The interesting thing about this moment from last night’s Cruz vs. Sanders debate is that in this exchange both men are very articulate spokesmen for two different worldviews.
Cruz once called Sanders an honest Socialist. And unlike the Romney vs. Obama or Trump vs. Hillary debates, you are seeing something fairly close to “honest Socialism” here.
Ted Cruz defines what a right is. A right is the freedom to make decisions for yourself.
Bernie Sanders ridicules that. You can make decisions for yourself, but what good does that do you if the government doesn’t give you the things you need and you can’t afford to pay for them.
Sanders says that rights are entitlements. Cruz argues that they are freedoms.
And that is what the debate comes down to. Freedom or entitlement. And the tricky border where we try to combine the two. But that is what our government does.
The Sanders position is easy. Obamacare doesn’t go far enough. The government ought to give you everything you want. And then there will be no problems. Cruz’s counter is to show how badly that works around the world. But that’s an abstract. The ordinary people in the audience are not especially interested in events in Cuba, the USSR or even Canada.
Entitlements are always more seductive. Especially with a corrupt government that’s giving away so many things to so many people anyway. And Sanders can angrily play on class envy. Look at Trump’s mansions. Look at how the rich are living. While you can’t get the health care you need. It’s malicious and misleading. But it’s hard to resist.
The left has played this range of emotions, greed, pathos, envy, outrage, like a violin for a long time.
Cruz’s counter to it, freedom and principle, are much tougher sells.
Conservatives ask us to be better than we are. Liberals ask us to be worse. They tell us that we ought to be angry and feel sorry for ourselves. And that if we don’t have what we want, we ought to take it from others.
At the heart of this is a deeper question.
If a right is freedom, then freedom demands responsibility. But if a right is entitlement, then it’s a demand. A demand that others give us what we deserve.
Free people fight for independence. But the left’s revolutions are struggles for tyranny. They protest for better masters. They violently agitate for rulers who will run their lives better.
And that too is in the air here. Obama didn’t give you enough. Vote Bernie. BernieCare will do everything that ObamaCare didn’t. And if it doesn’t, there’s SteinCare. Or the NHS.
The left claims to be rational, but Bernie is playing on emotions. He’s agitating for outrage. And he’s angry. The thing that he is angry about may not really be health care. It probably isn’t. Radicals channel personal anger into political outrage. How many of the anti-Trump marchers really hate Trump. How many of them hate their parents or their meaningless lives.
Freedom asks us to be better people. It tells us that we have responsibilities to live up to. The left imposes responsibilities on us. It gives us no choice in them. Just as it gives us no choice in health care.
The debate, every genuine debate between conservatives and the left, comes down to the question of whether we want to be better people. Do we want to have the right to choose or the right to get stuff. This is often a difficult question. It’s especially difficult when it comes to health care. Yet the seductive answer, the one offered by Sanders, is deeply corrupting and doomed.
No society can be better, more able to make good decisions, than the people it is composed of.
Socialism degrades the people and enters a failure cycle in which it is less able to live up to its promises with every descent into deeper government control. In health care, Socialism gradually corrupts the system into a hybrid over-regulated mess that raises costs until only the government can fund it. And then only the government can ration it. But de-socializing medicine is too painful and scary. It’s easier to try and tinker with it, to “repair” ObamaCare instead of getting rid of it.
And then the cycle spirals further down.
A society lives or dies by its people. If they can take on responsibilities and make good decisions, then it can grow and be strong. If they can’t, then it decays.
And everything else is just bread and circuses.
Our founding documents endow us with the right to be better people. That is what built the America we have. Being better people is hard work. It’s always more seductive to take the left turn.
That is why civilizations don’t last. The Romans got tired of virtue and principle. So did the Europeans. Virtues and principles are just too much work. They get in the way of what we really want. Whether it’s health care or smashing the other guy in the face. Values are for squares. Decency is for the prissy. Principles are for pussies. Morals are for hypocrites. Doing the right thing is for suckers. Hard work is for those too dumb to game the system.
Entitlements can give us some of what we want. For a short time. But no entitlement can make us better people. And it takes being a better person to achieve what we truly want, whether it’s building a family, a business or a nation. Short cuts past virtue work for some, for a time, much like any entitlement. But they don’t work for societies. Individuals can take from others. But societies can’t. The individual can redistribute. But everyone can’t live off redistribution. Not even if they take everything from all the “rich” people.
Morals are like that too. A society can support some degree of criminality, immortality, dishonesty and assorted abusive behaviors. But it can’t function when a growing minority and then majority no longer does anything except seek short term advantages at everyone else’s expense.
Then it does. And it leaves behind some impressive buildings. And historians wondering what went wrong. The answer is as simple as it is obvious. It’s the people that went wrong.
It’s always the people.
Governments exist to do the will of the people. In free nations, government do this in an open and representative fashion. In other systems, the mechanism is covert. The dictator is the id of the people, as Stalin was in Russia or Saddam in Iraq, committing the atrocities they wish to commit, without being willing to admit it. Under the left, the repressive system steals on behalf of those who want a government that steals for them, that terrorizes for them and that murders for them.
Socialism is inherently dishonest. Sanders is about as close to an honest Socialist as you can get on a national debate stage. But his Socialism is a lie. The left seduces us into evil. That is what it always does. It seduces us into agreeing to let men like him do our dirty work for us. It tells us that we can have everything we want without having to go over to our neighbor’s house and steal his things.
It plays on our emotions. It summons up pity and outrage. And in the end it leaves us with nothing.
The only honest societies are those of free people. Moral or immoral. The tyranny of authority is inherently dishonest. It seduces and destroys by warping our moral codes to justify its abuses because it is giving us what we think we want. Its deepest crime is that it, like Sanders, assures us that we are good people. That is why the left is always outrage and always reassuring its followers that they are good people. A lie reveals the truth underneath.
What is evil? It doesn’t start out as a fanged monster. Though it can end up that way.
Instead it seduces us by telling us that we do not need to be better people because we are wronged. It teaches us anger and self-pity. It tells us that we have the right to hurt others because we have been hurt. It says that society is inherently immoral and that we don’t have to follow its rules. It promises us that it will build a better society in accordance with our needs and whims. It assures us that such a society will be good… because we are good people.
And if we are good people, then what we will do must be good.
How could good people be bad? How could a society based on the idea of helping everyone by taking away their freedom and giving them everything they need be bad?
Good people can’t do bad things. If we set out to do good by giving everyone health care, the end result must be good. If it isn’t, then it’s because someone sabotaged it. Or it didn’t go far enough.
We have the right to be better people. And we have the right not to. That’s freedom.
Everything that we do has consequences. We are responsible for what we do. The first lie of those who deprive us of our freedom is to assure us that consequences and responsibility can be collectivized. We have the right to believe anything we want. But belief does not change reality. Mobs don’t eliminate responsibility or consequences. They just obscure them for a little while.
We always have the freedom to choose. Free societies tell us this. Tyrannies lie to us. When we forget that we have freedom and responsibility, then we fall into evil.