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Democrats: The Party of Palliation

As thinking beings, we inevitably ask why we must suffer. Religion seeks to answer this question with theodicy. Yet it is also a question asked of government, with one political party claiming that, fundamentally, we suffer needlessly, and the other asserting that we bear a needed cost for a greater benefit.

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Conservative policy does not seek to make our existence free of pain, because if we are not stretching ourselves, we will never advance and innovate; few great things are achieved without discomfort and doubt.  In this way the craftsman who builds a machine parts business or the person who imagines an alternative to the Post Office is not so different from the sculptor or the poet, suffering for an idea, for the painful art of making new.  The goal is to liberate these people from regulations, to reduce the barriers for starting new businesses and investment, and if striving does achieve a reward, less is to be taken back in taxes under the pretense that the state has been a silent partner all along, entitled to take an equitable share in what has been won.  Government under this model should not diminish the meaning of personal sacrifice, but should instead make more probable and more rewarding those experiences of wonder and pride unachievable without pain, which leave in their wake a tangible contribution to civilization.

This essentially aesthetic perception is at the heart of modern conservatism, but it has been inadequately expressed as part of an overarching ideal.  To the extent that this message has been delivered, it has been in a largely economic context; all praise to the entrepreneur, but most people are not entrepreneurs.  Some attention has also has been paid to the sacrifices of immigrants for a better life, and of veterans for protecting our freedom and our nation’s influence in the world.  But for most people, the adventures in which they take pride have names: a husband or wife of many years, children they’ve helped go to a good school, the people better off because of their service to their churches and neighborhoods.

Every type of “adventurer” voluntarily chose the harder path, and for every one there needs to be an emphatic conservative policy that supports the ideals he or she has set for him- or herself.  We should continue to emphasize that the United States can and must have the most dynamic and innovative of the developed economies.  But there also needs to be an explicit preference for marriage in taxes and social policy, and for having children in childcare support and dependent exemptions.  We need to build up civic and faith-based organizations as preferred providers of services, and enhance, rather than reduce, charitable deductions.  Legal immigrants who suffered through the long process of citizenship should not have their efforts rendered meaningless by blanket amnesty, and soldiers who bear the marks of our enemies on their bodies warrant a foreign policy that assures that their sacrifices are not in vain.  On a larger scale, the necessary pursuit of government austerity policies has to be presented in the context of the better life we leave to our children by the fiscal pain that must be borne by today’s generation.

The anesthetic case is much simpler to make than the aesthetic one.  Pain is the thing we all share, and aversion to suffering the ultimate democracy.  But because we are also thinking beings, we inevitably ask why we must suffer.  Religion seeks to answer this question with theodicy.  Yet it is also a question asked of government, with one political party claiming that, fundamentally, we suffer needlessly, and the other asserting that we bear a needed cost for a greater benefit.  This latter more difficult explanation can be convincing only if those reasons of necessity are explicated and made meaningful in terms of people’s own goals, which are many and variable.  What victory requires is a series of arguments, appealing to every segment of society, and offering, but also rewarding sacrifice.  The time grows short in which to make them.

Originally published at the American Thinker

Charles N.W. Keckler

About the Author: Charles N.W. Keckler is a former deputy assistant secretary for policy in the Department of Health and Human Services. He current teaches at Pennsylvania State University's Dickinson School of Law and formerly taught at George Mason University School of Law.

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