist that we shouldn’t use government intervention as a substitute for taking responsibility for the major decisions in our life. Buying a house and voting for elected officials are two areas where people should be expected to invest significant time in their decisions, and be prepared to live with them.